This week’s Saturday Sentence Challenge prompt over at the #TeamWriter Facebook Page was:
I am so very happy to see him come back all in one piece.
The first thing that struck me about this prompt? How the words should evoke a feeling of happiness or relief. However, the sentence construction, which is very stilted, made me feel nothing at all. There’s also the cliche of the phrase “all in one piece.” I believe that cliches become cliches because they’re true. I also think we can use them in our writing, so long as it’s done sparingly and to effect. Or humorously, though satire is a completely separate conversation.
As I’ve mentioned before, I try not to spend too much time on a Saturday Sentence Challenge prompt. Usually, I need at least a few passes before I get the right words. For this one, though, the sentences popped nearly fully-formed into my head on first thought.
Immediately, I knew whose voice I wanted to use for this prompt: June McAllister. June is the mother of one of my “Finding Mister Wright” protagonists, Rob, who spent time in the US Army. I got an image of Rob returning home, and June taking him in her arms. The powerful emotions associated with a mother hugging her son on his safe return home from a tour of duty filled my own heart with sympathetic joy.
I’m actually pretty proud of my answer to this particular prompt, which you can also read below (for sake of text-only accessibility):
I cried as I hugged him, my little boy who wasn’t so little anymore, who’d in fact grown big and muscular from carrying a fifty-pound pack every day through the far-off and frightening wilderness of war-torn Afghanistan. Thank God, thank God, I thought with every breath while this brave young man just squeezed me once and said, “I missed you, Mom.”
Happy writing to you this week, whether it’s your own or prompt-driven!
I’ve talked about writing coach/author/editor Kate Johnston‘s Team Writer Saturday Sentence Challenge before. Briefly, each week, Kate offers members of the group a boring or grammatically-troubled sentence which we are tasked with sprucing up. The challenge is that we can only push this to two sentences, and we’ve got to make the reader feel something. This particular week, Kate provided a familiar cliche:
The thought passed through his mind.
Now, I’ve got a lot of characters who have a lot of thoughts crossing their minds. Some thoughts are crazy, others romantic, still others devious. For this particular prompt, my brain originally went a different way, with a different character, but the details in that first attempt went way off into deep raunch, I didn’t think it appropriate to share with mixed company. Still, I’ve always liked the idea of forbidden attraction. I just took it in a slightly different direction. Here’s what I wrote, as begun in the image above:
Firelight danced over the mechanic’s face, adding a glow to her smooth brown cheeks and full, glossy lips, and in that moment the hunter wondered how soft that cheek would feel if he stroked it, and how silky those lips if he kissed them. But then her husband sat down between them and, well, that was the end of that.
Of course, that’s not quite the end of that particular story. But sharing the ensuing details to that scene will have to wait for another day.
Did this Saturday Sentence Challenge answer from me make you feel anything? Have you partaken of any writing challenges, lately? Share your thoughts in the comments!
Every week, writer and writing coach Kate Johnston sends out to her TeamWriter Facebook group her Saturday Sentence Challenge. It goes like this:
As you can see, Kate challenges members of the group to take her provided “blah, grammatically incorrect, or just…really bad sentence” and tweak it into a sentence (or two, at the most) that encourages the reader to feel something. We can add or cut words and punctuation, change words, even add dialogue.
I love challenges like this because they’re short, simple, and often a refreshing change of pace from my current in-process projects. They offer an opportunity to step into another world or a different character’s shoes. This sidestepping, as it were, can even lead to new storylines, characters, and adventures down the road!
Last Saturday, Kate’s blah sentence prompt was:
The pie is really good.
When faced with a prompt, I let my brain romp freely until it stumbles over an idea with teeth. I don’t let it romp too long, though; with more than one longer-form project on my plate, I can’t afford to get too distracted. Luckily, Kate’s prompts come with enough leeway to go in lots of different directions, and I can usually find the direction I want to take within a few minutes. Tweaking takes more time, of course…but that’s what the challenge is about!
I’ve got a document where I keep these prompts, my process attempts, and my final results. It’s neat to be able to look back on them! And as I said before, I never know when a simple prompt idea might come back to me with greater force.
It didn’t take long for this latest prompt – The pie is really good – to tickle my brain. I usually try to keep my group posts and prompt shares on the safe side, but this one went in a naughtier direction. It seemed only fitting: I’m at a point in one of my larger projects where romance is coming to the fore, and my writing mind is working through that. Thus, this result:
If you’d like to join in on the fun of Saturday Sentence Challenges – and more! – check out Kate’s Facebook page!
In the last days of December 2017, a friend pointed me toward a writing competition. The theme for the competition was “Awakenings”. The group that posted the competition welcomed all genres, with a great desire for romance and speculative fiction, among others. I’ve written romance in many forms over the years, from the simple to the unapologetically raunchy. I had only a few days before the deadline, but I’d come up with – what I thought at the time – a straightforward love story set in a pseudo-familiar setting, and one I could finish pretty quickly.
Then I actually started to write it.
What poured from my brain was a twisty-turny, upside-down-reality tale of love, duty, patriotism, relationships, even politics(!) that took nearly a full five months to finish. It wasn’t what I had first planned, and it veered a lot from my original plot. But one lesson I’ve learned through writing fiction is that, when I allow the characters to speak freely, they will forge their own path. More often than not, that path is more satisfying than any I may have planned at the start.
Seven, like so many of my original characters, embraced his being-ness with so much quiet strength and determination, it overwhelmed me. I could think of no other story or character for those five months I wrote. In fact, writing became almost like transcribing. Many times, it felt like he was standing at my shoulder, telling me who should do what and what should happen next. That letting-go is one of the most joyful feelings I’ve experienced as a writer.
Dour Number Seven, a doodle by me.
I said I wouldn’t apologize for Seven’s story, and I won’t. He took me on a new journey into personhood, one I hadn’t considered before. I grew with him, and because of him. He made me open my eyes a little bit wider to the world around me. He’s a bit suspicious, as I am, and he’s quite the serious individual, as I can be. But he also has to trust himself, a lesson I took to heart along the way, too.
If any of this has piqued your interest, you can read “Number Seven and the Life Left Behind”, part 1, here.
I’ve posted this story for free because it’s a project I want to share with people. I am working on a hardcopy version, and when that’s available, I’ll be sure to share that news. In the meantime, if my story moved you at all, I’d encourage you to take a moment to consider where you are in the world today, and what struggles you see, nearby or faraway, hidden or in plain sight. Everywhere, there are people fighting the good fights: for freedom, equality, and love. This story is for them. And for me, and for you, because we’re all in this together.
A writer rarely creates a story in a vacuum. People influence us in their own ways. Sometimes, that influence makes it onto the page. Sometimes, it helps us just get to the page in the first place.
Thank you to Sue for giving me the impetus to write this story.
Thank you to Chase for joining me for the ride.
Your thoughtfulness and support means a lot to this lonely writer. 🙂
I’m one of the winners of 4amWriter’s “Save El Lobo Writing Competition”!
Head on over to Kate’s page and read her update, which includes all the winning entries. And, if you should be inspired to write your own wolf story, let me know. I’ll howl for you!
For those of you who are interested in how I approached this particular challenge, read on….
Whenever I set my mind to a writing challenge, the first thing I consider is what I can bring to it: style, scenarios, conflicts, maybe a plot twist for the ending. For Kate’s challenge – to write a short story or poem featuring wolves in a positive light – I knew I wanted to use description, to depict the beauty of a wolf in nature. After a few minutes of staring at the ceiling, letting my brain percolate, I came up with the not-very-subtle twist of a photographer using a sight and taking a “shot” much like a sniper might. The hunt of a photographer waiting for the perfect shot is much like waiting for the perfect moment when a target comes into the crosshairs. It would also allow me to tell a story in mostly-silent descriptive and action passages, a technique that’s been prevalent in my pleasure reading, of late.
Once I’ve got my scenario, I figure out who’s going to play my primary character. Given the plot I’d come up with, my PC needed to be a human. I’ve got a stable of go-to characters, but I wanted to do something a little bit different, this time. The main protagonist, Aksel, is a combination of bounty hunter Axton with a little bit of domestic dad Rob McAllister thrown in. Neither of those men can go anywhere without their respective partners, so I dropped in Aksel’s buddy Harald as something of a counterpoint to Aksel’s skill, and to give him someone to reveal his success to in the end.
Next, I just…start writing. Some images and descriptions flow fine, while other parts are obviously less polished. I even double-up on some phrases when I free-write, to play with the order of words and see how they fit. The picture below (click on it for the full-resolution version) shows my original draft in all its messy, stream-of-consciousness rawness.
As should be fairly clear, I don’t edit when I free-write; I just keep typing until I complete the idea. This free-write went on too long – almost 200 extra words too long – and it needed plenty of reworking. That doesn’t mean something good didn’t come out of it along the way, though.
This challenge’s tight word count confines – we were allowed 250 words max to tell the story – meant that I had to choose carefully what was worthwhile to the story as a whole. A lot of the setup and extraneous action had to go. For example, Aksel’s buddy Harald’s dump in the ice pond, as well as a slightly deeper explanation of the men’s relationship, neither of which did much for the main plot. I also really liked the idea of the protagonist facing down the white wolf alone.
The last bit – the reveal of the purpose of the photo quest – came about completely by accident, when I was typing out the men’s dialogue. I hadn’t even considered the relationship between Aksel and his father until those words came out from Harald’s mouth! I liked it a lot, though, even if it meant going back and figuring out a new lead-in for the story.
All in all, I like the final submitted version. It changed along the way, as stories tend to do. It even changed titles, from “White Wolf Hunt” to “Eyes of Gold Fire”. Since I’d already decided in my head that Aksel’s father had died, I could have had the primary character spend the entire story alone. But, I liked him having someone with whom he could share that tiny triumphant moment of the photo reveal. Because stories are better when they’re shared. Just like this one.
What’s your process for writing challenges? Have you submitted your writing to any contests lately? What did you think of my story of Aksel and the white wolf?