Writing Prompts for July 2016 and Links to Plotting Tips



I went away for the weekend and never opened the laptop once. Yikes! So I hope all my Canadian friends had a wonderful Canada Day weekend, and I wish all my American friends a happy 4th of July!

Once the celebrations are over and the summer officially lays ahead, I hope your thoughts turn to writing, and for those NaNoWriMo people—planning. I have many great writing resources saved on Pinterest. Please drop by and check them out. In the meantime, here’s a sample of a few that fit into the category of plotting:

How to Use a Plot Planner by Jane Friedman – This blog goes way beyond the basics.

What’s the Problem: The Four Basic Conflict Types by Janice Hardy – This blog explains how the different kinds of conflict build your plot.

Planning Character Arcs by Chris Winkle – “If you like to plan your stories ahead, you’ve almost certainly sketched out your plot. But have you planned your character arcs? Every story needs a character arc for its protagonist, even if it’s simple or subtly conveyed. And while supporting characters don’t always need an arc, stories are better off when they’re included.”

29 Plot Templates by Darcy Pattison — “Plot templates are helpful in telling an author the possible events for different sections of the story. I like to consult these when I’m first thinking of an idea for a novel and when I start a revision. I want to know what is typical for the type story I’m telling and knowing that, I can create variations that will hold a reader’s interest.”

And now for your July writing prompts:

Use one, some, or all of these words in a story or poem.

  • mice, blue, ribbon, tower, storm, tremble
  • green, room, light, empty, fear, find
  • road, narrow, edge, safe, red, leave

See if one of these titles inspires a story: The Two Tree, Winters Lost, Fir Weather Enemy, The Bridge, Good Works, Lesson Not Learned, Cats are Trouble, The Map, Love Looks the Other Way, Island Adventure, My Day.

Here are some opening lines you can try:

  • I don’t want to know where you’ve been.
  • This plan can’t fail.
  • Henry didn’t know he was going for his last walk own Grey Street.
  • What’s that around your neck?
  • My sister thought she knew everything
  • Dogs can smell a liar.
  • I can’t find Skipper.
  • The ground shook.
  • Helen remembered ______________, but it was too late.

Maybe one of these dialogue excerpts will help you imagine a scene or a story.

When did you last talk to Henry?
A couple of days ago. Why?
No one seems to have seen him since Tuesday night.

I think I know what’s going on.
I’m glad someone does.
I didn’t say it was a good thing.

Where are you going?
I can’t tell you.
Can’t? Or won’t?

Why are you stopping?
My back hurts.
Let me carry (it, her, him) for a while.
No. This is my job.

Helen passed me her laptop this morning, so I could add my pages to the project.
She had some really strange pages open on Google.
Like what?

What do you like most about summer? Least? How does your character feel about summer? What’s his or her favourite season? Why?

Wishing you a writerly July!


Friday–and still writing!

A Quiet Sunset
A Quiet Sunset

Well, my strategy for leaving the laptop shut in order to get some writing done paid off. I’m over 2500 words further into the book today than I was when I wrote my blog on Wednesday. On top of that my journal now has several brainstormed plot notes that will keep me writing for a while. Whew! Now 2500 words in 3 days might not seem like a lot to some, but it’s a lot for me–especially considering my previous pace of glacial.

I was in one of those places where I was beginning to wonder whether anything would get me back to feeling like a writer again. Then, this morning I woke up  with a scene in my head that I quickly wrote down before I went for my morning walk. I haven’t had that happen for a long time. So, yay! Feeling writerly.

Onward into the weekend, and some more writing (and some golf, too). Hope your next few days are creative and relaxing and full of reasons for you to feel like a writer.

Do What I Love Month

Okay. I thought I had a plot. I thought I had characters. And then I woke up this morning and realized that I really didn’t want to spend a month with this story.


I’m starting again.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a writer, it’s to forgive myself when things don’t turn out the way they planned. Sometimes stories just fizzle and that’s okay. Sometimes you find yourself going in a different direction than planned, and that can be okay, too. Today I’m off in a different direction, and whatever happens, I’ve decided that my goal is to enjoy my month of  writing with whatever characters and plot are ready to go on Monday. I mean, how often do the words “a month of writing” occur in my life. If I don’t enjoy it, I’m missing the point of NaNoWriMo, and more important, I’m missing the point of being a writer. Writing is all wrapped up in the “do what you love” part of my life that often gets overrun by the “do what you must”, “do what others need”, “do what– write your own version here.” 

So, onward into a new plot with new people. The countdown begins. “Do what I love” month starts Monday

Characters and Enough of a Plot

Some characters dropped by two weeks ago with a bit of snappy dialogue and a dim idea for a story, and I thought, “Yes! I’m on my way!”  Then they took a hiatus while schoolwork and life got attended to. In that time, they lost a lot of their lustre and I wondered if they weren’t just a cute premise and not a real story.  Today, I invited them back for a visit and did my best to find out more about them and to see if I could find a way to brighten up that “dim idea.” I mean, in order to meet my NaNoWriMo goal, I need to complicate their lives sufficiently to sustain me and the story through 50,000 words of  beginning, middle and end.

I can honestly say now that these characters and their story have possibilities. I only have a name for one of them right now, and of course, that may change as I learn more about her and see her in action. But I have something to work with right now. My next step is to get names for all the other main characters, so I can listen to them talk and see what they have to tell me between now and November 1st. If people are going to be carrying on conversations in my brain for several weeks, they definitely need names. I’m going online to check out baby name sites and see what I can find.

And I’m going to practise typing the name a few dozen times, too, before I settle on it. I had a character named Philip in a romance novel, and I got extremely tired of typing that particular combination of letters. I guess because they mostly used only three fingers of my right hand and typing Philip seemed just plain awkward. He was the villain in the first novel I wrote, and I decided to reform him and make him a hero in a second book. I changed his name to Simon–still mostly a “right-hand” name, but my little finger was out of the action and I was much happier. Hence the typing practice.

Do your characters  just introduce themselves–first, middle, last name complete? Or are they X and Y until you find just the right name for them? Have you ever changed a character’s name part way through or after you’ve written a story or novel? Do you have a favourite name that you’re just waiting to find a story for? Have people left such strong negative impressions with you that you would never use their name in a story–unless, of course, they were perfectly horrible characters?  How do you find the names for your characters?

Getting Ready for NaNoWriMo

 Yes, I have signed up for NaNoWriMo again this year and am looking forward to a whole month of writing and creating. Last year I managed around 23,000 words before another book took over and I abandoned my nightly creative free-for-all in favour of “purposeful” writing. Though I didn’t win NaNo, I did finish the book and had it published this spring. So, for me, a win.

This year, I have no books burning to be written, in fact, I don’t even have an idea for a story. I’m not an especially good “pantser,” so I’ll be spending the rest of October looking for characters, a setting, and 50,000-words-worth of conflict. When it comes to plotting, taking a look at the Hero’s Journey is definitely on my to-do list. I wrote a blog about it last year during the run-up to NaNo.

If you’re stuck for a story idea, too, I’ve been posting a series of writing prompts at http://wrightingwords.wordpress.com/writing-starters/  for other NaNo writers and anyone else who needs a creative boost.

What are you doing to get ready for NaNoWriMo? Are you a pantser or are you going to have a detailed plan for your novel before you begin? If you have any tips for success or sites to recommend to others taking on the challenge, please share.

If you sign up for NaNo and are looking for a writing buddy, I’m “wrightwriter” and I’d love the company.

Can’t think of anything to write? Read someone else’s mail.

No, I don’t want anyone to break the law; but there is a way to find great story and poem ideas in someone else’s mail.  Check out your nearest flea market or antique store and see if they have any old postcards–old used postcards.  Though ideas for stories and poems can be found in the pictures, inspiration awaits in the writing on the other side.  These notes from real people to real people are an Aladdin’s treasure cave full of humor, pathos, mystery, bravado, family life, and love.

 Here are some of my finds.  See what stories or poems you can conjure up from these real-life messages from the past.

 One card, addressed to Mrs. Arthur Ridgewell and dated 1907, reads: “I suppose you are still in Plaster Rock.  Heard that Frank 1st has left you.  I guess he must be a wanderer.” 

 Like all good story openings. this card leaves the reader with lots of questions.  And when the reader is a writer, a story is bound to follow.  Who is Frank 1st? (And, for that matter, who is Frank 2nd?) Why did he wander before? Why did he come back?  Why is he leaving again? Where is he likely to go? The word ‘still’ seems important to the writer. Where, other than Plaster Rock, should Mary be?  What is the relationship between the sender and the writer?

 A card from Vancouver, dated 1911 and addressed to a Miss McLeod in P.E.I., reads:  “How soon do you think you can leave College to come west?  You are needed very badly as chaperone and we would be more than pleased to have you with us.

 More questions: What was Miss McLeod studying in college or was she a teacher?  What kind of person would think it perfectly acceptable for a woman to leave college, head west, and become a chaperone?  Why would the sender need a chaperone ‘badly?  Why is there no salutation to the note–no Dear…?  What social milieu are we dealing with here? Is the sender wealthy and is Miss McLeod a poor relation?

 The following card is posted from Winnipeg in January 1909 and addressed to Mrs. Sharpe in Listowel, Ontario.  “Just a line to thank you for the nice Xmas cards you sent.  We were too poor to send anyone anything this winter as Will’s work will be done this week.  Things are dreadful dull and it is so dreadfully cold, about 42 below.  We did not go far when it was that cold.  Dick and Elsie are well.  He is working steady. How is Clarence? Remember me to him.  Love to all from all.  Sade

 Think of how Sade must have felt writing that her family was too poor to send Christmas cards.  The postage on the postcard was one cent and though the card was dated January 1st, it wasn’t mailed until the 8th.  Did Sade have to wait that long to get the postage or was it just too cold to go out?  Who are these people and what work might they be doing?  The card is addressed to Mrs. Fred Sharpe; then, who is Clarence and why does Sade wish to be remembered to him?  What if he is a brother of Mrs. Sharpe that Sade was fond of once, or perhaps Mrs. Sharpe is Sade’s sister and Clarence is Sade’s nephew.  Put yourself in Sade’s shoes while she is writing this card or in Mrs. Sharpe’s when she hears such sad news from her friend.  Maybe Mrs. Sharpe is a relative of Sade’s husband and Sade is hinting for her husband to be rescued from unemployment in Winnipeg and offered work in the family business in Listowel.

 If you are a poet, think of the wonderful ‘found poems’ that are waiting for you in these postcards.  You could weave a poem like the following:

 Winnipeg, 1909

 Just a line to thank you

for the nice Xmas cards you sent. 

We were too poor

to send anyone


Things are dreadful dull

and it is so dreadfully cold.

How is Clarence?

Remember me to him. 


I paid three dollars for those postcards and have covered a couple of pages in my journal with possible ideas from each one–a small investment in inspiration.  Consider what some postcards could do to fire your imagination or help you break out of one of those (thankfully rare) cement-brained-writer’s days? 

 Inspiration on a postcard?  Why not?  Find the wonderful stories and poems that are possible when your writer’s imagination meets someone else’s mail.

How do you plot a novel?

Like many writers, I read about writing and how other writers plot their stories. Some have basic outlines, others create very detailed ones, some never plan at all.

I seem to fall somewhere in the middle of it all. I begin a project with a scene that just has to be written. A character arrives in my imagination who is going somewhere and I follow. We race along for a chapter or two and then I have to stop and start creating a roadmap for the rest of our journey.

I like this character; I’m ready to have fun with (let’s say) her for the long haul, but she needs to get into serious trouble for us to have a lasting relationship. And that’s what my planning consists of—finding trouble for my character to get into, then out of, and then into some more. Then we hang out for a few more chapters. As my character reacts to whatever problems I’ve set up, I learn more about what happened to her before we met. That history can have a serious effect on the plans I’ve made–for better or for worse– and then the road may change direction and lead to different complications than the ones I first thought of.

But that’s okay, too. In fact, it’s definitely okay, because now the roadmap is being drawn because of the new things I’m learning about my character. The story grows as I learn and the more I learn, the more I know about what I can put in my character’s way that will be hard, that will hurt, that will challenge, frighten and test and that will help the reader care and be more willing to stay with us for the rest of the journey.

Every time I stop and re-evaluate, I plan a few more chapters or scenes ahead, and then (thankfully) at some point in the process, I realize how the story is going to end. I can see how all the loose ends are going to be tied up and I can make a list of the chapters I need to get there.  In fact, if I can see it clearly enough, I even write the ending at this point. I like knowing how it’s all going to end, but it does make me hugely impatient to get there. I know when I go back to edit, that these chapters will need special work because I wrote them in a hurry and they will be way too lean on the details that make a story real.

So that’s me. That’s how write a novel. What do you do?

%d bloggers like this: