Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Tin House Workshop Prompts

These were from my workshop with Elissa Schappell, and so are her prompts... noted down by me (and sometimes tweaked a tad bit) in order to share with whomever... hopefully ES doesn't mind, heh.

Day 1: Write something that explores why you write. Why do you write anyway, you masochist, you?

Day 2:
  • In class: Write a description of a tree (or other object) as it is being seen by someone in love. Now write a description of that same object by someone (possibly the same someone) who has just experienced a death in the family. [description exercise]

  • Otherwise 1: Read Dorothy Parker's "You Were Perfectly Fine" and note how the dialogue is functioning. Using characters from something you are working on, or plan on working on, write a scene that is primarily dialogue. In this dialogue, the interests of the characters should be pulling in opposite directions. For example, perhaps one character wants the other to lend them some money, and the other decidedly does not want to part with this money. [dialogue prompt]

  • Otherwise 2: Think of a photograph that has some meaning to you that you can describe almost without looking at again. Write a letter to a person in this photo, beginning the exercise with "In this one you are..." [second-person exercise]
Day 3:
  • In class: Write a description of one of your characters as he or she would appear on a table in the morgue. This is not to say that your character must die, but that you are cataloguing your character's features, jewelry, body adornment, scars, and so forth with a clinical eye. Once you've done this, select a carrying bag or vehicle that this character uses frequently - like a backpack, purse, suitcase, or bicycle panniers - and itemize the objects within that bag/vehicle. [character exercise]

  • Otherwise 1: Write an apology from you to someone you know.

  • Otherwise 2: Consider the photograph you described in the above exercise (or another photo if that one doesn't fit the exercise)... what happened directly before and directly after this photograph was taken? This is an exercise at looking at how a moment in time relates to the moments before or after, and how 'snapshots' or brief scenes can be either symbolic representations or misrepresentations of normality.
Day 4:
  • In class: Think of one of your characters, and describe: something they're carrying and three objects that are inside what they're carrying; a person they have a message for, what the message is, and how they would convey it to the person it is for; what they're most proud of and most ashamed of; three things they would tell someone if they wanted to impress that person; which of those three things is a lie; what they're most afraid of having taken from them; their closest confidante; a piece of information about them so intimate and hidden that nobody else (not even the confidante) knows it; how your character would go about telling this intimate piece of information to someone if they had to tell someone; the thing they most love; their life philosophy or motto; one thing that you as an author/writer knows about this character that they wouldn't know about themselves; what they would think of you, the author/writer, were they to meet you. [character exercise]

  • Otherwise 1: Read Lorrie Moore's "How to Become a Writer" and note how (a) the comedy functions, (b) how the author/writer relates to the second-person "you" of the piece. Write a second-person piece that begins with the following: "For the first month, don't smile." [second-person / comedy prompt]
Day 5:
  • In class: Read Donald Barthelome's "The School" and make a notation each time something dies; then think about (a) how the "stakes" of this piece (the tension) is created and maintained, and (b) how the comedy functions in this piece. Then brainstorm a disturbing, horrible or problematic topic (like war or murder) that it is hard to write about... and then write about it in a way that is funny, i.e. use comedy as a tool to approach an otherwise difficult topic. [comedy prompt]

  • Otherwise 1: Write a piece that begins with "If I invented a religion it would be based around ________ . " (Inspired from ???piece that begins "If I invented a religion it would be based around water.") Think of your religion's tenets, philosophy, followers, clergy, rituals, commandments, stories, etc.
Day 6:
  • In class: Think of a room, house, building, or structure you are familiar with, and draw a blueprint of that space. What happened in that space? What stories are there? bez's note: This was a weird prompt... I did it and found a story instantly, one that I never ever would have thought of otherwise. [spatial prompt]

  • Otherwise 1: Write an autobiography of a color.

  • Otherwise 2: Write a scene about leaving someplace or someone who matters deeply to you or the character.