Writing Prompts: The Vacation Edition

With summer comes sunshine, no school, and the need to get away from it all with a fun vacation. Some of you may go camping in the great outdoors, others may travel across the country on an epic road trip, and others will have an adventure backpacking across Europe. But if you find some spare time between exploring new sites and trying new foods, then exercise your writing muscles with these vacation writing prompts.

Vacation travel writing prompts

  1. Trisha’s dreams of visiting Paris are coming true, and she is more than ready to see the Eiffel tower, try escargot, and check out the latest fashion trends. But her dream vacation goes awry when she accidently boards a plan heading for the Congo instead. What happens next?
  2. Zoe grew up having weekly fishing and camping trips. In contrast, her new boyfriend, Dennis, is a city slicker who doesn’t know the first thing about starting a fire (let alone making s’mores). However, he wants to impress Zoe and take her camping. How does he attempt to do this without letting on that he doesn’t even know how to set up a tent?
  3. Marissa, a small town girl who struggles with agoraphobia, is the sole inheritor of her great aunt’s massive fortune. However, in order to receive the desperately-needed money, Marissa must complete ten tasks all over New York City. How does she manage to overcome her fears and complete the tasks?
  4. With both divorce from his wife and estrangement from his adult children looming on the horizon, Walter proposes a road trip across America as a means of bringing the family back together. What happens?
  5. High school student Jeanne didn’t want to do a study abroad in South America for the summer, but her parents would do anything to put distance between Jeanne and her boyfriend. However, Jeanne plans to sneak back home. What happens next?
  6. Joe’s relaxing Hawaiian vacation turns stressful when he is accidently mistaken for a member of the mafia. What happens next?

Do you know any more great vacation writing prompts? If so, then share them in the comments below, on Facebook, or on Twitter.

Red Herrings and the Surprising yet Inevitable Plot Twist

There is nothing more satisfying than a shocking but brilliant plot twist that you simply cannot get over, even years after reading it. However, if you are a writer, you know that plot twists are not as easy to create as we would like. If you want to craft an incredible plot twist that will make your readers’ jaws drop, then check out the tips below.

Red Herrings and the Surprising yet Inevitable Plot Twist

What is a plot twist?

In a nutshell, a plot twist (and sometimes the climax and resolution) is something that turns the story upside down. However, when you look at the anatomy of the plot twist, you will see exactly how complex it is because it requires two essential elements to be a good plot twist: it must be surprising, yet inevitable.

Why should a plot twist be surprising yet inevitable?

This seems like a contradiction because how can something be a surprise if it is inevitable. But if you remove either of the elements, the answer is clear why both are necessary for plot twists. If the plot twist is inevitable (without being surprising), you will have known it was going to happen for most of the book, and you will want to smack the characters for their stupidity at not seeing the obvious twist coming. If the plot twist is surprising (without being inevitable), then it is too surprising. It feels like it has come out of nowhere like a deus ex machina.

How to make a plot twist surprising yet inevitable?

Now that we have covered why a plot twist must be two contradicting elements, we need to explore how to create such a difficult thing. One effective technique I have noticed repeatedly is the red herring, which is, in short, misdirection. The clues you leave that make the plot twist inevitable must have some other purpose in the story in order to misdirect the reader’s attention so the plot twist will be surprising. The clues could develop character, belong to another story line, be a joke, etc. In short, the clues that are really an indication of a plot twist must be disguised with some other purpose in the story. After a plot twist occurs, the reader should be able to think back on the story and recognize how all of these clues really came into play.

Example of a Plot Twist

A good example of a plot twist comes from Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 3 Episode 18: “Earshot.” To make a long story short, Buffy gets a demon infection that allows her to read minds. She hears someone think of how they will kill everyone at school the next day, but she doesn’t know who thinks it. Xander the goofball makes a dumb joke about how the lunch lady has had it in for them all for years, but all joking asides, Buffy’s friends need to find the potential killer before it is too late.

They interview several people who seem like the type who would kill, but a kid who works on the school newspaper keeps avoiding them. He must be the killer. But when they confront him, it turns out that he was avoiding them because he gave Oz’s band a bad review in the paper. We then see Jonathon, a reoccurring character who has been the butt of everyone’s jokes for the entire show. He is putting together a gun. Buffy finds Jonathon and manages to talk him out of killing everyone. To her surprise, Jonathon says that he had not been planning on killing everyone, but had been planning on committing suicide. We then go to the school cafeteria where Xander is trying to find some jello when he sees the lunch lady pouring a whole box of rat poison in a pot of soup.

This is a great example because it has several plot twists. We assumed the newspaper kid would be the killer because he was avoiding Buffy’s friends, but he was doing so because of the review of Oz’s band, making him a red herring. Jonathon as the killer was surprising because we had assumed it was the newspaper kid initially, yet inevitable because we knew he was a harassed loser so it made sense why he would crack and take his anger out on his fellow schoolmates. However, he too ended up being a red herring. In the end, Xander’s joke about the lunch lady (which we had all chalked up to Xander being Xander) ended up being the truth, making the plot twist surprising yet hilarious (and inevitable).

Writing Prompts: The Spring Edition

Spring has sprung, the grass has risen, and it’s time to grow some story seedlings. With the scent of tulips in the air and the hopes of summer vacation approaching, take some time to plant words in the fertile sod of paper with these spring-themed writing prompts.

Spring Writing Prompts

  1. Elise is a poor, avid gardener who has just started planting flowers for a new employer when she discovers buried treasure in one of her employer’s plots. What happens next?
  2. Graduation is approaching, but Tyler might not get his diploma unless he can raise his failing history grade in the last week of classes. How does he do it?
  3. Burt’s new neighbor, Katherine, loves flowers, and he wants to impress her by growing a whole garden of them in his yard. Unfortunately, they all seem to die. What does he do next?
  4. Gretchen has run her church’s annual spring picnic in May for the past 20 years. However, this year, the snow isn’t melting in time for the picnic. What does she do?

Do you know any more great spring writing prompts? If so, then share them in the comments below, on Facebook, or on Twitter.

More Books Writers Should Read—4. Wired for Story by Lisa Cron

Lisa Cron’s Wired for Story is a unique writing guide that utilizes brain science to show what readers want out of a story. Cron uses various psychological aspects to explain how to craft characters, plots, and conflicts in a way that will allow your readers to enjoy your story and want to keep reading it. She covers the development of a protagonist’s external and internal conflicts, the cause-and-effect trajectory of story, how specific details need to have relevance to the plot, and much more.

Wired for Story-More Books Writers Should Read

  • “From the very first sentence, the reader must want to know what happens next.”
  • “A story is how what happens affects someone who is trying to achieve what turns out to be a difficult goal, and how he or she changes as a result.”
  • “Simply put, we are looking for a reason to care. So for a story to grab us, not only must something be happening, but also there must be a consequence we can anticipate.”
  • “To hold the brain’s attention, everything in a story must be there on a need-to-know basis.”
  • “Writers who can’t sum up a story they’re telling in a clearly focused, intriguing sentence or two probably haven’t written a clearly focused, intriguing story.”
  • “The story isn’t about whether or not the protagonist achieves her goal per se; it’s about what she has to overcome internally to do it. This is what drives the story forward.”
  • “Ultimately, what moves a story forward are the protagonist’s actions, reactions, and decisions, rather than the external events that trigger them.”
  • “Conflict must be palpable long before it rises to the surface. It’s the potential for conflict that gives urgency to everything that happens, underscoring even the most benign events with portent.”
  • “In short, ‘telling’ tends to refer to conclusions drawn from information we aren’t privy to; ‘showing,’ to how the characters arrived at those conclusions in the first place. Thus ‘show, don’t tell’ often means show us a character’s train of thought.”
  • “Constantly upping the ante gets the protagonist in shape, which is crucial, since the final hurdle he’ll have to sail over will be impossibly high. Thus the more you put him through before he gets there, the better.”
  • “The villain has to have a good side, however fleeting and minuscule. After all, no one is all bad. Or, if they are, they rarely see themselves that way.”
  • “Readers are always on the lookout for patterns; to your readers, everything is either a setup, a payoff, or the road in between.”
  • “All subplots must eventually merge into—and affect—the main storyline, either literally or metaphorically”

This is the last post in the More Books Writers Should Read series. If you know of other great writing guides, then tell me about them in comments below, on Facebook, or on Twitter.

More Books Writers Should Read—3. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

Big Magic isn’t specifically a writing guide, but creativity is an essential part of writing, so I decided to include this book on my list. Elizabeth Gilbert shows us that creativity isn’t something to dread or an implement of suffering, but rather creativity should be embraced as something divine, fun, and magical. Through courage, enchantment, permission, persistence, and trust, we can reach the divinity of creativity and develop more wholesome lives.

Big Magic-More Books Writers Should Read

  • “A creative life is an amplified life. It’s a bigger life, a happier life, an expanded life, and . . . [an] interesting life. Living in this manner—continually and stubbornly bringing forth the jewels that are hidden within you—is a fine art, in and of itself.”
  • “Your fear will always be triggered by your creativity, because creativity asks you to enter into realms of uncertain outcome, and fear hates uncertain outcome.”
  • “Dearest Fear: Creativity and I are about to go on a road trip together. I understand you’ll be joining us, because you always do . . . There’s plenty of room in this vehicle for all of us, so make yourself at home, but understand this: Creativity and I are the only ones who will be making any decisions along the way. I recognize and respect that you are part of this family, and so I will never exclude you from our activities, but still—your suggestions will never be followed. You’re allowed to have a seat, and you’re allowed to have a voice, but you are not allowed to have a vote. You’re not allowed to touch the road maps; you’re not allowed to suggest detours; you’re not allowed to fiddle with the temperature. Dude, you’re not even allowed to touch the radio. But above all else, my dear old familiar friend, you are absolutely forbidden to drive.”
  • “I don’t sit around waiting to write until my genius decides to pay me a visit. If anything, I have come to believe that my genius spends a lot of time waiting around for me.”
  • “The essential ingredients for creativity remain exactly the same for everybody: courage, enchantment, permission, persistence, trust—and those elements are universally accessible. Which does not mean that creative living is always easy; it merely means that creative living is always possible.”
  • “Perfectionism stops people from completing their work, yes—but even worse, it often stops people from beginning their work.”
  • “What you produce is not necessarily sacred, I realized, just because you think it’s sacred. What is sacred is the time that you spend working on the project, and what that time does to expand your imagination, and what that expanded imagination does to transform your life.”
  • “Your creative work is not your baby; if anything, you are its Everything I have ever written has brought me into being. Every project has matured me in a different way. I am who I am today precisely because of what I have made and what it has made me into. Creativity has hand-raised me and forged me into an adult.”
  • “Curiosity is the truth and the way of creative living.”
  • “I think a lot of people quit pursuing creative lives because they’re scared of the word . . . they quit as soon as things aren’t easy anymore, as soon as it gets painful, or boring, or agitating. They quit as soon as they see something n their minds that scares them or hurts them. So they miss the good part, the wild part, the transformative part—the part when you push past the difficulty and enter into some raw new unexplored universe within yourself.”

Check out my blog post tomorrow where I will share a writing guide that uses psychology to teach writers what readers want from their story.

More Books Writers Should Read—2. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Anne Lamott provides a unique take on teaching writing by making her writing guide a memoir, too. This combination of life lessons and writing tips offers a deeper perspective on being a writer and learning to write well. In Bird by Bird, Lamott covers the insecurities many writers have, pushing through your lousy first drafts, and the classic bird by bird story of how we need to take the immense task of completing a novel one step at a time.

Bird by Bird-More Books Writers Should Read

  • “Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something—anything—down on paper. A friend of mine says that the first draft is the down draft—you just get it down. The second draft is the up draft—you fix it up. You try to say what you have to say more accurately. And the third draft is the dental draft, where you check every tooth, to see if it’s loose or cramped or decayed.”
  • “Writing a first draft is very much like watching a Polaroid develop. You can’t—and, in fact, you’re not supposed to—know exactly what the picture is going to look like until it has finished developing.”
  • “Something must be at stake or you will have no tension and your readers will not turn the pages.”
  • “You need to be moving your characters forward, even if they only go slowly.”
  • “As you learn who your characters are, compassion for them will grow. There shouldn’t be just a single important character in your work for whom you have compassion. You need to feel it even for the villain—in fact, especially for the villain. Life is not formula fiction. The villain has a heart, and the hero has great flaws. You’ve got to pay attention to what each character says, so you can know each of their hearts.”
  • “Metaphors are a great language tool, because they explain the unknown in terms of the known.”
  • “So if you want to get to know your characters, you have to hang out with them long enough to see beyond all the things they aren’t.”
  • “To be a good writer, you not only have to write a great deal but you have to care.”
  • “Writing is about hypnotizing yourself into believing in yourself, getting some work done, then unhypnotizing yourself and going over the material coldly.”
  • “I don’t think you have time to waste not writing because you are afraid you won’t be good enough at it.”
  • “You are going to have to give and give and give, or there’s no reason for you to be writing.”
  • “Try to write in a directly emotional way, instead of being too subtle or oblique. Don’t be afraid of your material or your past. Be afraid of wasting any more time obsessing about how you look and how people see you. Be afraid of not getting your writing done.”
  • “Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul.”

Keep an eye out for my next blog post on Monday where I will share a book about embracing your creativity.

More Books Writers Should Read—1. 20 Master Plots: And How to Build Them by Ronald B. Tobias

In August 2016, I presented a series of blog posts called Books Writers Should Read, where I recommended six great writing guides. Today, I am going to extend that series by suggesting More Books Writers Should Read. Keep an eye out this week and next to learn about four more great books that can help improve your writing.

Do you have a great story idea that needs a plot? Do you want to learn more about the patterns found in successful stories? If so, then check out 20 Master Plots. Ronald B. Tobias covers what plots need in order to outline a story that is satisfying to yourself and your readers. He also reviews 20 of the most common plots, using classic literature and films to show the different elements of these plots and the directions they can take.

20 Master Plots-More Books Writers Should Read

  • “If you strike out without any idea of destination, you’ll wander aimlessly. But if you understand something about the kind of plot you’re trying to write, you’ll have supplied yourself with a compass that will know when you’re wandering and warn you to get back on track.”
  • “Plots have endless possibilities, so there must be endless plots.”
  • “Plot is story that has a pattern of action and reaction.”
  • “Three thousand years of generating plots has given us some common denominators that hold up as a general rule. And like all general rules, they frequently are broken. Pablo Picasso was on target, however, when he said we must first learn the rules to know how to break them.”
  • “Whereas life allows in anything, fiction is selective. Everything in your writing should be relative to your intent.”
  • “What all writers have in common is a method. Once they get the method down, some of them then write a book about it. Those books should be title “This Is What Works for Me,” because readers who respect certain writers too often take their methods as gospel. These methods may be tried and true for those writers, but there’s the mistaken assumption floating around that if it works for one person, it must work for everyone else, too.

“Not so.

“There’s a method for each of us. The writer must know how he works and thinks in order to discover which method works best.”

  • “The foundation of comedy is deception: mistaken identities, double meanings, confusion.”
  • “Put your main character between a rock and a hard place. That’s the true source of tension in fiction.”
  • “Your character will come to life by doing, not by sitting around and telling us what she feels about life or about the crisis of the moment. Do, don’t just say.”
  • “So what does this quest for originality mean? Find a new plot that no one has used before? Obviously not, because plots are based on common human experience. If you found a plot that had never been used before, you’re into an area that is outside of the realm of shared human behavior. Originality doesn’t apply to the plots themselves but to how we present those plots.”
  • “The skill in making obstacles is not just presenting hurdles for your character to run over, but hurdles that somehow alter your character. These are life experiences that teach your character something about his quest and something about himself.”
  • “Generally it’s good advice for any writer to start a scene late and get out early; that is, don’t drag your reading through every detail leading up to the action, and don’t ‘hang around’ after it.”
  • “Plot is the form your idea will take; give it shape and substance as you write. Whatever you do, however, don’t be a slave to the plot. You are not in the service of it; it is in your service. Make it work for you.”

Keep an eye out for my post tomorrow where I will share a book that is both a memoir and a writing guide.

Writing Prompts: The Easter Edition

Spring has sprung and Easter traditions are abound, from dyeing boiled eggs to recounting Jesus Christ’s resurrection to watching the four-hour long movie, The Ten Commandments. But between tales of Peter Cottontail and eating marshmallow Peeps, try to get in some writing time with these Easter writing prompts:

Easter writing prompts

  1. On an Easter egg hunt, Shannon finds a check for a billion dollars inside one of the eggs. What does she do next?
  2. Instead of getting candy in their Easter baskets, Thomas and his siblings get food that would have been eaten in Jesus Christ’s time, like hummus and lamb. Recount their experience.
  3. Derrick has no artistic skill whatsoever, but somehow he accidentally joins a hardcore Easter egg dyeing contest. He realizes that the prize money can pay his rent next month, so how does he win?
  4. The Easter Bunny goes on strike this year. Who will save the Easter holiday?
  5. Debbie’s family celebrates the Passover but never Easter. Though eight-year-old Debbie loves her family tradition, she really wants to eat some of those chocolate bunnies. How does she sneak one into her home?

Do you have more ideas for Easter writing prompts? If so, then share them in the comments below, on Facebook, or on Twitter.

What Studio C Taught Me About Writing Humor

With the prank-fest of April Fool’s Day approaching, I’ve decided to talk about how to write humor. Creating laugh-out-loud jokes, funny scenes, and amusing characters can actually be very difficult because humor is subjective. What makes one person chuckle can make another raise an eyebrow. However, I have seen successful reoccurring patterns of humor in BYUtv’s sketch-comedy show, Studio C, and I will cover some of these patterns today.

Writing humor-what studio c taught me

Combine Two Unlike Things

Whether it is a baby who is your college roommate or a video gamer who saves the world, combining two unlike people or circumstances can create humor. Under normal circumstances, these two things would not be in the same room, but because they are, they present unique, amusing situations. For an example, see a pregnant woman working as a spy in the sketch below:

Exaggeration

Exaggeration appears in most of the comedic patterns I will discuss, but it can be a category all on its own. Try to see how far you can exaggerate situations in order to obtain the most optimal funny effect. How intense can organic food eaters get? How can a mall turn into a battleground as seen in the sketch below:

Misunderstandings

Having a misunderstanding is a huge element in most romantic comedies. Lack of communication, double meanings, and other circumstances keep the characters thinking differently about certain things while the audience (who knows both sides of the story) laughs as they watch the misunderstanding get more and more precarious. See how a young man organizing his wedding misunderstands a funeral planner in the sketch below:

Slapstick

One of the simplest, most basic forms of humor is that of slapstick comedy a.k.a. physical injury and abuse. Unless you are writing for children (who find this form of humor hilarious), I would advise against falling back on slapstick too much because it is too easy and not as satisfying as other forms of humor. However, as you can see from the Scott Sterling sketch below, it does have its merits:

Take the Familiar and Add a Twist

Though humor is subjective, there are situations most people can relate to such as visiting the doctor, going to school, or learning to drive a car. By adding an unexpected twist to a familiar situation, you can make laugh-out-loud moments as we see the familiar become hilarious. Take the sketch below, where we watch the world of dating through the lens of a nature documentary:

Writing Prompts: The St. Patrick’s Day Edition

For many of us, St. Patrick’s Day is an excuse to pretend to be Irish and abuse others with pinches. But between wearing your green and helping the kids set up leprechaun traps, take a few minutes to celebrate the holiday by writing. Here are a few St. Patty’s Day writing prompts all about leprechauns, pots of gold, and pinching people.

St. Patty's Day Writing Prompts

  1. On top of losing her wallet and car keys, Danielle forgot to wear green on St. Patrick’s Day. What does she do to try to avoid getting pinched black and blue by all of her coworkers?
  2. Leprechaun Seamus O’Sullivan’s pot of gold has been stolen. How does he get it back?
  3. Allie lives an average life until she finds a four-leaf clover. Her wish comes true . . . but in the worst way possible.
  4. A leprechaun actually falls for a kindergartener’s leprechaun trap. What does he do when the child finds him?
  5. Saint Patrick gets transported to the future and sees how the world celebrates a holiday in honor of him. How does he react?

Do you have more ideas for St. Patty’s Day writing prompts? If so, then share them in the comments below, on Facebook, or on Twitter.