Rainy Day Writing Prompts
The rainy days of April are here, bringing time and reason to write. Sprinkles outside mean I’m at my keyboard inside. Who doesn’t find satisfaction in writing while listening to rumbles of thunder? Rainy days are great for working on writing problems, and I’ve developed two specific prompts for cloudy afternoons. The first prompt is, An Oldie but a Goodie: Avoiding Clichés. The second is, To Boldly Go: New Verb Frontiers.
An oldie but a goodie: Avoiding clichés
There’s no time like the present to learn to avoid clichés. If you’re an unrepresented writer and querying agents, it’s better to be safe than sorry! Do not send a cliché-filled email to an agent who is looking for fresh ideas. Clichés are as plain as the nose on your face. Use free-writing exercises to avoid them.
As obvious in the above paragraph, it’s easy to fall into the trap (I did it again, didn’t I?) of using well-known phrases. It happens all the time. To eliminate the problem of using clichés, write down ten of the most overused, then find new ways to express the idea behind them.
Example: All that glitters is not gold.
While I love this adage and find it true, it’s overused and it has lost its impact for me as a reader. I would rephrase it. In a prompting exercise, I would improve upon the cliché by changing it to reflect the nature of a character. How would my antagonist use this phrase? Likely, he would twist it to sound cynical or angry. If he’s a thief, he might say something such as “all that glitters is gold,” or “all that glitters is mine.”
It takes brain power to look at clichés with new eyes. Rarely do writers have the time to improve upon their use of common phrases. Most of the time, we’re told to avoid clichés without being given methods to achieve such a directive. That’s why I like this rainy day prompt. Not only does it raise awareness of clichés, it helps improve them to enhance our work.
To Boldly Go: New Verb Frontiers
I was at a writing conference several years ago and the event offered one major takeaway for me. (Of course, there were more, but one idea stood out.) I was chatting with the keynote speaker, a successful writer. She said, “What distinguishes good writing from great writing is the use of verbs. Brilliant writers find new ways to reveal action. That’s what makes the difference.”
I’ve never forgotten her advice. I use it every time I write. Yes, every time. I examine every one of my paragraphs to see if I can improve upon its action. Is there an opportunity to offer a verb that is unusual? For example, instead of “dance,” I could use “pirouette”. Or “garaged” instead of “put into”. (Those examples are from one of my favorite writers. When those verbs are read in context in a paragraph, they work beautifully to convey their author’s style.)
Other examples include:
To drive = taxi
To cry out = yodel
To fall = collapse
To move = lumber
Write down verbs that appear often in your work. Are there different words you could use instead? Keep a list. That way, fresh verbs will be at hand when they’re needed.
It may be argued that unusual verbs are distracting. I agree, so use them with care. Let the verb tell. Let it convey to the reader what is happening in the story without taking away from the action on the page.
"Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the reason that drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.” ~ William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White
Next month: Beyond Bad Ass: Discussing the Modern Female Protagonist
Blog Shout Out: Wise Ink Blog
Are you familiar with Wise Ink? It’s a company that assists writers with all things publishing and its website offers a fantastic blog. To complement this month’s writing prompt post, I’m linking to one of Wise Ink’s own posts about getting started on a book. Suggestions include forgiveness, note-taking, and finding a writing community — great stuff! Check it out to see if the blog offers ideas for your work.