Pushing the Envelope: A Different Kind of Writing Prompt

New writers tend to define themselves as fiction writer, children’s writer, mystery writer, steampunk-dysporia-paranormal young adult writer. Among dramatic writers the boxes are fewer; comedy or drama.  But I like to say, how do you know you can not write that genre unless you try?

I have created some “possibilities”  to help writers stretch and to help others think about the world from a different point of view. So, non-writers, please keep reading, these articles are worth it!

As a writer, I have a curiosity about the world and love to read articles, blogs, pins, tweets and books about a variety of things. I gravitate to certain stories like the one about the recluse in Nebraska who died with a net worth of two million dollars and left it to the local library, the obituary of the inventor of Sea Monkeys, and the struggles of the patrons at Donna’s Diner in Elyria, Ohio. The reason I like these stories is they are about people, about their greatness and their failings. The things they do make them who they are and I find that fascinating. A well- written news story is great at presenting a person’s (character’s) actions.

 Explore the Possibilities

This first story is from The New York Times Magazine and is about four sisters who have their portrait taken together every year for forty years. Looking at the photos made me cry; I don’t know why.

Possibility 1:

Look at these forty portraits and the woman in them as they pass through life. Use all the photos or just a few, use all four sisters or focus on one and write a character profile. Read the accompanying article or not, it is well written, though. If studying these portraits makes you cry, write about that. It is what I plan to do.  Look at their eyes as they age; at their body language, at the location of each photo, at the similarities of the first and last. Go with what speaks to you. What you write does not need to be about these sisters, it can be about you. If you do not usually write things like this, then I double-dog dare you to write it!

Forty Portraits in Forty Years – NYTimes.com.

Possibility 2:

This is a story of our times and yet a story of all time. It is about a young professional woman who had it all and loses it because of a stupid action she takes.

How One Stupid Tweet Blew Up Justine Sacco’s Life – NYTimes.com.

  • Base a character on one of the people in this article and write a series of scenes to show their downfall (this article tells us about their downfall; you can take us along for the ride). Then write a few scenes about them fighting their way back or not. What do you think about Sam Biddle’s actions and  eventual comeuppance? Worth a scene or two? How would the story be different if written from his point of view? Or the point of view of the person who meets the plane in Africa? What is that person like? Who does that?
  • Think about public shaming. Have you ever been the victim of a public shaming? Were you ever the cause of a public shaming? Right about that. Perhaps you could submit it to the NYT Magazine as a Lives essay?
  • Write a stream of consciousness piece as Sacco realizes what has happened and following her back to New York or any part of this story that stands-out to you.
  • Would this have played out differently if Sacco was a man? Write that story.
  • Write a well-thought out opinion piece on Sacco’s actions, on Sam Biddle’s actions or both. Keep it to about 1,000 words.

Remember, the object is to write something you normally would not write.

Possibility 3:

This article comes from Gizmodo, a technology review site that contains some of the best writing on the internet. This one appeals to the geeky me who loves everything about typography. It is about the man who invented the Dove Press typeface. This may require some research, but please do not let yourself fall into the black-hole of research. See how little research you can do and still write a story or snippet.

The Gorgeous Typeface That Drove Men Mad and Sparked a 100-Year Mystery.

Write a stream of consciousness piece from the point of view of T.J. Cobden as he walks to the Hammersmith Bridge and throws the pieces in to the Thames. What fears did he have about the industrial revolution? What was so bad to make him destroy his life’s work? A person’s actions tell you who they are and so do a characters. What was it like when TJ created the font and watched its success?

If you normally write contemporary, this is good one for you!


I want to read what your write, so copy and past the link for this page into your post and use the tag FranklyWritePrompts, leave a link in the comments or use the form on the Submit page to send it to me privately.

I would be happy to hear your opinions on these stories, too! (comments…you know what to do.)

Here is some thinking music for you. Hope you like it. It is Amos Lee performing John Denver’s “Some Days Are Diamonds, Some Days Are Stone.”

5 responses to “Pushing the Envelope: A Different Kind of Writing Prompt”

  1. The NYT piece on Sacco’s story was fascinating. I was reminded of the Spectacle of the Scaffold but hadn’t made the connection of Twitter being the 21st Century’s public shaming and the terror of the crowd. Scary idea.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I is a scary idea and I had never thought of it before. I just love the New York Times, it have kept a digital subscription since I moved back to Michigan. It is my best source of writing inspiration and teaching inspiration. Thanks for reading.


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