The Prompt Pot – Magic

Wow – and welcome to this week’s Prompt Pot writing challenge here at Newshound to Novelist. Can you believe it’s our four-week anniversary already? A massive thanks to everyone who has taken part so far.

There were some beautiful and inspired pieces written following last week’s prompt of birds. Most of you tapped straight into your hearts.

My piece-of-the-week was Danielle’s micro, Two Birds in a Bath posted on her blog. It was a really well written snapshot about her children in the summer. Head over now and have a read if you’re able to (and why not check out who else posted – just scroll down to the comments section).

On now, onward and upwards! I’m really excited to see what you all come up with for this week – especially as your word is ‘magic’.

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Will you tell us about the time you visited a birthday party and the entertainment was a magician? Or will you share with us a magic moment from your own life? Perhaps you will be inspired to write about a character who discovers they have magical abilities?

The rules, as always, are to pen your own micro story of 100 words or less, using this week’s prompt.

This week I’m going to have a go at the six-word-story. Feel free to join me too. The thing I find hardest about this style is making such few words into a story rather than just a punchline or an observation.

Remember to pingback to this page and include the tag ‘The Prompt Pot’ so we can find your efforts in the WordPress reader.

The best of luck to you all and I look forward to reading what you come up with.

Here is my magic-inspired tale:


 

Evil

by

Donna-Louise Bishop

 

Secretly, she stole magic. Freedom awaited.

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Into the Deep – 13 Week Streak (Week 1)

Prompt

Three couples hire a small boat and a captain for a whale watching tour, but when the boat returns to the dock several hours later, only six people remain on board.


 

Into the Deep

by

Donna-Louise Bishop

 

Margaret

I looked at Annie and Stephen, the well-to-do couple from north Norfolk, and watched as they lowered their gazes to the floor.

Then I turned to stare at Daniel and David, two hipster-types from Surrey. They comforted each other by holding hands while one of them stroked the other’s arm in support.

Eventually I caught the gaze of the captain dressed in my husband’s clothes. No one really knew the captain. He kept himself to himself. The only reason I knew this was because mine and Bill’s holiday home was the only house for miles. It overlooked his boat house on the small and secluded dock.

No one would miss the captain, but there would be too many questions to answer if the police knew Bill was dead.

*          *          *

David

The first I knew of any problems was when I heard that old geezer splash into the water. At first Daniel thought he was going for a dip and started taking his clothes off to join in. When we watched his body sink further into the ocean though, we knew something was up.

Margaret, his wife, said there would be money in it for all of us if we kept schtum about it; ten thousand each to be exact. Who can afford to turn that money down?

So we all sat and listened to what we needed to say to the police, except for Daniel. He just started into the distance to watch the whales swimming around us.

*          *          *

Annie

That poor, poor woman. Of course I didn’t dare speak out but I knew how she felt to be pushed that far. Stephen was just the same. He’d try and make it up to me, promises of flowers and pretty things to say how sorry he was. He wasn’t the one who had to cover up the black eyes, bruises, and broken ribs though.

Margaret didn’t need to offer me any money – that bastard Bill deserved everything he got as far as I am concerned – but Stephen took it anyway.

The police would just think it was a horrific accident. We would tell them that the captain, a loner, had jumped off the side of the boat weighted down so he couldn’t return. He had no family so they wouldn’t bother to search for him. By that time Margaret and the real captain would be long gone.

*          *          *

Margaret

It was easier for them all to think I was a victim of domestic violence. Too many questions would be asked if I didn’t have their sympathy. Not one of them questioned why I needed to bribe them either – all so desperate for the money.

It was just easier all round to tell the police the captain had killed himself, and easier for me to slip off with the real captain with Bill’s money.


 

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Eilidh from Thain in Vain and Charlotte of Drafty Devil are the co-hosts for this 13 Week Streak – Summer Flash Fiction Challenge. The challenge is to write one flash fiction story under 500 words a week for 13 weeks.

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The Prompt Pot – Birds

Welcome to this week’s Prompt Pot writing challenge here at Newshound to Novelist.

Loads of you felt inspired by last week’s prompt hills, and you came up with some beautiful pieces that I thoroughly enjoyed reading.

A favourite had to be Hema’s micro, Moles and Eagles, over at her blog Mixed Bag. It explored an interesting and relatable dynamic between siblings. I’d recommend taking a a read of it if you haven’t already.

So, without further ado, here is week three of The Prompt Pot and with it comes the word ‘birds’.

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I love the different ways in which we all view birds. Some people will marvel at their skill, while others are absolutely petrified of the creatures. Whatever your feeling, do feel free to interpret the prompt in anyway you like.

The rules, as always, are to pen your own micro story of 100 words or less, using this week’s prompt.

Remember to pingback to this page and include the tag ‘The Prompt Pot’ so we can find your efforts in the WordPress reader.

The best of luck to you all and I look forward to reading what you come up with.

Here is my micro for this week:


 

Soar

by

Donna-Louise Bishop

It didn’t matter how great you felt waking this morning. As the clock neared midday all of your plans halted.

You had planned to start in the kitchen, working your way around the house and finishing upstairs in the bedroom. But the small amount of cleaning you managed quickly zapped your energy. Instead you sat in front of the television with two packets of crisps.

During an ad break you looked out the window and watched a pair of Saint-Martins slicing and snipping the sky.

Like a parent feeding a child, you flew the remaining crisps into your mouth.

 

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Letting Go

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“And what is it that makes you feel guilty?”

I sucked in a breath and held it. That same question had plagued me all week. As the air escaped my mouth, my body sank deeper into the small two-seater sofa in his office.

“I don’t know,” I replied.

“Have you always felt guilty?”

“Yeah.”

“Even as a child?”

“Even as a child.”

“Did anything happen to you?” He seemed almost as desperate for this answer as I was. It was as if just being a certain way wasn’t enough, instead there had to be a reason behind it.

“No. Not that I can think of, and I have been thinking about it. A lot.”

I thought about my earliest memory of guilt. I tried to recall that unbearable sensation when I would feel as if there was no way of coming back from the thing which had made me feel so awful. It was always after an argument with my parents.

I think I would feel upset first and then scared; Scared that they would always be mad at me for the bad thing I had done to warrant a telling-off. I’d always thought my dad had a tempter and I would be petrified of him shouting at me.

Looking back now, he wasn’t scary at all. He was a normal dad. He never hurt me, was always generous with his time and money, and generally a fantastic parent who I have had the honour of being brought up by.

My mum was always the quietest of the pair and actually very rarely shouted. I was never scared of her, just her threats of ‘you wait till your dad gets home’.

Following an argument, somewhere between the tears and hiding in my room, my sadness would turn into guilt. I would feel so despondent after fighting with them and would torment myself over the things I had said to upset them. I would carry the mean words on my shoulders like a broken doll that was beyond playing with. Even after I said sorry.

“Did your parents ever try to put blame on you?”

“No.”

“Did you ever feel as if you were to blame for anything?”

“Yes, for everything bad that happened. I always felt like it was my fault. I feel the same now.”

He picked up his pen for the first time that day and made brief notes on the piece of paper trapped on his clipboard.

In the car, on the way home, my husband turns the radio up and sings along to a song I don’t know. Its name flashes up on the screen and I can see it’s called I Hate People. I press the skip button.

“Do you think people can just be something because that’s who they are? Or do we always have to have a reason for why we act the way we do?” I needed to share my thoughts.

“Yes.”

“Yes to which one?”

“The first one. Yes sometimes our behaviour can be the way it is because that is the sort of person we are.”

“Do you think I feel guilty all the time because of what happened to me?”

“You’re bound to have bad days where you feel as if it was your fault, but you need to keep reminding yourself he is to blame for that, not you.”

I try to hold on to the thought that I am a survivor of rape and not a victim. I don’t want to be having that discussion with myself today. Beside, I think the guilt started long before he interrupted my life.

It’s not that I can’t do things I want to, I just often feel as if my parental responsibilities and my duty as a wife makes me bottom of the food chain. The mental tug of war which goes on in my mind, even over the smallest of things, is tiring.

And I am exhausted.

I want desperately to let go of this guilt but first I need to find the source of it. What if I don’t find a reason? That terrifies me. With nothing to blame I will have to own it.

And then what?

I will share this with the counsellor next week and he will look at me and say: “And then Donna, we can begin to help you let go of the guilt.”

I hope he’s right.

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Author Advice Special – Duncan Stockwell talks about adding some spark to your third act

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I plan my books before I write them – before you gasp and recoil, let me reassure you: I’m not going to try and force the importance of planning! What I’d like to do is share a tool that I think may help to strengthen stories if you plan or not: the narrative spark.

You’ve probably heard the saying ‘plan backwards, write forwards’, with the idea being that defining the culmination of a story allows you to properly design the path towards it. I personally agree with this line of thinking but even when writing to a pre-determined plan, the third act of some stories can still come off as a little untextured.

Here’s what I think the problem is: a lot of the time, designing the plot of a story can be outlining the broad strokes of what will happen. Depending on how deep your planning goes, this often means that Act 3 is just a series of resolutions. Now that’s absolutely fine – it’s the purpose of the third act after all – I think it’s missing a trick though.

The third act of a story shouldn’t just be the culmination of main plot-threads, but of every aspect of the story up to this point. You’ve probably heard of ‘Chekhov’s Gun‘ (or some variation of it). Distilled to it’s most basic form, the idea is that whatever is established in a story must be resolved. You could actually see it the opposite way round though. Whatever is resolved must first be established. Therefore, If you want your third act to be finely embroidered, you’ll have to establish every thread earlier on in the story.

I’ve found that there’s a really easy way of visualising this. Imagine a wire: at one end is a battery, and at the other end the wire is sparking. Every spark that you want in your third act should have it’s wire and battery placed much earlier on in the story. 

I can hear you already: “Well, obviously, that’s how stories work“. And you’re right! But – how granular do you go with that thinking?

For example, if your protagonist delivers a stinging one-liner at the very end of the third-act’s action sequence, the ‘spark‘ is much brighter if it’s been established earlier on in the story. The line’s importance comes not only from its timely delivery, but how it’s an emphasis or inversion or irony of something that has previously been established. It could be used to offer a heartbreaking gut-punch or an exhilarating air-punch.

That’s a pretty easy example to make, so let’s think a little deeper.

What if, in the third act, the protagonist has to be delayed in their pursuit of their goal for some reason? They bump into someone, for example. Bumping into some random nameless passerby is a commonly-used narrative device to increase tension in a sequence, but what if you could make it a ‘spark’ as well? Perhaps the protagonist might have issues with physical contact and pushing past someone would show how she is now focused enough on her goal that she has overcome it? Perhaps the character she has bumped into was a mean-spirited person she met before but who is now issuing some encouragement? Perhaps the person is a very minor character whom the protagonist suddenly realises has actually been against her reaching her goal this whole time?

None of those examples would change the plot’s direction in any way but might have a real ‘spark’ of narrative weight that wasn’t there before and would really add texture and emotional impact to the story. Of course, for that to be the case the ‘battery’ would need to be placed much earlier in the story and perhaps referred to several times before the spark.

Think even deeper though. Imagine if every line of dialogue and every action the protagonist(s) undertook in a story’s denouement was a ‘spark’ that resolved even tiny details that had been pre-established – that would be an amazing ending to the story! To use the visual metaphor again, the end of the story would then be like a knitted-bundle of wires all sparking at carefully determined times.

Let’s reapply this to ‘plan backwards, write forwards’ (I’ll cover planning first, but if you’re a non-planner, I do have some really useful tips for you too so stick around!). 

Personally I like to map out the broad shapes of the story first. Planning the actions in the crisis and climax and applying the relevant foreshadowing. Then I think about how I can add texture with sparks to thscenes in the story’s late stages. Working backwards to fit the wires and batteries for all those sparks then adds the texture into the earlier stages of the stories. Having a defined spark gives much more narrative weight the things that characters discuss and work with/against during their journey to the story’s finale. 

This can also help if I’m stuck when planning the broad structure. I’ll experiment with adding in a random narrative device to get the action moving. As long as I then treat that narrative device as a spark and fit the battery and wire earlier on it then won’t be random in the story as it has been properly established and explored. 

As a further little tip here, it’s usually a good idea to fit those ‘batteries’ into a place in the story that has a little more breathing room; expository sections, or points of low drama. Either that, or allow them space in action sequences to stand as a point of reference, i.e. if a line is to be a ‘spark’ in Act 3, when it’s first spoken in an Act 1 action sequence allow some space to establish it as your ‘battery’ point – have the other characters react to how strange a line it is, for example.

So how might you use this as a non-planner? It’s actually very easy.

As you’re writing forward, make a note of everything that could be used as a battery for a spark later on. If you treat every incidental action or phrase or small character trait as a battery, you can make sure you wire it into the story every time it’s relevant and then make sure it has a ‘spark’ to close out that wire in Act 3. A key concern here though is to make sure you’re not starting too many batteries that you can’t spark later on.

One final tip that’s suitable for non-planners and planners alike is that you can even add in ‘sparks’ in the opening stages of the story to hint at things that have happened before anything even began – it can really help to contextualise the story. Let me use an example to explain what I mean. In The Big Lebowski a large amount of the conversations that The Dude and Walter have in the opening stages of the story actually include phrases taken from President George Bush’s speeches regarding the First Gulf War. If you didn’t know that it doesn’t matter. You still understand what’s going on in the story. If you did know that though, then those few phrasereally help to embed the story in the early 90s.

You can use this technique even if you’re writing in a completely fictional world. All characters are charged with tiny parts of their environment. If each of their lines, traits or actions are taken from or informed by music they like, things they’ve overheard or people they’ve known in the past then they’ll be alive with so many tiny little sparks.

So I hope that has given you a useful tool that you can use in the future. Hopefully it’ll help all your stories crackle with sparks!*

*Disclaimer: make sure you have any actual wiring work completed by a qualified electrician! 


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After writing since he could hold a pen, Duncan Stockwell graduated from a BA in Creative Writing and MA in Teaching Creative Writing.

He designs and publishes the TideBreakers series of stories and card games at tidebreakers.com, but is currently taking a break to work on a series of fantasy novellas. You can also find him on Twitter.

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The Prompt Pot – Hills

Welcome to the second ever Prompt Pot writing challenge here at Newshound to Novelist.

A massive thanks to everyone who took part, messaged, and generally got involved and felt inspired. You all rock! And a special shout out to our first poster, Sara at Puny Fingers for her curry-inspired tale.

This morning I pulled out a delicious pastel green strip of paper with the word ‘hills’ written inside of it.

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Feel free to interpret the prompt in anyway you like. Your words could focus on taking a walk up to the peak of Snowdon, in Wales, or it could be the metaphorical hills you still need to climb to reach a particular goal.

The rules, as always, are to pen your own micro story of 100 words or less, using this week’s prompt ‘hills’ (please note the use of plural too).

Remember to pingback to this page and include the tag ‘The Prompt Pot’ so we can find your efforts in the WordPress reader.

The best of luck to you all. I look forward to reading what you’ve all come up with.

Now, without further ado, here is my micro for this week.


 

Gone

by

Donna-Louise Bishop

Someone famous once sang about the hills being alive with the sound of music. I think they must have been drunk at the time. All the hills I’ve ever walked up are usually cold, windy, and wet.

It’s my parents fault; they loved walking. Self-confessed raucous ramblers, they used to make me scale the highest of hills with them every holiday we went on. I never once enjoyed it.

Now that they have gone though, it’s the only time I am able to feel close to them again. I sometimes wonder if I can hear their laughter on the breeze.

 

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Second Thoughts (a microstory)

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Their first hand-in-hand stroll through Hyde Park signaled the beginning of a relationship that ended with a slap to Henry’s face. The diamond ring that donned Charlotte’s finger left a bloodied scratch on his cheek.

Years later, holding the jewelry inside her palm, she wondered. Should she have forgiven him?


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That Little Bit Harder

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I walk into our house, filled with excitement because it will be clean (it’s a rare sight these days with two children under five). I asked my husband to help with only a couple of chores today but he promised me the inside of our home would be sparkling by the time I finished work.

I wait for the smell of freshly washed bed sheets and polish to greet my nostrils like an old friend but my lips do not form a smile, instead they push out a tiny “oh”.

Bemusement spreads across my face as I look at the living room and see it is pretty much untouched. I had hoped, at the very least, the hoover would have been whipped around. I wasn’t so bothered about the dusty shelves and skirting boards – who bothers with those, right? – but no one can deny that a hoovered room is a happy one. This space however, looks as tidy as a crime scene.

My husband mumbles something about ‘making a start’ but claims the boys had undone his efforts when they returned from school. Okay. That I could live with. After all, kids will be kids. If the house looks as if a bomb has gone off after playtime then it’s been a good day.

With only a few minutes left for cuddles before the boys’ bedtime, I scoop them into the crook of my arms and stealthily sniff their shampooed hair while they watch television. When the programme ends, I take the hand of my youngest and we embark on the long climb up the stairs.

Before I head into his bedroom, I sneak a peek into our own and see it; the laundry still folded on the floor. Anyone who has children, or someone they care for, knows laundry has a magical ability to breed quicker than it is washed or worn. This particular pile of ours had been on the floor for weeks. To be fair, it was the status quo these days but with a baby on the way and a bedroom which needs decorating, I was desperate to get it cleared away.

While my youngest busies himself picking out a story, I recall a phone conversation with my husband from earlier in the day:

“Do you mind sorting out the washing in our bedroom for me please?”

“I can do that.”

“Don’t worry about hanging it out. Just sort it into piles and pop your own stuff away. I can do the rest when I get home.”

“Yep. Sounds good. See you later. Love you.”

It sounds crazy to anyone who hasn’t been driven mad by the laundry monster, but I was so damn excited and relieved that this particular chore was going to be sorted. Unsure of what to do next, I trap a nervous giggle in my throat while struggling to hold back the tears.

At the beginning of this very same week, I sat in our car on the driveway, with my hands gripped to the steering wheel, unable to move. Overwhelmed. It’s the first thing which happens to me when I start to… go. I lose the ability to be physical.

In this moment, I know all he wants – needs – from me is something as simple as a hug, or at the very least a pat on the back and a peck on the cheek, but I am so angry I just can’t bring myself to do that. The demons of my past have destroyed normal physical connections. And his repeated failure to stick to his word is like a kick to the gut every time. I always take it so personally.

So where do we go from here?

A few months ago he walked away. From the house, from the children, from me. I never thought that would happen. I didn’t know he had become that ill.

I shut the door on the laundry and kneel down by my son’s bed to read him a story about diggers. I enjoy the moment and the fascination on his beautiful face, the face we made together. I kiss him goodnight, tuck his legs under the cover, and press glow worm’s belly to soothe him to slumber.

Once his door is closed, I sit at the top of the stairs and take a breath, while listening to my husband talk to our four-year-old, downstairs. They are discussing lightsabers. I try to stop feeding the grudge.

My husband has obviously had a bad day and the motivation he woke up with must have been sucked out of him soon after I left for work. His meds haven’t done what they are meant to do and today I left him on his own for too long to think in the silence he hates.

Just for a change I wish I could be the one who needed him, and not have it be him who needed me. We can’t always get what we want though, so I force it. I force a smile, a sweet sing-song voice; I bite my tongue, and arrange with myself a cry-date for another time.

Sometimes, even maybe most of the time, one of us has to love that little bit harder.


 

 

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The Prompt Pot – Curry

It is finally here! The very first Prompt Pot writing challenge.

It is week one of Newshound to Novelist’s new weekly micro fiction feature, and today I pulled from the pot a sky blue strip of paper with the word ‘curry‘ written across it.

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I’m not even going to apologise that I had this tin in my cupboard in order to take this photo – mainly because it’s my husband’s.

So go ahead and pen your own micro story of 100 words or less, using the prompt ‘curry’. You can interpret it or use it in whatever way you want.

Remember to pingback to this page and include the tag ‘The Prompt Pot’ so we can find your efforts in the WordPress reader.

The best of luck to you all.

Now, without further ado, here is my curry inspired micro…


Since You’ve Been Gone

by

Donna-Lousie Bishop

Not for the first time that week, the feeling of her guts being on fire woke her up with a jolt. Too much vindaloo and Dr Pepper she concluded, while her body gripped the toilet like a shy toddler wrapped around their mother.

The sound of next door’s dogs barking shot through the bathroom window – the norm for 5am. Usually bellows from the owner would scare them into silence until 7am. There was no one to quieten the cats though.

Before he left, she used to sleep better. She ate better too. She decided she would prepare porridge this morning.

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Introducing… The Prompt Pot!

Tucked away in a dark corner of my writing space is something I call my Prompt Pot. It doesn’t get pulled out too often but it has been an absolutely lifesaver when it has made an appearance.

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This vintage-style jar is probably meant to house some delicious Victorianesque sweets but mine is instead filled with words, sentences, and suggestions. It is also the inspiration for my latest blog feature – The Prompt Pot.

As well as some of my own contributions, friends, family, and former students have added to the insides of this jar by simply writing whatever they feel onto a square piece of pastel coloured paper. As a result, stored inside lies a whole treasure trove of ideas and inspiration. And now I’m going to share that with you.

Every Monday I will dip my hand into The Prompt Pot to see what lurks inside. I am then going to pen my own micro story of up to 100 words – based on that week’s prompt – before asking you to take part yourself.

So here’s the deal: One prompt, every Monday, write 100 words or less – and you’ll have seven days to do it.

Please remember to pingback to the challenge so that I can see what you’ve come up with.

The best of luck to you all!

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