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2021: Celebrating The Writers' Greenhouse
10 YEAR anniversary!

Saturday, 10 July 2021

Weekly writing prompt: Get Specific

Scrabble letters: Get Specific

In the run-up to the online Summer of Writing workshops in August & September, I'm posting a writing prompt each weekend – plenty of different stuff for you to play around with as a chance to experiment, get your pen moving, and have fun! Each of the prompts loosely connects with a weekend pair of the Summer of Writing workshops, and I'll explain the connection at the end of the post each time. I find it's often more useful to play with prompts first, then think about their purpose afterwards, as we're more open and uninhibited that way. (That said, if you need to understand the point of something to enjoy it, feel free to scroll down and read that first!)

This week's prompt is Get Specific: Describe somewhere you like or know well, ideally sitting there. It could be a street, a favourite coffee shop or pub garden, the view from your window... The important thing is to be as specific as possible about every detail. If there's a tree, what kind is it? If there's an armchair, what style is it? If the walls are red, what precise shade are they? If there's music playing, who's the singer, what's the song, what exact sub-genre is it? If there's a smell of food, or spices, what precise flavours?

Don't be surprised if you need to look up lots of the details and end up scrolling through thesauruses and obscure web pages to find the exact names. In other kinds of writing, you usually don't want to interrupt the flow like that, but right now, that's the point of the exercise: to zoom in on those exact details. Here are some links I find especially useful for this kind of thing:

All those are on my Writers' Links page as well.

Have fun! 

This prompt links with the pair of workshops on The Art of the Short Story: Shaping Short Stories (Sat 14 August) and Stories on a Postcard (Sun 15 August). To bring your story to life without shovelling on the word count, specificity is one of the most useful tools: if we read "tree", that's just a green sticky-up thing; if we read "banyan", "willow", "baobab", or "mangrove", that's a world come to life in a word. And for you, as a writer, getting specific about those details enriches your imagination and creativity so much: now that it's not just a tree in your story, but a mangrove, how many more ideas does that open to you? In the first workshop, Shaping Short Stories, we'll be looking at mapping out the essential ingredients for your short story and the unity at the heart of it. In the second, Stories on a Postcard, we'll be looking at all the ways we can tell rich stories in a very few words. You can read more about both workshops and book your places here. (There are only 2 places left on each of those workshops, so move fast if you want to book!)

There's a new writing prompt each week, so you can subscribe to the mailing list on the side or at the bottom of the post.

The full list of Summer of Writing workshops is...

  • 1. Characters Unlike You: The Other Types (Saturday 7 August): exploring different systems of personality types to create likeable characters who are fundamentally different to you
  • 2. Characters Unlike You: Tools for Change (Sunday 8 August): a range of tools to separate yourself and esnure they’re still characters you have respect and affection for
  • 3. The Art of the Short Story: Shaping Short Stories (Saturday 14 August): strategies and techniques for creating and plotting engaging short stories
  • 4. The Art of the Short Story: Stories on a Postcard (Sunday 15 August): extreme economy in storytelling while keeping the prose sensory and rooted in real time
  • 5. Page Turners: Compelling Stories (Saturday 21 August): the underlying principles of gripping storytelling, to develop a story’s narrative drive, plot map, and scenes map
  • 6. Page Turners: Compelling Pages (Sunday 22 August): using micro-tension to tauten every scene and paragraph, so that every page is engaging
  • 7. Unravelling Secrets: Dramatic Secrets (Saturday 28 August): creating thrillers, mysteries, and crime / detective fiction: the genres structured around secrets
  • 8. Unravelling Secrets: Tricksy Storytelling (Sunday 29 August): how to structure a story around its central secret, and managing what you give away when, backstory, and red herrings
  • 9. Orientating the Reader: Shifting Between Scenes (Saturday 4 September): how to keep the reader oriented about who characters are, what happened last, moving in time and place, and dealing with flashbacks elegantly
  • 10. Orientating the Reader: Deft Exposition (Sunday 5 September): a range of ways to weave explanation into a story and how to deal with "heavy-duty" exposition for more complex info
Read more details about the Summer of Writing workshops and book your places here.

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