“A novel is something that stands at the end of a lengthy process called writing.”
Victoria Nelson

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

prompts from poughkeepsie for an all-night road trip
Wed 2014-09-24 23:25:42 (in context)
  • 5,975 wds. long
  • 3,380 wds. long

I've been playing with a new source of writing prompts this week: "News from Poughkeepsie," as presented by Mur Lafferty. This is, or at least originated as, a series of writing prompts from the brain of Jared Axelrod. I suspect--though I haven't got a citation for this--that its title comes from Harlan Ellison's famous smart-ass answer to the perennial question, "Where do you get your ideas?" At one point I think Mur was reading one at the end of each episode of her I Should Be Writing podcast. In any case, I'm currently receiving them in her weekly email that you can get if you support ISBW on Patreon. Chuck a buck Mur's way each month and you can get her weekly email too! All while knowing that you're helping to keep the podcast's metaphorical lights on!

Anyway, I've been a supporter for two weeks now, so I've received two of these emails. This week I dug up the writing prompts and used them in my freewriting. Both of them, the one from this week and the one from last, had to do with your antagonist: exercises to help you get to know your story's villain as a three-dimensional character with agency and motives of their own. And I was stuck for a moment, because I don't know who the heck is "my villain." The last few stories I've been working on haven't had villains, not exactly.

Well, "Caroline's Wake" has Caroline's murderer; I guess he's an antagonist, of sorts. But, for one thing, I don't feel like he brings the true central conflict in the story. For another, that story is out in the slush now, so there's limited use in noodling over its antagonist's human moments.

OK, so, what am I working on now? The new story, the one with the feathers. The one that I still haven't come up with a good title for. It doesn't have an antagonist. What it has is a semi-random act of the supernatural and a handful of satellite characters affected by it. Those characters aren't pitted against villains or even banal antagonists. They just have the small day-to-day conflicts that we all do. It's rather like "The Day the Sidewalks Melted" in that way. Hell, it's almost written to the same formula, if "Sidewalks" can be said to have a formula.

In the end I gave up on trying to find a way to make the prompt work for any work in progress. I just made up a new character, decided she was a villain in a story I don't know yet, and let the writing prompt help me ease my way into that story. And that was fun. I had no idea where I was going, but I kept stumbling across signposts as I fumbled my way forward through the 25 minutes. It was E. L. Doctorow's "driving a car at night" style of writing, where "You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way."

That's the best kind of writing, when there's a surprise at the end of every sentence that tells you how to write the next sentence. It's what I love about first drafts.

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