- Set your own rules for the month
- Get to the end of the story
- Post in the blog comments or in The Victory Dance group
Today’s prompt is a real treat: a writing exercise from author Gregory Frost. (Side note: his classes are the kind that writers only tell their best friends about … and then only after their own application has been accepted!)
Here he shares a prompt that seems to be about setting but turns out to be all about character. Flex those writing muscles, people!
Character through Setting
There’s a tale that John O’Hara once wrote a story in which all he did was describe the contents of a room, and by the end you knew that the occupant had committed suicide. No person appears in the story. It’s all done by inference.
For this exercise, select a character. Think about who they are and what you think you know. Then pick a setting. It can be a room, a landscape, the interior of a car…
Now describe the setting in in very specific detail: Use as many senses as you can, as are appropriate. The person you are telling us about is not present in this setting, but by the time you’re done, we should know the important aspects of him or her.
One more thing…
O’Hara also said that getting the details of a character exactly right is critical—especially the detail that is wrong.
So for this setting, add one element that does not belong there (one of these things is not like the other), and see what sort of story that wrong element suggests.
About Gregory Frost
Gregory Frost is a fantasist, author of adult and young adult fiction (SHADOWBRIDGE, LORD TOPHET, FITCHER’S BRIDES, TAIN, etc.). He has been a finalist for the World Fantasy, Nebula, Hugo, Theodore Sturgeon, and James Tiptree Jr. Awards among others. He is Director of the Fiction Workshop at Swarthmore College.
Continuing our Guest Prompt week, today’s prompt comes from novelist and teacher Gregory Frost. Thanks, Greg!
Unusual Ways of Seeing
Imagine a person with a very idiosyncratic way of seeing the world (for example, a low-end drug dealer who’s perpetually paranoid because he’s sure everyone wants to steal his stuð; or an accountant for whom everything is numerical and anally precise)—anyone who, because of mental challenges, profession, or self-medicated state, negotiates the world in a distinctly peculiar, complicated, or unhinged way.
For this prompt, have your character witness a traumatic event that does not directly involve him or her (a traffic accident, a robbery, an explosion, etc.).
Narrate the event from this character’s first-person POV, incorporating the idiosyncrasies of this invented personality.
If you need examples from literature, look at George Saunders’ “Tenth of December” which includes both the portrait of a deteriorating mentality and the interiority of a child’s imaginings, or Jonathan Nolan’s “Memento Mori,” or Donald Barthelme’s “Game.”
- The narrative should be focused upon the observed event, whatever it is.
- The background/ biographical elements of this individual should be limited, which is to say implied rather than presented outright in the core of things. You know who they are. Get that across to us without resorting to our narrator saying something like “I’m a junkie.”
- The details presented about the event–especially how they’re presented–should suggest everything about our narrator.
Gregory Frost’s YA-crossover SHADOWBRIDGE