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A Writing Prompt for Villains (and Thanksgiving)

A Writing Prompt for Villains (and Thanksgiving) how to make a stronger villainYou know that moment when you’re writing something and what you’re writing gives you an idea for something else to write? Well, while writing last year’s “Happy Thanksgiving Writing Prompt,” I couldn’t help but think about how it could be turned into a writing prompt for villains (and Thanksgiving).

Seem wrong? Of course it is! It’s villainous!

How to Make a Stronger Villain with the
Happy Thanksgiving Writing Prompt

If you think back to last year’s Thanksgiving writing prompt, you’ll remember that it was all about what characters want and how badly they want it. From a writer’s perspective, that’s important for figuring out character motivation and planning character behavior. From a villain’s perspective, it’s useful for almost exactly the same reasons.

After all, villains are plotting against your characters the same as you are (or should be).

That means that a very similar writing exercise can help you make a stronger villain and up the stakes of your plot. Here’s how it works.

  1. Pick the villain and target(s) you’re going to work with. If this is for a book, the target should include all the heroes (all the people opposing the villain) – thinking of 1 is not enough, but you can work on them 1 at a time.
  2. Use the happy Thanksgiving writing prompt to figure out what the target(s) values. If you’ve already done this, all the better.
  3. Think of ways the villain could endanger the objects, ideals, or people the target values. You can aim for the most important ones, but a villain with a meticulous personality might try to cover them all. If the main hero’s family or valuables are protected, consider their friends or allies. There has to be a vulnerable spot somewhere.
  4. Integrate the villain’s plans into your plot. Does the villain do the work him or herself? Does he or she assign someone else? When do the point of view characters find out about the danger(s)? How is the danger averted? Are the attacks spread out (faced one after another), or must several be confronted at once?

Remember that realistic villains have finite resources, so they may need to prioritize attacks by the cost, profit, and chance of success. That said, if they can’t manage to threaten at least a couple of the valued people or things, then they’re not that impressive as villains. The more efficient, effective, and insightful their threats are, however, the more frightening and powerful they will seem.

On the other hand, if a villain is bad at figuring out what the enemies value, he or she isn’t going to succeed (not without help or lucky happenstance).

And when you think of it that way, it makes sense that a villain would like last year’s Thanksgiving writing prompt. A process for identifying the hero’s weaknesses? Oh, yeah. That’s handy. It’s like an excerpt of Villainy for Dummies. 😉

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Horror or Humor? A Writing Prompt

Tis the season to be scary, so why are so many “horror” movies funny instead? What is the boundary? What makes a story horror or humor? Explore the answer with this hilariously scary writing prompt.

Are You Writing Horror or Humor?

Interestingly, what determines whether a story is funny or scary is less the topic and more how the topic is treated. As an example, let’s discuss a comedic Halloween classic: Hocus Pocus.

Main Concept: 3 witches who suck out the souls of children to stay young

Is it just me, or is that a pretty creepy (see terrifying) idea? So how can it be a funny movie?

The answer is “the emphasis.” More of the movie is spent on the goofiness of witches, their confusion about modern stuff, re-inflatable cats, and rolling heads, and the last two are practically Looney Tune-like with their abilities to be mangled but unharmed.

In other words, although the scary idea provides impetus for the plot, it is overshadowed with hilarious hijinks.

To prove the idea works, here’s a writing prompt to take the same idea and make 2 totally different stories. Here’s what the two parts will have in common:

  • a frightening condition or situation (serial killer, hungry witches, etc.)
  • the basic characters (3 witches, 2 vampires, and a human teenager)
  • the beginning mood (for about the first scene or the exposition)

The rest… well, the rest is going to vary a bit.

Writing Horror

This time, we’ll make it creepy and try to give our readers nightmares (*wicked cackle as lightning flashes*). That means we need to emphasize the darkness of the situation.

Here are some pointers for keeping it headed in a scary direction:

  1. The consequences are experienced repeatedly (people die, are maimed, etc.).
  2. Focus on the losses and the main character’s plans to avoid experiencing it.
  3. Frightened reactions need to be serious and realistic (no flailing in a panic in a way that lightens the mood – if someone flails in a panic [because people do], it had better emphasize the overpowering helplessness caused by the fear rather than how ridiculous the person looks).
  4. No stupid, clichéd actions (we’re not trying to emphasize character stupidity).
  5. Ends badly or at least not completely happily (a chirpy, perky ending shouldn’t really be possible if you took step 1 seriously).

To summarize, the emphasis is on negative aspects and realism.

Writing Humor

With that same situation and even the same starting mood, you can make the story funny instead of scary. All it takes is a different focus:

  1. Having few consequences or glossing over them (So-in-so isn’t really dead – it was just a sleep spell! Someone died? Sorry, I was too busy laughing at these crazy antics to remember that.).
  2. The villain(s) is goofy in some way – clumsy, has a stamp collection that he waxes poetic about at the slightest opportunity, can only kill someone who’s facing him and ends up chasing people in circles like a dog chasing his tail (you get the idea)…
  3. Characters do stupid stuff and survive (how, we’re not sure).
  4. Survival is as much by unfeasible circumstance as by intelligence/bravery (“Thank God that tree fell when it did!” or “If you hadn’t driven into a garlic store, we’d be goners!”).
  5. Ends happily (all the main characters survive and any previous deaths are already forgotten or somehow ok – “He was a killer, too,” or “Their spirits are free and happy now”).

That’s a formula that has turned a number of terrifying circumstances into a funny movie. Just don’t use it when you actually want something to be scary. It won’t end well.

Ok, actually, it will (that’s one of the rules), but it won’t be scary!

All right. Ready to write 2 totally different versions of the same story? These ones would be especially good to share! 😀

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Breaking Hyperbole as Writing Inspiration

breaking hyperbole as writing inspirationBreaking hyperbole as writing inspiration is one of the mainstays of creative writing. Especially genres like fantasy and science fiction. And since this tactic is so common, I’m guessing it’s not going to be a totally unfamiliar idea for most writers. That’s why this article isn’t meant to be a treasure trove of new ideas.

Although that would be cool. 

My goal instead is to make you more conscious of how you’ve used hyperbole as a worldbuilding or inspiration technique. Analyzing the techniques we use helps us be more deliberate in our methods – it lets us consciously choose to use them (or not) based on our goals and what we want to achieve.

How to Break Hyperbole for Writing Inspiration

All You Need Is Hyperbole and a Literal Mind 

Like most figurative language, hyperbole (when used correctly) works because the reader knows not to take it literally. It’s great for making people aware of details (without blatantly pointing them out), adding humor, and writing dialogue for characterization. 

Here’s an example:

Milly: Oh, I used to dance and flirt the night away. But that was a thousand years ago!

When the character says this, we don’t assume that she’s over a thousand years old. Instead, we understand that the situation happened a long time ago and that the character either likes using sayings or exaggerations (or doesn’t want to say specifically how long ago it was).

In short, a hyperbole gives us an impression of the truth without being the actual truth.

But what if the character were speaking literally? What if it actually has been a thousand years since she danced and flirted the night away? It’s possible in fantasy stories, right? Possibly even science fiction.

Well, in that case, there is no exaggeration, which means there is no hyperbole. It’s not even figurative language at that point. Instead, the statement is the literal truth.

So when you take hyperbole literally, it’s not hyperbole anymore.

That’s why I called this activity breaking hyperbole. If hyperbole were the goal, you wouldn’t want to do this. For this exercise, however, hyperbole is a means to an end – not what you were aiming for.

Exaggerate Reality to Create Fantasy

Many of my writing prompts involve using elements of real life in the story (people watching, the library inspired writing prompt, Food as a Writing Prompt, etc.). And, oddly enough, when writing for them, you may have also used this one (What?)

As I said before, breaking hyperbole is a common part of the creative process. In other words, it’s a way of transforming reality into something new for your world or your story. Here’s how it works:

  1. Pick something from real life.
  2. Write a hyperbole about it.
  3. Take the hyperbole literally.
  4. Expand that literal interpretation to create something new.

Lizards could inspire dragons, speed trains could inspire instantaneous travel by train, and a lush garden could inspire a flower world. Or 50 other things. Whatever style or genre you write in can find inspiration by exaggerating reality to form new truths – even romance exaggerates reality for the sake of the story (and we all know to never let the truth get in the way of a good story).

It’s pretty obvious that most writers do this in one way or another. Now that I’ve made you think about it (theoretically), though, you can choose to use it deliberately on days when you’re at a loss for ideas. If nothing else, may it get your creative engine started and lead you in new directions.

Happy writing! Have fun breaking hyperbole – or storming the castle, whatever!

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A Found Poetry Writing Prompt

by Le Anne Devol

If you haven’t discovered found poetry yet, you should check it out because it’s pretty cool. Actually, I’d recommend doing an image search because it can be a really interesting combination of poetry and visual arts. Which means that it may be a little different from the poetry you’re used to writing, but don’t worry – here’s a found poetry writing prompt to get you started.

A Writing Prompt for Found Poetry

Like most poetry, found poetry is extremely easy to do and quite a bit harder to do well. These steps will help guide you in the direction of doing it well, but the follow-through is up to you. Here goes:

  1. Find a source. It could be an old classic, a modern novel, a short story, or a scientific article. It’s really up to you and what interests you.
  2. Copy the page(s) you want to use. You don’t want to write in the book, right? Especially if you screw it up the first time.
  3. Pick a relationship. The poem is going to relate to the source simply because its words come from the original writing. What you need to decide is how you want the poem to relate: is it honoring the original, restating it, changing its perspective, or satirizing it? Remember that relating to the original doesn’t mean the poem has to agree with the original.
  4. Find the words. Look for options that tell the message you want. If you feel like there are too many options, set up rules for yourself like having to use only 1 word from each line or each paragraph. Take notes in pencil or write them on a separate page until you have the combination you want.
  5. Decide how you want to mark the words in the final copy. Are you going to circle them? Do you want to black everything else out? Do you want to draw a picture around them? There are plenty of different options.
  6. Mark the words and color. Basically, follow-through on your decision from step 5.

I know, I know. Steps 5 and 6 could be combined. Since making decisions and follow-through are two major parts of poetry writing, however, I decided they deserve their own steps in the writing prompt. As usual, you can use these steps in whatever manner you choose.

And, of course, if you’d like to post the results in the comments, I wouldn’t object. 😉 Happy writing!