Writing Prompt:The Hardest Word

Apparently, the word most people find hardest to say to someone is “NO”. I’m not sure I agree with this, but it’s an interesting idea. Personally, there are about a dozen words I find harder. I find telling someone they’re wrong harder than refusing them something.

If you had to pick one word that you find hard to say to someone, what would it be? Not the whole sentence, just the action word within it.

Try this:

  1. Pick your word
  2. Construct a narrative around what that word means or represents

or

  1. Pick your word
  2. Write a scene between two characters where this word comes up and add a bit of conflict.

Good luck.

The Playing Field – A Short Story

The field stretched out four acres behind the schoolhouse. Two long rows of evergreens spanned from one end of the field to the other, creating a sense of protective separation from the school grounds and the outside world. It had been snowing incessantly for three days so that the grounds were white. The tree branches, heavy with snow, hung close to the ground and occasionally dropped heavy clumps of it forming high mounds that almost reached the branches that created them. 

As the children returned to school, they walked quietly. Some of them in groups of three or four, others in pairs and one alone with his head down and hands buried deep in his pockets. A group of three girls stood around whispering to each other in front on the boutique across the square. As they shared their chewing gum and gossip about the other girls in the class, they watched the other children walk past through the main gate and into the playground.  

Justin walked alone up the tree-lined street beyond Janet’s Café and up the path to the school. He heard the girls huddled by the boutique giggle as he passed them. He dropped his head lower so that his eyes were almost hidden behind the rim of his woolly hat and shoved his hands deeper into his pockets. He willed his feet to moved faster while trying to make as little noise as possible. When he reached the door to the classroom, he paused, listening for a moment to the voices beyond, then pushed open the door and slipped inside.   

Most of the class had been assembled. At the front right corner of the room, Mrs. Lawson sat facing the class with her hands folded on her desk. The tidy desk spread out before her held neat piles of paper in four stacks, waiting to be distributed. Her dark, emotionless face glanced frequently towards the clock, waiting for the three minutes remaining for class to start to pass. As Justin took his seat and the last students stumbled into the room behind him, she began to speak. 

“Good Morning, Class.” She said.  

The class responded in unison, “Good Morning, Mrs. Lawson.” Their even voices filled the room.  

She glanced around at them without smiling. Most of them hand their hands on their desks and some on their laps, but all of their eyes were forward. She liked what she saw; polite, obedient children with polished shoes and combed hair. Most of their mothers made sure that their uniforms were carefully pressed and their white shirts well starched. One or two had less breeding and looked a little ragged, but that couldn’t be helped, she supposed.  

“Today we are going to start with a spelling test.” She said, and then sharply looked around, hoping to catch one or two children showing their disapproval. All eyes stayed forward and fixed on her except two. Justin’s eyes dropped and concentrated on his lap. He could feel her looking at him. She continued to speak. 

“There will be twenty-five words. When I call them out, please write down the correct spelling. Please print your answer so that there is no mistake about handwriting. This test will be graded.” She said, and then walked around the room while the children prepared their papers. They each took a fresh piece of paper from their notepads and numbered them from one to twenty-five. When she was satisfied that they were ready, she wandered up and down the rows of desks and called out the words to be spelled.  

Justin leaned over his paper, carefully writing down his answers. Beside him, he could feel Billy O’Kelly staring at him. The large boy leaned towards him and whispered.  “J. P., how do you spell successful? Is it one “s” or two?”

Justin ignored him. Billy tried again, “Psst…J.P…J.P….” Justin gave him a sideways glance then turned his head back quickly. He had no desire to be caught cheating.

Billy raised his head and glared at Justin in comprehension. Justin heard him whisper one last time. “You’re dead at recess.” He hissed. 

When the test was over, Mrs. Lawson went to the front of the room and addressed the class.  

“Please pass your papers forward. Do not speak until the papers have been collected. Once I have them all, please open your reading books to chapter five and read quietly while I grade your papers. You will be required to write a summary of what you have read after recess.”

She took the papers from each of the children sitting in the front rows then sat at her desk to grade them. 

Justin sat rigid in his seat. His left had cradled the book on his desk so that Billy could not see his face behind the cover. Recess was in an hour. 

When the spelling test had been graded, Mrs. Lawson handed them back to the student. Some quiet moans spread throughout the room as the students saw their grades. Billy received a 44%.  

Justin looked at the mistakes on his paper and noticed an error in the grading. He raised his hand and his eyes to the teacher. Her eyes darted towards him and she sighed heavily.  

“Yes, Mr. Pierce? What is it?” She said. The class turned and looked at him.

“Mrs. Lawson, I…Well…” 

“Yes, what is it boy?” She said impatiently. 

“There seems to be a mistake on my paper. I spelled recommendation right. It’s one “c” and two “m’s”.  

She couldn’t believe it. This shabby, little boy was telling her how to spell. “Pierce, I graded these papers and all papers very carefully. I’m sure you’ll find that you are mistaken. It’s double “c” and double “m”.” She said then turned away and began to write the next assignment on the blackboard. Billy looked at Justin and smirked at him. 

Justin looked at his paper. He was certain he was correct. He had studied. He always studied.  

“Mrs. Lawson, “ He said quietly. “I’m sure I’m right. Could we double check in the dictionary?” His voice was shaking. 

She turned around with the chalk in her hand and glared at him. She looked at his trousers, faded at the knees and the scuffed black shoes on his awkward feet. His black hair was always in need of a haircut. She resented the fact that the school had allowed such scruffy child from “that neighbourhood” to attend their school. 

“Very well. Please yourself.” She said then turned back to the blackboard. 

A moment later, Justin walked up to her and showed her the entry in the dictionary. She looked at it, but the stern expression on her face never changed.  

“I see.” She said. “I’ll make the change in the grade-book. Now go back to your seat.”  

Justin obeyed and went back to his reading assignment until the recess bell rang. The children slipped out of their chairs and went out the back door of the classroom and into the playground.  

Justin walked toward the open field where he could sit on a stone bench and watch the others play their games. He had been daydreaming, not really paying attention when he felt his arms being pinned behind him and someone’s arm around his neck as he was dragged from the bench. It took only a moment to realise that Billy had made good on his threat. Adam Fisher, a gangly, profusely-freckled boy held Justin’s arms while Billy choked the air out of his lungs.  As Justin tried to free himself, Adam laughed till tears rolled down his cheeks.  

Justin looked around the playground while he struggled. The other children were at the far end of the field enjoying a game of tag. Across the field he could see the classroom door and the window beside it. For a moment, a woman’s face appeared and he felt a surge of relief at seeing her, but it faded as she raised her arm across the window, her eyes fixed on him until they disappeared behind the curtain. 

Finally, as his began to faint, Billy let him drop. As Justin slid onto the snow, his chin hit the edge of the stone bench. Blood poured from the wound as Billy and Adam walked away arm and arm. Justin put his hand to his chin and was sure that he would be left with a scar. 

© Eliza Dashwood 2004

Writing Prompt: Caption Competition

When it comes to making changes in your life, the first step is always the hardest…

Just for a laugh, pick an everyday sign or image and create a story from it. In the case of the sign above, it’s a metaphor for the number of changes I plan to make this coming year. In the literal sense of the picture, I’m the clumsiest person I know.  I’ve tripped down stairs countless times, stumbled on my front steps trying to find my keys (last week), and burned my hand (today) cooking.  I’ve also had stitches in my hand after breaking a glass washing up and three more in my forehead after walking into a metal signpost.

So, pick a sign, go crazy, have fun.

Writing Prompt:  Caption Competition

Writing Prompt: The Times Are A’Changin’

I woke up this morning completely unaware that the clocks had gone back and that I was in possession of another waking hour today. I’ve been ill for the past few days, shivering and sweating in my bed with my DVD player and laptop to keep me busy. I’ve been thinking all day about what to write. A few things occurred to me. It’s not just the hour that has changed, it’s also the season. Winter is here. My friend Samantha just gave birth to her new son a few hours ago after a long, frightening and difficult labour. She’s safe, they both are and I’m grateful that someone so dear to me is taking a step into another chapter into her life. They haven’t decided names yet, but I’m hoping that like her first child, Cassandra, he’ll be my new god-child.

I’m anxious for something new too. A new city, a new challenge, a new anything. (not kids, that’s what my friends are for 😉 )

I’ve been thinking about some of the people I admire and love the most. They all share something in common. They’re brave, they take chances, they are uncompromising in their desire for something that’s all their own. I guess that’s what I want for myself too. So, a few things to think about. If you had one hour to do anything, with no restrictions, limited to only your imagination, what would you do? If you could take a risk in your life, a real risk that could change everything, what would it be?

Be brave, write it down. You might surprise yourself and you might just decide to do something about it.

Writing Prompt: Voice and Music

Have you ever thought about how everyone’s voice is unique, like a signature? Each voice also has a different effect on each person that hears it. What some people find attractive, others might find grating.

There are some people’s voices that are warm and familiar to me. Family generally feels soothing. My mother’s voice stirs a mixture of feelings in me. Sometimes it’s homesickness, other times it’s frustration. I love her accent, sweet and thick with the sounds of her native country. Strange to some, but to me, her voice sounds like home. I’m filled with the frustration that comes from wanting to hear it in person. I only hear it over the phone every couple of weeks. Sometimes I don’t call, not because I don’t want to catch up, but because it’s painful to be so far away. When she gives me news of home, of things that trouble her, I get angry that I can be there with her and I feel like she’s on the other side of a thick glass wall I can never penetrate.

I have a friend who can calm me down when I’m upset just by telling me it’s ok. His voice has a soothing effect on me and whenever I need to gain a bit of perspective, honesty and equilibrium, I’m straight on the phone. Works every time.

I’ve never been a fan of my own voice. It’s high, American accented, Californian with a touch of English and Scottish expression thrown in. There’s no trace of my Hispanic roots, not even when I speak Spanish. I’m teased for my accent by my family when I try to speak it.

There’s another friend of mine whose voice I love, but can never remember it. When I concentrate, I can’t hear anything in my head, I can see him in my thoughts, but there’s no sound until I see him and he speaks. Odd…

Finally, there are some people who make me feel like someone has stabbed me with an ice pick in the heart when they speak. They don’t even need to be speaking to me before I want to run for cover.  Do you think the measure of a person’s heart can be heard in their voice?

 Try this, think about someone’s voice. Try to remember its tone, expression, does it fill your heart with joy or panic? Now, describe it. Tone, accent, manner of speaking, give the characteristics as much life as possible. Draw comparisons to other sounds so that the reader can almost hear it through your words.

Writing Prompt: Touch

When writing, people often overlook how something feels to the touch, paying most attention to sounds (dialogue) and appearances (description/characterisation). Look around, there are hundreds of textures all around you. As I sit here, I can spot some of my favourites. Titch is sitting on the arm of the sofa next to me, every so often leaning her soft, black, furry little head towards my hand and giving it a few licks. I love the feeling of Titch’s little pink sandpaper tongue on my hand.

My hairbrush sits abandoned on the coffee table. I like the feeling of its bristles pulling the tangles in my hair free. On the window sill there’s a crystal vase of yellow roses. They remind me of the walks I often take through the Princes Street gardens. Sometimes, as I pass the flowerbeds, I run my hand along to petals. They’re soft, but have a sort of glossy, almost slick feel to them.

The other day I got caught running in the rain. I was freezing, tired and my fingers were numb, but I could feel every muscle in my body working, even the sting from the sweat and water running into my eyes was worth it. I love the feeling of rain on my skin.

On the other arm of the sofa, my suede jacket is draped over a sofa cushion. It’s too thin for the approaching winter, but I still love the softness of the outer shell. I try not to think of where it came from.

All of these textures, pleasant or not are worth remembering and noting. Here’s a secret, my favourite feeling is a hug.

Try this, look around the room. Describe an object by how it’s shaped and how it feels.  See if you can do this to the point where someone can work out what you’re describing without spelling out what it is.

Have fun.

Quote for the Day

It’s tougher than Himalayan yak jerky in January. But, as any creative person will tell you, there are days when there’s absolutely nothing sweeter than creating something from nothing.

– Richard Krzemien

Writing Prompt: Other People’s Stories

Stories are all around us. We tell each other about our weekend adventures in the coffee room at work, our parents and grandparents tell us about their lives, our friends swap stories every time we meet.

There is treasure of life experiences we all share all around us. Anecdotes are a great source of inspiration. Think about some of the tales you’ve heard throughout your life. Pick one that stands out. Is there a story your gran told you that you like to hear over and over again? What about stories your parents told you?

start by jotting down the stories as you remember them, then fictionalise them, adding your own twists and characters. You might be surprised at what you end up with.

Have fun.

Writing Prompt: Other People’s Stories

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