English 351: Creative Writing: Prose
Instructor: Bryan Fry
Office: Avery 371
Office Hours: 12:00-1:00 p.m.

Prompt 1—Writing with Style

This first prompt asks you to pick a thematic subject and use that subject to imitate Brian Doyle’s “The Greatest Nature Essay Ever”.  I expect some creative diversity so feel free to be as playful as you want: “The Greatest Real House Wives of Beverly Hills Episode Ever”, “The Greatest Drake Album Ever”, “The Greatest Sandwich Ever.”

Keep in mind this is a strict imitation. Use the sentences from the original essay as templates and replace the nouns, verbs, and adjectives to match your new theme.

Please title the assignment in the following way: “The Greatest (Thematic Subject) Ever”

Prompt 2—Using Description (from Jon Gardner's The Art of Fiction)

Part I: Describe a lake as seen by a young man who has just committed murder. Do not mention the murder.  OR  Describe a barn as seen by a man whose son has just been killed in a war. Do not mention the son, or war, or death. Do not mention the man who does the seeing. The exercise should run to about one typed page.

Part II: Write two tips for creating strong descriptions.


Prompt 3—Choosing Details (from MM)

Part I: Read "Nebraska" by Ron Hanson and see how he captures the entire state of Nebraska through the use of carefully chosen details.

Part II: By carefully choosing a dozen detailsfor example, a donut shop, an interaction on a street corner between a husband and a wifeattempt to capture an entire place: a town, a state, a city, a county (see example on page 78 in MM).

Prompt 4—Creating Suspense (
from Jon Gardner's The Art of Fiction and Janet Burroway's Writing Fiction)

Part I: Write the paragraph that would appear in a piece of fiction just before the discovery of a body. You might perhaps describe the characters approach to the body he will find, or the location, or both. The purpose of this exercise is to develop the technique of at once attracting the reader toward the paragraph to follow, making him want to skip ahead, and holding him on this paragraph by virtue of its interest. Without the ability to write such foreplay paragraphs, one can never achieve real suspense.


This prompt comes from Janet Burroway's Writing Fiction: In the movie Wait Until Dark, Audrey Hepburn plays a blind woman being pursued by a killer through a darkened house. Audiences usually jump out of their seats during the film's climactic final scene because they identify so thoroughly with her character. Write a scene where your character is deprived of one of his (or her) five senses. Then, set the character in a situation where missing that particular sense would have an especially significant impact. Make the situation dramatic, one in which he (or she) is driven by a pressing need or desire (i.e. a man (who is spying) can see, but not hear, his wife as she talks to her ex husband).

Part II: Write two tips for creating suspense.


Prompt 5—Changing Point of View (from MM)

Part I: Pick an incident that happened to you in the past month or sosomething that has stuck in your mind, although for what reason you're not quite sure.

Part II: Tell about the event in three different ways: first person point of view, second person point of view, and third person omniscient point of view (see example on page 206 in MM).

Part III: Write two tips for choosing point of view.

Prompt 6—Individualizing Dialogue (
from Jon Gardner's The Art of Fiction)

Part I: Write a dialogue in which each of the two characters has a secret. Do not reveal the secret but make the reader intuit it. For example, the dialogue might be between a husband, who has just lost his job and hasn’t worked up the courage to tell his wife, and his wife, who has a lover in the bedroom. Purpose: to give two characters individual ways of speaking, and to make dialogue crackle with feelings not directly expressed. Remember that in dialogue, as a general rule, every pause must somehow be shown, either by narration (for example, “she paused”) or by some gesture or other break that shows the pause. And remember that gesture is a part of all real dialogue.  Sometimes, for instance, we look away instead of answering.

Part II: Write two tips for writing dialogue.


Prompt 7—Sketching Characters (from Jon Gardner's The Art of Fiction)

Part 1: Write a one-page (or longer) character sketch using objects, landscape, weather, etc., to intensify the readers sense of what the character is like. Use no similes (“She was like . . .”). Purpose: to create convincing character by using more than intellect, engaging both the conscious and the unconscious mind.


Write a two-page (or longer) dramatic fragment (part of a story) using objects, landscape, weather, etc., to intensify two characters, as well as the relationship between them. Purpose: the same as in the second option of prompt 3 but now making the same scenic background, etc., serve more than one purpose. In a diner, for instance, one character may tend to look at a certain object inside the diner, the other may look at a different set of objects or may look out the window.

Part II: Write two tips for creating strong characters. 


Prompt 8—Varying Sentences (a variation from Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux's The Poet's Companion)

Part I: Take a draft of a story and study your sentences. Do they tend to follow a similar pattern? One common problem is static syntaxthe same thing over and over again. Many people fall into a repetitive subject-verb construction: "He shot the bear. The bear died. He left it there in the snow. He headed home. His father sat there reading the paper. His father asked what had happened. He told him." This can be an effective strategy sometimes, if used deliberately and not unconsciously. Search your story for a paragraph where you've unconsciously made a pattern of repetitive sentence constructions. Using the information from "A Grammatical Excursion," start fooling around and seeing what you can add to each sentence. Remember that idea of repetition and variation: if you have a lot of long sentences, break them down to short ones occasionally.  

Part II: Add a small asterisk (*) next to the paragraph that you revised for this prompt when you turn in your story for workshop.



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