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

Prompt 1—Writing with Style
Due Aug 30

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 Playlist Ever”, “The Greatest Raymond Carver Story Ever.” 

Please title the assignment in the following way: “The Greatest (thematic subject) Ever”

Prompt 2—Using Description (from JG)
Due Sept 11

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—Sketching Characters (from JG)
Due Sept 25

Part 1: Write a two-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 4—Creating Suspense (From JG)
Oct 16

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 becuase 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—Individualizing Dialogue (From JG)
Due Oct 25

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.


Back to Schedule