The Time Is Now

The Time Is Now offers a weekly writing prompt (we’ll post a poetry prompt on Tuesdays, a fiction prompt on Wednesdays, and a creative nonfiction prompt on Thursdays) to help you stay committed to your writing practice throughout the year. We also offer a selection of books on writing—both the newly published and the classics—that we recommend you check out for inspiration, plus advice and insight on the writing process from the authors profiled in Poets & Writers Magazine. And don’t miss Writers Recommend, which includes books, art, music, writing prompts, films—anything and everything—that has inspired other authors in their writing.

3.20.13

From Mary Shelley's Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus to Anne Carson's Autobiography of Red, there is a long tradition of fiction about monsters. Write a story of your own in which a monster is the main character. The monster could be based on another monster from literature or popular culture or it could be one from your imagination.

3.13.13

You walk into a dimly lit room at a party where you’ve arrived with a friend. The walls of the room are lined with reptile cages. Across the room you see someone you recognize, and when you turn to your friend he or she is gone. What happens next?

3.5.13

Write a contemporary adaptation of a fairy tale using first-person narration from the point of view of the villain.

2.27.13

Dialogue, when it’s working well, moves the story forward and more fully develops your characters. Keeping this in mind, write a scene for a story that is only dialogue between two characters. Let what the characters say reveal the plot and their personalities and motives. 

2.20.13

Choose a short story by a writer whose style is very different from yours. Type out the story, reading it out loud as you go. Then analyze the opening of the story: Does it begin with dialogue? An anecdote? Setting? Begin a story of your own, modelling its opening after the one you've read and incorporating its style and rhythm.

2.13.13

Write a scene for a story with two characters. One character has kept a secret from the other, and the other has recently discovered it, but not yet revealed her discovery. Have the characters engaged in an activity—shovelling out from a snowstorm, preparing for a party, looking for a lost ring. Use the dialogue and the action to express the tension between the two, without having them directly discuss the secret.

2.6.13

Write a story of 1,000 words from a main character's perspective about the moment his or her life took a significant turn. Keep the description about the moment sparse, focusing on what happened versus how it happened. For an example, read Denis Johnson's short story "Car Crash While Hitchhiking."

1.30.13

Write about a main character for a story, focusing on his or her occupation. Freewrite for five minutes about this character, considering the following: What is his or her job? How did the character get it? How long has he or she held it? What does he or she like and dislike about it? Set your freewriting aside, then research details about this occupation, taking notes along the way. What kind of language would a person with this job use? What kind of equipment? Where would the office be located? Who would be the boss? What would the job title be? Use your freewriting and your research to inform a story about this character.

1.23.13

Choose two people who you know well and write a detailed character description of each one. Next, change their gender, name, and physical traits. Begin a story with both characters standing on the platform of a train station, waiting for a train.

1.17.13

Choose one of your favorite classic books and make a brief outline of the plot. Write a story, set in the present, adapted from that classic story, using your outline and the classic book's main character to guide you. For example, write a version of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre set in Los Angeles in 2013. Who would a contemporary Jane be? Under what circumstances would she go to live and work in the home of a widower? If she fell in love with him, what would happen?

1.9.13

We each have our own approach to writing stories—some writers compose quickly and broadly, leaving the sentence-level refinements for later, while others labor over each sentence until its worded just right before moving on. Identify which kind of writer you are. Then revise a story you’ve been working on, applying the approach you don’t normally take. 

1.2.13

Freewrite for ten minutes about the most significant events that happened in your life during the past year. Choose one of these events and use it as the basis for a story. Write about it from an imagined character's perspective and/or change how the event transpired.

12.25.12

Write a story about the following scenario: One woman knocks on the door of another woman's house. She wants something. She lies to get what she wants. Who is she? Does she get what she wants? How does the woman who answers the door respond? Do they know each other?What happens next? 

12.19.12

Write a story using second-person narration. For an example of the use of second-person narration, read the opening lines of Jay McInerney's novel Bright Lights, Big City.

12.12.12

Write a work of flash fiction, a story that contains the classic elements—a main character who faces a conflict that is resolved—but one that is only three hundred to one thousand words in length. For guidance, read David Gaffney’s advice in the Guardian or visit the literary magazine Flash Fiction Online.

12.5.12

Write a story that is a retelling of a classic myth set in contemporary times. How do the characters change? What is the effect of a contemporary setting? Does the story end the same way? For inspiration, read Anne Carson's Autobiography of Red.

 

11.28.12

Write down snippets of conversation that you overhear throughout the day. Choose a few compelling lines and write a story based on this dialogue, letting it direct the story line and the characters you imagine.

11.22.12

Write a scene for a story that takes place at the Thanksgiving day table during dinner or in the kitchen during preparations for the meal with two characters who are are angry at each other but not addressing their conflict directly.

11.14.12

Write a scene for a story in which one character finds an intimate inscription in his or her partner's book. Who is it from? What does it mean? When was it written? And how does the first character find out the answers to these questions?

11.8.12

In his essay “Don’t Look Back” (Poets & Writers Magazine, November/December 2012), fiction writer Benjamin Percy argues against including backstory when writing short stories. “It’s almost always unnecessary," Percy writes. "A reader intuits the history of a character by observing that character act in the present.”  Choose a story you’ve written and delete all of the backstory that you’ve included. Then revise it by describing the main character and having that description convey the backstory instead.

10.24.12

Using magazine clippings; photographs; found or created notes, letters, and postcards; and other items, construct a story from ephemera. Put the items in box and add to it as the week goes on. When you feel that you've compiled enough, write the story relying on the ephemera as a guide.

10.17.12

Choose one of your stories that needs revision. Create a timeline that includes each year of the main character's life, fleshing out details that support who he or she is. After you've finished, return to the story and revise it in terms of this more fully developed understanding you have of your main character.

10.10.12

Buy yourself five postcards. Write one question on each postcard and send them to yourself every other day. When you receive the postcard, write for twenty minutes, responding to the question. Use these responses as the ingredients for a story.

10.2.12

In the profile “Emma Straub’s Life in Letters” (Poets & Writers Magazine, September/October 2012), author Emma Straub reveals that the genesis for her novel Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures was an obituary she read about a woman named Jennifer Jones. After reading the obituary, she wrote a fictionalized account of her life. Follow Straub’s example: Read the obituary section of a newspaper, and write a story with a main character loosely based on what you find.

9.26.12

Write a story composed entirely of letters from one character to another who never replies. The characters could know each other or could be complete strangers. For an example, read Claire Vaye Watkins's story "The Last Thing We Need" in her collection Battleborn (Riverhead Books, 2012).

Pages