A Writer’s Notebook: prompts from a writing group

I belong to a super-secret writing group online (for real — don’t bother looking, you won’t find us), and lately I’ve been working on little exercises with them. These are some of the things I’ve done.

She was shopping for her own engagement ring in a mall kiosk. I told her I wouldn’t make her buy her own wedding, and she smiled at me. Those witch-hazel eyes reflecting all the tiny diamond-points of white from the tracklighting, her teeth disarmingly unbraced. Her lips were pink like the blush on a peach. I doubt her fiance would bother to describe her lip gloss. I was picturing her on my living room couch, my arm around her shoulder and popcorn between our laps like an old Blockbuster add, before I even asked her name. When she told me, I started pairing it with the names of our children. I offered to buy her a coffee, talk over her ring options. “I don’t know,” she said. “I just don’t know.” I offered to talk her out of this marriage; I explained that I was serious about never making her buy her own ring, that I would take her anywhere, give her anything. Already I felt this way. Already I loved her. But already she was gone, before I could even process her response — I still don’t remember what she said as she left — and I was alone at the glass cabinet, looking down into the Tahitian pearls and the tennis bracelets. The upside-down reflection of a groomed salesman, grinning into the glass. “May I help you, sir?” I don’t know. I just don’t know.

The glove never came off because I never put it on. My fist would not unclench. There is no room for fingers. This is how you wanted it, and for the first time I understood the older people who would sigh with their heads down and claim that whatever they did to me, it was hurting them more than they hurt me. I didn’t believe them; I believe them now. I look at you and ache. You challenged me, and when I slap you, it will be with my bare hand.

This online writing group likes to work in prompts or themes (which seem to be all the rage these days — Housefire, In Between Altered States,Ā Unshod Quills, Whole Beast Rag, and of course the aptly named Prompt, just to list a few), and the vaguer the better. I don’t always write for everything, but the two that prompted these short pieces were related to falling out of love and gauntlets, respectively. (And yes, there’s a typo in the first one, which someone in my writing group already called me on, but hey, it’s about the exercise, not the perfection of prose, so I left the typo in for you, dear reader).

I’m kind of fascinated by the idea of letting these two pieces stand as they are. They need work, of course — both are awfully rough. What I mean is, I think I’d like to leave them this short. I love working in flash fiction, but the shortest one I’ve ever felt worked was in the 350-word range, and most of my flash lives closer to 1,000 words. I don’t often play with forms so short I might as well call them prose poems. But both of these seem to want to stay this length, whatever their final text, so I think I’ll see what happens if I just edit and don’t try for a wholesale revision.

Unless you talk me out of it. What say you, readers? Expand? Contract? Leave the way they are? I’m all ears. Or eyes — this is the Internet. šŸ™‚

Published by Samuel Snoek-Brown

I write fiction and teach college writing and literature. I'm the author of the story collection There Is No Other Way to Worship Them, the novel Hagridden, and the flash fiction chapbooks Box Cutters and Where There Is Ruin.

10 thoughts on “A Writer’s Notebook: prompts from a writing group

  1. Super-secret writing group?.. pfff, I’m not jealous at all.

    I enjoyed both of them, the first one more.

    I think the first can be expanded into a good longer story which I’d be interested to read. I feel it’s not finished yet, there’s something more in it waiting to happen.

    The second one has great potential for a memorable short story. I think you can easily play around with it at 300-1000 words since it’s already intense as is.

    Hope that helps šŸ™‚

    1. Thanks for the feedback! I think I’d like to explore the possibility of expanding both of these, not because they need to be longer but to see what else is possible here, and then compressing both back to something closer to these lengths. Then they’d be tighter but more developed. One can hope, anyway! šŸ™‚

  2. re: possibilities for edit

    I think even in the class of flash-fiction the elements of story still apply:
    1. Who is the main focus of the story – salesman or Woman in store – not sure on this, yet
    2. What do they need the most (want or desire) – you seem to have this down
    3. What stops them from getting their need fulfilled? (rising action) I can see this in here, well.
    4. What is the break point (culminating action)? She leaves the store.
    5. How is the character changed? – so I ask (about your first example above): How IS the character changed?

    1. Great feedback! I can answer #1 & 5:

      1) I see the main character as the narrator, really. And 5) how is he changed? “I don’t know. I just don’t know.” šŸ˜‰

      Seriously, I’m kind of fascinated by characters who don’t change, either because they refuse to or are incapable of it. Which is the case here, though, I’m not yet sure of.

      Incidentally, I just pulled this into a larger story, which is itself a kind of mini collection of flash and vignettes (something else I’ve been interested lately). Whether it stays in that larger story or just gets developed a bit and then pulled back out, I don’t know yet. But maybe using it there will help me figure out #5 more quickly. šŸ™‚

      1. I replied with a rather well laid out reply which the interwez then ate.
        And my mind is too weary to replicate it for hyou here – but I wanted you to know I did try.

      2. No worries! If you feel like retyping it later, I’d love to see the comments. But it’s not a problem if you don’t. I appreciate the original feedback! šŸ™‚

  3. If nothing else, file them. You have no idea (perhaps you do) how many abortive projects I have filed away. Until recently I have despaired about this – what sort of writer am I if I can start stuff but not see it through? On the other hand, not all of an artist’s working sketches become a finished painting. I’d rather work like W G Sebald who (I’m told) researched and wrote ‘like a dog running through a field’ rather than systematically. So I have umpteen unfinished projects, so what? I have nevertheless finished and presented a 50-page themed collection of poems for publication, if the publisher likes them. My latest idea is to take a novel by another writer and adapt it as a radio play…

    Damn it, I’m talking about myself. I didn’t intend to. But anyway, you know what I mean! These pieces may come to something or they may not, but you’ll always have them on file. One day they may surprise you by leading in a totally different direction from the one you had intended.

    (BTW, if you’re really nice to me I’ll try to slip you a review copy pdf of my soon-to-be-published novel in advance of the launch date. I’ll risk your thinking it stinks. Damn… talking about myself again. I’ll get my coat…)

    1. Yes! Yes to all of that.

      You should see my file cabinet full of old drafts and ideas and sketches and research notes, to say nothing of the gigs of files sorted into labyrinthine systems of nested and interlinking folders on my computer. I’m totally with you. šŸ™‚

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