Writing Assignments, Materials


The Lobster Assignment: Create a sense of place and mystery.  In the middle of the road there is a wedding veil box with a lobster in it. How did it get there? Does someone enter the scene to find it? Is it alive? Where is this road? What time of day or night is it? Season? Locale? Bring in all the flavors and answer all the above in a brief scene or story. 

Dialogue Assignments: 

Two Talking About One:

Write a scene or story where two people talk about another person. Do they share the same opinion of the person? What is it they say that tells about them and the person they are talking about? Do their opinions line up? Is the conversation awkward, collaborative or confrontational?

Many of the Same:

Write a scene or story where three or more of the same ilk of beings are together talking. Think five fifteen-year-old girls at the mall, college buddies getting together to watch the old school team  do battle, or moms out for wine and sushi on a Friday night. How can you distinguish them with dialogue and dialogue tags (“she said as she flipped her frosted blond hair inadvertently revealing dark/gray roots.”). Your scene or story should have little exposition and plenty of dialogue. See if you can getaway from using tags and sell us just with words.

Let’s not Talk About It:  Like Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants,” the tension between the two characters is palpable, but they never formally state what it is that is between them causing friction. For this assignment write a scene or story where two characters interact but never state what the thing is between them, like a husband who suspects his wife is having an affair and asks his wife circuitous questions about a “male friend.”

Letter Assignment:  Write a letter to someone containing a revelation that will change their life: “I’m leaving you,” “I’m dying of cancer,” “I’m really your father,” “I am in love with your wife,” “I killed your dog,” etc. 

List Assignment: Make a list that says something about your characters. It could be a shopping list or an advice list (see “Scrambling” and “Girl” links below in the Readings section) or like the shopping list it can be things that signify (“Get Doritos for my stoner boyfriend,” “Pick up gauze pads for that nasty cut you gave me,” etc.) character and personality like in Tim O’Brien’s “Things They Carried” (link below in the Readings section). Make your list tell us something about the person compiling the  list and the people the things are for (including themselves).

Overheard Dialogue: Use ‘overheard’ dialogue to trigger a scene or a story.

On the train or in your pedestrian travels you will  overhear shards of dialogue that will pique your passing interest. For example, “He’ll never reach his potential, he never had it in him. I gave him all the chances in the world.” That’s all you hear. Who are they talking about? Who are they? Write a scene that answers those questions and build out from that. Let your imagination fill in the blanks.

Voice Assignment: Write a super short story (no more than 500 words) or scene in the 3rd person omniscient narrative voice, then rewrite it in the 1st (“I”) person narrative voice and the 2nd (“you”) person narrative voice. Go for broke and try the 3rd person limited POV.

Writing Prompt Obstructionsuse the following pools of obstructions (things to be included in a story–shards to form a tale) to spark your creative fire and write something anew.

Obstruction Set #1:

  • Character: Larry or Lila, an Uber/Taxi driver
  • Place: San Francisco, the Mission district
  • Time: Christmas time
  • Object: Fire
  • Quote: “He/She throws lovely parties.”

Obstruction Set #2:

  • Character: a dog walker
  • Place: a beach
  • Time: winter
  • Object: a dead Body
  • Quote: “What’s that smell?”


Flash Fiction:


Books on Writing

  • “On Writing” by Stephen King
  • ”What If?” By Pamela Painter
  • ”The Elements of Style” by William Strunk Jr.
  • ”On Writing Well” by Willam Zinsser
  • A Storyteller’s Shoptalk” by Raymond Carver

FAQs/Et Al

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