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In five words, write a story about this photograph.
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99 WORDS...AND A LITTLE BIT MORE
The horizon’s distant desert sky and craggy rocks meld the scene. Remote hues contrast the soft, comforting sandstone colours where the still-life clay objects pose. Their designs depict life from long ago, reminiscent of their uses. Tall, thin-necked vessels made to hold precious water. Thick-rimmed bowls, a sturdy addition needed to prepare food. The drying pot, sculpted with vertical cat eye openings, dried the treasured pumpkin. The important food staple artistically included, expressing the significance of a fruit whose parts are all edible. Silent strokes across a canvas recite a story of history in the Southwest.
Prompt writing is not only a lot of fun, in my opinion, it helps with our overall writing process.
My first use of a prompt to construct prose was in grade school. The teacher instructed our grade four class, all eight or ten of us, to create a story based on an animal or bird, and a possible folk lore that surrounded it. I remember writing about how the Loon got its white speckles on its back. The funny thing is, I remember bits and pieces of that story. Perhaps it will also become the start of something I would now consider sharing with the world.
Prompt writing, I suppose, has been part of my story telling since The Loon. Different forms of inspiration have encouraged my writing…photographs, memories, life itself. It wasn’t until 2015 that I submitted the first bit of writing, written using a prompt, to the world. A scary time for a person who I consider an introvert…A story for another day.
I wrote about 300 words from that prompt. The kicker was it needed to be 99 words, no more, no less. Ya right! The truth is, I did it, and as I reflect back, the challenge wasn’t the words of the prompt, but the chopping up of my story to get to 99 words. I was hooked! Each week a new prompt arrived by email. Each week I started with a longer than necessary story and hacked away at it. The other challenge I gave myself was paring the story with one of the thousands of photographs I had taken. I would read the prompt and think immediately to one of my pictures. A process I still use today.
Fast forward to a project through our local writing group called Voice and Vision, a collaboration between wordsmiths and artists. The guidelines were simple. Writers submit a piece 250 words or less. The artists submit a piece in whatever medium they worked in. We were paired anonymously. The goal…the writer pens a response piece of their interpretation of the original art…the artist creates a piece interpreting the writer’s original work. Easy peasy! Not quite! From a writer’s perspective, you don’t want to insult the artist with your interpretation of their work; however, if that’s where the prompt (their art) takes you, then you should follow that thought. I have had comments from artists that range from “that’s nice”, knowing full well they were not impressed, to “you nailed it”.
And now I am on another journey of art prompt writing. I have been accepted to submit to the first-ever Keweenaw Interactive Art Walk. For those of you who don’t know, the Keweenaw Peninsula is the northernmost part of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The art work I am working to interpret is from artist TOJ owner of the Red Rabbit Studio. Oh, and it has to be my favourite length - 99 words.
Over the years of prompt writing, I see a distinct change in my writing, especially the fiction books I write. It tightens up the content and makes me think about the amount of words to use to show, not tell. This last sentence made me smile thinking about the comments my editor has made on the latest revision of Bloodlines, a Brandi Westeron Mystery. I know, I know, I can hear you saying, “You’ve been working on this book for years.” Just so you know, it sometimes takes that long and longer for a story to feel right so the final coat of polish can be put on. I’m there.
In the mean time, you can read my 99 word stories, that come with a little bit more, on my blog. If you are interested in prompt writing, I post a photo prompt every Thursday on facebook, on the blog, and of course everyone is welcome over at the Carrot Ranch Literary Community.
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September 5, 2023, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that depicts the painting, “Southwest Pumpkins” by TOJ (from the introductory photo). Feel free to explore the nuances — do you focus on the art or seek a story? What vibes do you get? Who shows up to enter the image? What happens? Go where the prompt leads!
Ann Edall-Robson is an author and award-winning photographer
Airdrie Public Library
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