Writing Prompt #18: Use a Quote

I hoard quotes in my journals.

Whenever I’m reading, and come across a quote that really moves me, or surprises me, or delights me, I write it down and save it to look over later. Some of these quotes germinate into stories, and some I save, thinking that maybe one day I will discover the perfect story that needs to be headed by them.

You might want to use a quote as inspiration, or you may actually want to include it at the front of your story. Maybe you have some already in mind, but here’s a quick list of a few of my favorites that I’ve been hoarding.

  • “The face of the city changes more quickly, alas! than the mortal heart.” – Charles Baudelaire, Le Cygne
  • “Only the dead don’t argue, and even then there are exceptions.” – Catherynne M. Valente, The Girl who Soared Over Fairyland
  • “So comes snow after fire, and even dragons have their ending.” – Tolkien, The Hobbit
  • “Faerie is never very far away, and there are a thousand ways of getting there.” – Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell
  • “So?’ Bod said. ‘It’s only death. All of my best friends are dead.” – Neil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book

Writing Prompt #17: A Newspaper Article

Writing a story through a pretend newspaper article can be a lot of fun, and is a great way to get an idea started, or can even be worked into a longer narrative. I’ve seen several stories written through a series of newspaper articles, or incorporating them between passages. I first tried writing my own after reading a make-believe newspaper article written by J.K. Rowling, who often uses this form to extend her Harry Potter universe. My newspaper article is below, and I’d love to see yours if you try this!

Alice Crowned Queen of Wonderland

There’s a new queen in Wonderland.

After her notoriously unfair trail of the Jack of Hearts, the Red Queen was dispossessed, and her tyrannical reign of terror came to an end. The wise, far traveling Alice was called back to Wonderland to take her place as the new Queen. This quite upset the Playing Card Families, who had seen themselves as the rightful lords and ruling candidates. Alice, however, merely poo-pooed their objections, famously saying “Let them drink tea!” and signaling for the Mad Hatter to fill up their tea cups.

Once crowned, Alice immediately set about implementing reform. In Alice’s Wonderland, everyone eats tea cake every day, stories are told in the palace, during which anyone can ask as many questions as they like, and governesses and icky older brothers are outlawed. Most important for the people of Wonderland, there have been no more beheadings, although there has begun a new fashion of growing “nine miles high” (see pg 2), in honor of the new monarch’s heroic actions at that fateful trail of the Jack.

Remembering

There are stories that stick with you. One of those, for me, is a story I remember reading a really long time ago, about a magical handbag with a world inside, that someone’s relative or friend disappears into, never to be seen again. The handbag is somehow lost, brought to a consignment shop, and the image of the main character and her friends spending the rest of their lives searching through Goodwill after Goodwill to find the lost handbag and rescue their friend is one that has stayed with me for years.

I recently tried to find that story again. I’m currently writing a story of my own that uses a similar plot element, and I wanted to be sure that they weren’t too similar. From what I remembered of the story, I was sure it was a Charles de Lint story, and so I started searching his short story collections and the internet for any mention of it.

But here’s the thing: According to Google, the story didn’t exist.

A few weeks after finally giving up the fruitless search and starting to actually work on my story instead, I went to the library and picked up a copy of Kelly Link’s short story collection Pretty Little Monsters. It’s a book I’ve been meaning to read for a long time, and just have never gotten around to. I opened it up in the library, and there, in the table of contents, was my lost story. It wasn’t a Charles de Lint story at all; it was called “The Faery Handbag,” and who knows where I read it because I don’t remember ever having read a short story by Kelly Link.

I took the book home and I reread the story. It was kind of the story I remembered. And it was kind of not. The story I remembered was partly my own creation, made up of my memories of the true story and what I thought could or should have happened in it.

The story I am writing is about memories. It’s about a girl’s Grandmother who has Alzheimer’s, and the stories she tells. It’s about the power of memories and stories to create new worlds, to preserve and to heal and to change things.

It’s strange, I had written in my story, the things you remember, and the things you don’t.

It’s strange.

A Suitcase Full of Stories

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I want my mom to be proud of me. That’s not a feeling I’ve had since I was in elementary school.

My mom was a writer, who gave up college and her dreams to raise her kids. She had an old suitcase where she kept her story about the homeless hippie kid who was really a millionaire, her notebooks, her beautiful poems, comments and encouragement from her teachers.

As a teenager and a college student, I was too busy trying to prove that I wasn’t her to dream of making her proud. But now I want to – as a writer. I want to one day look back, and think how proud she must be of me for not having given up.

Rules for Writing Fairy Tales

In case you don’t know yet, I absolutely love fairy tales, and have often dreamed of writing my own fairy tales in the traditional language and style of Grimm’s. And yet this is something I really struggle with – something that seems like it should be so easy and is yet so hard – especially combining traditional fairy tale elements and language in a way that is completely unique and original, and not just a mash-up of other tales.

For anyone else who’s struggling with writing fairy tales of their own, I highly recommend Philip Pullman’s Grimm’s Fairy Tales. It’s not meant as an instructional book or a writing guide – it’s just editions of the stories researched and rewritten in Pullman’s language – but at the end of every story Pullman includes at least one short paragraph about how and why the tale works, and the choices he made in rewriting it. He breaks the tales down and analyzes them in a way that’s really accessible, and his book has helped me a lot in finally buckling down and writing a traditional fairy tale of my own.

Before getting down to work, I drew upon Pullman’s analyses to write down some quick rules of my own to follow as I wrote. Some of these are contradictory, and many go against everything we’re taught about writing, which are two more things that make writing a traditional fairy tale so hard. Here they are, in case they may be helpful to someone else:

1. Plot is love, plot is life

2. Move fast – don’t pause to explain, reflect, or describe

3. Everymen/women and princes/princesses are one and the same, eventually

4. Good things come in threes, or multiples there-of, except when they come in sevens

5. Dues-ex-machinas are fine, especially when they are gifted by wise women or witches

6. Animals can talk

7. Listen and obey, or don’t and face the consequences

8. Youngest sons/daughters are lucky and make the best protagonist

9. The season and the turning there-of is always important and can be used as a metaphor

The Wolves

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At Edgewood, upstate, night held no terrors; the woods were tame, smiling, comfortable… No, it was on the streets that you saw wolves, real and imagined; here you barricaded your door against whatever fearful thing might be Out There, as once the doors of woodsman’s huts were barred… Here you had adventures, won the prizes, lost your way and were swallowed up without a trace… this, this was the Wild Wood now, and Auberon was a woodsman.

– John Crowley, Little, Big

I absolutely love Central Park, especially on days when it feels like spring. In the mornings, Central Park is all manicured, misty green lawns, meandering paths lined with sheltering trees and Narnian lamp posts, still pools and spun-sugar arches over little streams.

At yet the park can change in a second, one thing in one neighborhood and another five blocks up, one thing by day and another by night. At night, in it’s heart, Central Park is a dangerous forest.

My husband and I, not thinking, decided to walk through the Ramble on our way home from a concert late last night. We’d been in Central Park at night before, down in the tame lower end, climbed up onto the mountains of rock to stare up at the dazzling lights of the West Side. There were teenagers with sparklers, couples with picnics. Not so in the park’s heart.

We saw our first wolves last night. We left the lights and music of the West Side, left the broad, well-lighted path that runs beside the pond, to make our way across to the Upper East Side and home. We climbed up a narrow path and around a corner, and suddenly the friendly park was a dark forest, the sheltering trees so thick they may have stretched on forever, the next cute lamp post eerily far away.

Two men waited in the dark corners, separated by ten feet of path. They whistled to one another as we approached. One lit a cigarette, the whites of his eyes catching the glare of the lighter. We held hands, and, like true New Yorkers, we walked quickly past, our eyes facing forward, moving as fast as we could without running, and we didn’t look back until we had emerged again into the blindingly bright, noisy crowds of Midtown.

Central Park is like the rest of the city, beautiful and terrible, so many things in one small space. From now on, I’ll avoid it’s dark heart at night, and yet it’s so much more interesting to know that it’s there.