January Prompt: Week of 01/28

Theme: Second Person Narrator

Your friends invite you to a party. You don’t want to go but they have a  slew of activities in store for the night. Your job? Get your character  out of the house (it’s late and way past curfew) and into a precarious  situation with his/her friends. Then, end the night back in a bed. It  doesn’t have to be the narrator’s bed. It can be a friend’s bed. It can  be a bed of newspaper in the street. But focus on the details.

The key to second person narration is description, description,  description, so that the reader really feels like he/she is there, experiencing everything through the character’s eyes. With enough detail, the emotional development for a reader will happen organically, so don’t focus on the way your character is feeling, but rather what 
he/she is doing. If you’re up for the challenge, put your character in a very precarious situation so that the reader will feel conflicted. This is a very good literary device for creating emotional response in your reader.

And, of course, don’t forget that writing in second person means using “you” language.

Example: “You wake up and have some coffee. It’s bitter but you don’t care. You like your coffee as bitter as your black heart. Dad is yelling at you again. You didn’t do anything that bad. You just went out with your friends and had a good time. At least, that’s what they told you.”

This prompt was brought to you by:

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Gitana Eleni from @gitana.eleni

Gitana was born and raised in Southern California and currently resides in Los Angeles with her fiance (Joey) and their cat (Kitty). She is a recent MA graduate of English Literature from CSULB (California State University of Long Beach) and specializes in Medieval Literature. She looks forward to continuing her education in a PhD program where she can have the opportunity to study Hagiography.

Her blog, Gitana Eleni, is a book/lifestyle blog where she shares her knowledge about the things she loves the most: books, school, self-care, cooking, bullet journaling, and much more, while also helping people along the way.

She likes reading lots of different books but some of her favorite authors are Stephen King, Nabokov, and JD Salinger. She is also obsessed with cults, serial killers, and all things true crime.

January Prompt: Week of 01/21

Theme: Unreliable Narrator

One of the most famous unreliable narrators is Patrick Bateman from American Psycho, mostly because he’s a psycho serial killer. He describes his violent acts in extreme and shameless detail without emotive tones.

Another unreliable narrator is Humbert from Lolita, someone who commits arguably the most heinous act (molestation and rape of a child). However, his language is so convincing and praiseworthy of Lolita that you almost forget that what he’s doing is extremely horrible.

Exercise: For this prompt, your character (or first person narrator) is going to be incorporating one of the two examples I described above.

For option one, your character can commit a serious crime (maybe the crime happened before the story starts) and attempt to rationalize it with beautiful and deceptive language.

For option two, your character is not deceptive. In fact, your character is very focused on the horrible things he/she has done (but with no emotional undertones because he/she is a psycho).

In one case, your character is being deceptive through emotional devices. In the other case, your character is void of emotion and very clinical about the awful things he/she does. Either case should still be very descriptive (almost excessively-- you can always revise and cut
later).

Both cases present a situation in which the reader might be left feeling conflicted about whether he or she should believe the narrator (both for very different reasons). This is the key to unreliability narratives.

This prompt was brought to you by:

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Gitana Eleni from @gitana.eleni

Gitana was born and raised in Southern California and currently resides in Los Angeles with her fiance (Joey) and their cat (Kitty). She is a recent MA graduate of English Literature from CSULB (California State University of Long Beach) and specializes in Medieval Literature. She looks forward to continuing her education in a PhD program where she can have the opportunity to study Hagiography.

Her blog, Gitana Eleni, is a book/lifestyle blog where she shares her knowledge about the things she loves the most: books, school, self-care, cooking, bullet journaling, and much more, while also helping people along the way.

She likes reading lots of different books but some of her favorite authors are Stephen King, Nabokov, and JD Salinger. She is also obsessed with cults, serial killers, and all things true crime.

January Prompt: Week of 01/14

Theme: Unreliable Narrator

The unreliable narrator is one of my personal favourite tropes to read. In my experience, whether they leave out clues along the way or it’s all revealed in a final coup de théâtre, a story told by an unreliable narrator always has a most satisfying ending. As a writer, there are few other literary devices that will allow you more power over the reader.

There are several types of such narrators to choose from and experiment with from “the madman” and “the naïf” who, for different reasons are not aware that they are presenting a corrupted version of reality, to “the clown” and “the liar” who are consciously misrepresenting the truth, either in a playful or a scheming way.

Regardless of the kind of narrator you choose, here are some features that apply to all:

An unreliable narrator is, by definition, a first-person narrator.

You will have to plan what your story is truly about in advance. This way you have complete control over what you allow the reader to see and when/where your twist will come to light.

Keep in mind that not every unreliable narrator is necessarily a bad guy. Generally, when we think of unreliable narrators American Psycho or A Clockwork Orange come to mind. Although people who have something to hide are traditionally not nice people, think of Forrest Gump!

Control your lies. A lot of readers are very good at working out the type or narrator they are dealing with pretty early on, so your job is to create intrigue by keeping the story believable, or at least still interesting, despite the lies.

Watch your language. Make sure that if you choose a narrator within a specific age bracket or with a mental disability/ illness, you use a vocabulary that represents your choice.

Exercise: I chose a narrator that falls under “the naïf” stereotype.

Imagine you are a child (let’s say between 6 to 8 years old) whose father is an abusive alcoholic.

Describe an evening around the dinner table during which your father, drunk, is unhappy with the food.

What could be the reasons for his discontent? Is the food taking too long? Is it too cold? Do you agree? Could your mother have done better with tonight’s meal?

You are sent to your room under the pretence that you parents need to have a “discussion”. What do you imagine it to be like based on what you can see and hear from your room?

Do these “discussions” happen often in your house?

When, if and how you reveal to the reader that the father is an alcoholic is up to you. The perspective you choose to present the fact in should be that of a child who may not understand the notion of domestic abuse.

This prompt was brought to you by:

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Alina Martin of @inbetweenthecovers

Romanian born, Italian raised Londoner, Alina is pursuing a Comparative Literature and French BA at UCL (University College London). She is a regular contributor to student publications, writing on a variety of topics from literature and culture to current affairs as well as short fiction and poetry. In addition to her academic work, she participates in charity initiatives and is currently part of a volunteer programme aimed at facilitating access to higher education for high schoolers from underrepresented socio-economic groups.

She enjoys making and listening to music, looking at art and then discussing it with friends (preferably over coffee and cake) country walks and a good debate.

January Prompt: Week of 01/07 - Bonus

Theme: Genderless Narrator

Exercise: Imagine your characters are a teenage girl, Anna, and her twin brother, Sam. You are narrating their fifteenth birthday party, going back and forth from female to male point of view.

Think of the differences in the kind of gifts they receive, the aspects of their personalities and personal achievements that their friends and relatives compliment them on.

Is Anna turning into a proper lady? Is Sam growing up to be an assertive young man?

What wishes do their family members express from each one? What do they envision for the teenagers’ futures and how do their imagined paths differ?

Do Anna and Sam feel comfortable with the roles that have been assigned to them?

Think about how twin siblings of the opposite sex have been identical at one point in their lives, until society made them irrevocably different.

Do they ever wish they could swap places?

This prompt was brought to you by:

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Alina Martin of @inbetweenthecovers

Romanian born, Italian raised Londoner, Alina is pursuing a Comparative Literature and French BA at UCL (University College London). She is a regular contributor to student publications, writing on a variety of topics from literature and culture to current affairs as well as short fiction and poetry. In addition to her academic work, she participates in charity initiatives and is currently part of a volunteer programme aimed at facilitating access to higher education for high schoolers from underrepresented socio-economic groups.

She enjoys making and listening to music, looking at art and then discussing it with friends (preferably over coffee and cake) country walks and a good debate.

January Prompt: Week of 01/07

Theme: Genderless narrator

The concept of a genderless narrator has grown in popularity over the past decade, which I, among many others, attribute to the fruitful conversations around gender and its social significance currently occurring in public discourse.

As a community, we seem to have become increasingly aware of the fact that, rather than biologically built, gender is socially, historically and culturally constructed.

Throughout history, writers – Sand, Perkins Gilman, Woolf, to name a few - have attempted to challenge the identity assigned to them at birth, through the use of narrators of the opposite sex or even ones who display a seamless fluidity between the subjectivity of both male and female characters.

I believe the first step towards a genderless narrator is what Virginia Woolf referred to as “becoming other”, in this case placing oneself in the shoes of the opposite sex.

For this purpose I suggest the following exercise:

Think back on your first date. Write down every detail, from the moment the prospect of a date appeared and the time and place were set.

Tell the story in as much detail as possible including how you felt at the time, what you might have been thinking as you were getting ready, what happened on the date and how you felt after.

Now go over the sequence of events and re-tell the story, this time from the point of view of your date (for the purpose of this exercise I’m referring to a heterosexual couple).

Reflect on how each stage of the narration differs? Who’s job is it to propose the date, set the time and place, how does the “getting ready” ritual differ, who pays, what ending must the date reach in order to be considered a successful one?

This prompt was brought to you by:

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Alina Martin of @inbetweenthecovers

Romanian born, Italian raised Londoner, Alina is pursuing a Comparative Literature and French BA at UCL (University College London). She is a regular contributor to student publications, writing on a variety of topics from literature and culture to current affairs as well as short fiction and poetry. In addition to her academic work, she participates in charity initiatives and is currently part of a volunteer programme aimed at facilitating access to higher education for high schoolers from underrepresented socio-economic groups.

She enjoys making and listening to music, looking at art and then discussing it with friends (preferably over coffee and cake) country walks and a good debate.