7/27/2023 Prompts

  • When the mirror tells the evil queen that Snow White is the fairest, the queen doesn’t decide immediately that Snow White has to die. The queen hasn’t killed anyone before. She loves her husband and knows he’s fond of his daughter. She invites Snow White to the throne room for a chat. During that meeting something happens that turns her into a villain and seals the future of each of them. Write the scene.
  • Jack has a magic coin that will grant a single wish. Jackie wants him to use it to make her own wish come true, or to give her the coin entirely. (You make up the wish.) They’re walking home from school together when she begins to do the things she thinks will either persuade him or overcome him. Write the scene and make her clever and dangerous. Make Jack smart too.
  • Evan wasn’t invited to the birthday party of the most popular kid in school, and his best friend Evie was. While she’s at the party, he sneaks into her bedroom and takes out his anger by planting a series of practical jokes in her bedroom. Write what happens.
  • Sherlock Holmes (or his sister, Sherry Holmes) is called to the crime scene of Humpty Dumpty, where yolk, egg white, and eggshells make a puddle below the wall the beloved egg used to perch on. The police think he was pushed. They give Holmes the task of finding out if this really was murder and who did it. Write Holmes’s investigation.
  1. If anyone’s around, I have a question for you.
    I’ve been writing a fantasy romance, and realized that it feels a bit like a paranormal romance: human/part human romance, she’s new to magic, small scale (about a few characters instead of a whole kingdom or world). On the other hand, it’s a high fantasy setting inspired by 1700 Mexico.
    Should I use the paranormal romance label, or do PNR readers expect contemporary (or realistic historical) settings only?

    • I don’t read paranormal romance, so I’m not the best person to answer this question, but I will say that I usually think of more realistic settings when I think of paranormal romance – more like Twilight stuff. I’m not sure if that’s correct, though. It might help to look at lists of paranormal romance books and see if you think your book would fit in with those or not. There might also be some overlap between the genres.

    • I think there may actually be a way to incorporate both–at least, many digital libraries that I have seen use many labels for the genre. For example, for Gail’s novel “Fairest”, they label it “Juvenile Fiction,” “Juvenile Literature,” and “Fantasy.”

  2. The MC in my NaNo project is pretty religious and frequently prays and thinks about God. I’ve been debating whether to capitalize “he/him” and “you” or not when referring to him. He’s not an actual physical character in the novel (not like Aslan or anything), just the god that she prays to. I know some style guides say not to capitalize it, but mostly it seems like it just depends on the writer’s preference. For some reason my instinct when writing has been to capitalize he/him but not you, but I would prefer for them to match and for it to remain consistent throughout the story. So I was just wondering what everyone here prefers to read, because I can’t decide!

  3. So, I have a question. I have read both your writing books at least 4 times each, but I wanted to know if you could respond to this and help. I usually can get the beginnings perfect, the storyline outlined just enough to get me enough creativity, but I struggle reaching the middle. It seems that I have a base for the middle, but I can’t make it interesting enough for the readers (or even me). Do you know a way I can make usual plots more interesting?

    • Gail has a couple of blog posts about that, which you can find here:

      My advice is completely opposite of what she would say (I’m a plotter and she’s a pantser), but for what it’s worth, here’s what I would say.
      I like to divide a story into 8 parts, so that the story isn’t so big and daunting, and I can work my way up to each one. I like to have at least a sentence or two about what happens at the end of each section written down, so that I have something to aim for.

    • Gail Carson Levine says:

      Christie V Powell is more organized than I am, I think.

      I agree with her that you can check out my posts on middles. Also, if I can, I like to see my story as a quest, which is a helpful plot shape. I just keep throwing both obstacles and progress at my main character until the final success is achieved or the final failure is reached. The ingenuity that’s needed is to vary the kinds of progress and obstacles, which will give you a satisfying middle.

    • I’d advise looking through your story and finding problems. As many problems as you can find, from little issues to big mental hangups to the dragons that’ve been following your protagonist for the past seven chapters. Search for subplots. Maybe your protagonist really wants to visit the sushi resturant downtown – let them! See who they meet! Maybe they’ll have a revelation of character or meet a mysterious figure that will give them a clue.
      The more leeway you give your characters, the more interesting your plot will be, and your middle will come together nicely. Look on it as an opportunity to let your reader get to know your character, to introduce future plot points, and to throw in some surprises along the way.

  4. I have looked at hundreds of writing prompts across the internet, but I never find anything that sparks my creativity. How am I supposed to get ideas for stories or just simple plots?

    • I think every writer comes up with ideas in a different way. A lot of times ideas just pop into my head and I don’t really know where they come from. Like Christie V Powell, a lot of my ideas start with daydreams – since I write fantasy, usually daydreams about magical things I wish were real or just ideas that I find interesting. Sometimes my ideas start with emotions that I’m currently feeling or need to work through, but usually those just seep into the story while I’m writing rather than being the starting point. I think a lot of times people have a hard time coming up with ideas because they feel like they should be writing a certain kind of story or in a certain way, and it helps to just relax and see what pops into your head when you let your brain go wild. I get my best ideas when I’m bored because my brain is working so hard to try to entertain me! It can also help to make note of interesting or weird things you come across that might be a good starting point for an idea. It can also help to think about the sort of stories you like to read and try to write something with a similar feel to that, though sometimes I like to write things that are different from what I read. You also might be having a hard time coming up with ideas because you’re too quick to dismiss your ideas. If you say something is stupid right off the bat and drop it, you might be missing out on some good ideas. Even if it seems silly at first, it can be helpful to explore an idea more before you dismiss it. You never know, you might have an actually good idea on your hands – think about how stupid some amazing books sound when you say the basic premise out loud! I hope this helps (and sorry for the long reply!).

    • Gail Carson Levine says:

      I agree with all the comments. It’s worth remembering that writing is hard. When a writer keeps at it, one way or another, ideas come, often not quickly.

    • My story ideas also often come to me in the form of daydreams, which I usually have when I am doing something repetitive.

  5. Thanks for the tips! Ideas usually spark in my mind at random moments. Usually less often than I wish. I can never enter writing contests or anything with a deadline because I can’t think of any writing ideas.

    • I don’t know if you already do this, but I would suggest writing down all of your ideas as soon as you think of them (or as soon as you possibly can). Even if you don’t want to work on the idea at the time, you can keep a list that you can go back to whenever you need ideas for a new story. You probably won’t forget your big story ideas, but it might be helpful for smaller ideas for scenes or characters. Also, don’t worry about it too much – there are a lot of authors who only get a few ideas once in a while and just write those. It’s perfectly okay if you don’t have lots of ideas!

      • I completely agree; I dedicate a notebook to writing down story ideas just to keep them all down in one place, if this helps.

    • Gail Carson Levine says:

      I don’t have advice, only encouragement. I think this is a great idea! I think there is a lot to discover in the inner lives of each one.

      This isn’t advice, only my enthusiasm speaking. I’d love for history to be woven into the story. Alcott did it a little, but I think there’s room for much more.

    • I also don’t really have any advice, but I agree with Ms. Levine that this is a great idea! I love the idea of each sister having her own book. Even in adaptations that focus equally on all of the sisters, I always feel like it would be nice to know more about each of their inner lives. So I love that idea!

      Some thoughts on adaptations/retellings: I think the most important thing when you’re doing an adaptation is to stay true to the feeling and ideas of the original, but also to add your own touch to it. If you don’t change anything then people will just go and read the original, but it’s still important to capture the heart of the original. I would try to expand on plotlines or emotions that are touched upon in the original book but you think would be interesting to explore more. Like Ms. Levine said, it would also be interesting to explore more of the history (unless you’re doing a modern adaptation). In Greta Gerwig’s movie adaptation, she added ideas from Louisa May Alcott’s real life, like Jo’s publishing journey and her publisher wanting her character to be married by the end of the book (which was something Alcott’s publisher actually did). You don’t necessarily have to add actual events from Alcott’s life like that, but it might be interesting to explore some of the topics that interested her but didn’t make it into the book (or weren’t focused on).

      This is a great idea and I wish you luck! It sounds like an awesome story. If you have any more specific questions, then I’m sure everyone here would be happy to help!

  6. I’ve started my retelling (of Little Women), and I’m starting the series with Meg, since she’s the oldest. To me, Meg’s always seemed like the least “fleshed out” of the March sisters. For one thing… she doesn’t seem to have a “thing.” What I mean by this is, Jo has her books, Beth plays piano, Amy draws, but what does Meg like to do? At the beginning of the novel, it’s mentioned that she likes to act, but this isn’t really a prominent theme throughout the book. I was thinking maybe she could want to be an actress and they could put on a play that would happen around the 70% mark, but I’m not quite sure yet. Another thing I was thinking about was dancing. If anyone has any ideas about how to “flesh out” Meg’s character, they are very much welcome!

    • Her main plotline is about being a wife and mother. Maybe she is particularly interested in childcare? She also seems to be particularly interested in clothes and fashion, if I remember right, which can be a hobby itself.

    • I haven’t read all of the book (about half, I think) and it’s been a while, so this could be wrong, but Meg has always seemed like a people person to me. She seems like a person who values connections with others over more traditional hobbies. She might be a bit of a people-pleaser, too. And I second what Christie V Powell said about her being interested in fashion.

    • That’s kind of hard to answer because there are so many. Most of Gail’s books qualify and are amazing. Many of Shannon Hale’s books. Grace Whelan has some excellent historical fiction– Listening for Lions and Homeless Bird are my favorite two. Pick of the Litter by Bill Wallace is another favorite. My Mira’s Griffin is kinda borderline between middle grade and YA.

    • I have way too many suggestions to write here, but I would highly recommend Lockwood & Co. by Jonathan Stroud, The Underland Chronicles by Suzanne Collins, and Inkheart by Cornelia Funke. I also second Christie V Powell’s suggestion of Shannon Hale – her Princess Academy trilogy is one of my favorite series.

    • The Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone by Jacklyn Moriarty (hoping I spelled that right). It’s the first book in a wonderful series.

  7. (It won’t let me reply to the thread anymore, so just writing this here.) I’ve heard Jessica Day George is really good and I’ve been meaning to try her books for a while.

        • If you like her books, I’d recommend anything by Anne Ursu, especially The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy. I also just finished her latest novel, Not Quite A Ghost, which was amazing, but it’s a very different type of story. I’d also recommend Leah Cypess’s Sisters Ever After books.

  8. Also, the Percy Jackson series is awesome…. and if you like that, you should definitely try any of the Rick Riordan Presents books. Rick Riordan Presents is a publishing company that is an imprint of Disney Hyperion and publishes MG and YA books based on mythology, like Aru Shah and the End of Time, The Last Fallen Star, Dragon Pearl, The Storm Runner, and more (there are a LOT).

  9. I was wondering what you all think about the right age to publish a novel? I know a lot of YA novels these days are published by people from the ages of 14-25 and there tends to be a lot of controversy about these books. For example, I have seen a lot of reviews disparaging These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong, who wrote it when she was (I think) 22 years old. A lot of reviews have made the point that a writer’s skill should be left to develop longer before they publish a book. However, If You Could See The Sun by Ann Liang (which I loved) was written when the author was in college, and it’s a very beloved book, and Ann Liang has also recently published I Hope This Doesn’t Find You, which was an instant New York Times bestseller. I think The Upside of Falling by Alex Light was published when she was 14 or 15, which caused a lot of disagreements about whether or not it should have left the online writers’ platform on which it was originally published. I was also noticing that this mainly seems to happen with YA literature, and even more with YA romance novels (often romantic comedy, although I believe that These Violent Delights is a Romeo and Juliet retelling, which definitely sounds like an exciting idea).

    • Gail Carson Levine says:

      I started thinking at what age it might be possible to write a high-quality book. I’m sure eight is too young because eight-year-olds haven’t lived long enough or read widely enough. Ten? Maybe, for an extraordinary child, but I couldn’t have written a decent book at that age. Of course, I started at thirty-nine and had to write for nine years before a book was accepted.

      On the other hand, I think, for originality, an eight-year-old could easily beat an AI-created book. But AI may improve. I don’t know if it’s eight years old yet!

    • I gave a presentation to a group of homeschool kids the other week and got to listen to their stories. Most of them were cute, age appropriate but not really publishable, but one ten-year-old had written a story that sounded like a professional, traditionally published book (a picture book, because these were short stories).

      On the other hand, I published my first book at twenty-eight years old, and I am exceedingly grateful that I didn’t publish any of the stories I wrote before that! They helped shape the writing that I do now, so they weren’t a waste of time. I might go back and fix them up at some point, but they aren’t presentable.

      So I guess my answer is that it entirely depends on the writer, the book, and the situation.

    • Miss Maddox says:

      I agree with Ms. Levine and Christie V Powell. I think it entirely depends on the writer and the situation. I started writing when I was around eight, and I had some decent ideas then, but my writing was FAR from publishable (though I didn’t think so at the time!). I think I’ve improved a lot since then, but I still wouldn’t want my current writing to be published. I think most teenagers probably aren’t ready to publish (though there are always exceptions), but once you get to about college aged, it mostly just seems to depend. I’ll add that not everyone can like every book, and many novels written by older writers also get terrible reviews. And age doesn’t necessarily equal experience – a twenty-year-old who has been writing since they were young would have more experience than a forty-year-old who only started last year. I don’t think there’s any real answer to this question, but it’s interesting to ponder!

  10. Hi, Gail! I was just wondering if you would reply if I emailed you. I just want to be sure so I don’t write this super long email that you never see… XD But anyway, I wanted to ask you something like one-to-one and just want to know if you will have a conversation, however long or short it may be. And if you don’t see this… I guess I’ll email you anyway?

    • Gail Carson Levine says:

      Hi, Jackson. I don’t know. I’m very busy and it depends on what you want to ask me. Write to me in my Guestbook here on the website. I’ll see it and no one else will.

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