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.

7/24/2023 Prompts

  • Here’s an old nursery rhyme, which you may know:

Little Miss Muffet

Sat on a tuffet,

Eating her curds and whey;

Along came a spider,

Who sat down beside her

And frightened Miss Muffet away.

Tell the story of the nursery rhyme from the spider’s point of view. Give it spidery thoughts, whatever they are. Make up the workings of a spider’s mind.

  • Jay or Jae wants to do something that is almost certain to turn out badly. Two of his (or her) friends are trying to talk him out of it. Make up the foolhardy act. Decide whether or not the friends succeed–or whether he persuades them to help him do this crazy thing. Write the scene or the whole story.
  • Elinor or Eli arrives for the second week of training as a scout for King Aldric in his war against the cruel dwarves of Akero. When she (or he) gets there, she’s told that she’s been dropped from the training. Show her character by writing what she does next and what happens.
  • Four friends are hiking together. They run out of trail mix. One sprains an ankle. Rain starts to fall. Their camp is three miles off. Make them all deteriorate into annoying people. Create a crisis and bring them back to likable.
  • Bill or Billie wants to reform himself (or herself), stop being bossy and become more caring. Write a scene in which he completely fails at this self-improvement.

7/24/2023 Homework

  • Take the humor road with a disaster deluge. Write a story that involves at least three of these: the end of civilization, dead siblings, drowned cats, a curse on green-eyed men, and the spontaneous combustion of umbrellas! Handicap your main character with double vision, an inability to pronounce the letter t, and a fear of metal. Or make up your own disasters. Write the story.
  • In medieval England, the punishment for most crimes—really!—was execution. Henrietta or Henry has been falsely accused of theft and convicted, but she’s (or he’s) escaped from prison in the tower of the local lord’s castle. She’s following a narrow track through the woods on the outskirts of town when a large person drops down from a tree onto the path ahead of her. Write what happens. If you like, keep going and write the story.
  • Marco and Juliette are working on a scene together for their school play. Marco is a perfectionist and Juliette is not. Write a rehearsal. If you feel like it, keep writing and end with what happens at the performance.
  • Sam, a master at a particular game or sport (you decide which), is having a match against the sentient dragon who is holding her parents hostage. He (or she) knows that it will honor its promise to release them if it loses, and he knows three other things: It hates to lose so much that it is likely to burn him to a crisp if he wins; if it realizes he lost on purpose it is likely to burn him to a crisp; he hates to lose as much as the dragon does. Write the story.

7/20/2023 Homework

  • Your main character, Lou, can see the future. He (or she) never studies because he knows what the answers will be. Same with homework. He always does very well, but his tests and his homework are never perfect because he doesn’t want to raise suspicions. Today is his final exam in History. What could go wrong? Write what happens and make things not go his way.
  • Your main character, Jan, is an activist against the tyrannical rule of dictator Mun the Fourth. Jan is imprisoned for protesting against the government. She’s (or he’s) wearing jeans, a tee shirt, and sneakers—but the guards have taken the laces. The furniture is welded to the floor. A guard stands outside her metal door. Tomorrow, she will be sentenced. All she has to work with are her belt, which they didn’t see under her tee shirt, her talent at whistling, and the fact that her elbows and knees bend painlessly both forward and back. What could go right? Write how she escapes.
  • Make up how the wheel was invented by early humans. Write the story of what happened.
  • Duchess Sylvia or Duke Silvio leads a rebellion against King Henry, ruler of Jenk, that eventually fails—but while it’s going on, she (or he) captures the king and holds power briefly. While she’s in charge, she accomplishes two things: she creates a democratically elected congress, and she causes the massacre of the kingdom’s shoemakers, who aren’t fighting against anyone. So, she is both a hero and a villain rolled into one person. After her defeat, she’s tried in the high court of Jenk. Write her trial and how she or her lawyers defend what she did and how the prosecutors argue to send her to prison.
  • In Europe and the Middle East in the Middle Ages, there were slaves, but they weren’t black people from southern Africa. They were white people from Europe or slightly darker people from northern Africa. In those places, anyone could be a slave. People usually became slaves either by being captured in battle or by having parents who were slaves. Slavery could happen to anyone. Everyone was sure that being a slave was not a good life, but no one thought that slavery itself was bad or should be abolished. It never occurred to them. Slavery always had been and always would be. Imagine the first person who thinks slavery is wrong and how he or she comes to that conclusion. Newton discovered gravity when an apple fell on his head. What happens to lead your character to the idea: a conversation? An event (like the apple)? Life experience? Write the story of the realization. If you like, continue to what happens next.

7/17/2023 Prompts

  • The new Science and History Museum is holding a treasure hunt for its opening event. Clues will lead participants to the treasure, a certificate entitling the winner to the thing he or she needs most. (You decide what that is.) Naturally, the clues will be hidden, and participants will have to use all their senses (sight, smell, hearing, touch) to find them. Write what happens.
  • Your main character Jules is on a European vacation with his (or her) parents. They’re on a walking tour of the historic section of a city. The tour group stops to allow people to use the bathrooms in the tourism center. When Jules returns to the group, he’s told that his parents left in a hurry and didn’t say where they were going. He sets off to find them. Be sure to include details about the city. Write what happens.
  • Science teacher Mr. Michaels invites three of his students to his house for lunch as a reward for doing well on a test. The students like him but they’re aware that he’s a little odd. Describe their first impressions of his house and what he serves them for lunch. Write what happens.
  • Your main character, Alex, is on a school trip to the local botanical garden. She’s (or he’s) on the outskirts of the clump of students while their teacher lectures to them in the carnivorous plant section (like Venus flytraps). She notices a roped-off area with a sign that says, “No entry,” where the plants are much bigger. She unhooks the rope and enters. Write what happens.
  • Write a scene imagining how the future dictator of the world would behave if left alone in someone’s kitchen. Use the kitchen and things that are in it when you write what happens.

7/17/2023 Homework

  • Use at least four of the bits of dialogue below (in any order) in a scene or a whole story. Make up the two or three characters who are talking. You can add to the dialogue with anything you like. Follow the guidance in “Dialogue Helper” to format the speech and show who’s speaking.

“I wish I could have ice cream for dinner and nothing else every night.”

“Are you listening?”

“I like clouds better than a plain blue sky.”

“What are you up to?”

“What do you mean ‘up to’?”

“Doing. As in, making trouble.”

“The last time I remember reading my book was in the bathroom, but it isn’t there.”

“Yesterday, I found $10 on the sidewalk.”

“You never listen to me.”

“My foot fell asleep.”

“James told me you’re his least favorite person.”


“Why did he tell me, or why are you his least favorite?”

“Forget it.”

“Okay. Glad to.”

If you feel confident that you have dialogue format down, you can do one of the prompts below instead, which are beginnings from famous or recent novels or plays, not written by me. Pick one—or you can smoosh two together—and keep writing the story.

  • “Who’s there?”
  • “It’s all right. I came back.”
  • There was no possibility of taking a walk that day. 
  • The letters scratched on the clay are unevenly formed, suggesting that the writer was learning to write.
  • In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.

7/13/2023 Homework


If you’re participating remotely, email your work to me as a Word attachment or with a Google Docs link by Wednesday at the latest: gclevine@ayortha.com. I’d like three to five double-spaced pages if the work is typed. If you’re hand writing your work and bringing it with you, skip lines on your pad. If your pad isn’t lined, estimate the spaces. Three to five pages too. Please write clearly and big enough for old eyes to see with reading glasses. Please don’t write with pink or yellow ink, or with a pencil unless you press hard. If you have questions, you can email me at gclevine@ayortha.com, or phone me at 845-490-9368.

  • This adventure comes from The Odyssey in Greek mythology: The hero Odysseus lands on an island during his journey home from the Trojan War and, together with some of his men, enters a cave stocked with food and enormous farm tools. When its inhabitant, the one-eyed giant Cyclops returns home with his flocks, he blocks the entrance with a great stone and eats two of the men. Next morning, Cyclops kills and eats two more and leaves to herd his sheep to pasture, rolling the stone back in place behind him.

After the giant returns in the evening and eats two more men, Odysseus offers Cyclops wine given to him earlier on his journey. Soon, Cyclops falls into a deep sleep. Odysseus heats a wooden stake in the cave’s fire and drives it into Cyclops’ eye.

In the morning, blind Cyclops lets the sheep out to graze, feeling their backs to make sure that the men are not escaping by riding them. However, Odysseus and his men have tied themselves to the undersides of the animals. As Odysseus’s ship sails away, Cyclops throws huge rocks at it, which it barely escapes.

If you tend to get stuck in detail, make sure you include at least two steps in the story, like exploring the cave and Cyclops’ entry.

If you tend not to put in enough detail or if you want your stories to be longer, take your time describing the cave and Cyclops when he shows up.

  • Mark and Marka are best friends, but trouble has been simmering between them, which both have been afraid to mention. They’re on a hike together when one says to the other, “I hate when you do that.” Write what they say and what happens.
  • Mark and Marka are twins. At dinner one of them says to either their mother or their father, “I hate when you do that.” Write the conversation or argument that follows and what happens.
  • This familiar lullaby is totally crazy and creepy, in my opinion:

Rock-a-bye baby, on the treetop,

When the wind blows, the cradle will rock,

When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall,

And down will come baby, cradle and all.

Who put Baby up there? Does somebody want to kill an infant? Turn this into a story.

  • Sam is having dinner at a Mexican restaurant with their parents. He (or she) bites into a burrito, which turns into a chunk of dry, hard bread, and he finds himself sitting on the ground near a fire in front of a tent on a vast plain. Tall grasses toss in the wind. His parents are gone and he doesn’t know how to get back to them. A stranger comes out of the tent. Write what happens.

7/13/2023 Prompts

  • Jo and Joe (twins) are taken by their father to a department store to buy winter jackets. When that’s done, he shops for shoes for himself. The twins sneak away to explore. They find themselves in the vast warehouse behind the store, where there is no cell phone connectivity. When they lose track of time and are locked in for the night, they discover the warehouse’s terrible secrets (which you will make up). Write what happens.
  • On a stormy day, Jo and Joe and their mother visit the Cloisters, a medieval art museum. Because of the weather, the museum isn’t crowded. While their mother loses herself in admiring the Unicorn Tapestries, they wander on to the rest of the exhibits. In one room—no visitors, no guard—they see an ancient chest. They know they shouldn’t, but they open it and find a parchment, yellow with age. They know they shouldn’t, but they take it home with them. Write what happens.
  • Alex goes to the Halloween Scare Fair to enter the Haunted House Hypnosis competition. Before they go inside, Alex and the other competitors are hypnotized. When they do go in, nothing seems to be what it really is, but there are similarities. For example, the white refrigerator appears to be an upright coffin. The winner of the competition will find the real door to the outside through its disguise before the hypnosis wears off and will win a prize (you decide what that is). Write what happens.
  • Jake and Jackie are part of a hiking group. They’re both fast walkers and have gotten ahead of the others. They don’t know each other well. Jackie isn’t much of a talker, and Jake talks almost all the time because silence makes him uncomfortable. Write their conversation and what develops between them—good or bad.
  • https://museum.dmna.ny.gov/unit-history/conflict/world-war-2-1939-1945#:~:text=New%20York%20State%20had%20a,in%20the%20US%20armed%20forces: “With the boom in defense production, raw material shortages began to appear. Thus…” New York State “…responded with scrap collections on the town level. …More than 300,000 people participated, mostly New York State schoolchildren, in collecting used rags, rubber, and wastepaper for the war effort.” Samuel and Samantha look for scraps along the bank of the Hudson River. They find something surprising, possibly important for the war effort—and dangerous. (If you don’t live in New York, you can adapt this to where you do live.) Write what happens. If you like, you can tell this as diary or journal entries by one or both characters.

Dialogue Helper

Start with quotation marks, like this (double, not single):

            “Ouch! My toe hurts.”

Punctuation in dialogue, including exclamation points, question marks, periods, commas, belongs inside the quotation marks, like this:

            “Ouch! My toe hurts.”

It’s called a speech tag when a speaker is mentioned by name or by pronoun, like this:

            “Ouch! My toe hurts,” Fred said.

            “Ouch! My toe hurts,” he said.

Notice that the period becomes a comma after hurts, and the sentence ends after said with a period.

But the exclamation point doesn’t change:

            “My toe hurts. Ouch!” Fred said.

            “My toe hurts. Ouch!” he said.

Same with question marks:

            “Your big toe or your pinky?” Sonya said.

            “Your big toe or your pinky?” she said.

The speech tag can come first:

            Fred said, “Ouch! My toe hurts.”

Or a speech tag can be in the middle of a speech:

            “Something fell on me, too,” Sonya said, “when I stood in the graveyard.”

Or, when there are two sentences:

            “I’m scared to go to the graveyard,” Fred said. “Everybody comes back maimed.”

An action can interrupt speech, too:

            “I’m scared to go to the graveyard.” Fred pressed his hands together so hard the knuckles stood out. “Everybody comes back maimed.”

When a character quotes somebody, it looks like this:

            “Sonya and Fred are wimps. They’re all like, ‘Ooh! The graveyard is haunted,’ and it isn’t,” the zombie said. “It’s just home.”

Notice that the quote within the quote starts and ends with single quotation marks: ‘

Laughing isn’t speech. This is correct (notice the punctuation):

            Sonya laughed. “Some part of Fred always hurts!”


            Sonya laughed, “Some part of Fred always hurts!”

If you aren’t sure as you’re writing, look at the dialogue in any novel you like, as long as it was published in the U.S. (Rules are different in the U.K.)

These are for clarity, which is the most important thing in writing, bar none:

Start a new paragraph whenever a different character speaks, even if neither says much:

            “Where?” Jay asked.

            “There,” Meredith said.

Start a new paragraph whenever somebody else does something or something happens  during a dialogue passage:

            “Something fell on me, too,” Sonya said, “when I stood in the graveyard.”

            Fred rubbed his toe.

            Sonya added, “It was after my great aunt’s funeral.”

            A wolf or something worse howled in the distance.

            “I’m never going there again,” Fred said. “Everybody comes back maimed.”

Below is from my book, Writing Magic. It’s on dialogue, too.

            Said is a magical word.  Boring, maybe, but magical nonetheless.  It’s magical because it disappears.  It becomes invisible. The reader finds out who’s talking and moves on.

            What I’m about to tell you may differ from what your teachers have told you.  Your teachers may want you to use lots of variants on said instead of said over and over.  The reason is probably that they want you to vary your vocabulary and not use the same word repeatedly.

            That’s often fine advice, but not when it comes to said in stories.  Asked is as good as said if the line of dialogue is a question.  Asked also disappears.  And so does added, if it’s used when it makes sense and not used too much.

            But you should almost never write,

            “‘Where did you put the aardvark?’ she queried,”


            “‘Don’t you hate aardvarks?’ he questioned.”

            Query and question call attention to themselves and away from your story.  The reader saw the question mark and knows that the character is querying or questioning.

            Same with exclaim. “Wow!” doesn’t need she exclaimed.

            Avoid other noticeable words, like affirm, allege, articulate, assert, asseverate (a word I’d never heard of before I started writing this), aver, avow, claim, comment, confabulate, contend, declare, express, hint, mention, observe, opine, pronounce, profess, remark, utter, voice.  I don’t mean that you shouldn’t ever use these perfectly fine words.  I just mean, don’t use them as a substitute for said.