Monthly Archives: May 2015

Alternate Poetry Prompts

On this page, I have added  poetry prompts that you can use to for writing exercises in your writing notebook.    I have stolen some of these prompts from various books on writing poetry.   If you have some favorite prompts, send them to me in an email and I will add them to our list for all students to enjoy. Continue reading

Tension Points for Poets and Other Writers

Soon or later, poets and other writers have to confront or avoid a series of decision moments. They have to admit that they are not the first and only poets to have ever lived. With this admission comes the relation that everything they write has a historical precedent, whether they know it or not.   Therefore, when a reader or listener meets their work, each reader will bring his or her own knowledge of these precedents. The more that writers know of these precedents the better equipped to make informed decisions about what kind of poet they want to be, and what kind of poetry they want to write. And, therefore, the better equipped they will be to welcome or thwart the expectations of their readers. Continue reading

Enjambment, Part One

A student has asked me a very good question: What is enjambment for?  I want to first say, that here is an example of why I think distance learning/on-line classes are a bit troubling—in a traditional face to face class, we could just stop for a few minutes, talk about it, and move on. In an on-line class, we kind of have to wait until everyone has found the time—the entire week—to read a post, think about, write something, and consider the responses. Continue reading


Understanding the importance of setting for a story is easy.  If you were to plan what might be the most romantic moment of your life–say, the moment you ask the person you love to marry you–where would you plan to be?  Taking an evening stroll on a Caribbean beach?  Seated at a candlelit table in a quiet, beautiful restaurant?  Sweating in the front seat of a Chevy Nova in five o;clock traffic, the Beastie Boys in the table deck?  Holding a super sized Hefty bag full of empty beer cans the morning after the Super Bowl party?  Most of us know which of these places we would choose because we know, even without considering how, that thee is a link between the meaning of events and where and when those events occur. Continue reading

The Narrator and Point of View

We’ve all had experience listening to older couples tell stories from their early days together.  One might say to you, “Did we ever tell you about our first trip to New York?  That was some trip.” Continue reading


Most of us would probably say that in life we seek peace, happiness, contentment, and tranquility.  Many of us, in fact spend a considerable effort avoiding conflict in our lives.  Someone yells at us and we walk away.  The IRS asks for more money, and we site a check, rather than call a lawyer.  Interestingly, the last thing we want in entertainment is peace and tranquility.  “I hated that movie!  Nothing happened!”  we might say.  Or after a football game that ends 64-0, we might confess that “I wish it would have been more of a contest.  I felt like leaving at halftime.” Continue reading


In our daily live one of the greatest joys is to meet people with whom we feel some connection.  “You won’t believe it,” we say to a friend, “but I met the most interesting person today at work.”  What did we like about this person?  The way he looked, the way he spoke, the way he behaved in a certain situation, he experiences and attitudes toward life?  All of these factors can be what makes us care about a person and care about what happens to that person. Continue reading

Theme in Fiction and Memoir

Have you ever had a “Life Saver Moment’? A few years ago, the company that makes the candy Life Savers advertised its product by depicting a child having some kind of accident, making some kind of mistake, getting one’s feelings hurt. Then a father or grandfather would sit next to the crying child and offer a Life Savers candy. What followed we imagine was a little story. “Did I ever tell you about the time when your aunt Juanita. . . .” Continue reading

The Experience of Fiction

In discussing writing fiction, I will focus on the short story, but much of what I will say will apply to writing other kinds of fiction, and very often true for other forms of narrative, even if they are factually true (as in with memoir or creative non-fiction).   How a short story differs from other kinds of fictions, from novels or plays, from monologues or fables or fairy tales, is a matter of much discussion among writers, critics, and teachers. It really is not too cynical or lazy to say that a short story is a story that is short. What we mean by story can be described as a series of events with characters in conflict somewhere in time and place (setting), that the events are communicated in language and in prose (as opposed say to a narrative painting or poem or song), and that the events are told from a point of view with an authorial attitude or perspective (point of view and tone).   What we mean by short, we can rely on Edgar Allan Poe’s definition that said the story could be read in about an hour or two. Continue reading