Hump Day Writing Prompt: Character Super Power

hump-day-writing-prompt-charater-super-powerMy work-in-progress is about a 12-year-old girl who believes she has super powers.

Her super power is problem solving. When she becomes Wonder Roo, she can figure things out at the speed of light, leap any obstacle with a single bound.

Yesterday I was thinking about how we all have our super powers. Maybe you’re really good making other people feel good about themselves. Or you make perfect hard boiled eggs (seriously, this is one of my son’s super powers. Perfect eggs, every single time.) Or you can sing like an angel. Whatever it is, it’s part of what makes you, you.

So, think about your main character and write a little today about their super power. Bonus points for figuring out your antagonist’s super power, too.

My Turn

I’ve already told you about Roona’s super power. She’s a kick-ass problem solver.

The other main character in my story is Roona’s friend and next door neighbor, Gideon.

Gideon’s super power is his ability to be rational in just about any situation. He’s the guy you want with you when you’re twelve and you decide that you have no choice but to buy a bus ticket to Las Vegas and go find your dad, who’s been missing since you were a baby. Because he’s the guy who will make sure you save enough money for the cab ride back to the bus station.

Where Roona is a doer, Gideon is a thinker.

The antagonist in Wonder Roo is Roona’s mother. She’s not bad or evil or mean. She’s sick. Roona for sure believes that her mom’s super power is her ability to bake her emotions into her cakes and pies. Her real super power is her free spirit. Miranda Mulroney knows how to have fun. She is fun.

Your Turn

Spend some time today thinking about your main character’s super power. How does their super power affect your story? Do the work, then come share it on Facebook if you want some feedback.

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Hump Day Writing Prompt: The Name on the Sign

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I don’t think we’ve ever done a writing prompt that dealt with a minor character.

Minor is, of course, a relative term. There are characters in literature who aren’t the protagonist or the antagonist who absolutely make the story. Here are some classics:

  • The Wizard of Oz
  • Professor Dumbledore
  • The Mad Hatter
  • Tinkerbell
  • Mr. Tumnus

So, last night I was driving my daughter to soccer practice and I passed a sign that I see practically everyday, but never really notice. There’s an apartment (or maybe condo?) complex with a small golf course attached to it. The Trent Jones golf course.

For the first time I wondered . . . who is Trent Jones?

Here’s your challenge today. Think of a street or building or . . . golf course in your town that’s named after someone you don’t know. Then write about who that person is. Try to make them someone who might have a place in your current work-in-progress, even if you never put them in your story.

My Turn

In my story, Wonder Roo, the two main characters (Gideon and Roona) rush to a local Old Folks Home to try to retrieve a blueberry pie that Roona’s mother made while she was very sad. Roona believes that her mother bakes her emotions into her cakes and pies. When they arrive at the Old Folks Home, everyone is crying. They’re too late

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Trent Jones is eighty-six years old. He used to be so strong. An athlete. He was a champion golfer once. The city even named a municipal golf course after him. But, he’s more frail than he used to be, since his heart attack on his eightieth birthday.

He had to move to a nursing home. It was the lowest point of his life. He’d been married for fifty-three years. He didn’t want to leave his home or his wife or his life. And then Sarah came with him. Like it wasn’t even a question. She put their house up for sale and they moved into assisted living.

He thought she probably wouldn’t have to live in the nursing home long. He went to bed every night sure that he wouldn’t wake up again. But he did. And he got better. Stronger, although he never got back to where he had been.

And then one morning, six years later, it was Sarah who didn’t wake up. His Sarah was gone.

Your Turn

Pick a person a street or building or whatever in your town is named after and write about them. But them into your story somehow, then come share it on Facebook if you want some feedback.

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Did you know that there’s an ebook full of all the Hump Day Writing Prompts from 2016? Every Patreon Patron gets a copy–even at the $1 level! Check out the $10 level for The 100 Day MFA.

 

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Hump Day Writing Prompt: Visual Inspiration

hump-day-writing-promptToday’s Hump Day Writing Prompt has two parts.

Go online and do an image search for a picture that speaks to you about your story. It doesn’t have to be a perfect fit. Just look around until something grabs you.

Then write the story behind the picture. Think about what’s outside the frame.

My Turn

I came across this picture in a post on Daily Mail about a photographer who documented a Florida roller rink in the 1970s. It made me think about my main character’s parents. Roona is very attached to her roller skates, throughout my story. What if the reason why is that the only picture she has of her father is this one, where he’s at a rink with her mother and they’re young and happy and obviously in love?

Moment in time: Photographer Bill Yates spent from the autumn of 1972 to the summer of 1973 taking snaps inside the Sweetheart Rink

(Like I said, the picture doesn’t have to be perfect. My story happens in Nevada, not Florida. And the people that this picture made me think about weren’t born until the 1980s.)

Roona sat on her bed, wedged in the corner with her knees pulled up to her chin. She opened her copy of The Hobbit, the one with her mother’s name written in pencil on the first page, and took out the picture. She’d had it for almost a year and so far she’d been able to keep it secret. She ran her finger over her father’s face. She knew it was her dad because her mom had written “Curtis and Miranda, 1999” on the back with a marker. She’d never seen her mom look as happy as she was in the picture. If she’d baked cookies that day, good luck and laughter would have bubbled up in anyone who ate one, like ginger ale bubbles.

Your Turn

Find a picture and write about it, then come share it on Facebook if you want some feedback.

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Hump Day Writing Prompt: Make a List

hump-day-writing-prompt-make-a-list

Yesterday I came across this idea online that if you make a list of 10 ideas a day, you’ll turn yourself into an idea machine. (Look out for Sunday’s newsletter. I’ll share that link. If it’s past Sunday, check out the archives for The NW #12.)

That got me thinking. Wouldn’t thinking about our characters’ ideas be a great exercise?

So today’s prompt is to make a list of 10 ideas. They can be anything. Except a to-do list. A to-do list doesn’t count.

Here are 10 ideas for your 10 list:

  1. 10 favorite books.
  2. 10 ways to solve a problem.
  3. 10 favorite cartoon characters.
  4. 10 people they’ve hurt, and how to make amends.
  5. 10 people they’d kiss.
  6. 10 things they could do to fall asleep at night.
  7. 10 crazy inventions.
  8. 10 jobs they wish they had.
  9. 10 dogs they’ve known.
  10. 10 bad habits they want to break.

Really, it can be anything. This should be fun! I can’t wait to see what you come up with.

My Turn:

I’m working on a middle grade book called Wonder Roo. The story is told by Gideon, but it’s really about his next door neighbor, Roona. Roona is a 12-year-old girl who may or may not be magic. She believes that her old baby blanket makes her Wonder Roo and that her mother bakes her emotions into the goodies she sells–and passes them on to the people to eat them. It’s hard for Gideon to argue with what he sees.

Here’s Roona’s list of 10 ways to survive middle school.

  1. Keep my blanket in my backpack.
  2. Save some good-mood cookies in the freezer, for emergencies.
  3. Make sure Mom doesn’t bring cupcakes for my birthday. (Especially if the frosting is blue.)
  4. Find the library. Pronto.
  5. Wear striped socks.
  6. Use Wonder Roo in emergencies.
  7. Make friends.
  8. Pay attention.
  9. Join the soccer team.
  10. Be brave.

Your Turn:

Write your character’s 10 list and come share it on Facebook if you want some feedback.

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Hump Day Writing Prompt: Character Fidgets

hump-day-writing-prompt-character-fidgets

Last week my husband bought something called a fidget cube. It’s basically just a cube with different fidgety things on each of the six sides. I feel like this is a particularly apt quirk for Kevin, because he’s a craps dealer. He spends a lot of time with dice in his hand.

Image result for fidget cube

So, the fidget cube made me start thinking about character fidgets.

I don’t know about you, but I find myself having EVERY character do a lot of shifting weight from foot to foot or nodding or pacing or smiling. My characters smile a lot. When they’re happy, when they’re sad, when they’re nervous. They’re smiley people.

So smiley that I have to search for smiles in my finished manuscripts and tone them down.

Everyone has a fidget. Something they do when they have to do something. I spin a pin between my fingers. I know a girl with the (terrible) habit of chewing on the ends of her hair. My husband, when he isn’t fidgeting with his new cube, rubs the bridge of his nose, even though he hasn’t worn glasses in fifteen years.

Fidgets do a couple of important things in fiction.

They’re beats.

While you want to be careful about having your protagonist bite their thumbnail on every page of your book, a fidget can be a good way to pace your dialogue. It forces the reader to stop for a second, the way your character might.

They provide character insight.

Why does your protagonist rub at their lower back or whistle under their breath? Is it a tell? Maybe they only do it when they’re lying or feeling guilty or hiding a juicy secret.

This week’s prompt:

Write a scene that includes a character’s fidget. It can be your protagonist, but I think that even minor characters can be deepened by having some sort of tell (if it moves the story forward.)

My Example:

(The fidget is highlighted.)

Mom wouldn’t let me leave the house without eating breakfast and she wouldn’t let me go to anyone’s house, not even our next door neighbor’s, before nine a.m. After I got dressed and ate some banana bread, I sat at the kitchen table fully dressed, with my shoes on, drumming at the table with my fingers, watching the clock tick slowly, slowly from 8:34 to 9:00.

The instant it did, I went into my parents’ bedroom. “Can I go to Roona’s?”

“Your room,” Mom said.

“I promise to finish it after lunch.” I looked at Dad. “Please?”

It was his first day at his new job. He was going to work in marketing at a big casino on the outskirts of the most outskirt town in the world. He adjusted his tie and said, “Your whole room unpacked by the time I get home from work sounds great to me.”

“I don’t know about my whole room,” I said.

He held out his hands, like it wasn’t up to him, then pointed his forefingers at me. “It was your plan, Boss. Have fun with Roona this morning, then get to work.”

Mom lifted her eyebrows and I said, “Okay, fine.”

“Can I go?” Harper asked from the bedroom door. “I want to go.”

“No way.”

“Mooom! I want to go with Gideon.”

“I need your help here, Harper.”

Harper pouted and I left while I had the chance.

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Your turn, Ninja! Write your scene and come share it on Facebook if you want some feedback.

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Did you know that there’s an ebook full of all the Hump Day Writing Prompts from 2016? Every Patreon Patron gets a copy–even at the $1 level! Check out the $10 level for The 1000 Day MFA.

 

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Hump Day Writing Prompt: Home Base

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Did you ever play tag when you were a kid?

Remember how there was always some spot that was home base? A tree. A bike. Someone’s mom.

If you got home, you were safe.

For today’s writing prompt, think about the concept of home–deeper and bigger than a house. (Although, where they live might also be their home base.)

If you really want to dig into your story, do this assignment for your hero AND your antagonist. Just think about where they’d run to, if they were being chased. It might be somewhere internal. A memory, maybe? It might be a person. It might be a physical place.

Write a paragraph or two describing your protagonist’s (and antagonist’s if you have time) safe place. Use all your senses.

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I’m working on a middle grade story right now called Wonder Roo. My narrator is a boy named Gideon. He’s telling the story of his neighbor, though–a quirky girl named Roona.

Roona’s home base is a thing. Her baby blanket. She believes that being wrapped in it during a house fire when she was a baby saved her life–and that when she wraps it around her neck, cape style, it turns her into Wonder Roo.

It’s a very plain blanket. Soft pink, lightweight cotton with an open weave and a satin binding. After twelve years of all kinds of use, it’s very worn. Her blanket is also her only real connection to her father, who she believes joined the Air Force soon after the fire when she was a baby. She hasn’t seen him since.

Here’s the scene where Roona first shows up in the story, with her blanket:

What caught my attention though, and yanked me right out of my sourness, was everything else about her. She wore cut-off jeans and a white t-shirt. Pretty standard stuff.

She had rainbow-striped socks pulled up to her knobby knees and roller skates that looked like blue and yellow running shoes strapped to her feet. And over her clothes, she wore a red swimsuit with a stripe running down each side. She had something tied around her neck, flapping in the hot, dry breeze as she skated in slow circles on her porch.

“What in the . . .” Despite myself, I was curious enough to open the car door and step my first foot in Ne-va-da.

“See, there’s a kid next door,” Dad said, rubbing my head as he passed me. “You’re going to be fine.”

This story doesn’t have a villain. The antagonist is Roona’s mother–more specifically her mental illness. Or the way she is now. Her home is an activity. Miranda Mulroney is a baker on a soul level. Roona believes that her emotions get baked into her cakes and pies and passed on to the people who eat them.

When things get hard for Miranda, she bakes. She stays up all night losing herself in her ability to turn out perfect cookies or scones. It’s the thing she turns to when nothing else makes sense.

Your turn, Ninja! Write your scene and come share it on Facebook if you want some feedback.

***

Did you know that there’s an ebook full of all the Hump Day Writing Prompts from 2016? Every Patreon Patron gets a copy–even at the $1 level! Check out the $10 level for The 1000 Day MFA.

 

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Hump Day Writing Prompt: Use the Right Words

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In a 1895 essay called “Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses,” Mark Twain listed as one of his rules that writers “use the right word, not its second cousin.”

More than 120 years later and “Use the right word, not its second cousin” is still excellent advice. (There’s a whole book of essays on writing by Mark Twain, by the way.)

We can so easily get caught up in choosing perfect words that we stop forward motion on our stories. I’m just going to come right out and say that if you have to pull out a thesaurus to find the word, you’re probably courting a second cousin.

And you don’t want to do that. I have a feeling it’s frowned upon even more now than it was at the end of the nineteenth century. In every possible interpretation.

Choosing the right word is also key in the showing vs. telling battle.

In the same essay, Twain writes, “When a person has a poor ear for music he will flat and sharp right along without knowing it. He keeps near the tune, but it is not the tune. When a person has a poor ear for words, the result is a literary flatting and sharping; you perceive what he is intending to say, but you also perceive that he doesn’t say it.”

Let’s work on tuning our ear for words today.

Write a scene where your protagonist is frustrated. Use your word choice to show the frustration without coming out and telling the reader how the main character is feeling.

Here’s an example from my work-in-progress, a middle grade story called Wonder Roo. 

Sometime during our endless drive through the state of Tennessee, I decided that I would never, not ever, forgive my parents for dragging me to live in some dirt town in rural Nevada.

Not Nev-ah-da. Nev-a-da. (A-like-in-apple right in the middle.) Better learn to say it like a native, Dad said, or they’ll make you move to California.

Whatever. I didn’t want to be a native of Nev-a-da or Nev-ah-da or anywhere but Wildwood, New-Jer-sey.

“You’re pouting so hard, Josiah, I can hear it.” Dad tilted the rear view mirror so he saw me through it. I barely suppressed the urge to stick out my tongue.

“Will we be in Tennessee forever or what?” I asked.

He flicked on the blinker and slowed, swerving toward the shoulder. “Would you like to be?”

I scrunched in my seat, arms crossed over my chest. “No.”

“You’re sure? I bet we could find a circus around here somewhere who’d buy you cheap.”

“Dad!”

“So,” he lifted one shoulder like it didn’t matter to him one way or the other, “you want to keep going?”

“Yes.”

“Right-o, Boss.” He shot me a little salute and somehow turned things around so that continuing this long, long drive west in a SUV pulling a trailer full of our stuff was my idea.

My sister Harper leaned forward in her booster seat and said, “Hey, Josiah’s not the boss. I’m the boss!”

Mom made a little sound suspiciously like a laugh and I turned my scowl out the window and waited to get to Arkansas.

Your turn, Ninja! Write your scene and come share it on Facebook if you want some feedback.

***

Did you know that there’s an ebook full of all the Hump Day Writing Prompts from 2016? Every Patreon Patron gets a copy–even at the $1 level! Check out the $10 level for The 1000 Day MFA.

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Hump Day Writing Prompt: Collecting Nouns

hump-day-writing-prompt-collect-nouns

I am on a major Ray Bradbury kick lately. I made a little mini-zine for Patreon patrons using my favorite Bradbury quote. Part of that quote is my 2017 motto. I just finished reading Zen in the Art of Writing for the third or fourth time (It’s so good. If you haven’t read it, remedy that right now, please.) AND I’m reading a short story from Bradbury Stories every day for 100 days (there are 100 stories.)

Also, I’m taking his advice and writing a short story every week this year.

Whew.

So, since I have Bradbury on the brain, I thought I’d share one of his brilliant ideas for coming up with story ideas.

Collect nouns. Bradbury kept a list of them, and if you read either (or both!) of the books above, you’ll see how that worked out for him. He talks a lot in Zen in the Art of Writing about how his nouns lead to some of the stories in Bradbury Stories.

Here’s what he has to say about it:

These lists were the provocations, finally, that caused my better stuff to surface. I was feeling my way toward something honest, hidden under the trapdoor on the top of my skull.

The lists ran something like this:

THE LAKE. THE NIGHT. THE CRICKETS. THE RAVINE. THE ATTIC. THE BASEMENT. THE TRAPDOOR. THE BABY. THE CROWD. THE NIGHT TRAIN. THE FOG HORN. THE SCYTHE. THE CARNIVAL. THE CAROUSEL. THE DWARF. THE MIRROR MAZE. THE SKELETON.

So, this week’s Hump Day Writing Prompt is to open your notebook to a fresh page and start your own collection of nouns. Start thinking about things that creeped you out when you were eight. Things that you come across at the weirdest times. What you got for Christmas last year.

I was at my county’s Democratic Committee meeting last night and found myself making a list of related nouns in my notebook: Energy, name tag, candidate, committeeman, sign, winner, loser, canvassing, campaign, clock, low-level official, constituents.

I have no idea if those will ever go anywhere, but having a nice, fat collection feels good.

Extra credit: Take one of your nouns and brainstorm on it. Open it up and see what comes out. I’ll use committeeman as an example. I like the word. It has a good mouth feel. And it sounds a little absurd, which makes it excellent, story-wise.

What is a committeeman: Very low-level local politician. He’s the one who gets an earful, because he’s barely one step above a citizen and he’s there.

What does a committeeman do: He votes in more important people. He tries to tell those people what his constituents (their constituents) want, but is usually unsuccessful. He tries to get people in his precinct registered to vote and then get them in the voting booth.

Would I want to write about a committeeman in the past, present, or future: Not past. Present would be interesting, since politics are so tense right now. Future might be interesting, too. What would a committeeman 100 years from now do? It would be an interesting way to think about the future of current ultra-divisive politics.

So, what’s my idea? A story about a committeeman in the future, with a focus on the fall out of utterly divisive politics. Maybe my committeeman finds himself caught in a feud between next door neighbors–one on the right, one on the left.

Your turn, Ninja! Start your collection of nouns today. And if you’re feeling energetic, stretch one out into a short story idea.

Come on over and share some of your nouns with us on Facebook.

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Hump Day Writing Prompt: Third Act Twist

Hump Day Writing Prompt: Third Act Twist

I went to see the movie Inferno last night. (It was very good, by the way. A nail biter.) It inspired this week’s writing prompt.

Let’s think about our third act twists.

Not the one you’ve used. Not the one you think you’re going to use. Think about the possibilities. Come up with a list of at least three third act twists that you could use in your work-in-progress. Go crazy!

My Turn

During NaNoWriMo I’m working on a book called Milk about a girl in the 1980s who realizes she’s babysitting a kid who she’s seen on the back of a milk carton.

Here are my three possible third act twists:

    1. When she can’t convince anyone of the truth, Tessa kidnaps Augie from his kidnapper-mother and takes him on the city bus to his real mother.
    2. Tessa’s wrong. Augie wasn’t kidnapped after all. His real mother gave him to the woman who is raising him in an effort to save him from an abusive situation, then reported him kidnapped.
    3. Tessa goes to find Augie’s birth mother and finds a situation that no child should be in. Including the baby girl she finds there.

Your Turn

Are you writing this week’s prompt? Leave a comment and let me know! Come on over to the Ninja Writers Facebook group and share your work. Get some feedback, leave some feedback–get involved in the community. I can’t wait to read what you come up with!

Don’t forget to click here and get signed up for December 2016’s free plotting workshop. That’s going to be so much fun!

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Hump Day Writing Prompt: Resistance

Hump Day Writing Prompt-Resistance

We’re studying Steven Pressfield’s classic book The War of Art in the Ninja Writers Book Club this month. (If you’d like to join the book club, sign up here.)

I thought it would be fun to tie that into this week’s Hump Day Writing Prompt.

Here’s what Pressfield says about Resistance (which he always capitalizes): “Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.”

That really resonated with me, because I’ve actually done a pretty good job with not letting Resistance veer me off my path, at least as far as my work goes. (There are many ways that Resistance shows itself.)

I’ve actively avoided being a classroom teacher, even though I think I’d be good at it, I would enjoy the work, and over the last twenty or so years, the money would have certainly come in handy.

I’m scared because some part of me recognizes that being a teacher is my RESISTANCE, all caps. I’ve convinced myself that if I become a teacher, it’s the same as giving up on being a writer. Being a teacher is my plan B and I won’t even look it straight on.

I’ve held off that Resistance by spending years six credits away from a degree that would lead directly to the classroom. I’ve held it off by turning down offers to join programs that would let me work while I was getting accredited.

My husband? He’s done the same work since he was 21 years old. He’s so entrenched in his Resistance that he can’t even imagine doing anything but this work that he doesn’t even like. He’s an artist at heart, but can’t even let himself think about being artistic.

We’re going to talk more in our Facebook group about our personal Resistances and what Resistance looks like for us.

Today, I want you to think about how Resistance affects your story’s hero.

It was easiest for me to think first about the life inside. What does your hero really want, in their heart of hearts? If nothing stood in their way, where would their life path lead?

Then think about their actual life. How far is it from where they wish they were (or maybe even from where they are afraid to wish they were)?

What lies in the space between?

My Turn

My NaNoWriMo story is called Milk. It’s about a 14-year-old girl named Tessa who lives in Los Angeles in 1984 and realizes that she’s babysitting a kid who was kidnapped.

This exercise was interesting to me, because it’s hard to imagine an eighth grade with Resistance. I really had to think about this one.

Tessa has always been perfect. A good student. A good girl. Her parents divorce was sudden. Her father’s 24-year-old mistress got pregnant and Tessa’s whole life imploded. Her dad moved from Denver to LA. Her mom took her and moved to Chicago. She’s on her way to spend the summer in California and she feels pulled apart like a wishbone.

She’s not perfect anymore. She’s weird. A Freak. She can’t throw away her milk cartons anymore, because she can’t make herself throw away the lost and stolen kids printed on them. So she starts to collect those kids like baseball cards.

In Denver, Tessa is an athlete. She dreams of being in the Olympics, which are happening in LA the summer she’s there. Her mom is caught up in some weird second adolescence and Tessa doesn’t have a team in Chicago. The lack of a team only makes her feel more lie a freak. She doesn’t want to visit her dad. She doesn’t want to be in Chicago, either.

No one asks, anyway.

Her pouting is her resistance. It keeps her from pursing her sport in Chicago. It keeps her from letting her dad buy her love with the Olympics when she gets to LA. If she lets it, her anger and bitterness will steal her athletic dreams.

Whew. That was hard!

Your Turn

 

Are you writing this week’s prompt? Leave a comment and let me know! Come on over to the Ninja Writers Facebook group and share your work. Get some feedback, leave some feedback–get involved in the community. I can’t wait to read what you come up with!

Also, if you’d like to get a PDF of this post and every Hump Day Writing Prompt, head here and sign up for the Ninja Writers Binder Club. Every month I send out a newsletter that includes those links.

Help spread the Ninja Writer word! Share this post on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest. Send a link to it to one writer friend.

 

 

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