Shenandoah Writers: December Writing Prompt

This series is for everyone following along with us while we read Brian Kiteley’s The 3 A.M. Epiphany: Uncommon Writing Exercises that Transform Your Fiction.

It has been chosen.

This month in 3 A.M., we discover what Kiteley has to say about images.  **Please read all the exercises and do whichever ones that capture your interest on your own time.

However, for those of you following along with the group, please do exercise 16.  Here it is:

Two Paintings.

Write a story that is an attempt to bridge two photographs or paintings by, for example, Diane Arbus, Eric Fischl, Cindy Sherman, Edouard Manet, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Tina Barney, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Roy Lichtenstein, Max Beckmann, Mark Tansey, Weegee, or Paul Klee.

This will mean researching these or other artists you know.  Use two distinct and unrelated paintings or photographs by two artists.  You need not use fine art photography; collections of old and recent news photography or advertising photos might also be inspiring for this exercise.  Choose two paintings or photographs that are very dissimilar. 

600 words

He goes on to say:

I’m suggesting something like an old literary critical exercise, which would be to imagine a set of Raymond Chandler characters wandering into a Henry James novel.  But in this case, take two distinct images, and build a story around the attempt to synthesize their subject matters.

If you use two paintings, you’ll have your work cut out for you—especially landscape paintings with no apparent action in them.  But all painters frame and organize their images very carefully, using shapes, angles, and lines to create a harmonious package.

The key to this exercise is to study two images very carefully, taking notes on what you see, long before you’ve come up with any ideas about the story that might grow out of these two images.  It might be fun to take two abstract paintings, fields of color and shape but no narrative at all, and see what you can come up with when all story has apparently been erased form your raw material.

**A couple of notes from me: Be sure to include your two pictures or paintings with the assignment so we can see the inspiration.

Also—do not use what the artist or photographer says is the story behind the print; just get the two images and figure out their distinct stories for yourself first.

I’m torn, though.  I also like #21…maybe I’ll do both?

If you choose to do any of these, please send them to me at – OR – if you are a member of Shenandoah Writers Online, please post them there.

Incidentally, if you *aren’t* a member of Shenandoah Writers Online, why not??  In short, we are a brand-new online community of writers—from all over the country—on Ning.  Click the above link or e-mail me for more information.

Oh yeah, and happy writing!

I don't even want to tell you how long it took me to get this horrible picture. More like SCARY writing!

Shenandoah Writers News: Nov. 3 Meeting


Shenandoah Writers is a writing group, based out of Harrisonburg, Virginia, which meets the first Tuesday of every month at the Barnes & Noble at Harrisonburg Crossing at 7pm. Stop by!


Beth Trissel signed a contract with The Wild Rose Press for her historical romance, Red Bird’s Song.  Congrats, Beth!  You’re an example to us all, and I look forward to hearing all about your journey to publication.

JoMarie DeGioia is moving back to Florida at the end of this month.  She’s been a tremendous asset to me in terms of talking up our group, and I know we’ll all miss seeing her face around Barnes & Noble.  If you’re in the Harrisonburg area, stop by the store before 11/22 (her last day at the Harrisonburg B&N), and wish her well.

Three new members – Mindy & Andrew Franke and Carolyn Chilton – joined me at the Nov. 3 meeting.  Welcome, welcome, welcome!


With the three new members and the absences of a few others, we spent most of the time in a “meet and greet,” where we discussed everyone’s writing areas and what we want to get out of the group.

We had each done a different writing prompt, which showed the wide range of our interests when we passed around each others’ work, and we discussed our experiences in completing each one (Carolyn, who found out about us through the B&N Web calendar – YAY, B&N Web calendar! – brought one of her self-published pieces to share).

We unanimously found the exercises beneficial and decided to focus on craft for the next several meetings.  To do so, we will be reading Brian Kiteley’s The 3 A.M. Epiphany: Uncommon Writing Exercises that Transform Your Fiction.

Andrew suggested we create a Web-based bulletin board to stay in touch between meetings (more on that below).


Please note: The Dec. 1 meeting will be 7pm—not 7:30pm as the B&N calendar currently says.  I just e-mailed them to request the change be made.

Also: Please read the first chapter of Kiteley’s book.  That section deals with point of view.  We did a few of the prompts for the last meeting, but we decided that the exercises were so worthwhile that we’d like to read more about what Kiteley has to say in terms of POV.  Being that he gives several writing prompt options, we decided that we’d all just pick our own this time.


It’s not up and running yet.  However, it will be a Web-based, password-encrypted forum, where we can post work for critique, discuss our work, bounce ideas off one another, brainstorm, etc.

I will also post news and minutes from each meeting for anyone who has missed a month.  As well, I have a few out-of-state friends who are interested in joining our circle, and this would be the ideal way for them to do so.  If you know anyone else who might go for something like this—or if you are not in the Harrisonburg area but are interested in joining Shenandoah Writers, please e-mail me at

I’ll keep you posted on the bulletin board once I have more info.  So excited!


Available at Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million, and Amazon's got it new for $10 or used for $1. doesn't have it - I checked.

Shenandoah Writers: Oct-Nov Writing Prompts

If you’re in the Harrisonburg area Tuesday, Nov. 3rd, stop by Barnes & Noble for the November Shenandoah Writers meeting.

Here is what we’ll be talking about this month:

I recently picked up Brian Kiteley’s The 3 A.M. Epiphany: Uncommon Writing Exercises that Transform Your Fiction, and it strikes me as a fantastic guide in terms of writing prompts for us.  I am just about cracking it open, but we may actually want to read it as well as its companion, The 4 A.M. Breakthrough: Unconventional Writing Exercises That Transform Your Fiction, as a group and treat each section like a mini workshop.

For the time being, I just chose a few writing prompts I found interesting (see below).  Two are from 3A.M., and one is from Barbara DeMarco-Barrett’s Pen on Fire: A Busy Woman’s Guide to Igniting the Writer Within (not to intimidate male members–the prompt is gender neutral). 🙂


Pick the one you like best–or do them all, if you’ve got some extra time on your hands, and you’re feeling ambitious.

Prompt #1:

Write a first-person story in which you use the first-person pronoun (I or me or my) only two times–but keep the I somehow important to the narrative you’re constructing.  The point of this exercise is to imagine a narrator who is less interested in himself than in what he is observing.  You can make your narrator someone who sees an interesting event in which he is not necessarily a participant.  Or you can make him self-effacing, yet a major participant in the events related.  It is very important in this exercise to make sure your reader is not surprised, forty or fifty words into the piece, to realize that this is a first-person narration.  Show us quickly who is observing the scene.
600 words
Prompt #2:

Write a fragment of a story that is made up entirely of imperative commands: Do this; do that; contemplate the rear end of the woman who is walking out of your life.  This exercise will be a sort of second-person narration (a you is implied in the imperative).
500 words

Kiteley suggests picking up Lorrie Moore’s Self-Help for guidance.

He also goes on to say:

You might ask yourself, after you’ve finished this exercise, what happens between the commands?  Hidden behind the imperatives are actions offstage–each sentence, in a sense, expresses the desire and the space between each command that contains the inevitably distressing reality, the way we all fall short of our own commands.  They have to be, given the constraints of the method.

One of the unintended consequences of this exercise […] is that students discover countless different and imaginative ways of regulating time in their stories when these barking or plaintive commands take over the narrative.
The effect of a command is to move time forward on the say-so of the commanding voice.

For example: Wake up to your neighbor’s noisy lovemaking after her night shift ends.  Remember the images these sounds evoke when you greet her in the hall as you leave for your job, her shirt buttoned up wrong–or something like this.

You’ll also find yourself struggling to come up with different kinds of commands, unusual ways of beseeching someone to do something or not do something.  This is what you should be doing with your fiction at all times.  These
exercises in constraint should become second nature.  You should become self-conscious as a writer without losing the ability to compose naturally.
Prompt #3:

Describe an activity (a sport, making cookies, polishing shoes), a place (the kitchen, your parents’ bedroom, the school cafeteria), an item (a box of tissues, a purple ceramic pitcher, a bottle of perfume), or a living creature (a cat, a friend, the mail carrier), as though seeing it for the first time through a child’s eyes.

For fifteen minutes, let your writing evoke that child.  Use words a child would use.  Use simple sentences.  Make up metaphors and similes drawing on the images and language of childhood.  How would a child see her own life and the lives of those around her?
(Pen on Fire doesn’t work in words, but in 15-min assignments, so write for 15 minutes.)

If you choose to do any of these, please send them to me at  I’m trying to get an online chapter of Shenandoah Writers going, so chat me up.

Happy writing!