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Writing Prompt 5: Patchwork Fiction

23 December, 2007


This is a good prompt if you write daily but find yourself making diary-style entries rather than challenging yourself to try something different.

The idea of patchwork fiction is to incorporate ‘found’ sentences into a scene or story. The sentences are the patchwork squares. Your job is to unify them, similar to how squares, put together, make a quilt pattern.

There’s a bit of planning before you can start writing. Start collecting sentences from magazines and newspapers. Don’t restrict yourself to sentences in stories and articles–look for interesting sentences in advertisements, cartoons, letters to the editor, etc. And choose a variety of sentences: e.g., statements of fact, emotional comments, poetic descriptions, outrageous claims.

Place all your sentences into a box or bowl. Each time you do this writing prompt, select 3-8 sentences, sight unseen. (The more you pick, the harder the challenge.) Try not to throw any back. The sentence that seems too difficult to incorporate may be the one that pushes your writing beyond the obvious.

Spend a moment thinking of story possibilities for incorporating your chosen sentences. Who could be your characters? What could be their motivation and conflict? What could happen to them?

Then write a scene or a complete story. If this is too much, try sketching out the ‘bones’ of a story, with notes about the characters and plot.

Variant 1: If you have trouble writing dialogue, challenge yourself by picking only dialogue sentences for your collection. Again, select 3-8 sentences. Then write a scene that incorporates these sentences in a believable and/or entertaining way. Who is saying what–and why?

    Variant 2: You can use Patchwork Fiction for a writing group. Each person picks one sentence from the collection and reads it out loud. The the group collaborates to make up a story using everyone’s sentences.

    Variant 3: An easy version is to select your sentences from one part of the paper: all cartoons, all letters, etc.

    Variant 4: A harder version of Patchwork Fiction is to select sentences from magazines that are widely different. For example, take sentences from a magazine that gives Hollywood gossip, and ones that target a certain audience, e.g. women, sportspeople, New Agers, hot rod enthusiasts, religious people, new parents.

    Variant 5: Have someone else select the sentences from magazines and newspapers. Doing so prevents you from sub-consciously picking ones that make the task easy for you.

    If you do try Patchwork Fiction, let me know how it worked for you. Marsha

    2 Comments leave one →
    1. 27 July, 2009 8:09 pm

      It would be interesting if a score or two such seed sentences are kept pre-written in a jar or envelope and you blindly pick out four or five whenever stuck. And why not include random images while you are at it!


      • 30 July, 2009 6:32 am

        Great idea, especially mixing images, phrases, words, sentences, snippets of dialogue.


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