Poem Tryouts: Then What?

04 Nov

8:25 a.m. — Atlanta

listening to Ravel’s Bolero — I had forgotten how much I love it

Brrr. Hello, all. Maybe, if we exercise our brain cells we can warm up a little. I mentioned last week that I spend November focusing on narrative exercises, for the NaNoWriMo-ers among you. Participants run a gamut from first time participants to those who arrived, three days ago, with a first draft in hand, ready to get down to real writing, with revision as their focus. The prompts, and Thursday’s notes plus links, are intended as rest stops or, even, something to note and apply to your NaNoWriMo piece.

Poets who are not participating, or are and also writing poetry (are you nuts?), your challenge is to turn the prompt to your advantage. Almost any prompt works for poetic and narrative writing. You can take your prompt from my title, from something I natter about, or, of course, the prompt itself.

Let’s start with something that is useful to both the first timer and the old hand, called simply: Then what? You would be surprised how many writers sit and agonise when they reach a blocking point (not really surprised, right?), when they have at hand a simple technique for moving on. Remember that the point is to get words on paper, to move the plot of the story forward. It is important that you actually say the words, aloud, in your head, whatever, but give Then what? form. It acts as a trigger.

I’ll start you with an arbitrary point. You may change the start point when you try the exercise. Your main character has woken up and moving over to the window, she stares out. Then what? Write down five or six possibilities and do not, NOT self-censor. Here is what my brain came up with:

1] She watched as their car reversed down the driveway and wondered when he would be back.

2] She noticed a green sedan parked in front of her neighbour’s; it had been there all night.

3] Down the street she saw the garbage truck and swore, as she realised she had forgotten to put out the bins.

4] Where once she had a flower bed, sat a smallish flying saucer. Hey, I said no censoring

5] She saw nothing of the view, eyes focused on a telephone pole, her mind going over the provisions of her aunt’s will.

The idea is to pick one that furthers your story and ask yourself, Then what? again, until the brain starts moving. Note that each of the scenarios hint at conflict, the bread and butter of all stories. I did not do this on purpose. I merely asked Then what? and wrote down the answers.

Poets, I admit this one might be more of a challenge than upcoming ones, for a poem. One possibility is to find an old poem draft where you became stuck and try, Then what? Or, take the phrase and incorporate it in a new poem, in some manner. I look forward to your ingenuity. NaNoWriMo-ers, if you are sticking purely to prose this month and you try this out, consider posting your Then whats?, or a resulting paragraph from one of your scenarios.

I shall see you Thursday for some fiction talk and a couple of links; Friday for the roundup; and next Tuesday for a character prompt.

Happy writing, everyone.



Posted by on 04/11/2014 in exercises, poetry, writing


Tags: , , , , ,

24 responses to “Poem Tryouts: Then What?

  1. b_young

    04/11/2014 at 9:42 am

    Darned if I’m not tempted to use my Poetic Asides response from this morning. As Then Whats go, it’s pretty lame, though.
    I’ll leave it, and go vote against suppressing a woman’s right to choose, and think about “Then What”

    • margo roby

      04/11/2014 at 9:57 am

      I can’t believe that is still an issue on which we have to vote about. I’ll read your super hero and raise you a then what.

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  3. Misky

    04/11/2014 at 10:46 am

    Hey. Here’s a sneaky-peeky…

    • margo roby

      04/11/2014 at 1:29 pm


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  5. Carol Carlisle

    04/11/2014 at 1:40 pm

    Margo our writing group got on to the subject “how do we get from here to there?” yesterday. Great minds and all. I came up with bridging distant and time for a seasonal poem.

    • margo roby

      04/11/2014 at 1:45 pm

      You and your writing group and I seem to do that with alarming frequency! Another ‘bridge’ šŸ™‚

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  7. b_young

    04/11/2014 at 2:54 pm

    Okay. I’ve cancelled the vote of one of my relatives, if nothing more. I can not comprehend. Anyway

    • margo roby

      04/11/2014 at 5:32 pm

      Good. I will sit and not comprehend along with you.

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  9. Hannah Gosselin

    04/11/2014 at 3:11 pm

    I can always find something to muse upon around here, Margo…thank you for inspiring poets and novelists alike! šŸ™‚

    • margo roby

      04/11/2014 at 5:35 pm

      And therein lies the problem, Hannah! You think you’ll have more time once the kids are gone? Hah!

      • Hannah Gosselin

        04/11/2014 at 5:57 pm

        Exactly! šŸ™‚

  10. purplepeninportland

    04/11/2014 at 11:21 pm

    This was a fun prompt, Margo. I narrowed my choices down slowly.
    Mine is up at:

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  12. julespaige

    05/11/2014 at 5:44 am

    Recap of granny’s no good, horrible, very bad day:

    • margo roby

      05/11/2014 at 10:07 am

      You poor thing, Jules. Sending waves of sympathy your way.

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  14. Poet Stacy Lynn Mar

    07/11/2014 at 7:55 pm

    my goodness, i had myself tricked into thinking you did prompts on friday. hah….its okay. i’ll post my poem tomorrow šŸ™‚ then go visit you poets!

    • margo roby

      08/11/2014 at 10:04 am

      Stacy (do you go by Stacy or Stacy Lynn?), you can post poems at any time, to include six months down the road!

      • Poet Stacy Lynn Mar

        08/11/2014 at 2:48 pm

        ‘stacy’ will work fine.

        i actually began to write a story. i’m trying to make it as short as possible (i got a rambling problem lol).

        i will post once completed! i love this prompt!

  15. margo roby

    08/11/2014 at 5:19 pm

    I’m a retired teacher. I can take care of rambling! Even if your piece is short, when you think you are done cut ten per cent. It’s miraculous.. I look forward to reading.


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