Near 500 words: Prompt City

Are you looking for a new type of prompt for your writing? Here’s a method that can work for both stories and essays:

1.Choose the first sentence (or the closing line) of a story or novel you enjoy.
2.Write that sentence as the first line of your essay or story.
3.Continue writing two or three original paragraphs that originated from that opening sentence.
4.Drop the opening sentence.

(The first sentence will be underlined)

1.Opening Sentence from A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens:
It’s the best of times; it’s the worst of times,” the President addressed his the college students.
“You lie,” a woman yelled out, then stomped out of the gathering.
Watching this demonstration on his TV, he turned the remote off and turned to his wife. “I can’t stand this anymore. Insulting the President like that. I’m going to do something about it.

In this example, you might want to change that “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times” to another line of dialogue.

2.Opening Sentence from Moby Dick by Herman Melville:
Just call me Ishmael,” Detective Hamilton introduced himself to his new partner.
His partner reached over shook Ishmael’s hand. “Morris. I was in Vice for three years.”
“Hope you’re aware that we do things different around here, Morris. Do I have to call you Morris.”
“My friends call me Mo. Hope we’ll be friends.”
“Friends have not got any thing to do with things around here. And you can call me Ish.”
Ish and Mo headed out to their unmarked car.
“Where we going?” Mo asked.
“To arrest a suspect.”

3.Closing sentence from The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. Our boat slips easily through the time tunnel until we reach our destination in another time, another century, another long ago. I study my watch as the hands run backwards at super speeds. We pass the dock for 1900, then 1800, then 1700, then 1600. We move the oars ever so slightly till they’ve turned the boat into an alley where we pass 1590, 1580, 1570. We turn into a new alley.
My partner stops at the dock for the year1664. “This is it.” He steps onto the pier. He grabs my hand and pulls me out of the boat.
On the dock are twelve doorways, one for each month. We walk through April, then step on the mat that reads twenty-six.
He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a small locater. Types “Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England.” A flash of light and we find ourselves on a dirty street.

As you can see, this can be quite a lot of fun. And who knows? Your characters might end up kidnapping Shakespeare and bringing him to the twenty-first century.

Living Room Stories: Junk Mail

Clarissa Jones was a junk mail connoisseur. Over the years, the sixty-nine year old collected thousands of pieces of this abomination to society. And it wasn’t just any junk mail. It was only the mail that came to her address at 1703 Lincoln Street, the two-bedroom house where she resided for over forty-five years.

You see, Clarissa Jones was the shyest woman in the State. If ever there were a shyer person in the State, they had passed on and gone to the Great Beyond.

Knowing how shy his youngest daughter was, her father bequeathed her the house and a stipend for her upkeep. In all her years there, Clarissa came into contact with very few people: the delivery man from the grocery store, a maid who came in twice a week, the lawn man, an occasional workman to take care of this-that-or-the-other, and her nephew who managed her money.

Clarissa only left the house once a week. Each Sunday, a bus from the First Methodist Church picked her up along with ten others and delivered them to Sunday services. While the other members in the bus rattled their way along, Clarissa kept silent.

To occupy her time, Clarissa wrote letters. Writing letters in her exquisite cursive was a way for her to embrace the world without joining it. Letter writing had been her passion since she was ten years old. At that time, she took up writing pen letters to Michelle Bisset, a French girl who lived in Marseilles. Once a month for the rest of her life, she mailed off a letter to Michelle and received a letter from her friend.

During the Vietnam War, she penned letters to the G.I.s off in that faraway country. Even now, occasionally she received a letter from a vet. They told her how much her letters had meant to them.

After her father died, her two sisters moved away from the town. Her shyness kept her from making acquaintances or friends, and she found herself alone with only the house for a companion.

Then one day she received a brochure in the mail, advertising a new real estate company in town. The brochure sang the praises of the company with several full color pictures of home interiors and exteriors. She read the text several times, then spent the afternoon with a pot of tea. Around six in the evening, the idea hit her. It was such a lovely brochure it deserved a response.

The next morning she got up bright and early, had her breakfast, and then went to work on her first letter, responding to the brochure. In the five hand-written pages, she admired the French windows in one of the photographs. Then she chronicled her experience with the French windows at her father’s home. How she could sit hours at a time and observe through the windows all kinds of life in the back yard. She pointed out how that life changed from season to season. How the butterflies were some of her favorite creatures.

At the end of the day, she slipped her letter into an envelope, placed a stamp on it, then pegged it to her mailbox. She found a cardboard box in the basement. She labelled it “Homes”. She dated the brochure with the date she sent the letter and placed it in the box and put the box in her second bedroom.

Sitting alone in the dark that evening, she smiled her satisfaction with the experience. She decided she would do the same thing with the next brochure or advertisement she received in the mail. The folks that sent out the mailers never knew what kind of effect their work had on people. It must be truly frustrating for them. To let them know how much their work was appreciated became her mission.

Over the years that followed, she sent out thousands of letters. When she received a mailer advertising tea, she wrote paragraph after paragraph of the delights a range of teas gave her mouth. How her tastebuds rejoiced. How one tea was pleasurable with a scone. The scent of a second reminded her of certain pieces of music, such as “Tea for Two.” How a cup of tea could assuage her loneliness on a particularly lonely night. In one line of her prose, she wrote, “In one cup of tea, I found its taste a reflection of all the tea in China.”

For another tea ad, she wrote, “On a cold winter’s night, I am never alone if I sip a cup of tea. Tea is such a wonderful companion.”

And she was not prejudiced in her preferences. In another letter, she gave an equal prose on her enjoyment of a “good cup of joe,” concluding “coffee in the morning, tea in the evening.”

The travel advertisements brought out her best. Some of the letters were twenty pages long.

Eventually she had a revelation. She realized that the companies who advertised the products were not the ones who produced the brochures. It was the companies listed in the fine print. And those were the ones she sent her letters to. And she always sent them out with love. Over the years, she filled dozens and dozens of boxes.

Then, on a chilly Wednesday morning in February, the maid found her at her desk, signing a final letter. Only one niece from the family showed up for her funeral along with three other parishioners. There was a short obituary in the local paper.

At the reading of her will, the niece learned that most of her money and all her possessions were willed away to the Red Cross. “They do such good work,” her will said. There was some money left to the maid, the lawn man and her church. And that was that.

Or was it?

Seems one the advertising executives, Charles Morton, had read a number of Clarissa’s letters over the years. He had become curious about the author of the letters. Six months after Clarissa died, he had a trip to Florida planned. On his way to the Sunshine State, he took a detour to 1703 Lincoln Street.

He pulled up in front of the address and there was a For Sale sign on the front lawn. He found the realtor’s office and asked what happened to Clarissa Jones.

“Oh, she died,” the realtor answered.

“Can I see the house?”

When Charles toured the house, there was one box of the advertisements left.

“We just have this last box to get rid of,” the realtor said.

Curious, Charles Morton leaned down, opened the lid and pulled out a brochure. It was one his company had prepared for Marlboro Cigarettes. He remembered that Clarissa’s letter for this one had been passed around the office. In it, she wrote about her admiration for John Wayne and all those pioneers who settled the West.

“Were there more boxes of these?” he asked.


“What happened to them?”

“We’ve stored them in a warehouse with all the furniture. They’re waiting for the family to take charge of them. I’m not sure but I think they’re just going to sell them off. And trash the boxes.”

“Have you had any offers on the house?”


“Then I’ll buy it on one condition.”


“I want everything in that warehouse that went with the house. Including the boxes.”

Charles Morton didn’t make it to Florida. Seems he retired, then set up The Clarissa Jones Foundation. He turned the 1703 Morton Street house into a museum and an office for the foundation. Then he began collecting letters she sent out.

It took him ten years to accumulate most of the letters, then he published a seven volume set of the letters. At the beginning of each letter was the original advertisement. Once that was completed an abridgement called The Best of the Letters of Clarissa Jones. It became a bestseller, hitting number one on the New York Times Bestseller list for over a hundred weeks. This resulted in a national letter-writing fad. So many letters were mailed, the Post Office was having one heck of a time keeping up.

1703 Lincoln Street, now a museum, was put on the National Register of Historic Places recently and there is a rumor that the President will proclaim Clarissa’s birthday on March 20th as Clarissa Jones Day in honor of letter writers everywhere. To celebrate Americans will be urged to write a letter and mail it on March 20th.

Clarissa Jones only goes to show us that even the least of us can have an impact. We never know.

Near 500 Words: Wedding Bell Blues

“Wedding Bell Blues” by the Fifth Dimension

Leaving his fiancee’s apartment after four-hundred-and-fifty-seven arguments over the wedding, hurrying down the stairs with the feet of Mercury, tripping on the crack in the sidewalk, picking his frustrated body off the ground, rushing toward the car, Owen caught sight of the flat tire on his Honda. Not stopping to change the tire, he rushed past the car, anger in each of his steps.

He dashed through an intersection, barely dodging a fortress of a truck. Down an unlit street and  toward the unknown, his fingers squeezed tightly against his palms. Coming to a dead-end, he turned onto a side street, then stopped in mid-stride. Standing there alone in the dark, gazing through the window of a house, seeing a couple arguing, he realized he had one more thing he wanted to tell Louise, his fiancee.

He glanced at his watch. It said three a.m. Where had the last two hours gone?

He turned and began the effort of retracing his steps. After several bad choices, he found himself back at this car and its flat tire.

Leaning against the red vehicle, taking out a cigarette for a quick smoke, lighting up the tobacco, drawing in one long drag after another, dropping the butt to the asphalt, he pulled on his emotional armor, readying himself for the combat about to come. He headed up the stairs two steps at a time. Arriving at Louise’s door, he pounded on it until he heard a movement inside.

From several apartments, neighbors shouted, “Cut the noise.”

The door opened. Louise stared up at the man she’d thought she was going to spend her life with. “What the hell do you want?”

“Okay. We’ll have a church wedding.”

“(Last Night) I Didn’t Get to Sleep” At All by The Fifth Dimension


Inspired by Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility.

Ellie’s mother was irate when Ellie told her she was engaged to Eddie.

“He’ll never do,” her mother said.

“But why? He’s wonderful to me. And on top of that, he has a position at a prestigious law firm. What more could a mother want for her daughter.”

“And I suppose he was an Eagle Scout?”

“How did you know? C’mon, Mom, tell me why you don’t like him.”

Her mother held back, ashamed at her prejudice. But she knew Eddie was not the guy for her daughter. She’d been through this with her other daughter and she had been right. Her marriage had not worked out.

“Call it a mother’s intuition. I don’t think he’s right for you.”

“Mother, please.” Ellie had always given into her mother’s idiosyncrasies. But not this time.”I love him, and I’m going to marry him, and there’s nothing you can do about it. So there.”

“Mark my words. It’ll be the worst decision of your life.”

Ellie shook her head, got up and washed her cup in the sink. “I gotta go.”

She went to the door and stopped. “Tell me. What do you have against Eddie?”

“it’s not Eddie. It’s you.”

“It’s me. What does that mean?”

“I mean it’s you two together. He’d be perfect for somebody else. He really would.”

Thinking she had some disease she didn’t know about, she asked, “What’s wrong with me?”

“Nothing’s wrong with you. You’re perfect the way you are.”

“But you just said.”

“All right. Sit down and I’ll tell you.”

Sitting across from her mother, Ellie waited for the truth.

Finally her mother let it out. “You both have the same alphabet letter at the beginning of your names. You’re both E’s.”

“What? That’s crazy. What does that have to do with anything?”

“Your names will confuse the reader. Pretty soon they won’t be able to tell Ellie from Eddie.”

“You think we’re characters in a novel?”

“That’s right,” her mother informed her.

“That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard of.”

“Haven’t you ever wondered why you don’t have a birth certificate. Or you can’t remember elementary school or your first date or whether you’re a virgin or not?”

“Of course I’m not a virgin.”

“Who did the deed?”

“Why…uh…well, it was…Darned if I can’t remember. You mean?”

“Yep. We’re all characters in a novel. We just don’t know it.”

“So what do I do? It’s Eddie or it’s no one at all. I love Eddie with all my heart.”

Her mother thought about the dilemma for several minutes. Finally she asked, “Does Eddie have a middle name? I know you don’t.”

“Yes, and he hates it.”

“What is it?”


“Well, that will never do.”