Weekend Writing Challenge: Ripped from the headlines!

If you’re a publishing news nerd like most of us at WD, this week you’ve undoubtedly heard the chatter about Oprah naming Jonathan Franzen’s epic Freedom as her latest Book Club pick.

Back in 2001, the pages hit the fan when Oprah picked Franzen’s The Corrections, and the author made a few remarks about Oprah’s selections, prompting her to revoke his invitation to the show. (“She’s picked some good books, but she’s picked enough schmaltzy, one-dimensional ones that I cringe, myself, even though I think she’s really smart and she’s really fighting the good fight.”)

Which brings us to our weekend writing prompt—

“Ripped From the Headlines!”

Feel free to take the following prompt home or post a
response (500 words or fewer, funny, sad or stirring) in the Comments section below. If
you’re having trouble with the
captcha code sticking, e-mail your piece and the prompt to me at
writersdigest@fwmedia.com, with “Promptly” in the subject line, and I’ll
make sure it gets up.

Without using Oprah or Franzen, write a fictional scene about a writer who receives something innumerable authors might kill for—but, for reasons of his own, rejects it.

Want more writing prompts and exercises? Brian Kiteley has packed more than 200 wildly original ones into his 3 A.M. Epiphany. Check it out here.


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4 thoughts on “Weekend Writing Challenge: Ripped from the headlines!

  1. Danita Lease


    "Josh, this is it, Skoolrific wants your story! This is the break we were hoping for! Your story will be featured in the national fourth grade textbooks, which includes lesson plans and workshops and possibly a video production, all of which you will be consulting on! How do you feel buddy? Can you speak? Hello?"

    "Yes, I’m here, I’m speechless…when do I meet with Ashley?"

    "She said can see you next week, Wednesday morning at ten."

    "Good, yes, that’s fine, thank you again Michael, I’ll see you there. Micheal, I am really grateful for all the work you put in, we need to find some time to celebrate!"

    "You got it, I can clear most of Wednesday, so plan on it, I’ll have Trish make a reservation for us at Smokey’s okay?"

    "Sounds great, see you then!"

    Michael was running late when he met Josh in the lobby of Skoolrific, he was visibly stressed. Josh had all this time to let Micheal know that he was rethinking the offer from Skoolrific, and now that they were almost late the only time they would to talk would be in the elevator.

    "There’s a problem Michael." Josh could see that Micheal wasn’t really focused.

    "Yes? What?"

    "It’s the deal Skoolrific made with the Texas Board, I can’t in good conscience take the offer."

    "WHAT? They have to abide by the board, they don’t have any control!"

    "I know they don’t Michael, but I do."

    "Look, let’s at least talk to Ashley, she’ll tell you, it’s not really going to effect the fourth grade curriculum that much, let’s at least hear their offer!"

    Michael was angry, with good reason. Josh should have had this talk long before this meeting, but the changes to the curriculum were still under consideration, and to Josh’s dismay, the measures passed the Texas Board of Education yesterday, with even more amendments added just prior to the vote.

    Josh didn’t write children’s stories strictly for the money, if that were the case he would have never succeeded at all. So much time and effort had been devoted to his work that the mega deal with Skoolrific wasn’t really much more than a modest perk for all the effort he put into a project that he loved.

    "The enlightenment, separation of church and state, civil rights? Our kids don’t have a right to that knowledge, Michael? American kids aren’t good enough to reap the benefits of the fight for liberty? I can’t support a system that doesn’t support the ideals my family fought for."

    "What you really need to keep in mind are the children, Josh, your story highlights these ideals, your story is a step in the right direction, are you going to deny children the opportunity to hear your ideas? Think about that."

    "I have Michael, and it’s not that simple. The precedent set into motion is one I intend to fight with everything I have. If I have to ship cartons of my books at my expense to see that my message gets through without supporting ideals I’m so opposed to so be it. This is the only way I have to put any kind of pressure on the measures that passed, that will effect the curriculum for the nation’s schools. My family sacrificed much more than money in the fight for their rights, I can do at least this much."

    "Just talk with Ashley," Micheal’s eyes were watching the floor numbers approach their destination. "Maybe there is a way to do this, I don’t know, damn." Michael was rubbing the back of his neck in what was perhaps effort to prevent a vascular blowout.

    Ashley, always authentic if anything, responded with authentic concern. "Josh, I do understand, but this amount of money also makes it possible for you to support opposition movements that are already working against these changes. I think if you take the offer, the money you can devote to your cause would make a significant difference, if you decide not to take our offer, all you can hope for is some media attention which would die out in five minutes. You’re not the only author who is having this conflict, many of them have chosen to go with the money. Activism supplied with money is always more successful."

    "Take the money from the hand whose finger is on the trigger, right?" Josh had to laugh.

    "All money is dirty money Josh!" Michael interrupted.

    "Right, and knowledge is power and power is money, I get it, and so will a few kids who somehow do manage to discover how they were shortchanged with an education that has it’s roots in political agendas. That won’t happen for most of them though. Really very sad, it would make Thomas Jefferson spin in his grave. Lucky for the kids that ol’ Thomas won’t be mentioned in their books to make any statements against the idea that an enlightened society is a just society, lest the kids get ideas of their own and all that." Josh rose to leave. "Ashley, Michael, I want to thank you for your time, and your opinions do mean a lot to me, I’m going to need a bit of time to think this over, I’ll call you both tomorrow at nine with my answer."

    "All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent."
    – Thomas Jefferson

    With this quote fresh in his mind, Josh returned home and began writing, with no intention of earning an offer from Skoolrific. He began his story with the quote, and he then began to explain what that quote meant to the children he hoped would read his story.

  2. Mark James

    I turned on the television. The blood was in black and white.

    The clock in the lower left hand corner of the screen had numbers that stayed black no matter what channel I watched. When I didn’t want to know about time, I turned on CNN. Their news feed along the bottom was on a black banner. It was a double bargain deal: no reality, no time. Most nights it worked. But now, the little traitor said 11:59. I licked my lips, wondered how much of that minute I had left till midnight.

    A leaf the color of fire spun past my window. A bitter scent wafted over me, drifted into my lungs like poison. I glanced at the clock. Midnight.

    “I see your contract is still there, Zane.”

    “Nailed to the wall,” I said. “Right where you left it.” I let my voice shake. No way the Lord of Hell wouldn’t know I was so scared, I would have called my mama’s name if I thought it would help.

    From the corner of my eye, I saw a blackened, charred hand reach for the parchment I hadn’t touched. “And it’s still blood free. Have you considered my offer?” He perched on top of the flat screen television like some kind of yogi.

    “Why don’t you offer it to someone else?”

    “I’m afraid that wouldn’t do.” Small, sharp-looking horns grew out of his head. “I hold in my hands the offer of a lifetime—world fame, a guaranteed Nobel Prize, bestsellers that you’ll write in one draft.” He stretched his lips over his death skull teeth. “Why do you resist me?”

    “My soul,” I said. “It’s not for sale. Someone else can write your biography.”

    He drifted down, shimmered into an executive’s tailored black suit, grey silk tie. “There are scores of mortals who would crawl to my feet and beg for this chance.”

    “Good.” I raked both hands through my hair. “Go find one.”

    His cool eyes took in my trembling lips, my hunched shoulders. “Fame will torment you, drive you to find demons even I couldn’t invent.”

    “What if I say no?”

    A smile twisted one side of his mouth. “If you refuse to sign, you’ll never see me again. When you marry, your first wife will die. Your second wife will bear you two children, both of whom will die, closely followed by her suicide. Then,” his eyes glowed a deep red, “you’ll go mad.”

    “I’ll slash my wrists.”

    I thought a shadow of pity crossed his face before he said, “You’re Catholic, Zane. Are you willing to commit a Mortal Sin? To irrevocably condemn yourself to my realm?”

    “If I sign, won’t I end up there anyway?”

    “There are deals within deals.” He pressed the contract into my shaking hands. “Mortals call it ‘hope’”.

    He had a needle ready. I barely felt it when he pricked my finger.

    After I signed, he told me about his biography. It’ll be the last book I ever write. Then I’ll go insane. I don’t remember when the deal was. I don’t remember how many books I’ve written. That’s the worst part. If I knew that I’d written his biography, I’d know. But I can’t tell.

    Is that insane? Or is this Hell?

  3. Nathan Honore

    I couldn’t leave a voicemail. No, that would not be right. That would be like breaking up with someone over the phone. I would have been labeled unprofessional and a potentially blacklisted. So I decided to write a letter. This is the third draft, stripped of profanity and exclamation points.

    Dear Joan Panetta,

    While I am honored and flattered that you and your colleagues at Literary Moonshine Inc. have chosen me, I cannot accept your generous offer. This is something that every novelist dreams of from the moment his dream is realized. From the first time our unsteady hands transcribed our innermost thoughts and feelings from mind to paper, our first finished draft, our first painful rejection, our first accepted submission, we all have dreamt these great dreams.

    However, this is not the way these things should come to fruition. I have emptied my body and soul into this novel. The story is complete. My tale has been told. There is nothing more to say that would have any semblance of honesty to it. You have offered me a deal to expand this single story into a series of books with the promise that they will be wildly popular. You are offering me financial security for life. Let me emphasize that this is my dream, but not like this. This book is supposed to be simple, elegant, truthful, and touching. To exploit the characters I have created into some sort of Tolkien-esque feel goodery would be spitting in my face. I have a deep connection to the words I’ve written and cannot betray them.

    Again, as flattered as I am, I cannot accept the book deal. If this means you will not publish the source material, so be it.


    Joseph McCarthy

    Even as I seal the envelope and adorn it with addresses and stamps, I wonder if this is best course of action. I could be driving a nail into my non-steel toed boot. But isn’t that being a martyr?


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