Writing Prompt: Steal From the Real

I’m sneaking off a bit early to immerse myself in last-minute preparations for the WD Intensive this weekend. If you missed it earlier this week, check out my post on the event and 7 reasons an editor might toss a novel submission in the round file.

Hope to see you in Cincinnati!

(Also, curious about the Nook e-reader? According to the tech gurus at Wired, it falls flat.)

WRITING PROMPT: Steal From the Real
Feel free to take the following prompt home or post your response (500 words or fewer, funny, sad or stirring) in the Comments section below. By posting, you’ll be automatically entered in our occasional around-the-office swag drawings.

Take a newspaper and flip through the stories. Jot down two sourced quotes verbatim from different sections—say, one from a news story, and one from a human interest piece—and incorporate them into a story of your own. Make one quote the first line, and the other the final line.

Does toying with the real and connecting the dots between the passages force your fiction into unexpected corridors?

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3 thoughts on “Writing Prompt: Steal From the Real

  1. Mark James

    Zac: This was awesome. Thanks.

    The two quotes:

    ”Contractors give you flexibility in shaping and managing your talent mix — especially in the short term — but the accountability’s still yours,” he said. NY Times, “Blackwater Guards Tied to Secret C.I.A. Raids”


    “It’s amazing how many people are acting as if this is all wrapped up. The numbers could still go up dramatically.” NY Times, “Swine Flu Death Toll at 10,000 Since April"

    “Contractors give you flexibility in shaping and managing your talent mix — especially in the short term — but the accountability’s still yours,” he said.

    All right. I was about ready to shoot this guy just for the nuisance factor; do the world a favor. “You speak English on most days?”

    “Of course I do.” He tugged on his tie, made the perfect knot slide a little. “I’m a spokesman.”

    “Yeah. Okay. Pretend like I’m stupid, and just tell me what happened.”

    “Our charter authorizes us to manage operational entities along talent driven lines. Gross analysis cross-filtered with the psycho-social gradient of the environment indicated that –”

    I put my knife on the table between us. “I’m a patient man. But I got dragged out of bed because you got a body count of forty, including twenty five kids on what was supposed to be a low profile operation. I’m thinking you can’t be the only one knows about this major mess up. So I’m giving you one more chance to leave here with all your soft parts hanging right.” I let him take that in. Like I said, I’m patient. “Start again. In English.”

    He looked from the dull grey blade of my knife to the one way mirror that formed the wall opposite us. “You couldn’t use that in front of witnesses.”

    I rubbed my eyes, pinched the bridge of my nose. “Pete. You there?”

    “Right here.” His voice was scratchy over the intercom.

    “You mind if I kill him?”


    I looked at the spokesman. “He doesn’t mind. That makes two of us. You ready to talk to me?”

    He smoothed his hair back, shook out the crease in his pants. “We hired mercenaries.”


    “We needed expendable talent.”

    “Let me get this straight.” I traced my fingers along the sharp edge of my knife. “You hired mercenaries to snatch a bug in a rug out of a children’s hospital. I miss anything?”

    “The insurgent operative was – -” He must have seen the look on my face. “The bug in a rug, as you call him, was leaking valuable information, costing lives.”

    “They shot up the place like it was New Years Eve in Times Square. What happened?”

    “In order to successfully preserve Wide Scope Mission Integrity, it became necessary to split the Operational Schemata. It would appear that at some point, Contract Talent became aware that, that – -”

    “That you had regular troops outside ready to blow them away the second you got your bug.”

    I didn’t need him to tell me the rest. Mercenaries armed to the teeth, knowing they’re not making it out alive . . . what a mess. They were still digging in the rubble. “You know the media’s eating us alive, right? We’re giving them the lowest body counts we can.”

    He nodded. “It’s amazing how many people are acting as if this is all wrapped up. The numbers could still go up dramatically.”

  2. Martha W

    No fair, sneaking away Zac! Like this prompt, just couldn’t get much out of my brain right now…


    "Just once I want to see Dora slap Swiper back to Sunday."

    Ginny raised her head to look at her husband over the top of their three-year-old daughter’s blond curls. "And why did you feel the need to bring this up now?"

    Tom raised an eyebrow and flicked a thumb at the television where the little brunette had her hand up stop sign style, saying, "Swiper, no swiping." He rolled his eyes and went back to the paper.


    "It’s not realistic, that’s all."

    "Tom, it’s for toddlers. How realistic does it have to be?" she cast a glance back at the screen in time to see a yellow school bus slow to a stop next to the cartoon duo, Dora and Boots.

    He shrugged a shoulder and sipped a bit from his coffee. "Not completely but, c’mon Ginny, wouldn’t you like to see Swiper get a smack or two for stealing all the time?"

    She sighed and turned back to Susie, helping her stack blocks in a tower only for her to knock them down again, cheering, "Dooown!"

    Ginny giggled, finger combing the loose, silky curls and dropping a kiss on an up-turned nose. "Very good, baby."

    She focused on the screen as Swiper threw Boots’s book in the bushes, crowing, "You’ll never find it now."

    "Okay, maybe once. Or twice." That’s all she’d give him.

    Tom grinned at her and winked. "Well, now that we have that settled, back to the real world." He flipped the paper back open and promptly checked out of the conversation.

    Mildly annoyed, she stood and moved to read over his shoulder. "Oh, look honey, something realistic!" Ginny spouted, sarcasm practically dripping off each word. "Hollywood blamed for California Chihuahua crisis."

  3. Meliss O'Dell

    An Unnatural Migration
    by Meliss O’Dell, 2009

    "What one whooping crane expert called ‘likely the most important bird in the entire Eastern migratory population’ was shot to death during its recent flight from Wisconsin to Florida." Finney crumpled the newspaper and slammed it down on the kitchen table. His wife’s full coffee cup teetered, splashing some onto the table to dribble off the edge. "Shit," Finney said. He pushed away from the table, as if with great effort, and snatched a paper towel off the roll.
    "Don’t hurry or anything," Natalie said. "It’s only pine flooring."
    Finney released the paper towel which floated toward the floor and landed squarely on the puddle of coffee.
    Natalie glared at him. "Are you just going to leave it there?"
    Finney yanked his suit jacket off the coat rack. "I’m late," he said, so quietly even he had difficulty hearing it. He buttoned his jacket, picked up his brief case and exited the house. The sudden cold made him think of a lake of coffee, situated amid snow-garnished pines, teeming with migratory birds and people who don’t have to work for a living.
    On the freeway, 35 miles per hour, he switched from one HD station to the next and landed on Vivaldi’s "Winter" concerto. In his leased sound-proof capsule – a 2010 Rolls Royce Ghost – he ordered his mind to focus on the music and to ignore the heap in the next lane intermittently veering just inches from his Rolls. He doesn’t have to care, Finney said to himself. He’s got nothing to lose.
    Traffic began to pick up speed and he hit 70, a comfortable clip even in congestion. From the corner of his eye, he saw that the heap was keeping pace to his left, not moving ahead or falling back. He switched stations again, this time stopping at talk radio. The announcer gave an impassioned editorial about a gunfight that had erupted at Times Square the night before. The heap came even closer and Finney couldn’t resist any longer. He looked at the driver who was talking on his phone, oblivious to the impending collision. Finney honked his horn. The other driver turned his face toward Finney then dropped his phone. His lips said Ah fuck! As he reached for the phone with his left hand, the right turned his car toward Finney’s. Finney felt the bump but kept control. He looked at the driver again who smiled, waved and pulled ahead. Finney was boxed in and couldn’t follow. As the heap pulled farther and farther ahead, the radio host decried that New York’s oldest registered sex offender would have to move out of his halfway house. "Whether he’s 100 or 101 or 105," the announcer said, "the same person that was committing these crimes 10, 25, 30 years ago still exists today and has an unrepentant heart."