Story Prompt: Newes from the Dead

Anne Greene
Anne Greene

Whores of Yore (yes, a catchy title) at Twitter  is stuffed to the gills with crazy interesting historical tidbits having to do with women’s lives and sexuality. The description on Twitter: ‘A catalogue of jilts, cracks, prostitutes, night-walkers, whores, she-friends, kind women & others of the linnen-lifting tribe.’  (18+)’ 

Often the bits posted there are just too good for a storyteller to ignore, as is the case with the life of Anne Greene. If you have been looking for material for a historical novel, this might be it.  It’s true that Iain Pears’ An Instance of the Fingerpost includes a character based on Anne, but she is peripheral in that otherwise very dense and challenging novel. 

The case is so interesting that there was an 1982 article about it in the British Medical Journal: “Miraculous deliverance of Anne Green: an Oxford case of resuscitation in the seventeenth century” which you can download as a pdf.  

Anne was convicted of infanticide and hanged. The next day when the anatomists were getting ready to start a post-mortem exam, they realized she was still breathing. This was considered a miracle and act of God, and she was pardoned.  Her father saw the possibilities, and once she returned home, starting charging people to come have a look at her. From the BMJ article:

This collection and a subsequent financial appeal on her behalf produced many pounds, which paid the bill of the apothecary, her food and lodging, and the legal expenses of her pardon. Anne Green’s fame continued after her full recovery, when she returned to some friends in the country taking with her the coffin in which she had lain. She then married, bore three children, and lived for 15 years after her famous execution and resuscitation. 

If I were to take this on, I’d start with the day she was revived and the aftermath. I keep wondering what use she made of that coffin. 

Try your hand at snappy dialogue

You live around here?

This is an exercise I use when I’m teaching creative writing. I always get a kick out of it, and the students do, too. I’m thinking it might engage the interest of some of the people who stop by here — and who need another opportunity to comment and thus get entered into the giveaway.

To start, I provide a question. For example: Do you live around here?

Goal: Write a one sentence reply that gets the whole story going at a gallop.  

Example answers:

What kind of question is that? I look like a bum to you?

Sure do. That little yellow job over there is mine, all nine hundred fifty square feet. Shingled the roof myself, which is how I come to do such mischief to my back.

Detective, not to embarrass you or nothing, but you got mustard on your tie, did you know that?


For each of these replies you should have a some impressions about the character. The third person is a smart ass who likes tweaking authority figures. The second one is  talkative old man who lives by himself, and is lonely, and tries to engage anybody who asks him a question. And the first … there’s room for some interpretation there. A female, a male, young, old, all you have for sure is an attitude. But it could take you places, that attitude.

So here’s another question to open a scene. See if you can come up with a one sentence (or so) reply that gets the story going, and gives us something solid about the primary character.

How did you get that black eye?

No restrictions on who is asking this question. Could be a spouse, a stranger on a bus, a barista, an ER nurse, anybody. See if you can come up with a response.

Drew Chial on Characterization

Chial is a new name to me. I have to look up his work because of this weblog post of his:  Why the best characters overshare

Really clear, excellent advice about characterization. An excerpt:

Launder Envy

We all know jealousy isn’t something to be proud of. So we code it when we vent. We’re envious of the beautiful person who nabbed our position. We just happen to notice how little they did to get what we wanted. We have a front row seat to an injustice. Sure that injustice came out our expense, but we witnessed it all the same. If anything we’re the most qualified to give criticism.

Perpetually envious people aren’t particularly likable. Socially adjusted people know this, but jealousy is just part of the human condition. The more a character works to rationalize their envy the more they reveal how much it consumes them.

His Twitter feed is full of interesting bits and pieces.  

PS His comments on characterization reminded me of an old post:

Shake my hand. Come on, I dare ya about distinguishing between author and character.

Good Advice-Bad Advice-Enough with the Advice, Already & a Poll

via Magnetic-Eye on Deviant Art

It’s mind boggling. If you google ‘writing advice’  you get 479,000,000 hits. On YouTube you get 2,120,000. 

I am guilty of this, too. Scattered through this monstrosity of a weblog are my ‘rules of thumb.’ Why do I post them? I’d like to think I’m trying to be helpful. Or maybe I’m just out for the glory of it.

Nah. There’s not much glory in a weblog about reading and writing.  And here’s a thought: maybe you don’t care about this kind of advice at all. Maybe you want book reviews and nothing else. 

The only way to get to the bottom of this is to ask you: what makes you come read a weblog? There are two ways to give me your thoughts, and I hope you’ll use both of them.

Tell Me.

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If you leave a comment please be specific. Be honest. You can’t hurt my feelings (you don’t last long in this business unless you can handle criticism). And remember that every time you leave a comment you have entered into the BIG BIG Giveaway that will happen at the end of the summer.  

There is a huge amount of advice out there, and a lot of it strikes me as poorly thought out. But in the great big mountain of do-this-don’t-do-that there are some treasures. I love what Kurt Vonnegut has to say about writing. Here are his eight basics. 


  1. Use the time of a total stranger [your reader] in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible.
  6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

Bagombo Snuff Box, Kurt VonnegutThis is from his preface to Bagombo Snuff Box. Note that he goes on to say: every single rule can be broken, and has been broken successfully. But that’s not where you start.

*Featured image by Magnetic-Eye / Deviant Art