Thursday, September 01, 2022

Story idea prompts for alternate history

Alternate history is a subgenre of science fiction, speculative fiction, and even finds its way in to some fantasy. To create an alternate all you have to do is change one historical decision or event. Prevent a person from arriving to where they were in real history. Two people who never meet can never have the child that will change or save the world. Think John Conor of the Terminator franchise.

Alternate History

 Writing alternate history can be fun and challenging writing exercise but once you get started, you'll find you have a preexisting world as your backdrop and the freedom to tweak it to fit your story. For today’s creative writing prompt, choose a person, place, or event as the springboard for your muse. Consider the following writing topics and select one.

Person: Col. John Stevens

For the first story prompt idea, consider Col. John Stevens, III (June 26, 1749-March 6, 1838: American lawyer, engineer, and inventor who constructed the first U.S. steam locomotive, first steam-powered ferry, and first U.S. commercial ferry service from his estate in Hoboken, and was influential in the creation of U.S. patent law. On October 17, 1782, he married Rachel Cox (1761–1839), the daughter of John Cox. She was a descendant of the Langeveldts (or Longfields) who originally settled New Brunswick, New Jersey. They had thirteen children of which seven were sons. 

steam ferry

This man lived a full, accomplished life which offers plenty of fodder for alternate history. For instance, it can lead to a new and unusual Western frontier inhabited by gargoyle like creatures that carry people away as they lay down the rails for the trains pulled by the steam locomotives. Or how about an accident on the ferry service? What would happen when they reached 1822 Manhattan on the other side and how would that change the future? You might consider writing an anthology of stories based on this one man with all these possibilities! It's a way to relate the unrelated and still have a theme.

Place: Ancient Site

This category is ripe for alternate history. Choose one site and decide: Were they created by humans? If so where did the technology come from, or why doesn’t anyone today know how it could be replicated. Is it instead an alien project of some sort? If so what was it’s purpose? What difference does it make to the world today? For your story create an advanced race that has the technology needed to create the site. Your challenge is to also create a plot that develops the reason they’ve build these mammoth structures. Did they accomplish their goal? Or is it something still unfolding like a ticking bomb.

  • The Pyramids
  • Stonehenge
  • Monolithic human figures of Moai
  • Or change it up with ancient hieroglyphics on Mars
  • The Nazca Lines of southern Peru


World War I

The first World War was won by the Allies: the United Kingdom, France, United States, Japan, Italy. They defeated the Central Powers: Imperial Germany, Austro-Hungary Empire and the Ottoman Empire. It lasted from 1914 until the signing of the Versailles Peace Treaty in 1919. Check out this timeline of World War I and choose one item for your story's setting.

As you can see, alternate history requires knowledge of history. Equip yourself with enough details to make your story fit the time. Have fun as you travel back in time to create a new future!

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Thursday, June 09, 2022

Writing for emotional impact

One of the most potent writing skills an author can possess is the ability to cause readers to empathize and feel with their characters. When readers choose a book they plan to be transported to a different place. Depending on the genre, it may be a different time or the same time, a different earthly culture or some alien culture, or even a whole new fantastical world. Wherever and whenever the story takes place, making that world come to life is important. One of the tools used to make that happen is the characters. Readers experience the world through the eyes of characters whether humans, animals, or some unexpected lifeforms. The details learned are filtered through what the characters hear, see, smell, touch, and taste. But along with the five senses, we learn through the characters’ emotions.

free write

Character’s emotional responses

In real life, emotional responses influence our cognitive processes, including perception, attention, learning, memory, reasoning, and problem-solving. So as readers experience emotional responses of the character’s in your story, it creates a strong influence their on attention as it motivates the character to act in a particular way. Depending on the circumstances, emotion can either enhance or impair your character’s learning and long-term memory. All of this engages the reader to care, to speculate as to what will happen next.

Make the reader feel

Good writing makes the reader feel what your character is feeling. Imagine a character who faces a test. His/her emotional response as they anticipate the test reveals much. Do they fear? Are they anxious? Frustrated? Bored? Self-confident? Subject matter can elicit an emotional response peculiar to the character. It can even be anxiety regarding the sense of the unknown. Whatever the response, you want to make the reader feel it. This means you don’t just say they are frustrated. You show they are frustrated. They may lose their temper, drum their fingers, tap their foot, or sigh over and over. They might even get so frustrated they get up and leave. Inner dialog (thoughts) can show a lack of self-confidence. You might even show the character having trouble sleeping the night before the test, or turning to drugs or alcohol to help them calm down. Actions show the frustration and it engages the reader to feel the frustration.

Today’s Pumping Your Muse writing prompt – writing for emotional impact

Today’s writing prompt challenges you to show emotion based on one or more of the following photos. This is a free-write exercise. Seek to use strong verbs. Instead of saying, he was sighing loudly (week), something like, he heaved a deep sigh. I’ve chosen picture prompts of people and animals which will challenge on different levels. Have fun with this. Remember practice makes perfect!

Picture prompts 

Picture prompt 1

Picture prompt 2

Picture prompt 3

Picture prompt 4

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About Dragonborn by Donna Sundblad

Dragonborn conjures up a winning fantasy with dragons, humans, time travel, and magic. Follow the journey of the young prisonguard, Ervig Greenfields, as he seeks out dragons to remove a curse. The dragons offer him access to the Labyrinth of Times, which will purge the dark magic. But there’s a catch. Erving must take the Dragon Oath that requires allegiance--to fight alongside dragons for centuries, never to return to his own time. He and a handful of others take the selfless oath and become Dragonborn. The Dragonborn and their dragons become seeds of change, in this epic tale, of sacrifice for the greater good. Ride along with them as they slip through a tear in time to the past to change the future. 

Dragonborn is available on Kindle, paperback on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo (Christian fiction), Smashwords Apple and Google Books. When you read it, be sure to leave a review! Thanks for your support.

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Sunday, May 08, 2022

Take a risk--submit your work

Learning to show and not tell comes with practice. I’ll never forget the first time I shared some of my work for critique. Truth be told it scared me. When I hit “post” and I knew others could read it, my emotions went on a wild roller coaster ride. Excited. Yes, excited. For more than one reason. First of all, I had something to post. I had blossoming characters I cared about. The main character had layers of personal struggles and one close friend. But fear tempered my excitement. I feared people wouldn’t like my writing. Might even tell me something worse than that…like I wasn’t a writer at all. I know it sounds silly, but putting your writing out there for others to read isn’t easy. It’s often a roadblock for writers who hide their stories away unsubmitted in files on their computer never to be read by another human. This is worse than writer's block!


Waiting for feedback

Waiting for feedback gave way to worry. Again, I worried it would be torn to shreds by criticism. But then I came full circle and reminded myself that I did like the story, and I thought others would too. Not everyone, but out there, others would like the story. Around and around my emotions whisked me along a path where self-doubt and self-confidence collided.

Finally, feedback came. All the people who offered their critiques did it with kindness. They let me know what they liked. The strong elements. That just thrilled me. People said the story held promise. But along with all the positive feedback, what many of them said in one way or another was it would be even better if I told less and showed more.

I admit I didn’t like hearing that. I thought I was showing. With my defensive hackles raised, I went back to my story and reread it. I didn’t see “the telling” they were seeing. I picked up Stephen King’s On Writing, and it taught me a lot and I gained a deeper understanding of the meaning of show don't tell. The critiques did me a favor by being honest. It helped me grow as a writer.


Take a risk -- submit your work

Over time, I started submitting my work knowing that rejections come way more often than acceptances. I didn’t let it stop me. If I didn’t submit it, I knew for sure it would not be published. And when accepted! Wow! You had to scrape me off the ceiling to get me back down to earth. I have to tell you; acceptances don’t get old. I’m excited every time.


Today’s Writing Prompt

With all that said, today’s writing prompt is a different type of writing exercise. Instead of writing something new, you will share something you’ve already written with someone else in one of the following ways:

  • With a writing group (this can be virtual or in-person)
  • Take a class that allows you to share your work with peers
  • Check writer’s guidelines for a suitable market and submit something you’ve already written for publication
  • Attend a writer’s conference that provides critiques

Don’t panic. You've already done the hard part. You wrote it! You can do this. Submit your work!

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Some links in this post are affiliate links. We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to and affiliate sites. Thanks so much for being part of our success.



Wednesday, April 13, 2022



Just as physical exercises stretch, strengthen, define, and build our muscles, writing exercises, when practiced regularly, stretch our imagination, strengthen our writing skills, help define our writing goals, and build our muse’s creative muscle memory. In our day-to-day routine, we physically move and while that is exercise, it is not targeted exercise. It’s the same with writing. Procrastinating when it comes to any form of exercise is commonplace, but when we actually learn to make it a habit, it pays off. With that said, how about we do a little stretching of the muse’s muscles today and practice describing a simple everyday action. 

Strong verbs

 What is a strong verb?

If you’re unsure of what a strong verb or noun look like, here’s an example:

We’ll start with the weak verb: “He entered the room.” (While this is active, it is weak.)

If you change “entered” to “walked,” walked is a stronger verb than entered, but it can be improved. Think more specific. If he wandered into room it creates a different image than if he trudged into the room. If he hurried his steps you could use verbs like charged, stormed, dashed, or raced. They paint vivid mental images. Entered or walked only create a basic image. It offers no hint of emotion or mental condition. In fact, it doesn't provide real detail of movement to follow. Vivid is the effect you’re looking for...not basic.

Do the same with your nouns. In our above example, the “room” is quite nondescript. It’s like following the character into a blank. All we really know is that he is indoors. Is it a waiting room, an office, a living room, a parlor, bedroom, music room, sewing room, a cluttered room, colorful room, a class room? As you dig for the right words, I suggest you use a thesaurus.

Pumping Your Muse Writing Prompt


 Choose one (or more) of the scenarios below:

  • Brushing teeth
  • Stopping by the drive through for donuts for the gang at work
  • Parking the car
  • Changing a flat tire
  • Realizing your hair is thinning
  • Feeding the cat

Enjoy yourself.