Tag Archives: writing prompt

Evolution of a back cover blurb

The novel’s called Subtraction. It’s going to be released on August 1st. And it needed a back cover blurb. (Watch this space for the real cover, coming soon!)

subtraction copy

I spent a day with many Facebook friends working on this, and I am hugely grateful to them. I’m grateful for links to great “how to write a blurb” sites – especially https://kindlepreneur.com/back-book-cover-blurb/. I’m grateful for advice, for revised sentences, new ways of looking at the storyline and words, and … everything. And here’s how it worked out.

Version 1: On a road trip to look for a missing girl, a schoolteacher finds himself. Love, cats and colleagues remind him the world’s not all evil, but can he truly forgive the darkness it hides? Is trust just weakness in disguise, or is it a gift, a freedom and a hope that things subtracted might yet be restored?

Comments –

  • doesn’t really tell the reader anything: road trip, yes, but what happens on the trip
  • on the other hand, does kind of give away the ending.

Version 2: Can subtraction be a positive? Can loss be a gain? And can a lonely schoolteacher find himself (love and cats) on a cross-country road trip in search of a missing child? Subtraction is a story of love, loss and hope as strangers prove to be sometimes kind, dark places hide light, and middle-grade schoolchildren learn about math, acceptance, and generosity.

Comments –

  • Too existential
  • why is he looking for her?
  • Starting with the inciting incident will focus readers on what’s going to happen

Version 3: When a misfit student disappears from math class, her teacher embarks on an epic cross-country journey to find her. But who is he really looking for? Why is the pretty new art teacher so keen to help? And where do all the cats come from?

Comments –

  • too short
  • needs names
  • tell enough of the story – to the middle say – to hook your reader.

Version 4: When autistic Amy goes missing from her special ed math class, teacher Andrew Callaghan is desperate to save her… or save himself. Stella DeMaris, the new art instructor, offers to help. Soon the two erstwhile strangers set off on a road trip across America, held back by memories of Andrew’s past and spurred on by mysterious cats. Andrew imagines Amy’s dead body in every passing shadow, but Stella’s determined to prove there’s hope for everyone, including two misfit teachers and misfit kids.

Comments –

  • Don’t use easy labels – don’t say she’s autistic
  • Try “and save himself” instead of “or save himself,” or it might sound creepy
  • Why does he think she needs saving
  • Readers forget about Amy by the time they get to the cats.
  • Remember, the person reading the blurb doesn’t know the story.
  • Think about 3 sentences
    • Goal
    • Disaster that keeps him from his goal, and potential consequences for him
    • Sum up the journey and what he’ll have to overcome.

Version 5: Andrew Callaghan suspects that his student Amy, who has gone missing, has been murdered. With the help of Stella DeMaris, the school’s new art instructor, he sets off on a road trip to find what happened to her. Tortured by memories of his own dead daughter, Andrew sees Amy’s body in every passing shadow, while Stella sees cats, and the path grows harder to find.

Comments –

  • The end is just as important as the beginning, so find a better ending.

Version 6: Andrew Callaghan suspects his student Amy, who has gone missing, may have been murdered. With the help of Stella DeMaris, the school’s new art instructor, he sets off on a road trip to find what happened to her. Tortured by memories of his own dead daughter, Andrew sees Amy’s body in every passing shadow, while Stella sees cats. But Amy is speeding ahead of them. She’s not the sort to understand “stranger danger.” Can they find her in time?

Comments –

  • Amy’s danger belongs at the start, not the end
  • How do they know she’s ahead of them?

Version 7: Andrew Callaghan suspects his student Amy, who has gone missing, may have been murdered. With the help of Stella DeMaris, the school’s new art instructor, he sets off on a road trip to find what happened to her. Tortured by memories of his own dead daughter, Andrew sees Amy’s body in every passing shadow, while Stella, ever hopeful, sees cats. But where will the cats lead them, and will Amy be dead or alive at the end of the trail?

Comments – it’s the winner! (Well, I always like 7s.) So what have I learned:

  • Ask myself what genre my book is, even if the answer is multiply-defined.
  • Pick out the most important thread in the story and include it in the first sentence of the blurb.
  • Leave out any unnecessary information
  • Provide enough motivation for the main character’s actions.
  • Make sure the ending makes readers want to know more.

Coming soon – August 1st, Subtraction by Sheila Deeth

and here are the blurbs for Divide by Zero and Infinite Sum, the books that came before it. (Each one is standalone – related, but not contiguous.)

Divide by Zero: It takes a subdivision to raise a child, and a wealth of threads to weave a tapestry, until one breaks. Troy, the garage mechanic’s son, loves Lydia, the rich man’s daughter. Amethyst has a remarkable cat and Andrea a curious accent. Old Abigail knows more than anyone else but doesn’t speak. And in Paradise Park a middle-aged man keeps watch while autistic Amelia keeps getting lost. Pastor Bill, at the church of Paradise, tries to mend people, Peter mends cars. But when that fraying thread gives way it might takes a child to raise the subdivision-or to mend it.

Infinite Sum: A slash of red; a slash of black; then Sylvia’s paintbrush turns beauty turns into terror and darkness again. Her youngest child is almost ten, but Sylvia’s world seems destined to fall apart. Her therapist believes the answers lie in her art, but will they be found among boxes and frames in the attic, or in the angry colors she pours onto canvases in class? As memories new and old pile ever higher, Sylvia learns life is more about the infinite promise of joys to come than the sum of things done. Even so, will her nightmares let her go?

And for a writing prompt –

  • write a blurb for the book you’re writing, want to write, or wish you’d written
  • Does the first sentence describe the most important storyline?
  • Is there enough information to motivate the characters?
  • Is the information clear enough to avoid its being misunderstood?
  • Does the last sentence give too much away, or entice the reader to want more?
  • Then rewrite your blurb.

What Did You Read On Vacation?

I started reading The Girl on the Train, on a train. I read Signal Failure while riding the 20160801_110205 (2)Underground. I visited numerous London bookshops then settled down to enjoy Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore. 20160804_173522The Eyre Affair accompanied peacefully timeless20160806_173543 (2) views of punts on the Cam. And I enjoyed happy days with my brother’s two dogs while reading The Dog Who Dared To Dream.20160724_154323 (2)In the days leading up to our wedding anniversary, I devoured The Daylight Marriage. Then we celebrated with a trip to the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime at the Guilgud Theatre. A great time was had by all, my read-and-review book-list languished, the internet faded into 2G wilderness, and my mum enjoyed being one of the first readers of my second novel, Infinite Sum, hot off the press from Indigo Sea.

But now I’m back. England is a happy memory and my American life is calling – overdue reviews, washing, cleaning and shopping, our writers’ group’s release of its fifth anthology, Bible studies to prepare … and did I mention 20160804_140752washing, cleaning and shopping? And pulling weeds. The dandelions defeated me before we left, so now I’m just going to mow them down instead of trying to extract them.

Meanwhile, that writers’ group continues to host monthly contests, and I need to come up with a prompt (my penalty for winning). Perhaps something about trains, bookstores, Venetian gondolas, dogs or marriages would work? August’s contest was inspired by someone else’s photograph. September’s asks what happens next after a disturbing opening sentence, and October’s is to write fan fiction based on Tails of Mystery. Perhaps November’s prompt could combine all three …

Writing Prompt

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  1. Here’s a picture, taken on my vacation
  2. What happens next?
  3. Please write it from the point of view of an animal (mammal, insect, fish or bird).

What would you write?

My Most Singular Venture

If I’ve been absent from the internet, or only minimally present, this last few weeks, I’ve had good reason. I embarked on a brand new venture, you see – in fact, “A Most Singular Venture,” which just happens to be the title of a wonderful new novel in the Elizabeth and Richard Literary Mysteries Series by Donna Fletcher Crow.

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As you’ll see from the cover, Elizabeth and Richard (a couple now pleasingly approaching my own age) are in London as this story begins. Elizabeth is researching locations visited by that well-known classical author, Jane Austen, while Richard is about to start teaching a summer class on Golden Age mystery authors. It’s a great combination, with tasks, characters and mysteries all dove-tailing into a plot that pulls the reader along: Explore London, learn literature, and look for a murderer, all within the covers of a single, enticing book.

But where do I fit in? And how did this singular venture keep me from the internet? Well… that’s where my own most singular and delightful venture starts, with author Donna Fletcher Crow inviting me to reawaken my editing dreams after reading my review an earlier novel in the series:

JaneAus

How could I resist? I didn’t even try. The chance to read Elizabeth and Richard’s latest adventure before anyone else? The chance to get to know one of my favorite authors better? And, yes, the chance to call myself an editor again… I spread those wings with eager delight and had a most wonderful time.

Watch out for A Most Singular Venture, coming later this year to a bookstore near you. And get ready for the adventure with a thoroughly enjoyable Jane Austen Encounter. Then spread your writing wings and feather your quill for a writing exercise:

Get Ready

  1. Think of a famous person and a place that person is connected with.
  2. Think of reasons why a group of people might visit that place?

Get Set

Make a list of ways you can connect their visit with the person

  1. Do they go to sites your famous person frequented?
  2. Do they get involved in the same sort of business?
  3. Or perhaps they see a ghost?
  4. travel in time?
  5. read a book?
  6. endure the same problems?
  7. etc.

Now Write

A story, a paragraph, an essay, or even a novel… whatever you have time for. Enjoy!

 

Top 1%!

Just look what Goodreads sent me!

goodreads likes me

 

How cool is that? I wish they could offer me the gift of time as well as a pretty badge. Then I might catch up on all those books still unread and unreviewed, but I’m working on it. Meanwhile, I’ll add some thyme, rosemary and sage while I cook dinner. And I’ll dream that one day Goodreads might give me a slightly different badge – one that says TOP 1% of WRITERS instead of reviewers. How cool would that be?

Of course, if I wrote more, or wrote faster, I’d have a better chance of being well-known, which brings me back to that precious gift, not yet downloadable, of time. So… what would you do if you had more time? Use a writing prompt perhaps? Why not try this?

  1. Write a sentence beginning, “If only she/he had the time…”
  2. Write a sentence ending with the phrase, “but he/she wished she/he had the time.”
  3. Write a sentence with the phrase, “if there were only enough time” somewhere in the middle of it.
  4. Which sentence do you like best?
  5. Which timelessness inspires you?
  6. Now write a short story, character study, scene, snippet or poem, where every sentence includes some similar reference to the absence of time. (No cheating though. It’s got to be time, not thyme.)

NOW WRITE!

Can You Write A Selfie?

I’m getting better at taking selfies–really I am–though I doubt they’d help me sell any books if I stuck my image on the back. Aging, graying, not quite sure which direction to look in–would you buy a book photographed by me? More importantly–from my point of view anyway–would you buy a book written by me? And can you write a selfie?

Photographic selfies come–or at least they came–in many forms. Here’s my first one, taken through a mirror.

IMG_1557

Hmmm, a little blurred isn’t it, like one of those out-of-focus stories that never quite gets to the point, or has so many points the reader can’t find them? Next came the camera-on-the-computer selfie, with me so proud, holding the first (of many) proofs.

Picture 002

Are you looking at the books or the writer here? If you read my stories, will you see my characters or me? Then I ponder: Even if my opinions don’t totally obscure the scene, they can still distract (and detract from the best-told tale). But At last I got a phone with a backward-facing lens–my chance to take a real, modern-day selfie. What do you think?

20150804_182149 (2)

Look up, look down, look straight, left, right, or somewhere: Choose an angle, I guess, but surely don’t choose this one, in writing or photography, from which I conclude, points of view are really quite important.

I tried again. Does this one work…

20140824_184317

…or should I have chosen a background that made sense? Set a scene that’s understandable for the reader or the viewer–that’s one to remember.

And then there was this. What do you think?

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(No glasses – the wonders of cataract surgery earlier this year!)

Someone suggested that everyone we write about lives in our heads (unless we’re writing biographies I suppose). So all those characters entering and leaving rooms, victims and perpetrators of crimes, male, female, adult, child… are they all me? Is every character study in my novel a selfie from some hidden part of my mind?

I don’t know the answer, but the question did inspire a writing exercise:

Now Write

  1. Imagine yourself entering a room–to win a writing prize perhaps, or to stop your child from crying, or…
  2. Describe your entry from your own point of view–are you confident, scared, excited… how do you walk? Is your breathing slow or fast? Where are your eyes focused? What are you doing with your hands? And what are you wearing; how does the fabric move with you, or the wind blow your hair?
  3. Describe your entry from the point of view of someone who’s glad to see you–parent, child, spouse, best friend, eager recipient of your benevolence… Who or what do they see, hear, or smell, and what thoughts fill their minds?
  4. Now describe your entry from the point of view of someone who’s not pleased to see you–the person who hoped to win the prize, the cat who hoped to stay with the child, the monster returned to its closet…
  5. And finally, turn one of those descriptions into a story.

If I Write A Blogpost, Will You Read It?

Our writers’ group met last weekend, and I need to copy up the minutes and send them out. We talked about internet-connections and the need to have a blog, write blogposts, and find people to read them. Among the questions we addressed were:

  • What is a blog? It’s kind of like a diary, but don’t make it your diary. Nobody wants to read your day-to-day life.
  • What’s the difference between a blog and a website? Mostly they’re attached to each other. The website is the bit that doesn’t change. The blog is the bit that’s supposed to keep offering something new.
  • And between a blog, a website, and your Facebook page? We had a picture for this one: I wonder if I can reproduce it in a blog…webs blogs and facebook So…
  • Websites are really well thought-out, like a query letter sent to a publisher.
  • Blogs are moderately well thought-out, like a report to your writers’ group about the writing of query letters.
  • Facebook status is where you tell the world “I just send that query in.”

We finished our meeting with a writing exercise because, of course, we’re a writers’ group. So here it is

Just Write

This is your chance to blog, and mine to see if I can read what I wrote:

  1. Think of a title and turn it into a questionWhy would anyone read this?
  2. Think of who might read your blogpost and tell them why you think it should interest them: Has anyone ever asked you to write a blogpost?
  3. Make sure your first sentence and title repeat the same words. If they don’t, rewrite one or the other: If I write a blogpost, will you read it? could be a better title.
  4. Write something that flows from that first sentence: Has anyone ever asked you to write a blogpost? That’s what happened to us at the end of our Writers’ Mill meeting this month. But many of our members don’t have blogs. So the real question, perhaps, should be “If I had a blog, would you read it?” closely followed by, “If I had a blog, what would I blog about?”
  5. Now you know where you’re going, make sure you get there quickly. The blogging world suffers from the internet’s inescapably short attention span, so simply say what you want to say, then stop: I’m going to blog about writing here, specifically about writing answers to prompts. I’ll post things like, say:
    1. How to write a mystery in 7 steps
    2. How to create a believable character
    3. How to use point of view effectively
    4. How to use all five senses, plus whatever extras you can think of, or even
    5. How to blog
  6. Add a final sentence, include a picture if you can, then click on “Publish.” You’re done: So… will you read it?

 

 

 

 

Publishing is Murder!

If I’ve fallen off the face of the internet recently, I have a good excuse. Our local writers’ group, The Writers’ Mill, committed to self-publishing our fourth anthology in time for Christmas 2015, and time sped by. Suddenly I was fifteen books behind with reading and reviewing, three behind with writing, and deeply entrenched in editing, formatting and publishing one solitary volume. But now, at last, I can raise my head above the metaphorical quick-sand. Our next writers’ contest has the theme of murder, and I’m thinking it won’t be half as murderous as this.

In case you’re interested, our anthology, The Writers’ Mill Journal Volume 4, is now available from Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Writers-Mill-Journal-2015-Journals/dp/1517594472/) and all good bookstores (and from Kindle http://www.amazon.com/Writers-Mill-Journal-Journals-Book-ebook/dp/B016C98RI4/):

The Writers' Mill Journal Volume 4
The Writers’ Mill Journal Volume 4

Meanwhile, how about those murders… Here’s a writing exercise for our next Writers’ Mill meeting, and for you:

First Think

  1. What do you think of when somebody says “Murder”?
    1. Clue – Colonel Mustard in the library with the candlestick?
    2. TV cop show – CSI Miami?
    3. Recent events and shootings – gun control?
    4. Old movies – Arsenic and Old Lace?
    5. Self-publishing
    6. What else?
  2. A murder story doesn’t have to be a mystery. What else can it be?
    1. Horror
    2. Psychological thriller
    3. Humor
    4. What else?
  3. The type of story might determine the point of view
    1. Whose head do you need to be inside for horror to scare you?
    2. Whose head do you need to be inside to get involved in solving a mystery?
    3. Whose head will you be in to understand the murderer’s mind?
    4. Whose head to not take it seriously?

Then Try

  1. You’re going to write three one-paragraph mini-murder stories, but first we’ll do the Clue thing:
    1. Where might a murder take place?
    2. Who might commit a murder?
    3. Who might get killed? (or what, I suppose)
    4. Who might try to solve the crime?
  2. Pick a location, a murderer, a victim and an optional investigator or bystander.
    1. Write one paragraph describing the murder scene after the event. This might be through the eyes of an investigator or passer-by, or just describe from an omniscient point of view.
    2. Describe the same scene in one paragraph through the eyes of the killer. This can be before, after or even during the event – depends how gruesome you want to be.
    3. Describe the same scene in one paragraph through the eyes of the victim. This can be before or during the event… or if you want to deal in ghosts or inanimate objects, describe the scene after the event.
  3. Read your three paragraphs
    1. How did the scene change as you looked through different eyes?
    2. Which version was harder to write?
    3. Which point of view will you choose to write the longer story?

Now Write

Writing the Author Bio

No book reviews, no blog posts, and I’ve almost disappeared from Facebook and Twitter: What could be going on? Meanwhile the deadline for the Writers’ Mill Journal, an (almost) annual publication from our local group of writers, came and went and…well…that’s what’s been stealing my attention and my time.

The Writers' Mill Journal Volume 3
The Writers’ Mill Journal Volume 3

For my sins I’m compiler and editor in chief, and we had lots of pieces to be compiled, carefully stored online by our intrepid computer guru, Rom. Now we have a large document with nine sections, nearly 60 pieces of writing, and around 35 pictures. But we, at last, means more than just me; and I’m looking forward to a little more spare time, since I’ve finally sent that doc to our intrepid team of editors. Six editors. 200 pages. Around 35 pages each.

Of course, the journal is only almost complete, as you might see from the heading to this post. It’s one thing to ask our brave authors to write, and write we do, most wonderfully (see last year’s journal above – enjoy!). But asking us to write about ourselves; that’s an entirely different matter. So the author bio page languishes, while sentences and paragraphs drift in email replies to be added to those author names.

First person bio or third is the first question to be asked of course. Does

  • Joe Soap says, “I’ve been writing since I learned to wash my face…” work better than
  • Joe Soap has been writing since…

I’m going for third person–at least, that’s what I said–though several writers insist on first. What do you think? Which sounds more professional to you?

Then there’s the question of one sentence, or two, or a paragraph or two, or a page. For myself, I’ve got bios of varying lengths on almost every website, Facebook and Twitter included, all different, and mostly out of date. I’ve got a mini-bio in the signature line on my emails, also out of date (depending on whether I’m writing from my computer or my phone). I’ve got bios on my books, bios in the back pages of as yet unpublished books, bios on publishing websites, bios re-edited, bios…

But we’ve got 200+ pages, and every page costs, and we run this on a money-less shoe-string. So I asked our authors for just one or two sentences, or maybe three or four.

I sent a sample:

  • Joe Soap has been writing since he learned to wash his hands. He’s the author of several unpublished books, has taught laundry techniques in high school for many years, and can be found online at joesoap.com.

And the answers are still slowly trickling in.

Meanwhile, here I am, finally finding time to write a blogpost. Since most of my readers write, which makes you authors of a kind, I’ll set an author bio challenge this time:

Write (or find your latest) author bio, in all its multi-paragraph glory: Who are you? Then…

  • Pick out the section that describes how long you’ve been writing. Which words are most important? Rephrase them in one short sentence.
  • Pick out the section that describes what you’ve done with your life. Which detail is most important. Rewrite it in one short sentence.
  • Pick out the section that describes why you write. Which words are most important? Rephrase them in one short sentence.
  • Pick out the section that describes what you’ve written. Rephrase this in one short sentence.
  • Pick out the section that describes where you can be found online. Which place is most important, or easiest to find, or best linked to everywhere else. Mention this in one short sentence.
  • Now combine your first and second sentences, second and third, third and fourth, and fourth and fifth.
  • Combine the resulting sentences, shortening, deleting, and EDITING until you have just two (one short and one long is good).
  • Now you’ve got a nice brief author bio that might even fit on Twitter!

So here’s mine:

  • Sheila Deeth has been telling stories since before she learned to write. She’s the author of contemporary novels from Second Wind Publishing, childrens animal stories from Linkville Press, and The Five Minute Bible Story Series from Cape Arago Press, and she blogs at…well…here ’cause you’ve found me!

I guess I should go update all those other random bios wherever they lurk now. But first, I’ve still got 35 pages to edit…

How do you choose your point of view?

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First person, present tense narration – they told me both of these were no-nos, but I read them everywhere. Multiple-viewpoint, told in a mixture of first and third person, is another unlikely mix that I seem to read now all the time. Then there are dual-viewpoint novels, with alternating first-person chapters that let you “get into the head” of both the protagonists and “really understand them.” If you’re George R R Martin you’ll write different chapters from multiple different viewpoints and be everyone’s hero. (If you’re me, you’ll write Divide by Zero similarly, then follow up with Infinite Sum – first person, present tense.) But what do readers want? What do stories need? And what should I be doing?

I read these questions asked in a blogpost about multiple-viewpoint-novels recently: http://www.writersonthemove.com/2015/07/multiple-points-of-view-good-or-bad.html. The author ends her post with a question:

So, what do you think?  Have you ever written anything in this style?  Do you have any examples of books you love (or don’t love) told like this?  When you read one, do you find yourself hurrying through one or more POVs to get to your favorite character?  I’d love to hear in the comments.

This, of course, provoked me to think and comment. I have read and written novels told from multiple points of view. Some I love. Some are okay. And some annoy me. But why? Here’s what I came up with:

  • Changing viewpoints are distracting when they feel forced – when the author chooses the POV because it’s time for a change, rather than because the story demands it.
  • They’re annoying when they make the story repetitive – same scene, alternative view, putting narration on hold.
  • They’re frustrating when the view-points feels cloudy and ill-defined – I have to read the chapter title to realize whose head I’m in ’cause they all sound alike.
  • They’re tiring when they flog the story to death – every view-point told with no exceptions till the reader falls asleep.
  • They’re confusing when they’re unnecessarily inconsistent – A thinks B thinks this but B thinks that and C thinks A couldn’t possible think…
  • But sometimes they’re great.Infinite Sum

So here’s my question. Have you read Divide by Zero? What did you think of the multiple view-point, village-tapestry approach? And will you read Infinite Sum, even though it’s a different story, told in a different way?

And here’s a writing exercise

Get ready to write

  • Choose two characters.
  • Choose one location.
  • Choose a time where your characters might meet in that location.
  • Choose a topic they might discuss.

Write

  • Working from the point of view of your first character:
    • Write one paragraph describing your approach to the meeting place.
    • Write one paragraph describing your first sight of the other character.
    • Write one paragraph describing the discussion
      • Include your feelings
      • Include the other character’s responses.
    • Write one paragraph describing the other person’s exit from the meeting.
  • Now repeat the process from the second character’s point of view.

Read and think about it

  • Which version was easier to write?
  • Which version is easier to read?
  • Why?

How many words is a picture really worth?

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They say a picture’s worth a thousand words,

but silently it waits for you

and never moves nor says to you

one answer, never graces you

with scent or touch or taste for you;

so the much the picture aches to do;

a thousand words will maybe prove

 of higher worth appraised by you

when they describe a thousand pictures too.

Writing Exercise:

  1. Look around. Where are you? What can you see?
  2. Pick one thing that you can see and either listen to it or imagine it making a sound. What do you hear?
  3. Can you smell the object? Would the object smell anything? It it’s not in its natural habitat, what would you smell if it were?
  4. What might the object feel like? Is its surface rough or smooth? Or, what might the object feel – a cooling breeze, hot breath, soft cushion…?
  5. Does something smelled or felt have a flavor too? Does it leave a taste in the back of the throat?
  6. Does your object have feelings or evoke feelings in you?
  7. Does it have or evoke dreams or memories?

Now write:

Describe your object, its past or its future, in a short paragraph that includes all seven senses above. Or describe that troll under the bridge in the picture above. (It smelled green, and the air was rich with flickering shadows and pollen.)