Weekly Prompt: Love, Peace, and Taco Grease: How I Left My Abusive Husband and Found Guy Fieri
For the past few months, we ran a daily social media writing prompt aimed at sparking creativity for those of us who were going on day thirty, forty, fifty of sitting inside our homes. Now that it's summer and the world is beginning to, slowly, unfurl its wings again, we wanted to think bigger. So much of writing happens in response to our experience and to other writing we encounter. The latter is what this new weekly series will focus on.
Every post in this series will include a weekly reading and a list of prompts in response to that reading. Some of them will be focused on craft; some will ask you to evaluate content. This idea was born from an MFA course I took that focused almost entirely on emulating the style of other writers and then reimagining that first draft into something that was our own but still had echoes of the original. It's also inspired by the heightened sociopolitical reality so many of us come face to face with each day. Writing can be for pleasure; it can be cathartic; it can be used as a tool; it can preserve memory; it can foster connection. Whatever it may be, I hope this series helps you find what you're looking for out of your practice.
Week of July 6
Craft element to note: Incorporation of research. When it comes to nonfiction, readers are looking to learn something. And while that can be fulfilled with a personal narrative, what often gives an essay or memoir its edge is teaching readers about a topic. King does this masterfully by braiding together her abusive marriage and Guy Fieri, specifically on his show Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. This gives reader multiple ways into the essay. Abuse is a heavy topic, one people shy away from for a number of reasons, but pairing it with a bright, fun topic like Guy Fieri balances the tone and offers new touch points: maybe someone hasn't been in a difficult relationship but is nostalgic about the show; maybe someone has been or is in an abusive relationship and needs to find something to hold onto; maybe someone loves food shows and realizes just how important they can be to people who are struggling. The element of research widens your audience base and creates parallels for readers they may not know they were missing. Research also makes writing stand out. King is talking specifically about her marriage and a particular show, but what she's also talking about is trauma and coping mechanisms. There are a lot of essays that do the same, but this one is so specific, while teaching us something new, that it feels fresh. I kept reading because I felt a connection to King, but I also kept reading because I wanted to learn more about Triple D and relax in the love King has for it.
- King immediately puts us in the danger of her marriage by starting out with a high-stakes scene. Think about the element of your piece that holds the most tension. Write a beginning, in scene, that suspends the reader there.
- In the section where we're introduced to Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, King says of Fieri, "He is uncool. Does anyone dispute this?" She goes on to spend a paragraph backing up the claim that he's uncool, and in doing so, she preempts a reader's potential to scoff Fieri off before she can explain why she treasures him. This is a powerful tool in keeping a reader's interest: acknowledging the opposing view. Where in your work do you see a reader potentially interjecting? What can you acknowledge and expand upon to prevent it from happening?
- The topics of an abusive relationship and Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives don't innately go together, and that's what makes this essay so interesting: the syncing up of unexpected topics. What surprising element of research can you pair with your writing? What parallels can you draw to make people see the world in new ways?
- One of the reasons this strange pairing of topics works so well is that King so obviously adores Guy Fieri. Writing about a topic like abuse is heavy—as is reading about it. Sometimes, one of the best tools at your disposal is levity. King takes us into dark places, but she leads us out again with joyful information on something she loves. Research and write into what you love, then see what manifests as a partner topic.
- Writers often avoid research for fear of not knowing enough, but one of the great craft techniques of research is giving a reader a glimpse into the process. Rex does this when she says, "Only five restaurants have four stars: Del Posto, Eleven Madison Park, Jean-Georges, Le Bernardin, and Sushi Nakazawa. The most affordable of these will set back a thrifty dinner-seeker no less than $138. At least, I think that's the case—their websites are cagey, burying the prix fixe cost in the small print if they mention it at all, giving the impression that it's gauche to inquire about money when art is on the line." Where can you write about the research process? How can you use it to draw a reader closer to the experience?