Non-Fiction Prompt #1

January 2, 2016 at 5:48 pm  •  Posted in Articles, Blogs, Contest, Home Page, Non-Fiction, Welcome by

For the next couple months we’ll be posting non-fiction writing prompts in preparation for our 2016 Non-Fiction Contest. 

Our first prompt is a pretty serious one. The idea here is to write about a pivotal moment, a moment that’s rich with tension.

The quotation below is excerpted from Aleksander Hemon’s essay, “The Aquarium,” published in The New Yorker in June 2011. In this essay the writer describes the moment he learned his nine-month-old daughter had a brain tumour.

Called up to medical imaging, we ran into Dr. Tomita in the overlit hallway. “We believe,” he said, “that Isabel has a tumour.” He showed us the MRI images on his computer: right at the center of Isabel’s brain, lodged between the cerebellum, the brain stem, and the hypothalamus, was a round thing. It was the size of a golf ball, Dr. Tomita suggested, but I’d never been interested in golf and couldn’t envision what he meant. He would remove the tumour, and we would find out what kind it was only after the pathology report. “But it looks like a teratoid,” he said. I didn’t comprehend the word “teratoid,” either—it was beyond my experience, belonging to the domain of the unimaginable and incomprehensible, the domain into which Dr. Tomita was now guiding us.

Isabel was asleep in the recovery room, motionless, innocent. Teri and I kissed her hands and her forehead and wept through the moment that divided our life into before and afterBefore was now and forever foreclosed, while after was spreading out, like an exploding twinkle star, into a dark universe of pain.

Write about a moment that divided your life into before and after. The moment can be catastrophic, like Hemon’s, or more subtle. For example, you could write about giving up playing the piano, breaking an unspoken rule, quitting a job, or the end of a friendship. Your scene could even hinge on a single line of dialog that changes everything.

Read Hemon’s full essay here.

Details on EVENT’s 2016 annual Non-Fiction Contest.


  1. Rose Willow / March 22, 2016 at 10:20 am /

    What a strong prompt. I look forward to more.

Comments are closed.