Memoir Writing Prompts: Dorothy Parker and the 5 Senses

by Matilda Butler on June 14, 2012

Writing Prompt LogoPost #153 – Women’s Memoirs, Writing Prompt – Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler

Women’s Memoirs Gets a Unique Use of Sensory Detail from Dorothy Parker

As I mentioned before, I’m the invited guest editor on SheWrites. Kendra will take over the title of guest editor beginning on Sunday. So for two full weeks, you can find us at two locations.

dorothy-parker, writing, use of dialogue, craft of dialogueDorothy Parker is a fascinating writer who wrote for magazines, was a theater critic, author of seven books including Enough Rope (1926, poetry), Sunset Gun (1928), Laments for the Living (1930, short stories) Death and Taxes (1932), After Such Pleasures (1933, short stories), Collected Poems, Not So Deep as a Well (1936, poetry), Here Lies (1939, short stories), and The Ladies of the Corridor (1952, with Arnaud d’Usseau).

I’ve had great fun reading many Dorothy Parker quotes this week, looking for ones to share with you. I’ve used my “Writing Prompt” filter to choose ones that inspire a writing prompt.

Dorothy Parker and Five Senses

I found three great Parker quotes that show her intriguing use of the five senses. The first two below are ones that I feature in my SheWrites post today. Check over there if you’d like to try the writing prompts I created around them. The third one, I selected to share with you here. Below it is a special writing prompt that it inspired.

  • “His voice was an intimate as the rustle of sheets.”
  • “Don’t look at me in that tone of voice.”
  • “…can’t look you in the voice…”
  • Memoir Writing Prompt:

    Dorothy-Parker-5-senses, memoir writing prompts, memoir

    In case the image of this June 28, 1937 telegram sent to her editor, Pascal Covici, at Viking Press, is hard to read, it says:

    “This is instead of telephoning because I can’t look you in the voice. I simply cannot get that thing done yet never have done such hard night and day work never have so wanted anything to be good and all I have is a pile of paper covered with wrong words. Can only keep at it and hope to heaven to get it done. Don’t know why it is so terribly difficult or I so terribly incompetent.


    It is her phrase “can’t look you in the voice” that is the focus on today’s writing prompt. Parker has twisted our anticipated use of sensory detail. We would normally of the visual sense of looking someone in the eye when offering an apology — or if terribly embarrassed, we might look down and avoid looking the other person in the eye. But what if you consider mixing two senses — sight and sound — as Parker did. This snaps your reader to attention and to follow your words more closely. You have moved your reader out of a rut just as you have done with yourself when you focus on creative use of the five senses in your writing.

    Writing Prompt: Take one or more of the sentence fragments below and complete them invoking a sensory detail that is unanticipated:

    1. Her face…

    2. When I wandered outside, the early spring dogwood …

    3. The robin’s sweet song …

    4. The freshly ground coffee filled the air with …

    5. Her warm touch …

    Have fun with this. Be creative. Learn how to stretch yourself as you incorporate the five senses into your writing.

    memoir writing prompt logo

    Be sure to return tomorrow and the rest of this week when we share the words of Dorothy Parker.

    memoir writing prompt logo

    PS The 5 senses are the focus of one of our chapters in Writing Alchemy: How to Write Fast and Deep. We’ve just extended our special pre-order price until June 25. Be sure to take advantage of this ultra-low price. We’ve added a new feature to the manuscript and had to go back to the layout stage again, hence the delay.

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    Jean Kelchner June 25, 2012 at

    I like your blog and might have played with your focus if I had been able to get past Dorothy Parker and my thoughts of the Algonquin Roundtable. We live near NYC and once spent the weekend there because of it. My husband and I had very good oatmeal on a Sunday morning sitting by that famous table and thinking of the lively conversations that had been. It was decorated and ready but no one came . . . or maybe they were there all along.

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