I recently finished my first draft of a new story. The catalyst for the events of the story is an invitation to a party, and the climactic scene takes place at that party. Parties are weird to me; I’m really socially awkward and pretty introverted. I went to about one party a year in college and I usually had to leave within the hour because I was so overwhelmed. (Extraverted writers: please teach me your mysterious ways.)
So when I write about parties, I feel pretty out of my element. Working on that last story, I kind of stressed over it. But as I kept working, I realized parties can be a really useful setting for a scene. First of all, people are thrown together. Is your character comfortable or uncomfortable in such a social setting? Are they trying to find someone else or avoid them? Do they meet anybody new? What are those people like?
Secondly, to write a party well, I think writers need to use all five senses. What does your character see the people across the room doing? Is there music playing? Can she smell the grill firing up? How’s the potato salad—maybe someone left it in the sun too long? Is everyone sweaty from the heat?
I find it helpful to watch party scenes in movies or TV shows to get the juices flowing. Of course, it’s hard to transfer all the things that film can capture into a piece of writing: on film, there are characters everywhere and all sorts of visual sidebars that would distract the reader if written down. Personally, I find watching party scenes helpful when I’m writing a party scene because they help me get out of my own head (and my main character’s) to visualize what the scope of the event might be. They also help inspire ideas for interesting things that are going on in the background.
Take, for example, this famous scene from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, which I think is still one of the best examples of a wild party I’ve ever seen on film. Caution: there is some brief racist 1960s cross-ethnic casting in the clip below.
Of course, there are tons and tons and tons of movies and TV shows that feature parties. (I was going to make a list of ones I’m familiar with, but there are too many to count.) They have plenty of counterparts in writing. One of the best examples that comes to my mind is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, which features several, lengthy party scenes. Rather than shorten those, I’ll leave you with this famous quote from the character Jordan Baker: “‘I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy.’”
How to Use This Prompt
The possibilities for writing about a party are almost limitless: parties bring a bunch of ingredients together and let things simmer, for better or for worse. It’s important to think about what you want this party to reveal to your reader. What will they learn about your characters? How will it drive your plot forward? What details are the most important to point out for your reader?
I personally think the best thing is to take your character out of her comfort zones a little bit, whether she’s uncomfortable with the idea of a Memorial Day Barbeque when her grandfather was jailed as a wartime conscientious objector, or whether she’s simply wearing uncomfortable shoes at a small dinner party.
On top of that, parties are unpredictable: they have a weird energy about them and often involve alcohol (or at least too many carbs). They’re really kind of sinister when you think about it: with all the different people, circumstances, and food involved, is a game of Charades ever just a game of Charades?
Write a short story, an essay, a poem, or even just a paragraph or two based on this prompt. Then feel free to share what you’ve written in comments, post a link to your piece on your own blog, or submit it for our site!
And if you’d like more prompts and can’t wait until next week, check out our free e-book, “A Year of Inspiration: 52 Writing Prompts from the Renegade Word.”