Scar Stories

Today’s prompt was inspired by “A Story of a Scar,” a short story written by James Alan McPherson, the first African-American to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and a current faculty member at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, not to mention the recipient of Guggenheim and MacArthur Fellowships. McPherson’s “Scar” is narrated by a man in the waiting room of a doctor’s office who strikes up a conversation with a woman with an enormous scar that borders on a deformity. The narrator asks the woman how she got the mark, and she tells him, giving him more than he anticipated. In any case, the prompt is quite simple:

Begin to write a piece of prose or poetry focusing on a character with a scar. And, perhaps as a starting point, describe the character’s scar in as much detail as possible.

Incidentally, if you’d like to read McPherson’s “A Story of a Scar,” you can find it in Elbow Room, his Pulitzer Prize-winning collection, or in American Short Story Masterpieces, an excellent compilation edited by Raymond Carver and Tom Jenks. To give you a glimpse, here’s a sample (a descriptive passage from “Scar” I find particularly inspiring):

It was so grotesque a mark that one had the feeling it was the art of no human hand and could be peeled off like so much soiled putty. But this was a surgeon’s office and the scar was real. It was as real as the honey-blond wig she wore, as real as her purple pantsuit. I studied her approvingly. Such women have a natural leaning toward the abstract expression of themselves. Their styles have private meaning, advertise secret distillations of their souls. Their figures, and their disfigurations, make meaningful statements. Subjectively, this woman was the true sister of the man who knows how to look while driving a purple Cadillac. Such craftsmen must be approached with subtlety if they are going to be deciphered.


  1. Jaclyn Perlmutter says

    I’m going to use this prompt today — looking forward to how it goes!

  2. Aaron Zimmerman says

    I used this prompt in a workshop tonight and it led to some amazing writing!