Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Writing Prompts

Story prompts are great aren't they? They can help get the creative juices roiling, maybe even leading to the writing of a flash for Friday publication.

Whether they're the wonderful photos offered up by Icy Sedgewick. Or the word prompts freely offered at Three Word Wednesday or by Lily Childs' Prediction Challenge and others I'm not even aware of. For someone like me who loves riffing off words, what could be better than being tossed 3 words and told to weave a tale from that?

But, I love the frisson from spotting something in my everyday life that sets off a whole chain of associations that may just end up in a story. Something that drags you away from the ordinary and demands you to don your writer face, whether it's convenient then and there or not. That live alchemy, from something equally random as word or picture prompts, but personal to me in how it leaps up and grabs me by the throat. These prompts are not sought after, nor provided with writing in mind. They are everyday details and observations, but one day your mind is just in a place that transforms them from out of the ordinary.The alchemy begins the moment they leap into the imagination and start sparking ideas.

I think they probably speak in the same way as a word or picture prompt, to ideas that are already bumping and boring inside your head awaiting being given birth. But it is perhaps taking them from that context in which you experienced them that adds something a little bit extra, than to say something provided precisely to jolt the writing process.

Today I have released a collection of 52 pieces of my flash fiction on kindle. As part of the fridayflash twitter community, I wrote one a week for a year, bookended by some beforehand as I learned the art and a few afterwards as the impetus wouldn't let me go even after I achieved my goal of 52 in 52. This collection is what I hope are the best 52 of the 70 or so I wrote.

In the appendix I provide the writing prompts for all but the very experimental last 5 in the collection, which were less inspired by prompts and more by the form of language and words themselves. Most prompts were quite ordinary, sights witnessed on the London Underground, or in a supermarket. One was a single word in a review of a book. Some were fundamentally embedded in the heart of the final story, others just helped me tap into long-held ideas and probably provided the skeleton to hang them on. A couple of the stories I couldn't even remember what the prompts were.

Here are those prompts. I hope you find their genesis potentially useful for coming across your own in the rich pageant that is everyday life.

Plato's Cave: Kebab houses from both when I was at University and when I moved back to London afterwards

Caritas: After attending a charity fundraising auction, where there was the prize of being a character in a Booker winner's next novel

Death Masking Love: I've always had a thing about the smoothness of the outside of a death mask and the wrinkles reproduced inside

The Caller To The Bingo Caller's House Calls 'House': After a twitter hashtag punning game, I was struck by the violence of the rhymes for bingo numbers

In The Nursery: After talking to a child psychologist about the use of play in diagnostics

Confessional: During the 2010 General Election campaign and Prime Minister Gordon Brown's gaff when he was caught describing a voter he'd talked to on camera as 'a bigoted old woman'

Captivation: I was writing a novel with a different police interrogation scene and wondered what it would be like if the suspect started withdrawing from drugs

Loss Of Function: From the phrase 'falling in love' and reading Tom McCarthy's book "Remainder" that week

Bowing Out: The image of the bulbs around a mirror in actors' dressing rooms. I don't know why that image came to me that particular week

Totentanz: I spotted the word in a review in a publication which I was only reading because it had a short piece of my own

Digging For Australia: After failing to excite my own children's enthusiasms for beach holidays

Café Sensorium: After reading a review of a restaurant in which you eat in pitch dark and are served by the blind

8 Legged Army: The tarantula is my animal totem (along with the vulture, see below). Reading about an Amazonian tribe and their relationship to the animals of the forest

Badges: I used to collect rock band badges and pin them to a split open T-shirt I never wore. I was also a cub scout of fairly limited proficiency

Cosmologist's Hangover: Thinking back to a monster hangover at University after a day of five garden parties, working my way back to my college rooms from the furthest one away, stopping off at each of the others on the way. Why this came to me when it did I don't know, as I haven't drunk alcohol for many years

Morning Assembly: I can't remember exactly, but this may have been one of those where the story proceeded from its title. Child soldiers have always been an interest since the days of the Khmer Rouge

2 Up, 1 Down: I attended Tom McCarthy interviewing an architect for his semi-fictional Necronautical Society and it, made me consider the everyday home in ways I'd never thought about before

End of The line: Come on gentle reader, admit you scrutinise what your fellow commuters are reading on the train! Something that kindle readers will prevent us from doing in the future, as there is no readily visible cover art

Deadheading: Another commuter train inspired one. A man sat near me reading a book, with two angry looking scabs on his hairless pate

Pigeon English: I can't remember the inspiration for this, but the pidgin/pigeon homophone led to the grounded bird's eye point of view

Trespass: The anxiety abounding about identity theft and credit card fraud, brought together with the internet's affording of crafting yourself a different online personality from your real life one

Cinderella's Crystal Tips: Seeing a woman's metal ring that covered two fingers between the upper and lower knuckles. It looked like a knuckleduster...

Prometheus Northbound: Looking up at map of the Northern Line during yet another interminable journey along it and the fact that during my peripatetic youth I'd temporarily lodged at about half of the places on the map

5 Items Or Less: Queuing up in my local supermarket to pay, the whole thing came to me all of a piece as I spotted a woman with 3 stars tattooed on her foot

Crazy Gulf: Having played a round with my kids, I began to think back to the props for the holes. Why do all such courses have a clown hole?

The Names: Just something about lists constituting a narrative story in themselves

Basic Geometry: Attending a poetry recital, the word 'fuselage' really resonated in my head. Once it rattled against notions of geometry, I had the juxtaposition that lead to the Twin Towers. I wrote this almost whole on the train journey home

Fairground Attraction: Knife throwing as a metaphor for hurling insults meant to wound but not mortally. At some point I hit upon twinning it with the fire swallower and that made it into a married couple

Cysters: A way of exploring our anxieties about death and abandonment, once I'd read about the calcification of an unborn fetus inside the womb

If It Were Thee: I gutted a previous short story written in the second person that had ground to a halt. Not quite sure how I hit upon the cyborg thing, but once I did then it became all about linguistic programming

The Ties That Bind: "Mr and Mrs Smith" really wasn't a terribly good movie was it? I'd always had the idea of a serial killer who invites hit men to kill him as his series. The husband and wife thing helped me realise it here

Bad Apple: We have an apple tree in our garden. Though fecund, we only get to eat about five apples a year for many of the reasons outlined in the story. We are also plagued by urban foxes and had a rat living off the fallen fruit. Uggh!

Hard Time: I can't remember the impetus for this, but I do write about being imprisoned, or held against your will quite often

Lost Sole: I stepped off a bus and saw a lone woman's shoe on the grass verge. It jolts you out of your familiar associations when an everyday object is seen out of its regular context

De-Terence: Not sure how this became wrapped around a bouncer and I know that came before the stripping away of his youthful illusions, but I can only trace the latter to my own experiences

Bittersweet: I liked the image of injecting poison into the soft centre of a chocolate. An object associated with love, used to kill it off

Knell Quaternion: This started from the story of the Indian temple girl dancer-cum-prostitute and then rolled out into being four tales involving bells

Atlas' Daughter Inherits His Round Shoulders: Just wondered what it might be like to be called in to confirm the identity of your dead loved one

The White Elephant's Graveyard: Reading on Wikipedia about the desert resting place of decommissioned military aircraft

Statutory Statuary: Saying goodbye to visiting friends and wondering when exactly to shut the door on them and getting back to a piece of writing that was calling me. Irony was of course, I ended up writing this instead

Lunar Tic: Just something about your body clock being superimposed upon by authority. My chance to spin on the werewolf story

One Billion Virtuosos And Sos: Just considering how any literate person with access to the internet is now a writer

The Forsaken: The view from the raised platform of my local station. Given a considerable literary makeover, it's not that grim!

Dead Ringer: There would have been some news story about a celebrity lookalike that would have really annoyed me. But for the life on me, I can't remember which one. There are so many after all...

Rich Pickings: The vulture is my other animal familiar. I once stared deep into the eyes of one in a zoo and couldn't begin to describe it. Since then I'd always wanted to write a story about vultures and the increasing ubiquity of child soldiers gave me the hook to hang it on

Drying Out: Another story that may have stemmed from its title, that twin meaning of an alcoholic drying out from their addiction and the drying out of the skin as we age

Assassination City: Youth knife murders are reported every month in London


Virginia Moffatt said...

Fantastic. I'm remembering some of these as you tell me your prompts. Making me think what prompted mine.
Good luck with the Kindle launch.

Sulci Collective said...

Thanks Virginia :-)

Jen said...

It's very generous of you to share the prompts, and congratulations on the release! What a fantastic cover, too.