Finding and using writing prompts – Guest Post by John Maberry…

You’re struggling to come up with a story line. You want your character to say something that establishes his or her persona. Of course it shouldn’t be a throwaway, but help develop the character and advance the story. Words or phrases from nearly anywhere can help break the mental logjam. You don’t have to spend time on books or websites that specialize in them, you can find them on your own. You are creative right? So where then?

  • Quote sites can stimulate your mind. You can sometimes use a direct quote itself to introduce a chapter or a scene

  • Memories of events, conversations and more will help—also known as “writing from life,” even as you’re writing fiction. Just change names and enough about any real person to avoid problems.

  • Conversations overheard in cafes, public transportation, on the street or wherever you encounter strangers. Take a snippet as inspiration.

  • Remember the game you might have played as a child (or a young adult ) riding in a car—see people in another vehicle stopped at a light or passing you and imagine who they are. Go sit somewhere and recreate that game as a character building technique.

  • Surf the web, read the news in print or digital format. Find something interesting and extract a situation as the starting point you need.

  • Conversations with family members, friends or coworkers offer gold mines of reality which can be stretched into fiction. Again, just don’t use them verbatim as coming from a character resembling the source.

Here’s some examples of what I’ve done with some of these methods.

From an object: two souvenirs of Japan, clamshells covered in kimono, came a prospective story (novel?)

Rachel had to have one of the kimono-clad clams. Soba will be thrilled, she thought, at the childhood memories of Okayama. Well meaning, but mistaken. Unwrapping the present from Rachel’s trip, her grandmother burst into tears at the sight of the golden fabric with red flower petal motifs.

From a conversation will come a mystery novel: My wife noted in passing, after setting the plates on the table one evening, that she forgot the dipping bowls. What is spaghetti without bread dipped in olive oil with a sprinkle of herbs and pepper? “A good title for a story,” I said, “a mystery perhaps.”

The Music Catchers, a fanciful fantasy/sci-fi short item came from a writing prompt excerpt of an Eve Ensler book. Ensler said, “When I woke up my bag was full and life, it seemed, was coursing through me. The tree had worked its magic. . .” (For more on her quote, see this site). I wrote,

The music catchers silence singers, human and avian alike, when songs are out of tune. The notes, the very sounds themselves, remain locked in the tree leaves until the arborist of airs collects them in his music bag. 

For more on I’ve used writing prompts, just check out my writing blog with this search topic. Most come from prompts at Gila Writers Group, but you can find prompts nearly anywhere.

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