Write something using this photograph as a prompt. Here are some questions to get you started: Where is he? What's he eating? What's he drinking? Why is he sitting on the porch (or verandah or stoop) to eat? Is anyone else eating out there? Is it some sort of occasion? A wedding? A christening? A funeral? A family reunion? Who took the photo? Is he in a relationship with them?
On Monday night, I went to a concert, a fundraiser for Stratford's Performing Arts Lodge (PAL). The event was called a Tribute to the Beatles hosted by Lucy Peacock. Many times during the evening, we were invited to sing along. So I did – loudly, with gusto, and with absolutely no talent whatsoever. Write using sing along as a prompt. Perhaps someone always wants to be the loudest voice, or avoids any event where they might be asked to sing, even birthday parties. Maybe someone can only sing while driving because if they sing in the house, their singing makes the dog howl and the cat hide under the bed. Perhaps someone likes to sing on the subway just to see if anyone joins in. Maybe someone is in a choir at school and is taken aside before the first concert and asked not to sing out loud. Perhaps someone meets their soulmate at Karaoke.
I came across this line of dialogue in one of my old notebooks and thought it would make a good writing prompt: "Is this your hamster?"
Of course it doesn't have to be a hamster. Any animal, wild or tame, big or small, spotted or scaled, real or imagined, will do.
You'll find us at 9 1/2. It's the blue door.Write about who lives here.
Write about the person who lives here. Perhaps someone has a particular fondness for geraniums or they have had numerous geraniums foisted upon them and are just biding their time until all the plants die of neglect. At that point they will go out and buy a plastic fern.
This message on the sidewalk caught my eye. Write about somebody who always does what they're told. Or maybe someone never does what they're told. Or write about someone who does not know what a selfie is. Or make up a character who lives their life one selfie at a time, somebody who spends most of their time with their back to what everyone else is looking at.
I collect lists. I pick them up from grocery carts, floors, and sidewalks. My best list day so far was three lists in one day. This habit of mine disgusts my daughter but she will pick up a list for me if she sees one. They make great writing prompts because you can build characters from the items on the lists. So here are three old lists. Pick one or more or combine them and off you go.
Here's my bicycle. It's a Schwinn Breeze that I bought about 10 years ago from an elderly woman in the parking lot of Central Meat Market in Kitchener. I just picked it up (in the car) from Cyclemania on the Danforth yesterday. They fixed it up to make it safe to ride. I haven't ridden since before we moved to Toronto so it's been at least eight years. So now we come to the fear part. I was going to go for a ride yesterday but chickened out. I've been asking my friends who ride their bikes in Toronto for tips. "Get a helmet." "Be visible." Great advice. But how do I get rid of this big knot in my stomach? I used to be fearless. When I was about 4 or 5 my Aunt Judy and Uncle Wayne bought a helmet for me because I'd knocked myself out cold riding over rocks on my tricycle. I'm not afraid that I've forgotten how to ride a bike. It's not that. I'm not sure what it is that's making me afraid. Am I afraid of falling? Or looking foolish? My helmet will mess up my hair? Getting hit by a car? I don't know but while I try to screw up my courage to actually go for a ride, I thought why not make this fear thing a writing prompt?
Write about a character who has a fear. It can be rational or irrational. It can be common or uncommon. Perhaps they could have a fear of public speaking, snakes, clowns, belly buttons or clouds. Or they're deathly afraid of mice, riding in cars, loneliness, the number 13, teapots or the colour yellow. Perhaps writing about a character with a fear will help me get over my fear of getting back on my bicycle.
Add a sign to your piece of writing. Maybe your character makes signs for a living or collects signs or thinks that signs are messages from the universe about what to do -- like horoscopes, only bigger. Perhaps your character has some sort of incident involving a sign or has built a structure out of signs or has decorated their house in signs.
Last week, CBC Books, in partnership with Toronto's Luminato Festival, ran a contest called the Strong Beginnings Twitter Challenge in which you had to post first lines to as-yet-unwritten short stories. I've been away so I just now found out I was a finalist! Sadly, right after that I also found out I didn't win, but I'm thrilled all the same. So here are the tweets that got me closer to having an iPad Mini which was the prize for the contest. I thought they might be useful as writing prompts.
1. I didn’t mean for anybody to get hurt. Honest. I just wanted to build something really really big out of popsicle sticks.
2. Clarisse knew she’d soon be looking for another job when she saw the new sign her boss had posted. No swearing. No glitter.
3. Alice leaned on the doorjamb of her closet, trying to figure out what to wear besides a slathering of hydrocortisone cream.
4. The colour her sister had chosen didn’t flatter any of the six bridesmaids. They looked like yams wearing feathery hats.
5. He’d doubled the amount of liquor in the recipe. Luckily the eggnog was served in small cups. Luckily I’d worn my slippers.
6. I can’t understand why I chose this wallpaper. It’s covered in rabbits and I hate rabbits.
Include a boat, any sort of boat, perhaps one of these -- canoe, cedar strip runabout, Sea Flea, yacht, tall ship, pedal boat, sailboat, cruise ship, tanker, Aqua Car, warship, junk, ferry, tugboat, Dippy, boat made out of a bathtub, kayak, submarine, houseboat, Dragon boat, dory, barge, shipwreck, inflatable, lifeboat, gondola, hovercraft, ocean liner, riverboat, dinghy, canal boat, rowboat -- in your piece of writing. Maybe your character lives on a boat or is afraid of boats or has never been on a boat and likes it that way. Perhaps your character builds boats or dives to shipwrecks. Or tell your story from the boat's point of view, a barge who is sick of carrying heavy loads and wants to just see what it would feel like to go as fast as he can across the open water or a tugboat who wishes she could just once go beyond the harbour. Maybe your character gets seasick or is fine on the water but can't stand to be on dry land because it makes her feel queasy if what's under her feet isn't moving and she can't smell the sea. Write about a particularly rough crossing on a ferry or a becalmed sailboat. Maybe your character was a privateer or sailed with Ireland's Pirate Queen, Grace O'Malley. Perhaps your character lives in a house that is shaped like a boat and has everything stowed in cupboards with latches and on shelves with edges, everything battened down in case of heavy weather. Perhaps your character races boats for a living or gets lost at sea or is shipwrecked on an island with only his collection of teacups and his wits.
Include a chair in your piece of writing. Perhaps it is an abandoned chair like this one, or a favourite chair, or a chair that your character is afraid of for some reason. Maybe the chair inspires daydreams or nightmares or can fly through time and space. Perhaps when your character sits in the chair (and only then) she can talk to her grandmother who died years ago. Or give the chair a voice of its own and let it tell you about the caretakers it has had over the years. Perhaps the chair is a large comfy flowered one that hoards loose change and stray socks and pencils. Your character could collect chairs or refuse to sit in chairs and only has cushions in their house. Perhaps it's a chair left by the curb and your character picks it up because that's what he always does when he drives around town in his old green truck; he can't resist cast-off furniture. Maybe your character builds dollhouses and is always on the lookout for chairs that are just the right size. Perhaps you could write about an upholsterer or a person who fixes chairs when everyone else says there's just no saving that chair. Maybe your cat scratches the chair once too often and the chair claws back. Or one night the chair gets out into the backyard to dance in the moonlight with the wooden lawn chairs.
Include an egg or eggs in your piece of writing. Perhaps a character will never eat an egg, or only eat eggs, or is an egg. Maybe your character's cookbooks are all about eggs or her goal in life is to find a golden egg or she makes her living by painting eggs. You could write from the POV of somebody stuck inside an egg. Or have your character lay an egg, or have nightmares about eggs or about the rabbit that delivers them. Perhaps a character is a good egg or has put all his eggs in one basket or has egg on his face or walks on eggshells or can crack an egg with one hand or stand an egg on its end. What if your character collects eggcups or makes eggnog from scratch or has their entire apartment painted in eggplant? Or maybe the sticker on his sweater says Hello, My name is Egbert. Here's some beautiful coloured eggs for inspiration.
This is Ed Junior. I got him for Christmas from a sister-in-law and brother-in-law. He's a winged hyena made by one of my nieces. He's sitting on my desk, part of my collection of winged impossibilities. I have some flying pigs, an obese ballerina with wings and a pottery whistle in the shape of a winged bird whose shape is so un-aerodynamic she could not possibly ever fly. Since meeting Ed Junior, I've been thinking about all the possibilities of writing about impossibilities. Include some sort of impossibility in your piece of writing: perhaps inspired by Ed Junior or some other such winged creature, maybe one of your characters could have some other sort of superpower -- to become invisible or know when somebody's lying or able to be in more than one place at once, or be able to travel through time or perform feats of strength. Perhaps an opera singer is afraid of singing out loud or an accountant has a great fear of numbers or a bookseller is afraid to open a book in case she gets caught inside the story.
I made a turkey soup a couple of days ago -- a long process but worth all the work. And now we have soup in the freezer that will be very comforting on some snowy winter nights. Include soup in your piece of writing. Perhaps your character could eat nothing but soup, or never eat soup, or drown in soup, or be poisoned by soup. Or spend their time trying to make a life list of as many different kinds of soup as they can, or they try to eat an alphabet of soup - first up is sure to be asparagus. Or they belong to a dinner club that meets at the members' houses whose meals must always feature soup. Or perhaps somebody makes a soup that has magical properties. Or someone spills soup and it makes a shape of Elvis on their kitchen floor.
The other day I was stopped at a intersection across from a coffee shop. There was a dog tied outside -- he was mostly white, with some black and brown patches and he looked part beagle. He was standing up cross-wise on the sidewalk with his eyes closed, his ears blowing in the breeze. I swear he was smiling. Write a piece that includes a dog. Perhaps it could be one like the one I saw who was revelling in his doggieness. Or you could include a grumpy old dog who has never seen the joy of sticking his head out a car window and retreats to the back seat if the passenger side window is opened, barking his disapproval along the way.
The other day I saw something I've never seen before -- a car with big black plastic eyelashes attached at the top of its headlights. Write a piece that includes an eyelash or eyelashes. Maybe somebody makes a wish on an eyelash that has fallen out, or in the future the fully-automated cars come equipped with eyelashes so that they can better communicate with other vehicles. Perhaps someone out for revenge replaces the glue for false eyelashes with superglue at Brenda's makeup table backstage at a Vegas show.
I've been to some movies at the Toronto International Film Festival and two of them had scenes where a person is shown a bedroom that someone else has prepared for them. It got me thinking about what I would want in a room if someone was to create the perfect room for me. Write something that includes your ideal room -- it doesn't have to be a bedroom, just any room that you can imagine. If you've always wanted a room with a chocolate fountain, or an adult-sized rocking horse, or a fireplace that can hold six-foot logs, or a walk-in closet with enough cubbyholes to hold all of your tiaras, or a kitchen with an ocean view and space to store everything, or a perfect potting shed, now's your chance.
Write a piece that includes something your grandparents used that you don't have in your house. Some examples of things my grandparents used regularly that I use very rarely, if ever: pie bird, pipe cleaning tool, hot chocolate pot, a budget, motor rug (car blanket kept in the trunk), glycerin soap, tooth powder, shoe polish kit, wooden matches, rolling pin, instant coffee, flower frog, postage stamp moistener, tobacco tin, jelly mould, pinking shears.
I love using writing prompts as starting points for stories and poems. I've found I also like making up new writing prompts that I may or may not use myself. Then I thought I might as well share them. Today I saw an elderly man wearing argyle socks. Then I saw a woman wearing bright yellow ankle socks. So here's the first prompt:
Write a piece that includes a sock or pair of socks. Maybe a character could collect socks or obsessively notice what kind of socks people wear or iron his/her socks after washing and then put them away in a drawer with dividers or the socks have magical properties or the individual lost socks from dryers all over the city band together to terrorize dogs and small children.