I guess I did finish an essay on prompts, lateral thinking, whatever, because I polished the piece (eliminating missing links) and handed it out to my fledgling writers whose might be better spent scrapbooking or washing the car. Wonder where I could place it, now that Flash Fiction Chronicles is gone.Don’t Get Me Started (I Might Not Stop)
I’m lucky never to have suffered writer’s block. There are just too many prompts — posted on publishing sites like Writer’s Digest (http://www.writersdigest.com/prompts
) and social media like Facebook.
Prompts are those words and phrases, photos and plot setups meant to jar your thinking. But, let me suggest that the writer needs to perform one more mental gymnastic: think laterally, outside the lines, and freely associate words and images.
Case in point are the prompts from Facebook’s Fast Fiction Friday Jill Lostra, a poet and writer, offered prompts that generated many, many of my story placements.
Take, for example, this prompt: My week as a redneck librarian
. Redneck associates with “Southern Gothic” and the ghosts of Faulkner, Capote, Williams, Harper Lee. Imagine a down-on-his-luck writer in a temp librarian job who’s writing his memoirs. The odd townspeople are vaguely familiar, and he realizes they’re characters from Gothic novels. In fact, the writer sees his dead son walk in the door and learns (spoiler alert) he himself is a character from his ex-wife’s memoir — which could only have been written after his death.
Or these prompts: Cable window
: Everyone dreads being stood up by the repair guy or the delivery person. While mowing the backyard, I wondered, “What if the cable guy and the customer were separated by ten years in time?” Black coffee and junk mail
: I just had to consider a Mom sitting at the table each morning while her semi-autistic child played with his handhelds. But the severely unhappy boy begins to come up with the winning lottery numbers for his materialistic parents. Thank you, D.H. Lawrence for letting me update that American classic, “The Rocking Horse Winner.”Paper cut
: Ouch! Except, freely associate those words and you may remember the rock-paper-scissors game. Take a down-on-his-luck Quebec gambler who meets a really bad guy on the lam. The gangster can’t resist betting a Mercedes-Benz against the loser’s engagement ring promised to a fiancé. The game is, of course, rock-paper-scissors. [This was just republished as “Holiday Games” by Every Day Fiction for its Xmas series, Dec. 28, at http://everydayfiction.com/holiday-game ... giersbach/
.][b]Queen at the End of the Bar
[/b]: I wanted to do a bounty hunter story about the same time I heard about endocrine disruptors. The PI follows the bad guy to the Columbia River valley where he meets the most beautiful girl in town. Her dad is a former biology professor who explains how the pollution was deforming the bees, one of which stung his daughter. The endocrine disruptors have given his daughter a stinger where there should have been a vagina... And the bad guy is hanging in the barn.
Edward DeBono, in his book New Think
, stated , “Lateral Thinking is for changing concepts and perceptions. With logic you start out with certain ingredients [the given words in a prompt] just as in playing chess you start out with given pieces. But what are those pieces? In most real life situations the pieces are not given, we just assume they are there. We assume certain perceptions, certain concepts and certain boundaries. Lateral thinking is concerned not with playing with the existing pieces but with seeking to change those very pieces. Lateral thinking is concerned with the perception part of thinking. This is where we organise the external world into the pieces we can then ‘process.’”
• Grab those prompts you see and park them in your mouth like a wad of tobacco. “His life ended as the ice melted:” this prompt needn’t concern an avalanche or glacier, but a boy anticipating his girlfriend’s angry mother while watching cubes melt in his lemonade.
• There are prompts waiting in newspaper typos, such this reference to a “statue of limitations” in my Danbury, CT, News-Times
. This led to creating a fictional archeologist wanting to buy a 2,000-year-old Babylonian statue that wouldn’t fit in his car. Returning the next day, he found the Iranian peasant had knocked off the arms and head, helpfully, so it would fit the archeologist’s truck.
• And remember that medical breakthrough of transplanting a new face on a person. Suppose your girlfriend died and, a year later, you saw her walking down the street? It’s a transplant, of course, but tie that to Valentine’s Day and the lyrics to “My Funny Valentine” and you see true romance develop.
Digesting prompts and regurgitating them into 1,000-word stories can be an elating experience. Even better, take no longer than 30 minutes to dash off your first draft. And then see what miracles of writing ensue.