Do They Work?
A while ago, I visited a prompt generator and, among others, got these: The poisoned Rose and The Mysterious Yacht. I’ve forgotten the rest. Couldn’t find anything else that was remotely interesting. It made me wonder if some of these sites are condescending and expect that you’re unable to think for yourself. The issue here is that if you’re uncertain about what to write, it’s seen as a failure. There is a difference though. For me, it’s easy to figure out what my novels are about – there was always this urge to write and explore the flawed family theme. You may ask why. But the answer won’t be to find in this essay.
With short stories and especially flash fiction, the situation is different. It’s a media that I tend to see as a playing ground. Sometimes the ideas come easily. At other times, I draw a blank. Tonight is such a night. No matter, the search for prompts made me think about writing. There is an endless theme.
What strikes me about writing prompts is that getting three random, or seemingly random, words work better for me. It’s probably because three words that don’t have a superficial connection pushes my brain to make associations. Voila, the start shot reverberates through my mind. Free association is a psychological tool that works for scientists (Psychiatrists) as well as musicians (composer/songwriter) and authors. Looking back at the two prompts I noted, they appear closed in on themselves. Should one mix them up though, the situation might change. We won’t use ‘the’ but mysterious, rose, yacht, poisonous. Perhaps one adjective is enough.
Rose/Poison/Mysterious/Yacht? Is that better? Let me see. Free association brings up Belladonna. A rose is a flower, A foxglove is a poisonous flower and the poison you get from it is belladonna. A beautiful lady can be called a rose. A beautiful lady could be rich too (it isn’t a must) but a rich lady could possess a yacht. There: we’ve connected rose/poison/yacht. What about mysterious? How to bring that into the equation?
There is something mysterious about beautiful ladies. Is that enough? That is an interesting sentence. It could be spoken by a man thwarted in love. Of course, he could be rich and possess the aforementioned yacht. Would our lover be thwarted badly enough to become murderous? Would he take her out on his yacht and make short work of getting rid of her? How? With poison, and a stone to weigh her down? Does he do this kind of action often? If so, he has evolved into a serial killer.
We have a story growing with hardly any effort. It’s true that being thwarted in love doesn’t necessarily make you a serial killer – not even of beautiful ladies. On the other hand, there could be a mystery buried in there. A genetic fault that he doesn’t know about. A childhood trauma that is buried deep in his subconscious. That would open an avenue for a psychologist – a criminal profiler – to take on the case. All of this it’s up to the writer to make plausible and bring together in a coherent plot. Without these jumps through several mental hoops – no story.
We’re far away from a logical plot, but it’s just a matter of letting the ideas mature. Don’t force the issue. Let the concept simmer for a while. The essence will generate a story – sooner or later. This is a game, but it helps to stimulate the creative muscles. So much is clear.
Next up is writing the story. Come to think of it, this idea is so complex that it could be fleshed out to a mystery novel or a thriller. If it must be a short story, it might be sensible to discard part of the associative ideas. Leave out the mystery and you have a revenge story. Leave out the beautiful lady – and you could write nonfiction about poisonous flowers. Not so appealing maybe, but people need to know about nature’s dangers. There are too many vegetable poisons. You don’t need a speckled band to traverse a small hole in a wall for creating suspense.
© HMH, 2019