Do They Work?
A while ago, I visited a prompt generator online and, among several incentives, got: 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 works better for me. It’s probably because three words that don’t have a superficial connection urge 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 (composers, songwriters) 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, and 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. Bella Donna is Italian for a beautiful lady. A beautiful lady can certainly 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 the pretty woman out on his yacht and make short work of getting rid of her? How? With poison, and a stone to weigh her down? Might 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. Indeed, 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 hidden in this idea. A genetic fault that our serial killer doesn’t know about. A childhood trauma that is buried deep in his subconscious. That would open an avenue for a psychologist or a criminal profiler to solve the case. It’s up to the writer to make this plausible and bring it 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.
Next up is writing the story. Come to think of it, this idea is so complex that it could be fleshed out into 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 many vegetable poisons. All in all, you don’t need a speckled band to traverse a small hole in a wall to create suspense.
© HMH, 2022