This week one of my students asked me how I come up with story ideas. She is a writer too, and she shared with me that she relies heavily on writing prompts to get her started.
I think writing prompts are a great way to get started. Many writers can use the same prompt and come up with completely different stories. However, when someone else’s prompt doesn’t strike inspiration, I recommended she do what I do: ask the question “What If?”
The process is simple. You take an ordinary event, circumstance, or observation and ask yourself What If? Here is an example…I was driving home from teaching a night class at about 10:00 PM and I was tired (and cranky). I thought about how much time I spend driving. Between chauffeuring my children to and from school and their activities, and getting myself to and from work and errands, I spend about 20 hours per week in my car. That is a lot of time. In one year, excluding summer months, it comes to over 30 days.
Imagine that! One month of the year, spent in my car– what if I could get that time back? There would have to be a price– there always is. So, what would I be willing to give up in the future to get that time back? Would I be willing to lose a month at the end of my life to have that month with my family now?
Voila– I have the beginning of a story…Another example– one of my children cries, a lot. She weeps when she is happy, sad, mad and when others are happy, sad, mad. She is empathetic, but what if her tears were also productive? What if by her empathizing your emotion, you did not have to feel it, she would feel it for you? What if the word got out that she had this ability? What would I as a parent do to protect her? Could be a premise for a story…
What if I had the power to blow out the tires of the guy who just cut me off in traffic? What if that couple arguing loudly in the restaurant lost their ability to speak each time they tried to raise their voices at each other? What if the clothes I pulled out of the dryer were mine, but from a previous decade? Someone else’s from a different century? What if the next time I dried the clothes, I sent a note in the pocket of my jeans?
As a writer, I take my inspiration wherever and whenever I can get it– writing prompts, daydreams, nightmares, late night conversations with friends, patterns of clouds in the sky, whatever can get those ideas flowing– but asking the question, “What If?” gets a story every time!
Photo credit © Aleishaknight