Where Do You Get Your Inspiration?
On occasion, someone tells me how wonderful it is that I’m a writer and they couldn’t ever come up with a story.
“Of course you can,” I say, “you make stuff up all the time. You just don’t realize it!”
Case in Point: A Writing Prompt
A writing prompt is a small idea to get a writer started on a story. Here’s a true story that makes a great prompt:
I was driving to college with a passenger when a car raced passed us, driven by a man, and ran through a red light. I said something unprintable. To which she responded, “Maybe he was rushing a sick child to the hospital.” Right there! She made up a story.
Now all we have to do is run with this story:
- Why was the child sick? Or was she hurt?
- Was he a good Samaritan who came upon the hurt/sick child, or was he the child’s father, or was he the cause of the child’s injury/illness?
- What is motivating him to rush the sick/injured child to the hospital? Guilt? Duty? Charity?
- How sick/injured is the child? Will she recover? Or is it a minor thing and he’s overreacting?
And we have to flesh out the characters:
- The child – bright, talented, special needs, lackadaisical, risk-taker? Is her ballet career or musical career threatened by the illness/injury? How vested is she in this threatened future? Did she turn an ankle jumping off the roof of her house? Why was she on the roof? Where are her parents?
- The man – where was he when he came upon sick/injured child? Why was he there? Was he the child’s father, in the house bickering with the mother as he packed his bags to leave one last time? Why was he leaving?
- The mother – where is the mother? Is the child an orphan? Or was she outside somewhere, perhaps in the playground when she was injured, and her mother has no idea? How will she react? Is the child worried about her mother being angry at her for getting injured or sick because that means her mother will miss work? Or is her mother unengaged in parenting? What is the man’s relationship to the mother? How will his rushing the child to the hospital impact their relationship?
Voila! The End
And there you go: answer a few questions and you have a story. The more you do it, the easier it gets. All you need is a beginning, a middle, and an end. The scene where the man rushes the child to the hospital could be any one of those.
While still in high school, she was one of the illustrators of the original Dungeons and Dragons. Art seemed an impractical pursuit – not an heiress, wouldn’t marry well, hated teaching – so she went to law school instead. When not writing or practicing law, Keenan can be found oil painting, studying the Irish language, or hanging out with her friends at mystery conventions.
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Thanks for the reminder, Keenan, it’s easy to get lost in trying to come up with the big idea.
Ah thanks but I’m thinking you’ve got this figured out!
Love this example. Sometimes I forget to ask questions! I just stare at the page in agony! But once I ask a question, the story comes.
Great post for both new and veteran writers.