A Bit of Prompting

In Christmas of 2018, I received a book called A Year of Creative Writing Prompts, under the author name of ‘Love in Ink’. There are over 900 prompts in the book, spread out among several genres, and it will give you a prompt a day or let you scour through the lists and choose your own. I believe something along these lines had been a request of mine that year, because I was having difficulty really getting myself to write.

This post will be comprised of a response I have written to one of those prompts, as well as one that I did with a writing group in my town. It’s not some of my best work, since these are things that are written quickly and that I do more just to write, and many of them are left unfinished. Just as a warning for anyone who doesn’t like things to be left so open ended.

(Like my mom. Who goes through that anyway. Heh, sorry.)

I’ll start off with the one from the book. It follows this prompt: A young man is in a minor accident. When he wakes up in the hospital following the incident, he sees a strange being sitting by his bed. Who/what is it? What happened? To be fair, this wasn’t much of a minor accident.

And before you continue reading, think about what that prompt makes you think of. Where would you take a story from that single point? What does the strange being look like in your head, and why are they there? You’ll probably find that your initial impression is quite different from what you’re about to read, or what another person might think of when reading the prompt featured above.

Everything hurt. His chest hurt, his legs hurt, his arms hurt. There was a pounding in his skull that continued with a reliability like clockwork, and his body felt heavy as if it was wrapped in bandages.

It felt like bandages because they were, indeed, bandages. There was pain because he had nearly died.

Stephan groaned, and only just managed to maneuver himself into a seated position. Thoughts were nothing more than a bowl of badly made soup at that point, but he could see that he was in a small white room. It was all white floor, walls , ceiling, and equipment. The bed he was in was probably white, too.

All right, so I must be in a hospital, Stephan’s functioning brain cells determined.

Okay, yes, but why am I in a hospital? asked the rest of the cells.

Because I was knocked over.

Knocked over?

While in the car. Driving down the street. Rammed into, knocked over, sent flipping, and then – black.

Again, Stephan groaned. He looked to his left, where a strange man was staring at him intently. He looked to his right, where a door was situated and a curtain hung near the side of his bed. There was a pause before Stephan whipped his head back to the man.

“I’m glad to see you awake,” he offered. “You’ve been out for two weeks. Took quite a lot of damage there.”

“I’m sorry, but do I know you?” Stephan asked. He was feeling confused, and that didn’t couple with a headache well.

“My name is Titus.” And that was all the information Stephan got.”

Titus stood from his seat, and began to wander about Stephan’s room. He opened cupboards and inspected their contents, looking mystified. At the collection of syringes, he chuckled.

He turned back to Stephan, a couple of minutes later. Titus didn’t look particularly old, yet he was well above Stephan’s age. Stephan wracked his brain. He thought back to parties, old teachers, and those awkward moments when meeting friends of his parents, but he couldn’t place the mystery man.

Then Titus leaned over the foot of his bed and Stephan’s brain kick started enough to recognize that this might have been a stalker. He curled his legs to his chest the best he could, and shrank under Titus’ gaze.

“All right, look,” said Stephan, keeping his voice as calm and steady as possible. “Tell me what you’re doing here right now, or else I’ll scream at the top of my lungs. Someone’s bound to come running.”

Titus smiled. “I’ve evaded being spot by your doctors and nurses thus far. It will make no difference.”

“What do you mean? What-how long have you been here?”

“The same as you. Roughly fourteen days.”

A chill ran down Stephan’s spine just as a doctor walked through the door. She looked surprised. Stephan was thinking that that was rightly so when she beamed at him.

“Mister Lake! You’re conscious, excellent.” She set down a tablet and went to fiddle with the machinery beside him. “I’m Doctor Fern. How are you feeling?”

“Groggy. Sore,” Stephan said. His eyes darted between Doctor Fern and Titus, who hadn’t moved an inch since the newcomer entered the room. Fern went on to say that his reactions were understandable and they would make sure his injuries got better soon, which Stephan interrupted with, “Don’t you see him?”

The doctor straightened. She looked at him with a frown. “Who?”

“Him.” Stephan waved at Titus for emphasis. Fern searched the room, but her eyes seemed to completely overlook the man.

“Stephan,” she said slowly. “Do you think you’re…experiencing any hallucinations?”

Was he? Stephan had no way of telling. Titus looked real, however, Fern couldn’t see him. Stephan thought long and hard, then bit his lip.

“Maybe. I don’t know. Maybe.”

“Well, we’ll definitely have to check on that.”

Stephan stared at Titus. Titus returned the stare serenely. Fern left the machinery, walked around to where Titus stood, and-

And walked right through him.

Nothing changed about Titus. He didn’t flicker like a hologram. He stood there looking as solid as ever, but Fern still passed through him like he was air. Stephan continued to stare, and Titus smiled.

“You really need some sunlight,” Fern told him as she opened the window blinds. She turned around and paused. “Are you all right? You look like you saw a ghost.”

Stephan swallowed. “Yeah, I’m fine.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. Absolutely.”

To her credit, Fern did not look like she believed him. Even so, she said nothing more on the subject. She filled him a cup of water from the tap to put on the table near where Titus had sat.

“Try and get some rest, okay? I’ll be back in with a group to check on you soon,” Fern said. Stephan nodded once, and then she was gone.

He should have been alone. He should have been able to sleep with the knowledge that no one was in there watching him. Instead, he scrambled further away from Titus and tried to find some sort of weapon. His efforts nearly led him to falling out of bed, but Titus was by his side in a second and pushing him back by the shoulders. Stephan slapped his hands away.

“What the heck are you? What do you want?” he shrieked.

“I would suggest you lower your voice.”

“Lower my voice? Lower my voice! Oh sure, I’ll lower my-!”

“If the others hear you,” Titus said, the poster child for patience. “They will, as you said, come running. Then you will have to explain why you’re yelling at an empty room.”

He was right, of course, the jerk. “The doctor. She couldn’t see you, she walked right through you!” Stephan switched his voice to a whisper. “But I can see you just fine. And you were able to touch me.”

“Yes, that isn’t very complicated,” Titus replied.

“It’s complicated to me!”

“Say, do you know what these things are for? I’ve seen them all over the building, but I can’t for the life of me figure out what they do.” Titus held out a bottle of pills to Stephan. He frowned at it, and shook his head.

“You’re scaring me. Like, really scaring me. Is this some sort of supernatural encounter?”

Titus set the pills back on the table. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to alarm you. I simply wanted to stay with you long enough to make sure you would be all right.” He offered Stephan the glass of water and added, “I’m responsible for your accident in the vehicle. I truly am sorry. You were not the target.”

Great place to end, I know. If I had to stop writing it, then it had to be on a dramatic note. Anyway, this one was pretty fun, especially with Stephan’s mounting confusion throughout the entire thing. I for one wouldn’t want a magical stranger to be at my bedside after a car crash either.

The next prompt was done during the writer’s group. You could write anything you wanted, but it had to include a specific list of words. Sage, match, corner, light, and border. This one is considerably less long.

Sage’s wrists were raw and itchy, preventing her from catching any sleep. Even as she sat tucked in a corner, the lights out and nothing else to do, the rope binding her irritated her to the point of insanity.

There were other reasons she wouldn’t doze, of course. Her wooden chair wasn’t exactly comfortable, and the fear gnawed at her stomach persistently. Sage thought that if she had to be there even five more minutes, she would keel over right then and there and someone would come to collect her body in the morning.

The door creaked open. Sage stiffened and squinted, but couldn’t make out the figure drawing near. Footsteps came closer. Closer. Closer. She pressed against the back of the chair, holding her breath.

A single match was struck, and suddenly Sage was peering at a face. He smiled at her. It wasn’t unkind.

“Hello,” he said. Sage didn’t respond. “My name is Michael. You’re Sage, correct? Now, I don’t want to hurt you, I just want to know where your father is.”

Again, Sage didn’t reply, choosing instead to stare at the match. The little flame was crawling down to Michael’s fingertips, but he didn’t seem to care.

“Quiet one, aren’t we?”

“I won’t tell you anything. Leave me alone.” Sage spat in his face, causing him to reel back; at least she got that satisfaction.

“Classy,” Michael muttered, and then he laughed. His fingers were on fire. “All right, child of Callum. Let’s see how you respond to the flames.”

As you can see, I tried to get the required words out of the way as early as possible, although it looks like a missed ‘border’. I’ll be honest when I say that I don’t know what is going on in this scene, and I’m not sure whether I thought on it hard back when I wrote it, so it’s up to the reader’s interpretation. I quite liked the idea of Michael here letting the flame keep going until he caught on fire (you can guess that he’s unlikely human).

Those are just a couple of examples of the writing prompts I’ve used. They can be helpful exercises, and fun to play around with. It’s also interesting to see the variety of things people come up with, so think on what you would have done differently if you were responding to these prompts.

Just Some Results of Writing Prompts

Writer prompts can be fun. They can help give you inspiration to just get some words out on the page when you haven’t really been getting around to working on your writing for a while. Which, for a couple of weeks, has pretty much been me.

Last night I did manage to write out a page (and yes, that is an accomplishment) of a new book, even though I’m still committed to the untitled one I’ve been posting excerpts of on this blog.

The point is, today I’ll be giving you some examples of what happens when I personally indulge in doing a writer’s prompt. I have three examples. One ended up being sort of sad, the other I rambled a bit on, and one of them isn’t even finished. But everything’s about trial and error, isn’t it? And I was just sort of playing around with my words.

Here it (uh, they?) is (…are).

  1. (Yesterday’s Rain)

Rain slithered down her neck like a cold blooded snake. The drops of water fell everywhere; splashing on the bike handles. But she couldn’t loose her grip, she couldn’t loose control of her bicycle, or else she might go veering off onto the road.

Sam wasn’t in the mood to be run over by a car that day. She doubted she ever would be.

The unexpected shower Mother Nature had decided to spring on them all forced Sam to take a short cut she hadn’t dared go down for the past three months. The bike wheels pushed down into now softened dirt. The rain made the surrounding plants smell more fresh than usual.

Impulse had taken Sam to the short cut, and impulse led her to stop and get off her bike. She lifted her head to the stormy clouds and allowed a long suppressed sob to escape her throat.

She remembered going down this short cut with her older brother every day after school. He had always made her stop and look around at the rare spattering of plant life in the city.

“Appreciate it,” he would say with a teasing grin. “There aren’t enough flowers around here.”

Sam never knew exactly what he meant, however she regretted not listening to him about appreciating what she had. People tended to take things for granted.

“I don’t think Max wanted to be run over by a car, either,” she whispered.

The memories began to swirl more and more. She remembered every time she came down there with him, and every time they’d just chatted and laughed.

As the sun came through, Sam let out a smile.

(When I think rain, I think this kind of mood and this kind of story. I couldn’t control myself.)

2. (Green Eyes)

Eyes that green were definitely dangerous. I learned that lesson a long time ago.

Don’t get me wrong, I always found them unnerving. Framed by dark hair and a pale complexion, those eyes seemed to be able to gaze into your soul. Unfortunately, I was the only one who really noticed. Nobody else thought Ryker Smalls was out of the ordinary.

The school bell rang. With a deep sense of relief, I picked up my books and moved towards the door along with the rest of my classmates, but something caught my eye. Across the room, Ryker was still sitting in his seat, staring at the desk.

I looked around for the teacher, but she had apparently gone outside to talk with a colleague. I cleared my throat while simultaneously cursing myself for always cursing myself for always having to get in other people’s business, and addressed Smalls.

“Ryker? The bell rang. If you don’t go, you’ll be late for class.”

Those eyes snapped up and met mine, something flashing in their depths. “I’m aware. Leave, Abby.” I cursed myself a second time for not listening.

“Come on, Ryker.” I sighed. “What would you get out of staying here?”

(That’s a wonderful way to end. Cliffhanger! I don’t know exactly where I was going with this, but I had to stop working on it and do something else. Maybe I’ll finish it one day, maybe not.)

3. (A Lot of Strange Stuff)

How to Stop a Killer

Step 1: Don’t die. If you’re killed first, then you can’t exactly stop the killer. If I had just stood there staring blankly as the knife came closer and closer, I wouldn’t have done anything, and I wouldn’t be writing this list.

Do me a favour and at least try to follow that step alone, all right?

Step 2: Find a safe place. Somewhere to regroup (of course, if you still have anyone to regroup with). This, as well as Step 1, should be a given, so I’ll just move on. From personal experience, though, hiding places with a lock tend to help.

Step 3: Make a plan. This can vary from calling the police, which is probably recommended, to taking matters into your own hands. I’ll give you a hint: before I got my job, I didn’t really take that recommendation.

Step 4: Carry out that plan. Duh.

Step 5: Repeat of Step 1.

Ella looked down at the crumbling paper in her hands, then made a face at the man sitting across from her.

“That’s not very helpful,” she pointed out.

His only response was, “I thought it was pretty straightforward.”

Ella sighed and snatched the pen away from Alex’s hand, turned over the paper, and restarted the list.

How to Actually Stop a Killer

Step 1: Don’t die.

“Oh,” said Alex. “So when you do it it’s okay.”

Ella silenced him with a glare before continuing.

Step 2: Remain calm. Try taking deep breaths, and don’t panic so much that you make a rash decision.

Step 3: Remember to be silent, and not let the killer find you.

Step 4: Please call the police. That is the best course of action. It only makes things worse if civilians take matters into their own hands.

Step 5: Wait for help to arrive and stay safe.

“What do you think?” Ella asked proudly. Alex wrinkled his nose as if he smelt something rotten.

“That mine is better. Are you actually saying that we should tell people to remain still if there’s ever a killer on the loose?”

“It’s more logical than telling them to make up a foolhardy plan.”

“You know what?” Alex stood up. He shoved his hands in his pockets, and moved towards the door. “I’m done. You can do this yourself.”

“Alex, wait. This is serious. Crime rate is rising, and the boss trusted us to make this thing.”

“That was his first mistake,” Alex muttered under his breath before slumping back into his chair. “Fine. Here’s a compromise: people are to call the police first but are allowed to do anything they can to stop the killer if needed. Deal?”

Ella pursed her lips. Sometimes she felt that compromising with Alex was the worst idea on the planet. Worst idea in the universe, possibly. But she was exhausted and couldn’t’ argue with her co worker anymore. It made enough sense, she supposed.

Below Step 5, she wrote-

Exception: If situation is too dire, you are permitted to attempt to stop the killer yourself.

Ella clutched the piece of paper in her hand, moving to give in their list to the boss. “I hope you’re happy,” she called over her shoulder. Alex rolled his eyes, but couldn’t stop a grin from slipping out.

“Never better.”

(This is the one I felt I was rambling on, and I’m aware that it probably isn’t entirely realistic. I also have no idea how Alex would have gotten a job as a police. However, it was fun to write, and I enjoyed switching between the list and the story itself.)

 

As you can see, the three times I worked on something for a writer’s prompt none of them were perfected or edited. It was just to get me writing. It was just to give a little bit of inspiration