Props and Prompts

Fancy your chances in a short story competition? Here are eight ideas to help you find your inspiration.

Unsplash – a generously free-to-use website, showcasing some amazing photos taken by some superb photographers. They upload their work and as I say, generously put it out there for anyone to use free of charge. All they ask is that you give them a mention. How big-hearted is that?

Read winning short stories. See if you can work out why they are winners. Do you agree with the judges? If yes, as a writing exercise, write part-two of a winning story – just for your own benefit and practice. If no, re-write the story how you think it should read and then compare the two.

Let the sounds do the talking. Listen to some on-line recordings of the sea (YouTube) or thunder and rain (YouTube), or fishes having a chat. Maybe the gentle mechanical turnings of a windmill (YouTube again). Immerse yourself in sound and see where it takes you.

Picture prompts are always a good one – see number 1 above – but this time try an art gallery, museum or art shop – all of which are free. One of the best forms of art and expression has to be graffiti. There is one particular piece of urban art local to me which always makes me smile when I pass it – across a derelict For Sale sign advertising an abandoned plot of land, some enterprising young person has spray painted the word TWAT in silver paint. I love a good four letter word, and this particular piece of art always brings a smile to my face because a) it’s written in silver. Who has a random can of silver paint hanging around?! b) the use of language is short and to the point – but who Expressive.JPGare they talking to? Are they calling the billboard a twat?!  c) why bother in the first place when they could just as easily have scaled the fence onto the abandoned land and got up to all sorts of mischief instead. But they didn’t – they chose to write a word, which is better than an exaggerated cartoon version of the oft-use phallus young males are wont to draw. The fact that they didn’t should be applauded. I think it could only have made me smile more if they’d written the word Bum instead.

The website of your local theatre/arts centre. Have a look to see who’s coming to town and that may jolt the creative juices into flowing for you. I’m not in any way suggesting you plagiarise characters from shows or anything like that, but for example, there may be a singer song-writer-stand-up comedian playing sometime and she or he may spark the idea for a character – someone you may not have considered before.

Three unrelated props. A key, a stone and a bag of flour. Write them together somehow. Borrow from your friends and neighbours – this way the items will be unfamiliar to you. Likewise three inexpensive things from a charity shop; and old book, a toy, a vase. You can take them all back when you’ve finished.

Visit your local tip and take a couple of photos of stuff being thrown away. I once saw an entire, perfectly recyclable and sellable oak dresser being chucked away. I also saw a woman chuck her car keys away along with the rubbish that was in her hand. Funnily enough the council tip guy had a very long pole with a hook on one end for rescuing such inadvertent deposits. Comedy gold Mrs, comedy gold.

Best prop and prompt ever: cup of coffee, large cake, seat by the window. You know what comes next.


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