On Combining Prompts

Someone on Twitter responded to one of my microfiction tweets wondering how I used five prompt words in one story. I replied with the process I use, and I thought I’d put it here as well. I have no idea if it’s interesting; her conclusion was that it’s witchcraft. She also implied that I must have a lot of time on my hands, but I spend up to fifteen minutes on this in the morning.

I have a little notebook and I take a minute to jot down the day’s prompts. I have them all in one place so they can sort of…marinate together. Make friends. What other metaphors can I mix in there? Start a chemical reaction? I look at each word and see if one of them jumps out at me as a starting point. Sometimes one word anchors it and I check to see if any of the other words are a natural fit. Sometimes a combination of two or three jumps out right away. I try not to force it, but I’ll go through and muse on different combinations. If it doesn’t work, I drop it and do separate stories, or skip one or more of the prompts if I’m not feeling them. It’s supposed to be fun and creative, not stressful and discouraging.

So, here’s what that looks like for a couple of days.

There’s my little notebook. This is not my “public” handwriting, by the way.

Here’s my multi-prompt story from yesterday:

For this one, friendship and (inter)species jumped out at me right away. Okay, an interspecies friendship. Which species? Human and alien, because aliens are fun. Aliens can fall from the sky. Say an alien seeks shelter in a house after crash-landing? Hey, a detective could be looking for him. That could cause conflict, which you could call a schism. And there you go! It’s not great literature, but it’s a fun little story and might turn into a prompt for something bigger later. On reflection, I should have put the prompt hashtags in a comment. With that many, they really eat up my character count, and the detective part is choppy and abrupt. I still like the second half, but I’d rewrite it to have the beginning flow better and give better tension, and I might pull “sky” back out because it feels a little shoehorned in.

At the #detective’s sharp knock, Po squeezed into a vent to hide. “Sir, we’re looking for an alien creature on the loose, about so high?” Sam shook his head. Their inter-#species #friendship would be surely be tested. Was a #schism inevitable? Perhaps, but not today.

I was happier with today’s, partly because I didn’t try to keep the hashtags in the main tweet for very long:

So the first thing that popped into my head was that 80s song “Private eyes, are watching you, watching your every move,” so I sang that in my head for a bit while I looked through the prompt words. Scribble and poem came together right away, and riddle quickly followed, since a poem can be a riddle, and vice versa. I thought it’d be interesting if she didn’t intend to write a riddle. That would be a surprise…say, an EYE-widening surprise. I realized the book whose margins the character is writing in could be a diary…a PRIVATE diary. A magician’s private diary, why not. Why is she writing? Out of some impulse…to quiet her mind. Hey, it’s a magician’s diary, maybe he put a spell on anyone reading it to make them jot down this riddle. And maybe it’s the answer to a problem in the kingdom (with microfiction, no need to define the actual problem), which will take courage to solve. And we’re done.

So it’s definitely not witchcraft, but I’m not sure I’ve explained at all a replicable process. The little notebook with the words in one place is key for me. I have to see them all together, written down. And pick one word to start with, and build from there if you can. But I have plenty of days when the words don’t want to work together and I do at least a couple of separate tweets. The point is to have fun with the creative process and write something I otherwise might not, not to show off by forcing a bunch of words together.

Dear Leader

“He’s got #charisma.” “#Sycophant! Here’s a #chronicle of his faults. #1: No #empathy. He’s profiting from a #pandemic!” “You’d #ostracize him?” “I’d dump him in the middle of the #ocean.” “Exile is #anathema to justice.” “I didn’t mean exile.”

Sometimes I get behind in prompts (I’ve been busy with the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge and Camp NaNoWriMo) but I jot them in a notebook every day and sometimes look back and “catch up” if I’m inspired. I thought it would be fun to see how many of the #vss365 prompt words I could fit in and still have it make sense.

NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge

My prompts:

Genre – Political Satire, Setting – a forest, Object that must appear – a laptop

A Fairytale Ending (996 words)

“Hey, Furless!” Goldilocks turned her head at the deep voice behind her. A huge, hulking brown bear was gaining on her. “What are you doing here?”

“I’m just out for a jog,” Goldilocks squeaked.

“Sure you are. You humans are always coming into the forest and making trouble.”

“No, I’m not. We’re not. Look, I’ll just go, okay?”

“I don’t think so, Blondie. You remember when that human Jack’s vendetta against a giant knocked down half the forest? My brother’s house was one of the ones his beanstalk fell on. There’s only one way to deal with your kind.”


Sheriff Nottingham washed another aspirin down with his cold coffee and unfolded the Sherwood Daily Caller. The headline screamed HUMAN ROBBER FOILED. When his buddy Papa Bear had called him in a panic, the sheriff had a flash of inspiration. Papa dragged what was left of the body into his house and claimed he’d found Goldilocks eating his porridge and feared for his life. With the Stand Your Ground law the sheriff had written last year, it was a piece of cake. Goldilocks had once been arrested for shoplifting, and the sheriff had made sure his friend at the Daily Caller knew it. An article citing statistics of human on human violence ran below the fold.

He watched the protestors in front of his office and rummaged in his desk for an antacid. HUMAN LIVES MATTER screamed their signs. Well, of course they did. All lives mattered. But if the humans were going to insist on coming where they weren’t wanted and stirring up trouble, what did they expect? He’d thought they’d gotten the message when Deputy Big Bad Wolf had run the humans nicknamed the Three Little Pigs out of town. Trying to build houses here! Imagine what three humans living in the forest would do to property values. He tapped his anthropomorphized wolf paws on the keyboard of his laptop, filling in the narrative section of the report. 

“Deputy Big Bad Wolf observed the decedent, Red Riding Hood, acting suspiciously in the forest. He approached her and asked what was in her basket. He believed his life was in danger when she reached into her basket, presumably for a weapon.” That part was fine. But what did he do about Grandmother in the human village on the other side of the forest? The sheriff was pretty sure that his deputy had been hungry and, his appetite whetted by the little girl and the contents of her basket, had headed to Grandmother’s house for seconds. He massaged his temples.

Was that Robin Hood outside his window? Yes, that damned fox was marching with the humans, and he wasn’t the only animal. The sheriff spotted the Three Blind Mice, a few swans, and Humpty Dumpty as well. He was never sure if Humpty counted as an animal, but he was definitely not human. What in the forest was going on here? He jumped at a loud banging on his door. “Sheriff! We have some demands for you!”

“Demands? Is that you, Puss?” he asked as his door crashed open and a large cat in boots came in. 

“I’m representing the Human Lives Matter protestors, and we demand your resignation immediately. This violence must stop.” The sheriff hadn’t even stopped sputtering when Puss continued, “We’ve overlooked a lot of injustices, Sheriff, but Red used to give us cookies on her jaunts through the woods. We liked her. We didn’t know Goldilocks, and I’m ashamed we didn’t stand up for her, but Big Bad has gone too far this time. And I know you’re in here trying to write up a report that keeps you from having to fire him, much less toss him in jail.”

“Puss, what are you doing carrying signs with these humans? If they would have just stayed out of our forest and done what they’re told, none of this would have happened. They’re the troublemakers here, not my deputy. Now, I’m putting Deputy Wolf on leave while I investigate the incident, and that should be enough for you.”

“Paid leave?”

“Well, that’s procedure. Innocent until proven guilty and all.”

“Unless you’re a human!”

“What do you care, Puss? Have I ever treated you wrong? Anyone in your family? Anyone you even know? The humans know what happens when they come tromping through our forest and they insist on doing it anyway!”

“And what was Grandmother doing in her own house in her own human village that was so bad, Sheriff?”

“Well, she probably encouraged Red to cut through the forest so she could get her basket of goodies faster. It’s a much shorter walk. Look, I could maybe put a note in Deputy Wolf’s file and give him a week of unpaid leave. I won’t deny that he’s sometimes a bit rougher than necessary with humans, so I’ll send him on a sensitivity course too. How’s that?”

“That’s just not good enough, Sheriff. We need real change this time, not your empty promises.”

Sheriff Nottingham blustered as Puss dragged him out from behind his desk, spilling his coffee and knocking his laptop to the floor. He was quickly surrounded by a mob, and he knew how Red and Goldilocks must have felt in their last moments. “Are you going to kill me?” he whimpered, looking desperately around for help. Was that Deputy Wolf slinking off into the trees? He thought he saw Papa Bear too, but no one rushed to his defense.

“I voted to kill you, but we’re a democracy, and most of us think we should be better than you,” Puss said, shoving him into his own jail cell. “And I don’t want blood on my good breeches during the election.”


“We need a new sheriff. My platform is Fair Laws, Equal Treatment for All. We’ll hold your trial after the election. I promise you’ll get exactly what you deserve.”

Sheriff Nottingham’s eyes went wide as the cell door slammed shut.