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.