Monday, November 28, 2016

Writin Prompts: Where is Everyone Going?

As we come to the end of National Novel Writing Month--how are you doing?  Are you going to make the 50,000 words?  What is your story about, and have you ended up liking it?  Were you at all surprised by...where it went?

In my own writing, I've often been surprised at where stories end up.  Characters speak and do things, and suddenly, the story changes from what I had planned!

Today's writing prompt is partly an exercise in observation.  You need to be a good observer to be a good writer--to be able to detail the senses of the scene--the sights, sounds, smells, and sensations--to really bring it alive for a reader.

Tie this in with imagination.  Do you ever drive down a lonely highway in the middle of the night and when you see one other driver, wonder, Where are they going at this hour of the night?  (For that matter, where are you going in the middle of the night!)  Do you likewise wonder that during the day when in theory most people are at work, yet the road still has plenty of traffic?

Do you ever wonder what's happening in their lives?  If you're a writer, yes, I bet you do!  It's what makes us writers.  I don't think it's a nosey sort of interest.  In fact, it's not personal at all.  It's an interest in human nature, in how other people think and feel, because this is largely what fiction is about--bringing people to life so that all who read learn and grow by seeing the world through someone else's eyes for a few hundred pages.  At least, I think, this is what good fiction is about, the kind that leaves us a little bit changed, the kind we remember.

There are times a writer builds an entire story out of one glimpse of someone in a car, in a grocery store, at the park, in a hospital bed.  Try these pictures.

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Are they brothers?  Step brothers?  Foster brothers?  Best friends?  Cousins? Have they known each other since high school, since childhood?  Did they just meet 24 hours ago and decide to go somewhere together?

Names?  Based on the clothes they're wearing and the car they're driving, what kind of work do you think they do?

Where are they heading?  Somewhere local--the beach, running errands, to work?  Or are they on a long-distance drive--to Los Angeles to make it big? (In acting, in singing, in script-writing?)  Are they driving from Maine to Southern California (of from Southern California to Maine?) to the funeral of a grandmother they both hated?  Or back to visit the orphanage in which they grew up together?

Why are two relatively young men driving a minivan?  Maybe they're not two single young men.  Maybe between them they have 9 or 10 children and this is their one day free of the factory jobs--or their law practice--where they work to support those kids.  Or maybe they're heading to the store to buy a whole slew of new bikes for all those kids.  

Or maybe they're going to pick up bikes to donate to needy kids.  Maybe they just hit it rich with a brand new invention that took the world by storm and want to help others--maybe because they grew up in an orphanage in Maine.

Maybe it's not their car.  Maybe it's stolen.  Or maybe they care for an elderly man (a relative?  as a job?) and they're on the way home from visiting him at the hospital where he's having a heart transplant.  Maybe they're helping a friend move and returning for the next load.

Are they singing?  Or screaming at an on-coming truck?  What hand gestures would make you think they might be singing?  What music do these two listen to?  60s?  70s? 80s?  Can you, in your wildest imagination, image that they're listening to Cat Stevens sing Morning Has Broken right now?  Why or why not?  Glenn Miller's String of Pearls?  Hmmmmm...that's a stretch!  But hey, maybe they really get into swing.  Maybe this is their own unique rendition of Glenn Miller that would accommodate the type of singing they appear to be doing, and that's why they're headed to Los Angeles to try to sell their new take on the big band music of the 30s and 40s!

Don't forget the senses of smell.  What does it smell like in this car?  Expensive cologne (hey, they just hit it big with a new invetion, remember!)  Or French fries (they're helping a friend move, haven't had time for more than a drive-through.)  Or bike grease?

And there we go!  A full blown novel from one picture.  I was going to do three or four pictures--of two old men in a car, of a family in a car, and so on.  But it seems there's more than enough here from just one picture.

Purely as a sidenote, I went to Barbaric Yawp last night--an open mic poetry reading that happens the fourth Sunday (usually the fourth) of every month.  I read two paragraphs from Blue Bells of Scotland (where the gypsy is dancing as Shawn plays the sackbut), Mea Culpa (a poem written by the host, Christopher Title, in which he expresses regret, but not quite, for failing to save a rabbit from a cat--in fact, he got rather hungry and had a sandwich!), and two poems of my own.

Thanks to Jen Walls for taking photographs of everyone!


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