When I was in high school, I took a creative writing class. It’s the only one I’ve ever taken, and I couldn’t tell you how alike or different it was from other such classes. There was a process we went through before we ever started writing for the short story part of class that has stuck with me for fifteen years. It was a process of coming up with multiple story seeds, before then choosing the one we wanted to develop into a story. One day we were instructed to come up with a setting and character that didn’t really go together. For example, I chose a British soldier at a Minnesota lake. Under that, it says:
“Why–the queen of England decided she wanted a vacation in a secluded spot and he was assigned to guard the family.
Conflict–the people who live around there are secretive, don’t know why he’s there, and don’t want him there.”
The scenario sounds ridiculous to me now, and I never wrote any further with that idea. However, for some reason, this exercise has stuck with me for a long time.
On the other hand, what is just an innocuous picture–a field of wildflowers–became the short story I turned in for that class. A short story the teacher loved and helped me to remember that I enjoy writing (I had written a lot in elementary school, then abandoned it for poetry). In an essay in that class, though, I apparently wrote that I didn’t think I’d have much reason to write fiction again in the future. That was fun to dig up from my past.
At the same time I was taking this creative writing class, I had the same teacher for English class. In English, we would get vocabulary lists, and for every list, one assignment was always to write some sort of paragraph or short story that incorporated at least 5 of the vocab words. A few of those ended up being great sources of creativity for me. One, a one-page short story, my teacher said was written well enough and had good enough character development that I could have turned it in for my short story in creative writing.
The point of all of this is to say that, while inspiration can certainly come from anywhere and sometimes nowhere, it is possible to create ideas using various methods and stimuli. Images, sounds, prompts, word lists, outlandish character/setting combos, even story scenarios provided by someone else, can produce seeds that may or may not be worth developing. The key is to keep all of the potential seeds somewhere that can be referenced later. One important rule of writing–never throw anything out. You never know if you’ll want to be able to look back at it 15 years later and write a blog post about it.
Dream for yourself: If anyone reading this wants to try their hand at some of these story seed starters, I encourage you to look at the image above, describe it in vivid detail, and use it as a setting for a scene. Then see where that takes you. Or, use the following list of words to create a paragraph or two–it can be a setting, a short story, or even a scene from something larger. (Remember, it’s from a school vocab list. If you don’t know the words, look them up! Expanding your vocabulary can always help with writing too.) It doesn’t have to produce a full story–just spark an idea. If anyone does write anything from my suggestions, feel free to share with me! I’d love to see what others come up with.
quid pro quo
Continue reading below to read the short story I created with the words above (if you’re considering writing from the list yourself, don’t read mine yet; it’ll skew your ideas).
The Politician and the Parvenu
In the most secluded and most secret corner of the noxious Malerische Gaststätte (or Picturesque Restaurant, for those of you English speaking people), in a smoky, dark booth (smokier and darker than the others), sat two men holding a tête-à-tête while eating dinner. One man was a parvenu who had recently acquired a great deal of money. The other man was a wealthy politician who had earned his money from scratch. However, money or no, the first man was still venal and willing to be bribed; his policy was: “quid pro quo.” Given a choice, though, he would rather receive money for his part of the deal.
That was how it came to pass that this certain politician who needed a favor decided to meet sub rosa with this upstart. The politician had a famous name and face, and he could not be seen in public, especially with this man. Although they were in this sleazy establishment, he was still qui vive, constantly looking around, always suspecting. The only people he could see in the dim room, however, were the a capella group singing “In the Still of the Night.”
Finally, the men were done eating so that they could hold their postprandial meeting and discuss what they had both come for.
“I need a favor from you,” began the politician.
“I don’t do favors,” sneered the parvenu in a minatory voice.
“I would be willing to pay,” the politician explained. “I need you to do something for me. You see, the elections are coming up and I am not so sure I can win my re-election. I want you to give my competition something to get his mind off of the election. Tie him up for a while, if you know what I mean. I don’t want him dead, just out of the way. He always seems one step ahead of me, and I don’t like it.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” the parvenu replied. The politician passed him the cash that he wanted, then he stood up and left.
The parvenu smiled sardonically as he heard the explosion of the car bomb that rocked the Malerische Gaststätte. Then, he pocketed the politician’s money and casually went home to add it to the money that the politician’s competitor had paid him to “take care” of the politician.