Writing Prompt: Mixing it up

We come across fascinating people every day. In the lift, at work, at the supermarket, friends, family, strangers, colleagues, pets…oh, wait..

What got me thinking today was that as I was heating up my leftovers for lunch (Carbonara), I spied two of our interns having lunch at a table a few feet away. They invited me to sit with them and in a few minutes of polite chat, I discovered one was heading to the Yucatan Peninsula for Christmas and the other lived in High Wycombe. Both were topics for discussion as I wanted to tell the traveller all about my time there and offer some foodie survival tips and to the other, I wanted to reference of bit of historical trivia about his town of residence. In any case, it was a short, pleasant chat and soon enough we parted company. I, to the lift back to my desk and they to the corner shop of afternoon snack.

The exercise I have in mind is simple. I believe that much of what writers write is based in reality, from personal experience or from observations, or from people in our immediate circle. Try this…

Throughout the course of the day, you will probably meet a number of different people. Try to gather one interesting piece of information, personal if possible (but not intrusive) , from everyone you meet in one day. Let those nuggets be the basis for a short narrative. Give your characters traits form what you’ve gathered and incorporate as much of what you’ve heard in one day into the story.

Have fun. Happy hunting.



Writing Prompt: P.O.V. (seeing past the whiskers)

Yesterday, when it was cold and wet and the storm was dying down, I saw my cat sitting on the kitchen mat. Her golden eyes were fixed on the glass of the kitchen door and she sniffed nervously at her custom-built kitty door. I could read the distress in the flick of her tail as she weighed the discomfort of needing to relieve herself in the flowerbed against the fear of getting wet in the rain and wind.

“mew, squeak”, she said to me as I asked her what was wrong. Her tailed flicked once more and with an upturned nose, about-faced into the living room. I followed her, morning coffee in hand to the edge of the sofa, where she had positioned herself for what I suspected would be a morning of daytime television.

I changed the channel to the news and weather and saw that the storm would blow itself out by lunchtime.

As I collected my keys, handbag and rail pass, I quickly kissed my pampered pet on the head. “Goodbye critter. ” I said and wrapping my scarf around my neck (a recent birthday present), headed out the door.

I wandered across the wet pavement and began to wonder. How does my cat occupy her days? Just how uncomfortable is it for her to get wet? Does she find it hard to do her business in the flowerbed when the ground is damp? Does she ever get visits from other neighbourhood cats? Does she scratch the sofa when I’m gone or only as a means of getting attention? How does she perceive the world and does she actually miss me or just my function as a head and back massage therapist?

Just for fun. Write a narrative from the point of view of a pet left at home for a couple of days.



Writing Prompt: Transformation

It’s rare for us to notice something change before our eyes.

I boarded the train at Oxford Circus. Tired, and ready for my bed after a long day at work and a few drinks, I selected a vacant seat by the doors and nestled my head against the glass as was my habit, whenever an end of row seat was available. It made it easier to nap and kept me from being sandwiched between two strangers on the busy tube each commuter journey to and from work. With my headphones in and my audio book selected (Lolita, Nabokov). I nestled in and calculated how much longer before I could put the day behind me. With Jeremy Irons whispering the story into my ear, I looked up and observed my fellow passengers. Most of them were reading a book or newspaper or tapping away at a smart phone.

The girl sitting across from me caught my attention. She was young, early twenties with rich, dark curly hair and bright coloured patterned fabrics draped her lean figure. She caught my eye and smiled, just a quick, thin-lipped grin as one woman travelling alone recognising another. I nodded and turned my attention back to my story, my eyes fixed on my shoes until the movement of the train lulled me into a light sleep.

The sudden jolt of the train leaving White City woke me. My head snapped up quickly and with a mini panic that I had slept through my stop, I realised I was still a few stops away from home. The woman I had seen before was still in from of me, her attention on the phone in her hand. As she fingered the touch pad on her phone, her lovely face underwent a transformation as I watched. The previous expression of calm friendliness gave way to an expression of tension, as though her features had in a moment, melted into a mask of  pain and ugliness. Tears welled in her eyes and her mouth distorted into a twisted and jagged line over her wobbling chin.

So quick was the metamorphosis that the initial instinct of concern gave way to discomfort. What could I, a stranger on the tube say or do without intruding? I diverted my eye and took a sudden and intense interest in a scrap of paper on the floor. It was a discarded advert or newspaper filler. I looked up again, determined to offer a word, any word that would come to ask if she was ok. As I begin to speak, we pulled into the next station and she was off. She moved quickly from seat to door and as the door alarm whistled its intent to close, I looked out the rain smudged window after her and wondered what any message could have said to trouble her.

It got me thinking of a few things. For one, what had I witnessed in that moment that I would never know or influence or understand? What was the story there? I wondered what would the end of that personal story be?

We see things we’ll never be a part of or understand all the time, but I think it would be interesting to observe the world around us with greater care and try to glean what is happening behind the tears and chuckles and frowns we come across every day.

Try this. Watch people for 20 minutes. Pick a few that catch your eye and try to work out what is behind their facial expressions. Try crafting a story around what you see.

Writing Prompt: Personal Space

As my feet pounded on the treadmill, I listened to an audio-book. The pace was steady, clam almost. I watched the distance go up and the time roll down and I felt that smugness that come from doing something healthy when you know most others are still asleep, or at least still on the Tube heading into work. Suddenly, my zen was invaded by someone else’s body odour.

I looked to my left and saw a figure that would have been right at home on a rugby field panting alongside me. He had clearly been at the gym for some time already, judging by the state of him. Sweat poured from him, his blue tee-shirt stuck to him and looked as though he would remain for a good while longer. To my right there was a nearly empty row of 14 running machines. Only two at the far end were occupied with one empty space between them, while the middle of the row was left unused.

This puzzled me. I considered one possibility, adjusted my ring finger, looked at the mirrored wall before me and dismissed the idea. I considered other options. Does he want to watch a particular TV screen? I looked across them all airing morning television and poorly produced music videos. Ludicrous notion. Maybe he simply liked that treadmill above all others? I moved my head slightly to the right, willing the timer to run the clock down. Did I smell that bad? I made a note to apply my shampoo and deodorant with vigour, hang the white marks. I shook the thought away as uncharitable, yet unable to shake my head hard enough to make the scent go away.

At last, I finished my run, stepped of the treadmill and bolted for the showers.

It’s interesting. I live in a highly crowded city where a free patch of green grass is rare. streets are packed with people on the move, the escalators rarely left with spaces between the steps. In shops, we weave through traffic with our baskets and shopping trolleys. Pubs on a Friday night spill onto the street on a sunny day and a river of bodies flows, elbow to elbow to and from the bar on chilled Autumn and Winter nights.

We’re so used to crowds. Yet, the idea that someone would choose to be close to me when open space was clearly an option let me bemused and bewildered. I have the same reaction when someone stands too close in an otherwise empty lift.

Write something about space. Personal or otherwise. Write about how space and the use of it changes perception or the people in it or a location.

Have fun.

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