Tuesday this week I presented part one of an adaptation of an exercise in “What if?” by Bernays and Painter. You can get your own copy from Amazon right here. The exercise for today is the same as Tuesday’s so if you’ve already read the details, feel free to jump down to the prompts!
For this exercise you need a story of your own (likely, an early draft, though I would advocate doing this with a story that is just stuck and lifeless…one of those stories you know is important, but you haven’t found that “white hot center” of it yet…)
The purpose of this exercise is to help you explore new possibilities with characters, plot, & setting. These prompts can help you open up a whole new area, or, help shed light on some part of the story that you KNEW belonged there, but you weren’t yet sure why. While the goal is to add layers of complexity and meaning to your story, it is important to not agonize over the exercises AS YOU DO THEM. Let the story go where it goes. Worry about it making sense, fitting in, and what it all means when you go to edit.
Find somewhere in your story to complete one (or more) of these sentences, insert it into the narrative stream of the story, and add a scene, a paragraph, two chapters, etc. Obviously, you can change tense, pronouns (I’ve just used ‘he’ pronouns here, for simplicity), point of view, etc to make it fit with your characters and your story.
People were saying ________________ . They were right/wrong.
A year earlier he was ______________ with _________________.
No one knew, but he collected ___________________ and kept them in a box in the back of his closet.
It was ___________________ outside.
As he was __________________, he remembered he was supposed to _________________.
In five years he’d be ___________________ .
He smelled ______________ and recalled ________________ .
There’s seven more. You get the idea. Make up some for yourself!
Again, the exact formula isn’t what is important. If one of these prompts spurs you on and you change a word or two in the prompt, go for it! (A lot of these prompts make me think of something completely different, which works too…)
What you want is not blind obedience to the prompts, but something that will stir the pot of your story and dig up some of the dregs that have settled to the bottom of your story stew. Dregs are what make good stories. Stir them up!
I hope you enjoyed these. I know I’ve used several of them in the past to help me jump-start a stalled piece.