As an aspiring writer, I’m always plagued by the fear that I won’t be able to come up with another idea for a story. That applies to either a short story or a novel, though right now I have enough ideas for novels to last me for a couple of years. I’m trying to finish my trilogy, two-thirds of which is complete and the third part is in partial rough-draft form, and I have a good idea for another novel (not related to the trilogy) so I’m set for a couple of years. I usually take about a year to write a novel.
But the inspiration for short-story plots is another matter. I’ve heard of writers who have hundreds of plot lines running around in their heads and they can’t get them down on paper fast enough. That’s not me. I have to work just to pull out a plot line. Lately, though, I’ve had better luck. I just finished a course in writing speculative fiction (a term that includes science fiction and fantasy) in which we were given prompts by the instructor. Some of the prompts were for “homework”and we had to have them ready for the next class, and some of the prompts were given in class for a short writing session. As far as I was concerned, the prompts were enormously helpful in focusing my mind on completing a short story. A good prompt starts the mind running in the right direction and lets it flow to a satisfactory ending. Of the fifteen or sixteen prompts we got in the class, I got good ideas for short stories (and in one case, a novelette) from about half of them. I’ve already sent off one short story called “Bones” to an online journal called “Still Crazy,” a journal for writers over 50. More will be submitted in the near future.
But now comes the hard part: making my own prompts. Now I’m back to the real world where writers have to provide their own inspiration. Can’t rely on the instructor for prompts anymore. But the course taught me something. It taught me to look for prompts in the world around. A comment on TV, a newspaper headline, a conversation overheard, a picture on the news or one tucked away for years in an album. Even the name of a paint chip in the paint department of the local home improvement center. What I learned in the course wasn’t just how to write, but how to get ideas. That may not have been intended to be one of the aims of the course, but I learned how to use it anyway.
So, now back to writing. I’ve got stories to finish and send out.