As a writer, I search constantly for anything that can help me improve my craft, inspire me to get back to work, or just help me break through those tough spots. However, I’ve noticed that the writing prompts that I’ve found floating around the internet are often pathetic. They’re a childish attempt to make you write the equivalent of the “What I Did For Summer Vacation” essay that teachers insist you write (sometimes even all the way up through college, bleh…)
This page will be my attempt to come up with and/or find some effective and useful prompts that will actually help you write something productive. I welcome anyone who’d like to participate through comments or links back to your own blog.
1 comment. Top.
So I’m more interested in writing prompts that help you write stories or scenes that could actually be incorporated into a story of some sort someday.
With that thought in mind, here is my first writing prompt:
Someone unseen had left the object on the desk (floor, bed, table, etc.) It was a totally foreign object, unlike anything else in the room….
So, first person, third person… whatever rocks your boat, just write it. What is the object, where was it left, and what does it do? Is it good or bad? Was it left by a friend or a foe?
I invite anyone who wants to participate to post their response in the comments. Here is my own response:
The light glinted off the metallic disc that had appeared on the desk. Rufus gripped the keys tightly, staring at the mysterious object. No one had entered the room while he stood guard. There was no access except through his door and only he had the keys. Nothing else in the room had been touched. The treasure remained where he had locked it inside the iron cage against the far wall.
Rufus approached the disc cautiously with one hand on his weapon. The disc began to give off a faint glow as he neared, a red hazy glow that caused him to falter. He was afraid of what the disc was capable of doing to him. He was alone. The other guards had already been released for the evening, and the commander had left him to ride out to the valley fort and inspect the garrison there.
He swallowed his fear and continued forward, pulling his sword from its scabbard. He reached out tentatively and tapped the disc with his finger, testing it for some kind of terrible magical trap. Nothing happened, so he lifted the disc to examine it.
Words appeared in silver, scrawling across the metal surface as if they were being written at that very moment.
“Your commander is dead. Your comrades are dead. Seek out the tablet if you wish to live, for this task you have been spared.”
Suddenly the red glow faded and the disc split down the middle. Rufus dropped the half he was holding and turned and fled from the room. In his fear, all thoughts of any tablet left him. He readied the fastest horse in camp and deserted the settlement.
Do it quickly and keep it short! Just write whatever is wanting to be written.
0 comments. Top.
Use this picture (or one of your own) and build a scene up around it. Has your character been here before? Is he/she returning after a long time? Have they stumbled upon this place by chance? Were they brought here against their will? How do they feel about this place?
Time had been unkind to the institution. After years of neglect, everything had begun to crumble in on itself. Of course, everything on the inside had been removed when the program was terminated. There was no trace of the equipment or the machinery or the people that had once occupied this space.
Ava slipped on the loose rock and reached out to the wall to steady herself. Her hand came away gray and gritty with dust. She dragged her palm against her thigh to clean it as she stared around the room. She had spent more time here than she cared to remember. The program had stolen years of her life. She asked herself why she had returned but she was still uncertain. She only knew that she had to come.
The markings were still on the floor. She knelt and dragged a finger along the broken cement, tracing a white line. So often her eyes had traced this symbol while she stood chained to the wall. The symbol was burned into her memory. Though most of the floor had cracked or split into pieces, she could still see the symbol’s beginning and end. She stood and dug her foot into the cracking tiles, kicking them apart until the symbol was unrecognizable.
Had she come to assure herself that the institution was finished? To verify that the program had truly ended? Or had she come to remember?
Ava moved to the corner of the room and turned, placing her back against the dusty wall. She lifted her hand and felt for the notch where the chains had been pinned into the concrete. Her mind burned with things remembered and she yanked her arm in close, sure she could almost feel the chains around her wrist again.
A noise in the hallway caught her attention. She looked up, hesitant but still less frightened than she expected, and listened for the sound. Instead, a face appeared in the doorway. Ava took a deep breath and exhaled slowly.
“I see you got my message,” the stranger said.
“I’m not here because of a message,” Ava replied. “I didn’t get any message.”
“Not by paper or word-of-mouth, no. But you did get my message. That is why you are here, even if you don’t know it yourself.”
“What do you want with me?”
“You may think this is all over,” the man strode into the room, gesturing to everything around them. “But then you would be wrong. The program has been reinstated. They will begin again.”
Ava gasped and closed her eyes, willing the memories away. The stranger laid his hand on her shoulder and when she opened her eyes, he was staring into her face intently.
“You must help me stop them.”
The best part about doing any kind of writing prompt is that I never know where it’s going to go or what it’s going to be about. There’s always the exciting possibility that I may find a new novel idea from a simple ten minute writing. It’s refreshing to be able to write something without thinking about it.
With something like this, I’m not tied down to anything. With a novel, there’s this constant fear of deviating too far from the plot. Little prompts like this are fun exercises that let you write about people, places, or things that don’t fit into the novel you’re currently working on.
0 comments. Top.
I started this blog a few years ago as a sort of “side project” and at the suggestion of a writing teacher who believed that all of us writing students should have one, if for nothing other than the experience of regular (or semi-regular) writing and a sort of self-publishing.
I thought that over time I would discover some sort of “blogger voice” or a niche to write in, but that didn’t happen. I still wonder what the purpose of my blog is and what I should actually write about. I don’t have a specific topic to cover or a skill to teach. I simply like to write. Perhaps it goes against my credibility as a writer that I can’t come up with anything to post.
I look at the inconsistency of my updates and wish I did post more regularly. I just don’t have much to say. Or perhaps it’s just that I don’t think the majority of the general public would care too much about some of the little things I have to say.
So this brings me back to one question: Why do I have a blog? Well, I have it because it seemed like a good practice to fall into while trying to become a professional writer. So what else should I do but write? I would love to have something thematic to follow, something specific, something to garner a bit of a readership – I’m currently so random and erratic that this will probably not be the case for me unless I change something.
I basically write what I feel like writing when I feel like writing it. So… since I began all of this with the intent to become a better writer, I’ll return to my now long-forgotten plan to do some writing prompts. It’s been a while, so it should be fun to do one.
I recently went floating down the Illinois River, so here’s a prompt idea spawned by vacation:
- Put your character smack dab in the middle of nature, far from civilization (or give it the illusion of distance), and in a situation to which he or she is totally unaccustomed. Now put that character in danger; give them a crisis or some kind of emergency to deal with – without aid from the civilized world.
There are many possibilities here. Since I just returned from hours on the river and I’m going back again tomorrow for two more days on the river – I’m going to put my character on the river. You can put them in the middle of the woods, a desert, a jungle – whatever floats your boat (erm – O.o – no pun intended.)
Remember! You’re more than welcome (and encouraged!!) to post your own response in the comments and we can discuss the writing!
Meanwhile, here’s my response:
0 comments. Top.
The banks were dark, the waters calm, and the sun’s heat dropped on Amber with an almost physical weight. She clutched the oar tightly in one hand and tried to adjust the towel around her shoulders with the other. Her arms were already burnt but the wet towel provided both relief and protection from further damage.
The current was steady but uncomfortably slow for Amber. It had been hours since she had last stopped and searched the banks for something to eat. She felt she had made little progress since then. She hadn’t paddled much, having already strained her muscles to get this far. She had no idea how much further she should go.
They were still following her. She caught glimpses of the strange creatures through the trees that crowded the riverbanks. She was afraid to stop and try foraging once more. She had only just barely made it back to her raft before they found her the last time. The men were unlike any men she had ever met before. They seemed more tribal to her though, even then they were unlike the tribal folk she had seen in documentaries. These men were plain wild.
They were like shadows among the trees, melting from one branch into another until there was no sign of them left. She had caught glimpses only indirectly. She had only seen the men fully when they had charged her on the banks as she was scrambling off shore.
Even now she could hear the whistling. It came from a wooden cylinder tied to a string and it made the most eerie sound when swung in a circular pattern. The whistling was following her downstream. Amber stared at the cliff face that rose up ahead of her, wondering if that wall of rock would be the end of her. She couldn’t make out a bend in the river, but she prayed it was there.
Suddenly, the whistling stopped. The whistling that had followed her relentlessly for hours was replaced with a chilling silence. Over the past hours, the constant whistling had become something of a comfort, reassuring Amber that the men were there but unlikely to attack her.
She dipped the oar back into the water and began propelling her raft forward. She tried her best to ignore the burning in her biceps and focus only on the rock blocking her way. She could turn if need be and fight the slow current. It would be strenuous but she could make it back upstream. Back upstream to where though? To the crash? To the bodies?
She paused in her rowing to consider the metal box at the back of the raft. Now that it was empty, she could toss it. That might make the raft a bit lighter. It would also leave her without any kind of container should she manage to find something to eat. She didn’t know much about nature, but they always found nuts or berries on t.v. If she found something like that, she wanted somewhere to store them, so she would have plenty to sustain her.
There was a smudge of darkness flittering around the corner of her eye. She knew they still watched her. She turned quickly but the shadows weren’t moving. She couldn’t catch the men moving through the trees. They were too quick. she decided surviving was more important than berries and hauled the metal box over the side of the raft. The splash was too quiet and then the box sank to the bottom, out of sight. She found the raft no easier to maneuver and cursed.
The raft suddenly lurched, throwing Amber forward against the little prow. The oar slipped from her fingers into the water and continued its way downstream. Amber cried out and frantically reached for the oar but her raft was no longer moving and the oar quickly faded from sight.
From the trees, Amber could hear a series of low grunts and her raft began slowly drifting towards the overgrown bank. No…not drifting, she was being pulled. There was a hook embedded in the side of the raft and attached to the hook was a length of rope that vanished into the woods. The raft was rapidly deflating around her. For a moment, she considered diving into the water and attempting to swim downstream. But Amber was a poor swimmer and where would she go anyway? The men would always be on the banks waiting for her. She wasn’t going to risk drowning…though, she didn’t know if she wasn’t risking more by letting the men reel her in.
She coasted into the shadows of the trees just as the raft gave out and disappeared beneath the water. She stepped forward onto the rocky riverbed and stared at the bank, expecting the creatures to spring on her with spears and knives. She took a few more cautious steps forward, leaving the mass of synthetic fabric behind.
It seemed she was alone. Amber climbed up the riverbank and peered into the woods. There was nothing. And then she turned and came face to face with one of the wild men. Black mud was caked over his nose and lower-jaw. The area around his eyes was clean though his wet hair clung to the bare skin there. He pulled back his thin, cracked lips and revealed a crooked yellow grin and then suddenly, Amber felt something slam into the back of her head.
She pitched sideways into the river and felt the rocks beneath the water cutting into her elbow. Pain throbbed in her head and her vision was blurry. The water slapped her repeatedly in the face as she gasped, trying to rise above it. Something latched onto her arms and dragged her out of the water. Amber screamed and flailed her arms and legs.
Then she was struck again and all went black, the distant sound of the whistling ringing in her ears.
I tried to remember everything I could, tried to write down all the details that were fresh in my mind. But it wasn’t enough. I lost so much, I could just feel it.
I like to refer to these as my material dreams because these dreams are where I find my best story ideas – where I get great writing material.
When I think about it, I realize that a LOT of my stories came into existence via my subconscious. I wasn’t sitting around trying to think up an idea – I was sleeping and it just developed.
So, for this writing prompt:
Take a recent dream – or a recurring dream with which you’re very familiar – and write a snippet of the story behind that dream. Since it’s a dream, put yourself in the place of the main character and write in First Person P.O.V.
The lights flashed ahead: blue and red. I braked as I approached the scene, creeping in carefully. With so many police cars and so many flashing lights, I was expecting a car wreck of some intensity. However, as I neared, there was merely a blockade and police shining flashlights through car windows.
Must be a sobriety check point, I thought.
I lined up with the cars in front of me and lowered the volume of my stereo. It wasn’t necessary, but it seemed that lowering the volume was always the proper thing to do in the car when something important or serious was happening, regardless of whether or not volume had anything to do with the situation.
As our line inched forward, I thought I saw movement in the darkness just beyond the bubble of flashing cop lights. Upon closer inspection, it turned to be an advertising banner for a local pizza joint staked into the ground and flapping in the breeze. I shook my head. It was late and I had worked a twelve hour shift at the office editing reports. I was tired – my eyes were tired.
My turn at the blockade came quickly. I rolled my window down as one of the officer’s approached my car. He flashed the light in my face and peered into the backseat of my Jeep.
“License and registration, please,” he said.
I unclipped the insurance paperwork from the underside of my visor and handed it over so he could skim over it while I retrieved my license from my purse. He waited patiently but continued to flash the light into the backseat as if expecting to find something illegal there.
“Have you seen or heard anything unusual this evening?” he asked.
“No, not particularly,” I answered, giving him my license.
“Well, all seems to be in order here,” he said after a long moment, returning the paperwork. “But I want you to head directly home and stay inside this evening.”
“We’ve had a lot of bad things happen to a lot of good people tonight,” he said cryptically, glancing over his shoulder at another officer who was checking out another driver in the next line over. “We hope to have the matter resolved soon, but it’s my suggestion that you get yourself somewhere safe and keep an eye on the news.”
I opened my mouth to ask him for a better explanation but he stepped away from my car and began waving me through the blockade. I drove through reluctantly and found myself backed up in another line slowly advancing through a small detour. Again, I saw a flash of movement off the side of the highway, but there were no advertisements or signs posted there.
My conversation with the cop had left me feeling uneasy and as I stared out my window, searching for something creeping through the night, I locked my doors as a simple precaution. The line of cars progressed forward and I finally approached the detour, which led us away from the center lane of the highway.
There were several more police cars stationed there, making up a half-circle around something I couldn’t make out. Men in black suits milled about talking with the officers and scribbling down notes on pocket-sized paper.
As I passed through the detour, I was certain that I had seen a man out of the corner of my eye. I looked, thinking my paranoia was simply getting the better of me. Then suddenly, a hand slapped flat against my driver’s side window and my door handle rattled loudly as the hooded man fought against the lock.
I floored the gas pedal and swerved into the ditch, passing the car in front of me. My heart was beating in my throat, the pulses reaching down to the tips of my fingers. I careened wildly to the side, gripping my steering wheel with white knuckles, and steadied the vehicle.
Once I had pulled back onto the highway, maintaining my frantic speed, I looked into my rear view mirror. He was there behind me, driving what looked absurdly like a cement mixing truck. I panicked, veering off the highway to take the first exit onto the city streets.
I passed into a small park, thinking I could outrun the large truck on the narrow residential streets nearby. However, he was on me in moments, ramming that massive truck into my back bumper. I screamed as the steering wheel ripped backwards out of my hands. The car began to skid sideways and then I hit something hard and fast.
When I opened my eyes, I was pinned upside down in my car, hanging from my seatbelt. Blood was dripping down my face, but I didn’t feel too much pain. I fumbled with the seat belt, one hand braced on the roof above me, and then it clicked and I crumpled to the ground. I kicked the driver’s side window, trying to get out of the car, but the window wouldn’t budge. They made those things stronger than I had imagined.
He’s out there, I thought.
I tried to find another escape route. The windshield was crushed but it too refused to break loose with the minor amount of force I put on it. Behind me the rear end of the car was more elevated than the front, so I squeezed into the backseat and managed to get the back door to open into a gap just wide enough for me to fit through.
I collapsed onto the ground – what felt like hard dirt – and rolled onto my back. The hooded man was leaning against my crushed back bumper watching me with amused eyes. I tried to scream but no sound would come out of my open mouth. I could only stare at him with my jaw dangling open.
He pushed off the car and slowly moved towards me. I tried to scream again. The police were so close…If only I could scream. I stood, swaying on my feet, and tried to run. My feet refused to respond, and I tripped, slamming back into the ground.
He continued walking towards me. He was patient. I wasn’t going anywhere, so he relished the moment, taking it in slowly.
I felt his hand on my ankle.
And I tried to scream again…
And remember: if you wanna share your own writing prompt, drop it in the comments! Write on!
I feel it’s time, once again, for a writing prompt. I’ve been painfully lax with them; actually, I’ve outright neglected them.
In fact, I’ve failed entirely at having a consistently updated blog. But alas, I have what I have, and I do what I do. We’ll just have to accept that.
Now, for this writing prompt – the 5th one in 10 Months (shame…) – I have decided to urge you to dig into your past. I’ve recently been reading a lot of personal essays and memoirs. For example, while I’ve never read a single Stephen King novel, I have picked up his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft; and I’ve also been reading I Was Told There’d Be Cake by Sloane Crosley.
So, I want us to write a small tidbit based on something from our past. I believe it doesn’t matter how old you are, we’ve all had unique experiences throughout our lives (even if you’re just twelve years old) and chances are that you have a story in you that no one else does – in fact, it’s not a chance, it’s fact.
This is it: Imagine a scene from your past, it can be anything: that time at your grandparent’s house when your cousin threw a baseball through the window and blamed it on you. That time you were in Algebra and burst into tears because you thought a Matrix was just a really cool movie. That time you had your first trip to the hospital for a serious injury.
It doesn’t matter what memory you choose. But once you’ve got one clearly in mind, sit down and recount it. It doesn’t matter if you feel there’s no story in that little incident. All that matters is how you tell it. It can be the most boring moment of your life – waiting 15 minutes at the bus stop in third grade on a cold winter morning with nothing to do til the bus comes – but if you can tell it with familiarity and humor, injecting some of your “grown-up” perspective on that third grade memory then you’ll have succeeded in creating a short piece that almost everyone can relate to.
So the official prompt is:
Imagine a scene from your past. Take that memory and begin writing it out. Let the natural story emerge, don’t try forcing wit and humor into that memory. Just recreate that moment through words.
I believe that if the memory stuck with you so strongly that you can easily recall everything about it, there’s probably a reason. There is probably a great story underlying that memory and that’s what makes you remember it so vividly. You don’t have to try to make it funny or touching or sad – it probably aleady is. Just tell it.
My own response to this prompt:
I was born in 1985, but my life didn’t start til 1992. That was the year that we moved to the country. For those of you who don’t know, there are varying levels of “country” living. My parents owned 5 acres of land, which meant we had an average front yard with a circle drive, a large backyard, two creeks, and our own small wooded area. This is what I like to call small-country. Back then, we had neighbors but they were separated by wild, over-grown fields, more creeks, or wide ponds. But late at night when fog erased them from sight, you could hear people talking out on their porches, and you knew the neighbors were there, not so far away really.
There’s also a level that I like to call real-country. This is where my Grandparents lived (on my mother’s side). They had thousands of acres and operated a real farm – theirs was a dairy farm. There were cows, horses, pigs, chickens, and an insane number of wild cats that shot out at you from all kinds of dark places.
Out there in the real-country people got cow shit on their work boots and knew how to operate combine tractors. For breakfast they ate meat that came from animals they had raised and then sent off for butchering (in my mother’s time, they even did the butchering themselves). They drank milk straight from the cow and fried up eggs that were won after quick but intense battles with territorial roosters (at least, that’s how it was when I collected the eggs… my cousin knew how to trick them so we could swoop in and get the eggs before we were noticed.)
In the real-country they had canyons instead of creeks, large tracts of unexplored land (or so we thought as children), and there were also legitimate dangers: snakes, coyotes, poisonous plants, sudden drop-offs in fields surrounded by loose rock, and spiders. The nearest neighbors were miles away and at night, the quiet was broken only by the rhytmhic pumping of the oil wells, the familiar sounds of the livestock and insects, and the occasional cry of a wandering coyote. Civilization was so far away that we rarely heard cars or trucks unless they were our own, and there were no voices carrying on the breeze because the nearest neighbors were too far.
I lived in small-country, but I like to think I did a lot of my “growing-up” in the real-country. We spent school breaks and holidays at my Grandparents’ house, where we would stay for several days before returning home. Even though my time on the farm was limited because we lived so far away, it had a huge impact on my life and my creative development. There were no computers or arcades, and we didn’t take our toys with us so we thrived on our imaginations.
This explanation of small-country vs. real-country is important because of the way it shaped my childhood. I say that my life began in 1992 because that’s when my memory began to function properly. Prior to that year, I remember very little about my life.
I was a city-girl until I was six years old. I attended Kindergarten and First Grade in a city school; a school that I remember as one giant three-story block of grey stone with windows. A chain-link fence surrounded the school, as much to keep the children in as to keep the creepers out. But now, looking back, this school sits in my mind more like a prison than a school.
The fact of the matter is that my memory was faulty back then (and to some degree, still is today.) The school is, in fact, the typical red-brick of American stereotypes and only has two floors; although, it still gives me the impression of some kind of federal compound.
I played T-Ball and learned to ride a bike. I had friends that lived on the same block as me and in the mornings sometimes my dad would walk us all to school. We went trick-or-treating there, though that’s the only holiday I remember in the city. All of our Christmases and Thanksgivings were out on the farm. The majority of the memories I have from my city-life were given to me by home-video. I watched myself do these things and so these memories are more like scenes from a movie. I don’t recall them the same as I do memories from my small-country life.
I like to think that at six years old, my life in the city was a happy one, and that I loved my house, loved my school, and loved my friends. I mean, what stresses are there for a six year old?
I’d like to say that life after seven was blissful as well. But let me put this transitional period of my life into perspective for you. When I was a child, I loved dresses, and I had a ridiculous number of frilly socks. I was much more girly than I am now.
On my first day of second grade, my frilly socks sealed my fate. It’s tough enough being the new kid, especially when you’re as shy as I am, but when you have twenty other kids pointing and laughing at your frilly socks with the little pink bows on them being the new kid becomes much harder.
“Why’d you wear such fancy clothes to school?”
Apparently, dresses and frilly socks were a big no-no in country-land. Out here all the kids, boys and girls alike, wore t-shirts and jeans or shorts. They were all store-bought too. My mom had a habit of making my clothes for me back then. She’d pick our bright materials, purples and pinks and florals – generally, I had a lot of what I’d now refer to as “noisy” clothes. Homemade clothes were not “cool” in the country.
I spent the first day of school being laughed at. And then when I finally got to go home, when hell was finally over, when I could finally stop hearing harsh, insulting comments about my girly appearance and the sissy bows in my hair – my parents had forgotten about me.
For the first few weeks of school, we were still living in the city. The start of the school year didn’t coincide with the ready-dates on our new house. Therefore, we had one hell of a morning commute for two tired, grumpy kids – almost a 45 minute drive or so. And at the end of our first day, my older brother and I sat on the curb, with our little backpacks – me in my frilly clothes that I now hated – until almost 6PM when my mom got home from work and realized we weren’t there.
For the next ten years, I refused to wear a dress or anything that didn’t have cloth sewn between my legs. I wouldn’t touch frilly socks or decorative socks or any kind of sock that you had to fold over. My mom had to buy me all plain, white ankle socks from then on. I also stopped letting her make my clothes. I stopped wearing hair bows, barrettes, headbands; I even refused to wear my hair down after that. Ponytails were the “cool, tomboy” thing to do, and by God, I was going to be the biggest tomboy I could be. It was my only choice.
By third grade, my transformation was complete. And kids were throwing rocks at me on the playground and refusing to let me join in.
To put it simply, I never learned how to stop being the Weird, New Kid. I tried hard to fit in. I tried hard to be like all the other kids. I tried hard to be someone other than who I was. In leiu of friends my own age, I became the teacher’s pet. Not because I wanted to be the favorite or because I wanted to suck up, but because my teachers were the only ones who showed me the acceptance I was craving. I didn’t make my first real friends until fourth grade.
For me, school only got worse. I never learned how to be like the other kids. I never could get my parents to buy me all the things the cool kids had. I never could afford the kinds of clothes they wore or go on the kinds of vacations they bragged about. Pleasing the teachers made the kids hate me more, which only made me cling to the approval of my teachers that much more. It was a vicious cycle. Eventually, I found myself in middle-school where the teachers seemed to hate me as much as the students.
“Do you hate me? Do you write this small just to get back at me for something?”
“Are you on drugs? Is that why you behave this way?”
“I know you know the answer, but for God’s sake, please put your hand down. Let someone else try.”
“Stop reading ahead of the class. If you’re too good to keep up with the rest of us, you can go spend your time in the counselor’s office and do the work alone.”
I never could get it right after that. High school was my personal nightmare. The bullying wasn’t something to write home about but it was enough to get to me. My locker was routinely used as a trash can, I was shoved into lockers for taking up someone’s space, I was taunted for reading all the time, I was taunted for daydreaming and dozing off during boring lectures, I was taunted for wearing glasses and having acne… Life was difficult.
The hardest part was never knowing what I had done to deserve it. If I’d never been that new kid, would life have been different for me? Would I have been one of those heartless kids, picking on some other new kid instead?
I quickly came to the conclusion that I hated everything about small-country life. It was a sham. A pale imitation of real-country living. I longed for my days on the farm, for my school breaks that would take me away not just from the school but from that whole life. For a few days, I could just be me, the me who loved to daydream, the me who loved horses and exploring, the me who turned canyons into secret, high-tech bases; the me who rode four-wheelers while rounding up cows, pretending I was outrunning secret agents and dodging cars on a highway…
It never mattered who I was or what I did on the farm. I was with my family. I played with my brothers and my cousins and they never judged me. They understood me the way only they could. Even now, I remember what it felt like to lay on the trampoline at night and stare at the stars and talk about how great life would be one day.
That was always some great, fascinating future full of dreams and wonder.
But let me tell you this: one day never comes. All those dreams we had back then have died or are dying slowly.
More than anything, I wish I could return to a care-free real-country life. We dreamt so big as children without realizing what we had. That place, that time, those people – its frozen in time in my heart. The farm was my refuge, my safe-haven. It was a small slice of true happiness. People didn’t ridicule me, they didn’t stuff me into trash cans, they didn’t call me hamburger-face and blow spit wads at the back of my head.
I had that “one day” that I was dreaming of – it was right then and there – and I had no clue. And the fact that I lost it without ever truly appreciating it, that’s what breaks my heart now.
So, there’s my prompt and wow. I have to admit, I didn’t have the slightest clue what I was going to write about when I started. That explains the wandering and blabbering. I also realize that I didn’t particularly tell a story about any specific memory. But that’s okay too – the idea is to write about the past. And just to write.
As long as you get that done, then I say the prompt was successful.
So write on!
If you want to comment on my prompt or leave your own for discussion, as usual, please feel free to do so.
However, while this might just be another writing prompt to those of you who randomly come along, for me it’s a bit more than that. If you’ve visited my blog in the past or nosed around any, you may have seen my post about May 3rd, 1999. If you haven’t, here’s a brief recap:
On that date, my home and many others in my area were completely destroyed by an F5 tornado. I was left homeless, confused, and angry about everything. I celebrated my 14th birthday away from my immediate family, travelling half way across the state to live with my cousin because the alternative was to live in a high school math room and wake up every morning to go dig through the rubble and debris that had once been my home.
With May 3rd rapidly approaching, I’ve taken the time to write this post in advance, and I shall be publishing it on the 13th Anniversary of what my brothers and I (half) jokingly refer to as “We’re Still Alive Day.” So this is the prompt:
Take a natural disaster that has been in the news (recently or maybe not so recently) and write as though you have been directly affected by this disaster. Try to really bring out the intensity of the situation. Be sure to use all of your senses and immerse yourself in your imagination. Write about what you see and feel (both emotionally and physically), but remember that scent is strongly tied to memory, and taste is tied to scent, and the hip bone is connected to the–oh, right. Ahem.
Clearly, my prompt will be a true story, so I won’t have to reach very far beyond my own memory for these things. Some of you will have to use other experiences and try to find something of a common ground – something that allows you to imagine what it might really be like.
I remember the lights in town had gone out. How odd to see dark neon signs and unlit marquees. The small rural city no longer stood out from the shadowed fields surrounding it. I’d been down this highway countless times. There wasn’t much in the little town back then: a small Wal-Mart–back before everything was super-sized–a burger joint, a pizza place, a small grocery store, a bank or two, and a gas station. If you lived in the area, you knew every nook and cranny of the place. Still, that night it was like seeing it for the first time. As we drove through the flashing traffic lights, it was suddenly transformed into some strange, unfamiliar place.
This is one of the few images that never left me about that day. There are others, of course. The little boy coming down the road covered from head to toe in mud, crying that his mother’s hand had been in his only moments before. The elderly couple who lived up on the corner somewhere, blood trickling from a wound on the old man’s head. Cement foundations stained red by the Oklahoma dirt and stripped bare by the winds, the last remaining proof that a house had once stood there. The muddy banks of the pond across the road, banks that had once been covered in grass and trees.
I remember the darkness from within our little hole as the tornado destroyed the surface above us. Pitch black. The roaring of the winds so loud in my ears that only the vice-like grip of my mother’s hand on mine and the weight of my brother’s body huddled beside me told me they were still there.
And it was all over. Suddenly, it was all in the past: the hail smashing against the van on the drive home from Aikido class while my mom tried not to panic; my dad carefully monitoring Gary England on Channel 9; my older brother’s concerned voice that something didn’t look right outside; and then the shouts, “Get your shoes on and get your asses out of the house!”
Panic can be overwhelming and confusing. Part of your brain is telling you to remain calm and think clearly and you can almost see what you should do. You just don’t do it. A tornado is coming and you know there’s a plan. You’ve been told for years that if it ever came to this, you’d leave the house, cross the road, and crawl into the tin horn – you’d be safe there, beneath the ground.
Panic takes over and you know that plan is still there. But you don’t know how to put it into motion. Your brain works sluggishly. It tells you, “Bad weather? You’ll need a jacket for that.” So you run down the long hallway, to the opposite side of the house from the front door, and grab your coat. Then you calmly put it on and zip it up, while holding a squirming rat-terrier mix in your arms, the dog as panicked as you are.
I don’t remember getting out of the house. Frankly, there are a few dark spots in my memory. I don’t remember going through the door or down the front steps. I remember being at the edge of the yard just about to cross the road when just ahead of me I see my little brother, only ten years old at the time, start heading down the road instead of across it. The wind was so strong that it was blowing him down the road. I remember my older brother grabbing him, pulling him back towards safety.
I don’t remember crawling into the tin horn. I don’t remember which brother was next to me. I remember a moment of awe, realizing that this was what it felt like to face death. “Am I going to die?” Then the darkness. The roar. And then sudden silence. How quickly it was all over.
When we crawled back onto the surface, the place was unrecognizable. The trees were gone and if not ripped completely out of the ground, they were splintered down nearly to the base of their trunks. They stuck out of the ground like pikes on a battlefield. A battlefield – which is exactly how it looked. Grass stripped from the land, trees blown apart, houses completely removed from hills, creeks full of rubble and debris.
While I stared around me and cried, my dad and my older brother, seventeen at the time, launched into action. There might be survivors to find.
We were survivors. I was a survivor. With sudden shock, I realized that it was possible that not everyone had lived through this disaster. There might be people dead or dying buried beneath that rubble. I remember starting to follow my dad and brother so I could help search. And then I froze, staring into the creek at the wreckage that had once been a home. What if I found a dead body? What if that thing sticking out of the mangled beams in the distance was an arm. What if there were body parts…
I was too afraid to look, too afraid of what I might find. I wanted to help search for people, to be useful, but I was terrified. All I could do was cry.
But then came the little boy, probably five or six years old. He said something like, “My mom was sucked out of my hand.”
He complained that his shoulder hurt, so we took a look. I think it was dislocated, I can’t recall fully. I was told to watch him while the adults did other things. By this point, I had stopped crying. I suddenly had an important task. So we tried to get some of the mud off his face. We talked about anything, and I was probably trying to distract myself as much as him.
Eventually, trucks arrived. People from other neighborhoods coming to help. Impromptu search teams went out. My dad and some of the other men found horses and other pets that had to be put down, so they did it with whatever tools they had to stop the animals from suffering any longer. Miraculously, my own horse was uninjured, simply buried in the creek up to her shoulders or so. My dad had to help her dig her way out.
I don’t remember much else. I remember getting in a car, driving to a nearby neighborhood. Power was out everywhere. I stared through the window, shocked by the extent of the damage. It was like a bomb had gone off.
There was a house with a lot of people in it. Candles were lit. A few inches of clean water in a bathtub somewhere for us to try to get some of the mud off. I could still taste dirt in my mouth.
And later in the evening my grandparents picked us up and drove us into the city to stay with them. That’s when we passed our little rural city that sticks in my memory. It has changed so much over the years. It’s grown, expanded, there are a few less fields now, more neon signs. But I still remember sitting on someone’s lap in the car as we passed through the darkened town, seven of us crammed into a standard sedan. I remember the cool glass against my forehead as I leaned against the window, watching everything zip past. It looked like a ghost town to me.
How fitting, I thought.
So, there’s my short prompt written to commemorate the 13th Anniversary of the May 3rd Tornado. It’s not the best bit of writing I’ve ever done but when I think back on that day, my memory skips around a lot.
If you’ve got a prompt you’d like to share, post a comment or share a link to your own blog, and I’ll stop by with a comment!