image: a young girl's legs in her sunday shoes, next to a pair of boy's sneakers—the sneakers are empty

Seemingly Whimsical Writing Prompts May Lead You To Your Next Best-Seller

A short scary story about questionable relationships we entertain during childhood (and the writing prompt I used to compose this story)

Katie’s Tale

The brown bear jumped down off the bed and stabbed me with a butcher knife—I had always hated that bear. As I lay dying, I had come to know, in no uncertain terms, what I had suspected from the first day the bear came home from the thrift shop: The bear had always hated me too.

Detective Sohn’s Story 

Katie lay in the corner with gaping wounds in her chest. At the threshold of the open bedroom window, a brown teddy bear placed belly-down over the sill is half covered in her blood. A butcher knife rests beneath a saturated, digit-less paw. I shake my head, put a call in for the coroner and begin  to unroll my crime scene tape.

As told by Pete, friend of the deceased

After Joshua’s funeral, his childhood bear was returned to his family, care of the hospital—that’s how the bear ended up back in his old room at his parent’s house. What I don’t know is what she was doing there. From outside his window, where I stood, I could see her. She had a bucket full of rocks and was pelting the hell out of that poor bear. I watched her for a while and then I left. It was too weird to see my dead friend’s sister abusing his favorite playmate. Her funeral is tomorrow.


This is a three part (three story) prompt that I imagined on a recent flight back to Los Angeles.
Here it goes:

1. Write a story told from the POV of a character directly involved in the action.

2. Now tell a story about the same event from the POV of another character that is either directly or indirectly involved.

3. Finally, retell the story from the POV of a character that is not mentioned in either of the two previous stories but was somehow involved. (i.e. a voyer, bystander, an person relating the affair to an audience, the mortician…)

Now I know you might be thinking this story seems pretty sparse LOL — it is, but that’s okay. I intended it to be. This is an exploratory exercise in storytelling.

In an episode of POIROT (one of my favorite shows) Hercule says that each person present at the same event will have a different version of the way things happened. Invariably it’s true. Each of us has different preferences and so will notice (read: pay attention to) different things. I have a friend who is obsessed with expensive wrist-watches. I’ve observed him when we’re out, he looks at other men’s wrists when he meets them.  What is he thinking… I wonder. (Probably something like, “Is his watch more expensive/rare/beautiful than mine?” LOL. It sounds shallow, I suppose, but the fact is that —shallow or not — he finds great satisfaction in timepieces, for him they’re art.) Also obsessed but ostensibly for different reasons, an old wannabe nemesis of mine is always clocking other women’s shoes—and the shoe’s  of the men she meets too. She judges a person first by whether or not their shoes are shabby, then by the designer of the shoe. (Hey, we all have our peccadilloes.)

I point all this out to say that each narrator (read: each witness/reporter) has the capacity to bring to light different aspects of a situation. As we create our characters, keeping the individual’s personal obsessions and preferences in mind can be instructive in what that character notices, responds/reacts to and comments on. A happy person, for instance, is very likely not to even notice two people arguing in the street. Why? Disagreement has a vibration, a frequency that is very different from the frequency of happiness. Those low-vibe street-arguers aren’t vibrating on the same level as the happy person; their whole drama is likely one that a happy person (consciously or unconsciously) isn’t going to give her attention to.

In a previous post, there’s another exercise that gets us writing in multi-perspectives but it’s a bit different than this in the way that in this exercise, I wanted each narrator to tell a different part of the story as opposed to hearing about the same event from different perspectives.

In my creative writing exercise, the first part is told after Katie’s brother’s death; the second part is after Katie’s death, and the third is after the cops have left the crime scene, and is told by Pete, Katie’s brother’s friend who is the only one alive who unwittingly holds the key to the why behind Katie’s murder: she abused the teddy bear, and it killed her.

Can this way of telling different parts of a story from different perspectives work in a longer piece? Based on my experiment, I believe it will. I’m especially interested in using this device in my television writing. It’ll take some special planning but I feel confident it will yield interesting results—or at least lead to something that will.

It’s helpful to do creative writing exercises, not for the fruit that comes as a result (the words on the page when you’re done) but for the fruits that come from trying to think about storytelling in new ways. Plus, there’s the added benefit of finding yourself interacting with a character or story that you want to develop further.

My dystopian romance novel Mollyville was birthed from a creative writing exercise. The creative writing exercise that prompted Mollyville asked me to draw a map. From that map, the natural features I added in creating the map: mountains, forests, a lake, streams—and naming these places, was the beginning. I returned to the map over and over again. Looking at it, imagining what things would be like there… I couldn’t leave the place alone. Before I knew it, I was adding destinations to my locations: a pub, a hotel, an underground speakeasy, a marketplace — we gotta eat, right? And then I added more businesses, and the characters the businesses belong to. So now I had names and it grew and grew and it’s still growing.

Imagine… If I had said to myself, “Self, you’re a professional. You don’t have time to dilly dally doing these silly writing exercises that are never going to be anything but pages in a notebook.” (I did say this to myself, by the way but I reminded myself that I really had no ideas of what the next thing should be that I should write anyway so I just shrugged and jumped into it.) I’d never have written Mollyville, and since the idea for Afterlife came during my writing Mollyville, it’s likely that I’d never have written that story either… and then where would I be? (Perish the thought.)

Your ego is not your amigo.

If you think that you’re too busy, too advanced or too ‘good’ to do creative writing exercises, you rob yourself of a valuable opportunity to explore impractical possibilities that may turn out to be viable vehicles for storytelling.  Creative writing exercises are like a box of chocolates: you never know what you’re going to get.