Many moons ago, my friend (and awesome author) Mark G. Harris pointed me toward a book when I was feeling stumped about what to write. It’s called The Writer’s Book of Matches, and it has 1,001 little prompts that are designed to give you something to work with. I often flip through it when I’m in the mood to just write without a specific focus, and a few times now, those pieces have turned into short stories that have found a home in publications. The book has three kinds of prompts: A single line of dialog; a scenario or situation; and assignment prompts where the book lists a series of three characters all reacting to a particular moment/event.
I realized that I tend to now keep my own ideas in the form of these styles of prompts, to remind myself of thoughts that might, someday, be worthy of exploring. Given that I also tend to “dream in short story” many of these pop up overnight, and I scribble them down on random pieces of paper, and then…
Well. We all know what happens to those.
So. New thing. I’m going to collect them as I find/remember/come up with them and pop them into ongoing blog posts. And I’ll use the same format as that awesome little book. And if you ever find success with any of the matches, please do let me know!
- In a rural area, at a big central high school that is fed students from various small towns around, fathers of popular kids are being murdered. Then a man is murdered who has a kid who isn’t popular, and thereafter another man who is childless. The detectives start to wonder what—if anything—connects them.
- Five teens at a concert where the lead singer does a cover song realize they’ve slipped back in time about a decade to the same concert hall, where the original artist is singing the same song.
- “It’s the last wallet you’ll ever need.”
- A young woman’s cochlear implant doesn’t work—instead she starts hearing the thoughts of people around her.
- The rich leader of a “Family First” anti-gay religious group is in dire need of a bone marrow transplant, and the only match on record belongs to a trans youth. How do the following people react? The trans youth, who only registered their DNA as an act of protest since gay men can’t donate; a member of the religious group, who reads about the story in the newspaper over breakfast; and the closeted reporter who leaked the story.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering which prompts from the book ended up as published stories? So far? Three of them.
In Memoriam was inspired by a discussion that came up around how much I hated the phrase “Everything happens for a reason!” but when it was time to write it, I remembered I had a piece inspired by a prompt on page 24: A man is given the ability to go back in time and change one event in his life. It turned out to be a perfect framework for the rest of the story.
“Transposition,” (included in Tricks of the Trade: Magical Gay Erotica) was completely inspired by the prompt on page 92: A family member disappears while vacationing on a cruise ship. When the editor announced the theme, I realized I already had a story rough draft pretty much complete that fit the bill.
And although it changed quite a few times, “Sweet William” (included in Saints & Sinners: New Fiction from the Festival 2016) began in its original form as inspired by one of the prompts on page 77: A death row inmate, convicted for a crime he didn’t commit, is asked to choose his last meal.