Writing prompts are amazing things. I know that a simple phrase or group of words always has the potential to spawn a much longer and more imaginative piece of work, but just how little you need to create something never ceases to astound me. I took part in a creative writing exercise yesterday along with a group of other people, and we were encouraged to come up with a range of short stories using only a few photographs and objects. They seemed simple and self-explanatory at first, but then we started digging. One of the photos was of a city being bombed by fighter jets. Fire and thick black smoke dominated the image, and anybody’s natural response to this would have been to see it from a civilian’s perspective – all of the horror and devastation that comes with losing your home and livelihood. However, we were presented with something different, namely the question of how the pilot dropping the bombs may be feeling as he presses the big red button. It only took the addition of a second point of view, and a small alteration to the original viewpoint, to make the possibilities seem endless – but it would be the objects that intrigued me the most.
Each person in the group was asked to take a card at random that had an equally random object written on it. One person was left with a highwayman’s mask, another with a fortune teller’s crystal ball. I, meanwhile, took one that read “an original vinyl ABBA recording”. I felt confident about my ability to write something from this, being a record collector myself, and I quickly discovered that even from these five words, I already had a fully-formed character in my mind who would feature in my short story – to consist of no more than four or five lines. I pictured a lonely man, single, tired and perhaps middle-aged, who struggled to find solace in anything except buying music. The reader needed to feel sympathy for him, and pleased that he had – at long last – found the rare record he so dearly wanted, since it would be key to his happiness. But then they needed to stifle a guilty giggle at the dark humour to follow when he proudly placed it amongst all his other LPs, only for them to topple over and crush his prized new addition along with all his hopes and dreams. This all had to happen, as aforementioned, in the space of only a few lines – and, to my delight, they seemed to flow in exactly the way I had hoped.
I wasn’t brave enough to read what I had written out once everyone had finished their stories, but I was quietly rather proud of what I’d come up with in two minutes. I was also greatly impressed by the fact that a clear character and scenario had both been incorporated – along with a late twist of humour – into a text shorter than this paragraph. Mind blown. And it was all thanks to that ABBA record. Who would really dare say that the English language is boring? To use an unusual analogy, it’s like chicken – Dad says you can do anything with it…