CHANGE A MEMORY
Think of a true but unusual incident that once happened to you (or to someone you know) involving either: a stranger, a relative, a lover, a child, an animal (or pet), clothes, or money. Write notes about the incident answering these questions: Who? (Characters involved) What? (The action) When? (Time of year) Where? (Landscape) Background? (The news at the time.) Now ask yourself why it happened. This is the essence of the story. Now re-envision the incident, changing one element: the main character; his/her reaction; the climate; the outcome. Or simply transfer your memory to a time in the past (or future) that interests you.
Write in first person but from the point of view of a character very different to yourself: an old woman; a child; a pregnant woman; a new bride; a new groom; a jilted lover; a blind man. Choose one of the following titles: I Got Drunk in an Empty House or I Dug a Hole in the Back Garden. Don’t reveal who you are, but let your (new) identity inform your thoughts and actions as you explore this scenario and its possibilities for a short story.
WRITE A MONOLOGUE
Choose a seemingly minor reason to produce anxiety: an invitation to a party; running out of milk; a thunderstorm. Write in first person from the point of view of someone who is obsessing about this concern. As the writing progresses, see if you can raise your anxiety levels. Can this monologue build to a revelation? Is there a story emerging?
USE NEWSPAPERS FOR INSPIRATION
Find a news item that interests you. Identify a minor character in that story whose point of view you’d like to develop. (It could be someone very peripheral to the events, or someone not even mentioned but suggested by the events.) You might also like to adapt this technique by taking a minor character from a novel and making that person the main character of a new story.
FIND INSPIRATION IN THE OBITUARIES
Collect obits that interest you. Cut them up into discrete segments and combine segments from different lives into a single life story. Don’t worry about gender. Just combine the various incidents and achievements and then shape the character and decide on a gender.
There are even more prompts on the contest page. Even if you're not interested in entering the contest, the prompts are unusually good ones, at least in my opinion.
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