Friday, July 1, 2016
Story of a Writing Prompt
So it’s July. The temporal dimension is still functioning properly. In celebration, I will share one of my legendary group writing prompts. Best of all, I shall do so by packaging the idea in the cheap-newspaper-wrapping of one of my stories, which for some reason is mostly true.
I don’t believe I have it touted on this particular site, but during my previous college semester I was both English Club Secretary and Leader for the Creative Writers’ Group. My secretarial position is somewhat related to my creative leadership role—my English Club Meeting Notes, taken in their literal sense, sound like I am on the tail end of an acid trip (I recorded EVERY MINUTE, whether or not it was only happening inside my head). Thanks to these unhelpful record logs alongside my other disjointed written hallucinations, I was a cinch to get strait-jacketed into commanding the campus’s creative characters.
We were an intriguing bunch, meeting bi-monthly (most of the time) to talk about good books, to write things, and to dream up creative ways of killing people in our writings. Since I ruled these psychopaths with an iron rod—erm, guided these artists to their utmost potential, I was the one who came up with the creative writing prompts. One time I had everyone write down a foolproof way of catching the Roadrunner, then hand their paper to the left so the person next to them could tell them why it wouldn’t work. Mine involved birdseed, gunpowder, and a magnifying lens. I still think it could’ve worked, but the person who suggested “Call Batman” made a more compelling case. Later in the year, I had another prompt. I felt so evil.
When the day arrived, I had managed to convince my roommate to join us. He shall henceforth be referred to as Mycroft, since 1) he did look quite a bit like the BBC Sherlock version of the character (If you’re reading this, YOU DO!), only with more hair, and 2) the conversations we had were not exactly “normal.” One popular dorm topic covered methods and difficulties of being a moral Christian fascist dictator, an area in which we made great strides and he’d promised me an advisory role in his future empire.
He also has a dark sense of humor. I practically herded him to the meeting with a bulldozer.
7:15 pm, a campus lounge, the arranged meeting time and place for our writers’ group. Everyone had to wait until 7:20 for me to show up (so embarrassing). Then, eating my snacks that Mycroft got from our dorm room, we all had to wait another ten minutes for a few more people to show up. That’s a little of my secretary note-taking right there—just be happy I didn’t include my second-by-second thoughts in there (mostly mwa ha ha haaa). Anyway, soon our group consisted of nine people including myself, a good size for this prompt. I recommend five at least. After cracking an unnerving grin along with my unnervingly double-jointed knuckles, I laid out the first step:
1) Everybody had to write down an item. Immediately I needed to make some clarifications: as for size, the item had to be able to fit into the lounge (I was flexible here—a freight train could conceivably have gotten “in” there, but it would’ve been messy). As for the item’s existence, I was extra flexible. The item could be anything between ordinary lounge décor and Tim Burton’s imagination. There was much excited writing, lasting about a half-minute.
2) I had everybody tell me what their item was, advising them to pay attention and write down their own lists to keep track. It was…well, here is the list: a large turnip, a flying monkey, a check for $200,000, Abe Lincoln’s top hat, a football named Gilbert, a broadsword, an elephant gun, and a pot of tea. My personal contribution was a flatscreen TV. You can understand my combination of glee and fear, then, as I moved into phase three…
3) I broke the bad news. Sadly, Mycroft had been murdered. The declaration drew surprised looks even from the lately deceased. The writers’ job was to solve his murder (except for Mycroft himself—I let him solve my murder). The circumstances of the crime were thus: for each individual, the item they’d written down was the murder weapon (lucky broadsword/elephant gun people, not so much $200,000 check person). Each writer then had to pick three other items from the whole list that would be somehow involved in the heinous deed. They had a minute or two to mull over the crime, then five minutes (or ten, I forget) to write down their speculations.
That was it. The scribbling was furious and quite forceful, a little disturbing for people writing about my roommate’s demise. Finally, our deductions completed, we shared our sleuthings to the group one by one. I would love to relate to you my crime scene, but I think I wrote it down in a different notebook and—let’s face it—this story is taking too long. I do recall that my scenario involved a chain-reaction trap with an elephant-gun-wielding flying monkey shooting a flatscreen off the wall, using a pot of tea as bait. It was beautiful. I would like to take this moment to clarify that everybody in the group did like poor Mycroft. That’s why we went to such trouble to make his death as memorable as possible (especially elephant-gun girl, who led off with the vaporization of Mycroft’s torso). Mycroft was sure to return the favor as he composed my murder. I’m pretty sure Abe Lincoln’s hat was involved (of course), but I do know I’ve never played football since.
Oh! Wait! I just remembered—unlike The Mysterious Benedict Society, there IS a fourth step: the competition.
4) While we were writing, I became curious about the statistics of the project. Therefore, at the end, I made sure that I tallied up how many times each “weapon” was used in all of the crimes, including as primary murder weapon. That way we could find out which weapon was the Macguffin of choice for our bloodthirsty group. The results were surprising, as this list hopefully shows:
· Broadsword: 2 uses (too obvious?)
· Elephant Gun: 3 uses (again…)
· Flatscreen TV: 3 uses
· $200,000 Check: 4 uses
· Flying Monkey: 4 uses
· The Football “Gilbert”: 4 uses
· Large Turnip: 4 uses (oddly enough)
· Abe Lincoln’s Top Hat: 5 uses
· Pot of Tea: 7 uses!
There you have it. Possibly the most popular symbol for writers in general was also the deadliest item of the evening. After some conversation (and a few apologies to Mycroft), we all went our separate ways. Net result of that exercise: someone stole my snacks, and Mycroft has a fear of teapots that lasts unto this day. Poor guy’s also a tea drinker.
(By the way, four thousand people are injured by teapots every year. Ten times that number get injured by toilets, but still…)
I hope you’ve all (or both, or one) of you have found this story interesting. Maybe you’ve even found a fresh way to torment your own writing circle. If so…great! Maybe later I’ll write about another prompt of mine, one I call simply “Mad Scientist with Amnesia.” Let’s see what you were up to with that sunscreen toothpaste and sentient carpet.