Do you ever read motorway warning signs as they pass overhead and find your thoughts wandering to what they might mean as well as what they do mean? Metaphor v literal?
Ever thought you could construct a short story around them?
This one, for instance: Caution: freezing conditions. Could literally be about a frosty morning, or a metaphor for a relationship, couldn’t it? Stop start traffic ahead. Be a courteous driver. Frustration causes accidents. Driving while tired causes accidents. All of them – it’s like the narrative of a relationship….
This morning on my way to work it was Animals at Forfar. Use caution. Does that one fit the narrative?!
It’s all part of what I talk so much about at the story writing workshops: letting your mind wander (when it’s safe to do so, of course!) and seeing where it leads you. Up blind alleys, sometimes, perhaps, but you just back-track to where the momentum felt good and constructive and take off in a different direction to see if that works better.
A writer should never be afraid to back-track. You might think, But all those words I’ve just written! But you don’t have to discard them completely. Just set them aside, and you might find they’re just what you need for a completely different story.
Most writers have little notebooks, don’t they? But as well as being filled with story ideas, outlines, nuggets of inspiration, they should be sprinkled with phrases and descriptions, too, that you’re waiting for just the right story to drop them into.
You can’t always remember what a beautiful misty autumn morning made you think of when you’re trying to write that autumn story come spring with daffodils and rabbits the prevailing imagery.
Same for Christmas. You know magazines want stories submitted at least three months before a given season. But in August can you really remember morning frost and nippy fingertips? A magical carol sung by a perfect church choir? A child’s overwhelmed excitement as they meet Santa?
And it’s the same with those motorway signs. Jot down – or dictate to your hands free mobile phone! – every thought that springs from reading one and see what kind of short story might emerge.
As usual, you can read a wee reminder about the Story Starter series here.