Writing Prompt Story Starter: Mortar And Pestle

Fiction Ed Shirley chooses a mortar and pestle, an implement from times past, for this week’s Writing Prompt Story Starter.

Do you ever use a mortar and pestle? When Mr Fiction Ed and I got married, we each already had our own home, so when folk asked us what we would like as a gift, there really wasn’t much we needed. But I did have a notion for a mortar and pestle, and one of our friends gave us this is one.

Why did I want it? Do I ever use it? First question: I’ve no idea. But second question: actually yes. I grind peppercorns and cardamom seeds for one recipe that I make regularly. I know, not exactly daily use, but still.

It’s quite hard work at first, but very satisfying, to see the round peppercorns first crack, then reduce in size until they’re no more than powder. By then it’s quite easy, just winding the pestle round and round.

I like how fundamental the process is, that such implements have been used since ancient times. And I like that for a short spell it slows life right down to an echo of those ancient times.


Besides that ancient aspect, grinding something to dust in a mortar and pestle is a metaphor for knocking the rough edges off something – or someone. Grinding a spiky character smooth?

Grinding, though, implies a wearing process, a punishment, and that doesn’t suggest a very uplifting or upbeat story. So I’d want to change that mood.

A thought just flashed into my head: a comedy story about finishing school.

You could get a really touching story, too, about someone being shown the right way to do things. Or softening in the benign light of kindness.

As ever we’re receiving way more 2000 word stories than we can ever use, so I’d focus your efforts on the longer 3000-word length. This idea has that potential in any case, for really engaging character development and complex emotional depth.

You’ll know what to do with it, I’m sure.

For more of Shirley’s Writing Prompt Story Starters, click here.

If you take this prompt all the way to a full story, why not submit it for publication? Take a look at our guidelines here.

Shirley Blair

Fiction Ed Shirley’s been with the “Friend” since 2007 and calls it her dream job because she gets to read fiction all day every day. Hobbies? Well, that would be reading! She also enjoys writing fiction when she has time, long walks, travel, and watching Scandi thrillers on TV.