I gave my workshop participants a writing prompt last weekend, and decided to share some of their responses. Prompts are a great way to stimulate story ideas and overcome writer’s block. I’m sharing them because it’s enlightening to read other writers’ takes on an idea – and also because they’re plain good fun! Here are three (very different) responses to the prompt, as well as my feedback as to why I think they work so well.
The prompt: The person I hate the most is coming for dinner. S/he doesn’t know how I feel. What shall I cook?
Response 1 – Patricia Nicholas
I always get myself into this situation with her. Saying yes, but meaning no. Nodding eagerly on the other end of the phone. Ignoring the tight knots that form in my stomach as soon I respond in the affirmative. Why do I do this to myself? And what shall I cook? What can I be bothered to cook?
‘Don’t do any of your posh fancy stuff!’ she always says, ‘you know me, cheap and cheerful.’
Sigh. So that’s plastic food with additives, chemicals, and absolutely no taste then. Served with a side order of greasy oven fries and a limp throwaway napkin to mop any drips up. Mustn’t challenge her tastebuds in any way. Keep it bland. Smother over differences and frustrations to keep the proverbial peace. What shall I cook? Same old, same old.
I really don’t know why I always do this to myself. Tolerate her company because that’s what everyone expects. I’m so good, so accommodating. But I hate her – hate her clothes which are always tatty bargain basement. Those awful trainers with the grass stains, she’s had them for decades. Then there’s her tacky obsession with fake nails. Did she really think I was impressed with the leopard print design she paraded last time? I just wish she’d better herself. Develop some taste. Step out of her polyester comfort zone. Go for risotto instead of Uncle Ben’s. Take a bite of focaccia dipped in fragrant olive oil, rather than a handful of peanuts. Caprini instead of stringy cheddar nonsense. Prosecco instead of – oh not again – Chardonnay.
The doorbell goes. She’s here. ‘How’s it going sis? What’s on the menu tonight? Hope it’s that buy one get 10 free offer I was telling you about?!’
‘Can’t you smell it?’ I reply. ‘It’s pizza, the frozen pizza offer you did indeed tell me about.’ The oven timer goes off. Time to eat.
Why I like it
Great opening and a snappy ending. The writing style is vivid, the tone is chatty, and the characters are beautifully portrayed. We can all relate!
Response 2 – Jill Sherrin
Now I’ll have to go out and get another bloody salmon cutlet.
I should’ve realised she’d come even if nothing was said. So typical.
She’s irritating me already …. before she’s even arrived!
I wonder if she really knows how all of her cousins feel about her?
I don’t need this when Mum’s so sick.
Why I like it
This is so tightly written, it has the feel of poetry and a taste of tragedy. It tells you a lot in such a small space, but makes you ask questions and want to know more.
Response 3 – Kate
‘Why don’t you eat your broccoli Paula? You know Lizzy is coming over for dinner tomorrow and she loves broccoli. She always finishes everything on her plate.’
Well, goodie for Lizzy! I think. Lizzy is my Dad’s new daughter. The one that came with the package when he left me and Mum and moved in with his girlfriend. I’ve never even met Lizzy, but I already know all about her. Lizzy always eats her broccoli, Lizzy just loves to go to ballet lessons, Lizzy never gets her clothes dirty or gets in trouble for getting into fights with the boys.
‘Aren’t you looking forward to meeting Lizzy?’ Dad asks. ‘I know she’s looking forward to meeting you. I’m sure you two will get on great.’
‘Can’t wait,’ I mutter as I try to force down some broccoli.
‘You should help me with the cooking,’ says Dad. ‘I’m sure Lizzy would really appreciate that. What will we make?’
How about broccoli, I think, since she likes it so much? And spinach purée and steak and kidney pie. Gross. I imagine the beautiful, blonde Lizzy gushing ‘Thanks so much for the broccoli, Bob! You know it’s my favourite!’ Perfect. Just perfect.
At ten past seven the following night, the doorbell rings. Dad kisses his girlfriend while I look away. Why does he always have to do that? He and Mum never kissed in front of me, and that was okay with me.
‘Paula, I’d like you to meet Lizzy,’ says Dad. Lizzy is wearing jeans and an old soccer shirt with a grass stain on the front. She looks like she’d rather be anywhere but here, and I smile at her in spite of myself.
‘What’s for dinner, Bob?’ she asks.
‘Steak and kidney pie with broccoli and spinach purée on the side!’ beams Dad.
Lizzy says nothing but widens her eyes. When Dad isn’t looking she mouths ‘broccoli?’ at me and wrinkles her nose. I find myself smiling again. You hate this girl. I remind myself sternly.
‘Soooo….’ I ask, ‘What do you want to do?’
‘Um, we could give the broccoli to the chooks and order a pizza,’ she suggests. This time I grin. Maybe Dad’s right. Maybe we will get on great after all.
Why I like it
What started as a one-line prompt has turned into a whole story – with a problem, a climax and a resolution. The writer’s voice appeals to young readers, who may relate to the experience only too well!
Feel free to add your own take on the prompt, using the comments box. I’d love to see your responses!