Prompts for Short Stories

This month’s theme is short stories. I loved reading them and writing them! My prompts for short stories provide inspiration by asking who, what, when, where, how, and why questions.

Today’s prompt is a setting. Answering the questions below gives me the beginning of a story.

What?–A well-kept room in an old family mansion

Where?–A small midwestern town.

When?–A dusty, hot August afternoon.

Who?— An elderly woman, who lives alone in the house, and a young woman, who cleans her house.

Why?–The young woman knows a mystery surrounds the elderly woman’s family and has found something in the attic that might be connected to it.

How?–The young woman shows the elderly woman the object and tells her what she thinks it has to do with the mystery.

For another setting prompt, click here. How does the photo inspire you to answer the questions?

Prompts for NaNoWriMo

We’re over half way through November. How is your NaNoWriMo going? Having any trouble with settings? As I write my YA mystery, I seem to have a lot of scenes of people discussing the case while eating. I need to change some of those scenes to give my writing more variety.

If you notice that you are using the same kind of setting over and over, see if these photos can act as prompts for your NaNoWriMo challenge.

I know I said my characters are eating too much, but in case your characters aren’t eating enough, here’s a kitchen to inspire you and allow your characters to get some nourishment.

Write This Scene in Show Don’t Tell

Last prompt for the month featuring show don’t tell.

*****

The air burned in my nose as I pumped up the hill. All this exercise would either kill me or make me fit enough to beat the entire cross-country team next fall. But if this was the only way I could see Ava and Lucy during this stupid virus crisis, I’d let the air burn off my nose completely.

“C’mon! Race ya!” My little brother flew by us as we passed the Jenkins’ farm.

Besides the threat of death, Gavin was the other drawback of these rides. But Mom made me bring him.

“I’m glad it stopped raining.” Ava sat up straighter, the breeze that was tossing the leaves of the budding honeysuckle catching her long, red hair.

Lucy bent lower over her bars. “I don’t let a little rain stop me from riding.”

Of course she didn’t. Lucy was in good enough shape to make Olympic athletes throw up their hands and go home to their couches.

I didn’t say that, though. Couldn’t. I was pedaling.

Gavin stopped at the overgrown drive that always had a chain across it, and we pulled up beside him.

“Look.” He pointed at the chain that was wrapped around a tree.

“That chain is always blocking that drive,” said Lucy.

“It’s not now.” Gavin hopped into this seat and took off.

“Gavin! That’s a private drive!” I tried to shout, but it came out as a strained whisper.

He disappeared around the bend.

I looked to Ava and Lucy. “He’s your brother,” Ava said.

“You know, I’d forgotten that.” Blowing out my cheeks, I pushed off and headed down the drive.

Setting Sets the Mood

Setting sets the mood in a story just as efficiently and vividly as character. If I combine the two components, not only do I set the mood, I am well on my way to hooking readers’ attention and immersing them in my story.

Below are three examples of how descriptions of setting in the opening paragraphs establish mood and the personality of the main character.

“The Cloak” by Robert Bloch

The author sets the mood right away for this Halloween story. “The sun was dying, and its blood spattered the sky as it crept into a sepulchre behind the hills.” These are the thoughts of Henderson, who is looking for a costume shop in 1930’s New York City. He scolds himself for his flight of fancy and then describes the sunset as just “dingy red”.

Henderson likes the idea of all the ancient terror Halloween evokes but still wants to be a rational, twentieth century American. The short story combines and clashes the age-old legends of vampires with a high society costume party. In four short paragraphs, Mr. Bloch has established the setting, the mood of the story and the character, and a great amount of tension.

“The Crime Wave at Blandings” by P.G. Wodehouse

“The day on which lawlessness reared its ugly head at Blandings Castle was one of singular beauty”. In the first paragraph, Mr. Wodehouse goes on to describe a fine summer day in England. The second paragraph completely changes course by discussing how fans of thrillers don’t want pretty descriptions. They want the who, what, where, when, why, and how of the crime, and the author had better get on with it.

Mr. Wodehouse has created not just the image of a tranquil summer day but the breezey tone for a comic story about members of an earl’s household taking potshots at an annoying guest with an air gun. The description lets readers know exactly what kind of story they’ve settled down to read, and the author doesn’t disappoint.

“A Rose from the Ashes” by JPC Allen

I wanted my first scene to establish a lonely, eerie mood for my YA Christmas mystery. My main character Rae is a amateur photographer. This influences how she sees the world. When describing the sunset on a December evening, she thinks about how “gashes of blood-red light seeped through the clotted clouds, creating an ominous background for the gray, stone building that was rumored to be the scene of a murder.”

To emphasize the loneliness of the place, as well as the Rae’s loneliness, I use “a few caws from crows and sighs as the wind sailed through empty window frames.” I’m making my setting work hard, providing a background for the action, developing my main character’s personality, and creating symbols to represent my character’s feelings.

At the end of the story, I wanted to let readers know something unusual is going to happen. Rae is back at the “gray, stone building,” which is an abandoned children’s home, on Christmas Eve. The moon is almost full on a frigid, clear night and brings “an otherworldly silver sheen, like the home and all the land outside was bathed in a fairy spell.” Rae is hoping she will find her father, and he will accept her. The otherworldly light represents the main character’s hope and foreshadows the plot twists.

A Word About Symbolism

In Description and Setting by Ron Rozelle, he recommends not consciously working in symbolism. If you do, the symbolism will seem obvious and heavy-handed to readers. So how do you include symbolism if you can’t do it consciously? Mr. Rozelle says to write your story the best you can, and then when you review it, you may find that settings or characters or objects have naturally become symbols.

That happened in my story, but I didn’t realize until I was helping my oldest child with an extremely tough question for a language arts assignment. He had to find passages in a story that showed a change in a character through a change in how he or she viewed a setting. We were both stumped. Then I remembered my short story, which had just been published. How Rae views the abandoned children’s home reflects her feelings at the time, at first lonely, then hopeful.

I was surprised I’d included symbolism in my story. And happy that I helped my oldest complete his homework.

What stories have you read in which the setting sets the mood particularly well?

Who Will You Create for This Setting?

For this month’s last prompt about setting, I chose a picture with no characters in it. I’d like you to let it spark your creativity and people it with characters you like.

So who will you create for this setting? Maybe you need to select a genre first. The setting could work with just about any of them. Newly engaged woman in 1880’s New York City is waiting for her fiancé. A father who runs a bed-and-breakfast in an old Victorian house receives devastating news. The domed flower arrangement is actually a powerful weapon, and a curious child enters the room.

I usually start with characters. My first thought was an old woman. The home has been in her family for over one hundred years, and she decorates it in antiques. She is the wealthiest person in her small town.

Since I love mysteries, I’ve decided that the old woman is sitting in this room when the chief of police and another officer stop by. They’ve been investigating a series of murders, and the chief believes the old woman knows more than she’s telling. Fully aware that this interview may cost him his job, the chief walks into the room.

Who will you create for this setting? I’d love to hear your ideas!

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