10 SUPER STORY STARTERS

Trees as big and beautiful as this one start as seeds. Stories start from seeds too.

Here are some story seeds to plant in the garden of your imagination or memories.

These prompts can be used for both memoir pieces and fiction. For fiction just invent situations for a character, not yourself.

  1. A moment of joy. Big or small. Where were you? What was happening? Use all five senses to describe what was going on. Go into your body – how does the emotion of joy feel in your body? What happened just before this? What happened just after?

2. Shame. Not for the faint-hearted but great story material. A moment of shame, maybe one you’ve carried a long time. Get it out of your head and onto the page – or give it to a fictional character.

3. The biggest lie you’ve ever told and why. Again you can write from your own life or give it to a character.

4. The best decision you’ve ever made. Why was this decision so important? Great stories are born from these moments that change us.

5. An oxygen mask moment (or light bulb moment). A point in your life when you suddenly felt like you’d had a blast of oxygen, or a light had been turned on and you saw the situation you were in clearly for the first time.

6. A piece of clothing from childhood. This could be something you wore, (like my favourite Donald Duck T-shirt that I wore until it was in shreds and my mother threw it out), or a piece of clothing someone else wore. What story does it have to tell. Why do you remember it?

7. A smell you love, a smell you hate. Smell can open all sorts of doors. What story of yours starts with a smell?

8. Witnessing an act of small cruelty. Once, when I was living in Singapore, I saw a harried young businesswoman dragging her screaming five year old across the street, screeching at her, “After all I’ve sacrificed for you!”. It’s stuck with me all this time. A teacher at school? A mean girl at a party? Start there and see where it takes you.

9. A found object. Next time you’re on a walk, keep your eyes open for something. Anything. A scrap of paper with a few words on it. A rock. A piece of rubbish. A leaf or a feather. What story starts here?

10. Rewrite a favourite religious story or myth, updated to present day.

Okay! Pick one (or maybe two – see Thing 1 and Thing 2).

Now set a timer for ten minutes and write like a fury. Don’t stop for anything. If your pen breaks, write with your fingertip. Find your momentum and just keep going. If you’re still going when the timer goes off, ignore it!

Have fun and let me know how you go 🙂

Lots of love

Edwina xx

ANECDOTE vs. STORY What’s the Difference?

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When I first started writing I got a few rejections saying my pieces were anecdotes and not stories. After I’d dried my tears, I began to wonder what the difference was?

What is it that makes a story a story, and an anecdote something you tell your friends but don’t get published?

MEANING.

An ANECDOTE is an incident from our lives that we tell our mates down at the pub or over a cup of tea. This tale may have many of the elements of a story – setting, characters and action – but usually that’s it.

For example –

When people notice the scar running from my forehead down along my left temple beside my eye, I tell them an anecdote about how, when I was fourteen, I was searching for organisms out on the rocks at Deadman’s Beach (true!) during my school biology camp on Stradbroke Island.

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A huge wave came hurtling towards us and I braced myself by facing into the barnacle covered rocks, gripping on for dear life. The wave crashed over me and my classmates, and smashed my face into the rocks, dragging me as it fled back out to sea, grating my face against the barnacles. Adrenaline pumping, I scrambled to my feet and leapt  over the rocks, racing to shore where my poor teacher was greeted with a bloody mess like Sissy Spacek at the end of Carrie.

I was almost helicoptered back to Brisbane, but the local island doctor was used to shark bites and stitched my face back together again – sixty stitches in all. I wasn’t a pretty sight. Once I got back home my friend took some photos and we entered me in a Dolly Magazine Covergirl Competition. We thought we were pretty funny. Needless to say, I didn’t win 🙂

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As you can see, this anecdote has plenty of action and drama and even a happy ending. But it’s not a story. WHY?

Because it only tells what happened. An anecdote doesn’t reflect on the events and dig deeper to find meaning.

STORIES on the other hand are how humans make sense of the world and what happens to us. They delve deep into the emotional heart of what that incident meant to us and how we were changed as a result. A story creates MEANING from the meaningless.

For example –

What if I told you this accident happened only a couple of months after the death of my young father? What if I told you that when the wave hit something inside me hoped that it would tear me away and take me to where my father was. What if I wrote about how, as the doctor stitched my face back together again, he sang the Death March. What if I wrote about how my best friend tenderly helped me wash the blood out of my hair that night as I sat in a cold bath. What if I told you that I lay awake for hours in my bunk, trying to convince myself that my father’s death had been a bad dream I’d had while knocked out, that he would be waiting for me on the other side of the ferry?

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Then we’d have a story.  A story I haven’t written yet, but just might.

“Dig deeper,” I tell the memoirists I edit and teach. Don’t be afraid. Go deeper and find the true heart of your story. Turn that anecdote into something that touches people.

Have you got an anecdote or two you could dig deeper into to create meaning? Search hard enough and everything that happens has another layer of story reflecting human experience.

That’s what we writers do, we write to make sense of the world.

Want to learn more? Come along to my next retreat in the mountains with a special focus on memoir writing. Great for beginners too, and anyone needing to reboot their writing mojo!

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Let me know how you go!

Lots of love

Edwina