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Creative Writing Prompts: It’s in the Details

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Wonderful material for your writing might be sitting right next to you.Every man’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another.

–Ernest Hemingway

 

Recently, I had the occasion to ask my Mom and Dad a few questions about their life as they were growing up, and I was delighted and surprised as they took me back in time to experience the details of their lives. We spent a wonderful afternoon together, and I learned quite a bit about each of them. One of the best things about the upcoming holiday season is the chance to strengthen the connection with family and friends. What more perfect time to get people talking and write down some of the details of their lives that shouldn’t be lost? Not only will you unearth wonderful material for your own writing, but by asking and listening, you will come to know those you love better. Discover them through the details of the life they lived. Here are some questions to get you started. Create more questions that branch from these, or come up with some entirely new ones. Allow this be a living, organic process. Let the person talk and follow no matter where it takes the two (or more!) of you. Ask, listen, record, and then write.

 

Ask about the house they lived in as they grew up. Where was it? What was it like? How was it different from today? What was your favorite room? Did you have your own room? What was it like? Did you have any hideaways? What did you see out of the windows? What was your favorite day in the house? What was your worst?

Ask about the town. Where was it? Was it small or large? What was your neighborhood like? Who lived there? What did you like to do there? Where did you play? What was good about it? What was bad? What did you hate? What did you love?

Ask about school. Did you ride a bus? Walk? Did anything happen on your way to school? What was your favorite class? Did you like (elementary) (high) school? Why? Did you hate it? Why? What did you do after school? What was your favorite social activity? Who were your friends? Who was your best friend? Why? Did you have a nemesis? Who was it? Why were the two of you at odds? Did you ever have it out?

Ask about parents. Were they strict? Open? What did you love about them? What drove you crazy? What did you do together? What was dinner like and what did you discuss? What was your best moment with them? What about your worst? Were they happy? Did they love each other? Did you know that? What was their relationship like with each other—were they affectionate or aloof or somewhere in between? How did your mom relate to you? How did that make you feel? What about your father? How did that make you feel? What were there parents like (do they remember their grandparents)? Now that you are an adult, what do you realize about your parents that you didn’t as a child?

Ask about siblings. Were you close? Why or why not? Did you have to share a room? Were you jealous of them? Why? Did you admire them? Why? What sorts of things did you do together as a family? Did you enjoy that? Why or why not?

Ask about holidays. What was your favorite holiday? Why? How did you celebrate it? What did you love about it? What did you dread? What sort of get-togethers did your family have? Who came? Aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins? Who was missing? Did you go to church? What was that like?

A good way to finish the conversation (and likely start more!) is to ask, “What was your favorite time of your life? Why?” Ask and sit back while the stories flow.

Kathy Steffen is an award-winning novelist and author of the “Spirit of the River Series:” “First, There is a River,” “Jasper Mountain,” and “Theater of Illusion,” available online and in bookstores everywhere. Additionally, Kathy is also published in short fiction and pens a monthly writing column, “Between the Lines.” She writes from a log home in the woods of southwestern Wisconsin that she shares with her husband and three cats. Find out more at www.kathysteffen.com”

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