Today (yesterday) I stumbled upon a great story prompt. A real, live, out of nowhere story prompt.
One which I invite any writers among you to use if you wish. It would be an interesting experiment to see the array of different stories which would undoubtedly come out of it. I have my own ideas of course and soon I’m going to write a short story based on what I found but for now, allow me to explain.
So it’s Sunday afternoon and myself and my 5 year old decide to take an after lunch walk. This entails pretending to be ‘Ninja Dinos’ (he a T-Rex, yours truly a Stegosaurus) and taking with us: a plastic knight’s sword, a pirate cutlass, a backpack of plastic food supplies, not to mention our imaginary dragons ‘Ninja Strike’ and ‘Ninja Rainbow’ on whom we shall ride.
Now I must set the scene for where this action took place so the story prompt can be visualised. (As for once damn it, I left my ‘phone with camera at home. I was trying to live in the moment rather than have distractions but isn’t it typical the one time you REALLY could have done with modern technology you decide to go all hippy, mother nature?)
So picture the scene:
The small suburban modern housing estate we live on faces north overlooking a fairly open expanse of disused scrub land which is overgrown with wild, yellowed swathes of long grass flattened by the winter winds. The whole area probably measures no more than half a kilometer squared. A small river runs along the western edge of the estate running parallel to the scrub land where a tiny, unused and dilapidated childrens’ play park also sits at the helm. On the opposite eastern side runs a busy section of the M6 motorway, separated only by a fence so that the hum of passing traffic is pretty much constant. At the far end of the scrub land between the river (which curves to the east and passes under the motorway) there is a tiny copse of woodland which separates us from the river, another housing estate across the way and an old market town in the next county.
It was for this small area of woodland we were headed (to fight off the goblins and trolls who lurked there trying to take over our territory, if you must know.) The last time we had been there was with toy bow and arrows playing Robin Hood. Then we had needed to seek shelter under the protective canopy which the thick early autumn leaves provided for us when we had been caught in a sudden flash downpour.
But today the wood was an entirely different place. Today we could see from one end of the wood right to the other through the mass of intertwined branches and twigs as the mostly deciduous trees had lost their autumn glory. Apart from the bright blue sky peeping between the trees’ spindly fingers, most of the colour we had previously witnessed had been drained by the winter months and now only greys and washed out hues of brown remained. Naked trunks stood straight up out of a carpet of soggy rotten and rust coloured oak leaves which have been unable to dry out from the constant deluge of precipitation we have had this winter.
And it was as we trudged through the wood, looking out for our sheltering spot from the autumn walk, that we came upon the most intriguing scene.
We had entered the wood through our usual path from the north and after a few metres turned off onto another path to the left. As we sneaked along this leaf strewn path (trying hard to avoid snapping the twigs beneath our feet lest we should give away our location to the goblin enemy) we discovered, in a small clearing on our left, a most mysterious scene.
The first thing to catch my eye, due to the contrast of the greys and browns surrounding us, was a lot of colour dotted around the ground in a haphazard fashion. At first it looked as though someone had dumped a load of rubbish in the wood but then I spotted a broken up, synthetic Christmas tree. It caught my eye because it was of the white, glittery variety rather than the usual green. It was in three pieces scattered at various points in the tiny clearing and a split, plastic, black plant pot lay nearby.
Okay, so not that unusual. A dumped Christmas tree in a wooded area next to a housing estate. No story there.
Scattered around the broken Christmas tree, however, were many other items. Mainly plastic children’s toys including a transformer, police car, character toys and pieces of a chunky toy train track, among others. But there was an abundance of them and it was sad to see, what would have once been loved items, half buried in the mulch of winter leaves.
There were also beer cans interspersed between the toys.
Okay, so someone from the estate across the way dumped their old toys after getting new ones for Christmas along with their alcohol cans and Christmas tree. So what? No story
But what intrigued me more about the scene & began to rev up my story engine were the following items:
-A small child’s shoe. (Would fit a 2-3 year old) Just one. I couldn’t find the other. I searched the whole area but could not find one.
-Half a wooden box overturned. It was lined with green baize inside and a few small slugs and snails had made it their home.
We picked through the abandoned items with the tips of our plastic swords and both mused on the possibilities of why it was all here. What story had this scene to tell?
Now the reality is I live on the cusp of an area where there is a bubbling sub culture of alcohol, drugs, teenage sex and unemployment. The woods are often used as a hangout for the local teenagers during the long summer evenings, the evidence of which is always plain to see. (Not so much in the dark, even longer winter months.) The river often has abandoned shopping trolleys dumped in it and lads ride their noisy quad bikes up and down the river banks. (The picture below shows walkers last winter, today there were lads on motorbikes in the very same spot.) I am not stereotyping.
So the realist in me says all this stuff was just dumped there by a family who had no transport to take it to the municipal tip.
But… the storyteller in me couldn’t help but think beyond the reality. I couldn’t help wonder what if, what if….? Why…? What could have happened here…? And it was the storyteller in me who had the initial thoughts rather than the realist.
The distribution, the placement and variety of items was enough to make me think there was more of a back story to their final abandonment. Something more sinister than simply being the final resting place in a convenient dumping ground. Damn not having that camera with me!
So what do you think? Just a readily explained dumping of random junk or prime story telling inspiration?
I think it definitely goes to show story ideas can be found in the most unexpected and strangest of places. I certainly feel such observations provide better imaginative prompts than something presented on a piece of paper entitled “story prompts”. I know from teaching that children respond much better in writing exercises if the prompt is visual, even if it is contrived. I hope I get around to using this story prompt in my writing soon and when I do I’ll post it on here.
And if you feel inspired to write a story based on this prompt please share. I’d love to hear your ideas 🙂
Thanks as always for reading