Posted by: mew | May 11, 2010

wiretapping, a perfect pearl, and some unusual music

For the Creativity Workshop this week, we were challenged to come up with some story ideas by looking at three visual prompts.  I’ve included the prompts below so those not taking the workshop can follow along, and also for ease.

I ended up following my own process, which seems to be to look at the picture, put it away for a while, and then come back to it and wait for something to be handed up from “the guy in the basement,” as F. would say.  Repeat as often as necessary or desired.  This process may be closer to Merrilee’s than I realized; it’s just that I think of it using a different analogy, and I’ve never tried to break it down into a step-by-step guide.  (Kudos to you, Merrilee!  That’s difficult.)

The hardest photograph to work from was the first.  Facial expressions apparently don’t do it for me.  I struggled to get even a few decent ideas from that scene.

The houses, number two, were by far the easiest.  I must have had a hundred ideas, and wrote over two dozen of them in the notebook.  Perhaps it’s because houses are more of a blank canvas, a setting across which the action may unfold, the people may be painted, doing their thing.  When you look at the ideas generated by that prompt, certainly they are more tenuously related to the original visual image than the others.

Number three was difficult, but really fun!

And now, without further ado (especially because this post is long), let me present… the ideas:


These two are in an acting class together, and during tonight’s session their instructor had the would-be actors do a mirroring exercise.  They were paired together.  She didn’t do so well at disgust, sadness, horror, or aggression, while he was told his delivery was brilliant.

After class, she’s a little upset and moving slowly as she gathers her things to leave, and he lingers long after he normally would, because he’s into her.  He then engages her in conversation and eventually suggests they practice again.  Moments after this picture is snapped, they find themselves laughing to break the tension of such serious faces, and then chit-chatting, and finally he asks her out for a coffee.


Here we are witnessing the staging of a “marital fight” by a decoy team put in place to draw the attention of the people in the neighborhood — especially that pesky photographer — away from the FBI agents putting in a wiretap on an imposing-looking brownstone across the street.


This woman has chased down her psychiatrist, who has been determinedly avoiding her ever since he figured out how effing crazy she really is.  Oh, and also coincidentally since they had sex together on the leather couch during one of her sessions.


A man is tempted by the Devil to have his heart’s desire if he answers a riddle.  The man visualizes that dream, a serene life lived here where the sea and sky meet, and the Devil cleverly takes them there, poof!  Both of them sit on the bench and the man agrees to go for it, and the Devil presents his riddle, and the man takes his time figuring it out, and they talk a bit as he does so.

Finally, he gets it right, and the Devil leaves him there — whereupon he realizes that the houses are abandoned and badly in need of repair, and not on a peninsula, as he had imagined, but on a true island with no other human beings present.  And this part of the ocean is a dead zone, where nothing can live or breathe — except the red tides of toxic algae that roll in regularly.


Long ago, a huge and perfect pearl was found in an oyster collected here.  The family had no choice but to sell it to pay their taxes, and so began the pearl’s epic journey around the world.

It will end up in a royal palace, and later be the only item on the voluptuous body of a powerful courtesan when she is assassinated, and still later become a bit of loot in a grave robbery.  The pearl will cross the ocean once on the wrist of a nobleman’s wife as he comes to America to be royal governor of an unruly colony, then recross as a bit of the dowry of a young American girl whose nouveau-riche, oil-barron father wants her to marry a British title… only to be carried back across the water several generations later by a Jewish family smuggled out of Holland during the Nazi occupation.

Finally, the pearl is brought back to its birthplace by a well-known novelist who’s bought this lovely, secluded spot in which to recover from the wounds of a nasty divorce and write her next masterpiece — although she has major writer’s block.  The string of pearls was given her by her ex-husband, and she ends up throwing it into the sea, at which point the words flow again.


Two children lean out of the upper story windows, a boy in the green house, a girl in the slate blue one.  They wave at one another and giggle, and then are called away to dinner and chores, etc.  After dark, they signal to one another with their candles, as they always do.  They are the best of friends.

But after the arrival of a wicked new stepfather, the boy’s life becomes an abusive hell — going on unbeknownst to most in this idyllic setting.  The children can’t help but drift apart as the boy keeps his dark secret.  One night, his candle doesn’t signal anymore.

Soon thereafter, a candle ignites the upstairs curtains and burns down half the house, and only the boy dies in the conflagration, which is blamed on his habit of signaling to the girl next door.  Traumatized, she moves away as soon as she is able — but the healing begins when she comes back as an adult, supposedly to sell the home her mother left her at her death, but in reality determined to find out exactly what really happened that night.  (If I were writing this one, I’d begin the novel with her return.)  She is helped in her quest by the presence of his ghost.


A snapshot of the way “music” is made in another world.  The inhabitants of that world have no organs for perceiving sound but are hyper-sensitive to variations in blue light, which can be disturbing, loud, harmonious, peaceful, triumphant, beautiful, sublime, noisy, discordant and even heartbreaking to them, the way music may be to us.

Above is a picture of the instrument, a huge sphere of light, that hangs in one of their most famous cathedrals.  Musicians deftly direct streams of smoke, mist, or air across the patterned light, and control the pattern itself so that it glows, shifts, or pulses during the performance.  The aliens meditate and worship while watching, and their hair follicles sometimes glow blue as they do so, echoing a particular rhythm or dramatic point in the artistic compositions.

You really could go anywhere with this, as it’s just a world detail.


A child’s marble is dug up in an archeological excavation, and the unusual object is sent to the archeology department of the nearby university, where a professor who is also a psychic can experience the world of the little girl whose marble this was — merely by touching the pretty glass sphere.  He is taken back to the world of the 2070s and while the picture of life then may be harrowing, ultimately the story is not of apocalyptic tragedy because the human race obviously survived and now thrives, many centuries later.


This photo shows a stylized representation of a common flower adopted as the symbol of the Third Dynasty of an empire on another planet (as the fleur-de-lys was by imperial France on Earth).  It’s tattooed on the jet black skin of the Dynasty’s princess when she’s a few days old, a small mark directly between her shoulder blades.  She’s kidnapped from the palace at age four, sold into slavery, and grows up far from the life of privilege she was born to.

Meanwhile, the Third Dynasty has its hands full with a serious rebellion, and of course she runs away from her owners and joins the rebel movement, fighting for her own freedom and that of all who are oppressed.  She then falls in love with the rebel leader.  He is the one to realize, one morning when her naked back is to him in bed, who exactly she is, and has to decide how (and if) he will use this information.

Click any photograph to see its origin.  All three are shown under creative commons license.



  1. Wow, you definitely had some interesting ideas. I didn’t read them all cause I haven’t done them yet myself, but I’m amazed at the variety of what you have. Some of those would certainly make great stories; do you think you’ll ever write any of them?

    • I wondered if reading my ideas so early might contaminate the process for others, Chibi — but I wanted to get the exercise out of the way to have no excuse to focus on my story. 😀

      Glad you found some of them interesting! I really liked the pearl idea, but I cannot take on another epic novel project right now. There were several others (many that didn’t make it into the post, where I chose only three that “really spoke to me,” as Merrilee said) that are tempting… whenever I finally finish the work in progress.

  2. Whew, I’m exhausted after just reading this! (Just what ARE you growing in your garden??)

    • LOL, Natasha. All these ideas brought to you without benefit of hallucinogens, I swear. 😉

  3. My, my Meredith! Your brain is busy at work isn’t it? I love the little scenarios 🙂

    • Right now I’m focusing on turning the first week’s scenario into a story — which is a whole different skill set. My brain feels like mush, Alisha. 😮

  4. I love your ideas. The psychiatrist one cracked me up 🙂 You do think like me – wandering at will. Wonderful 😀

    • Merrilee, I’m sure you are right. Whatever we call it, however we name it, the process is surely the same. 😉

      I’m so glad someone got a laugh from the psychiatric patient plotline! That was one of my personal faves.

  5. This are great!! I don’t think the idea you came up with reflect the struggle you may have gone through getting there. Certainly ideas #2 and #3 from the first picture sounded just as enticing as the others. Perhaps that’s something I needed to remember for myself.

    I’ve been letting the pictures roll around in my brain while I focus on brainstorming my idea for my first story. Reading your ideas has open my mind to more possibilities I think!

    • Thanks, Kerryn! It didn’t feel like a struggle really. More like a lot of aimless, daydreamy time — or total brain disconnect while I stared off into space. I’ve been perfecting those skills since I was a young child, of course. 😀

      I’m glad if those ideas opened the door a bit wider for your own explorations. Just remember not to put pressure on yourself, and I’m sure it will be fun to discover what your own mind can create!

  6. These ideas are so lush and beautiful. I can tell you really spent some extra time developing them. I especially enjoyed the one about the Devil’s riddle.

    • Aw, what a nice compliment, Nick! I appreciate it. Glad you liked the Devil’s riddle. 🙂

  7. Wow. Your imagination and way with words are such a gift! You could go anywhere with any these plot ideas. Very intriguing.

    • Thanks, Lisa! For right now, all of these will be on hold while I try my hand at the one in front of me. I think you know all about that. 🙂 Congratulations on narrowing in on the novel rewrite!

  8. Wow, great ideas! and no in depth! I didn’t read the last set of ideas, just because I have gotten to that one myself yet, but the others are keepers, methinks!

    • Well, that is very nice of you, Aurora. I already felt as if I have too many ideas to ever write them in a lifetime, and then Merrilee came along with her prompts and inspiration and I feel very rich in ideas. Now, if only I were *as* rich in butt-in-chair stick-to-it-iveness! 😉

  9. These are brilliant. And so in depth they almost stand alone in their own right. Awesome!

    • I appreciate those compliments, Anna. After four days working on the first short story, I’m beginning to wonder if I’m better at the idea generation than the actual writing. 😉

      Hope you’re enjoying the first week of the workshop!

      • Well, I feel like that some days too, Meredith. This is the easy, fun bit. It’s getting the stories down on paper in the right way that taxes the mind 🙂

  10. Exactly, Merrilee. That’s the slow, crawling part. Still awesome in its own way, of course. 😉

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