Inside a Writer's Mind 21: Family Secrets – 501 Prompts

Did you miss my last prompt? Don’t worry, you can catch up here.

This week’s prompt came from Devlin in the form of a collaboration. We both took the same prompt and wrote our own take on it. If you want to find out how different creative minds work, go, and read his story.

You know, I have come up with a nice schedule for the work on my prompts.
Monday, I decide on what prompt to use for the week.
Tuesday, I brainstorm ideas.
Wednesday, I decide on which idea I’ll choose.
Thursday, I make a crude outline.
Friday, I write it down.
Over the weekend, I make the edits.

Looks good, right? Too bad, I don’t stick to it in any way and usually end up doing it all in one or two afternoons.

Because Devlin approached me with his prompt very early, I got the luxury to work inside the ramifications of my schedule and see if it is any good. And what should I tell you… turns out having a plan and sticking to it is a fantastic thing. I enjoyed working on this prompt so much and actually kind of like the result.

Let me take you through the developmental stages of the prompt. At first, I came up with 6 different ideas. Here are some examples:

A forgotten manuscript leads Character A to a hidden treasure underneath the city. The ancient guardian tests her, and she tells a lie, which seemingly makes her pass the test.

Character A, a famous writer, gets blackmailed with a forgotten manuscript they wrote before their success.

Character A is a renowned spy. She breaks into the home of an unknown writer to steal a forgotten manuscript that is worth millions. The writer catches her, but she manages to wiggle out with a bold lie.

I specifically picked those 3 to show you how different the ideas and concepts are during that initial stage. The first one would maybe be kind of a mystery adventure story. Perhaps with a Lovecraftian twist. The second would lean more towards a thriller type scenario. The last could be action-oriented, maybe venturing into the absurd, mixing in some time travel aspects for good measure.

I like my brainstorming to be as free and loose as possible. I always mix ideas that lead to different directions. The less fear you have to write down your silliest idea, the more enjoyable your creative process becomes down the line.

Ultimately, I went with this one:

When going through the stuff of a deceased grandparent, Character A finds a forgotten manuscript written by their relative. It hints at a terrible secret hidden in their past.

Why? I felt that I wanted to try something less genre-related this time. Also, I think a lot about the horrible things people try to bury in the past by not talking about them.

If you don’t know, I’m German and… well… repressing our role in history and twisting facts to feel better about ourselves culturally is deeply ingrained in our society to this very day.

But I included some other personal details into the story too. Last year, my grandfather died. To process my grief, I wrote it out. The piece was a mix of sadness, regret, and a lot of anger about my family and how we handle things (sidenote: we don’t and hope they disappear somehow).

When I started to write about Anna and her experience in the attic, I wanted to put in parts of that text. I really enjoy weaving reality and fiction together to create a more profound story experience.

Or was I just too lazy to come up with something different?

The story is about dealing with the past, how parents repress their parents, or their own trauma. The distance it creates drives families and friends apart, and eventually, their kids come around and ask uncomfortable questions.

Cleaning out of the attic gave my characters something to do before they could actually get to the meat of the plot. Coincidentally, her mother leaves Anna alone. In an unsupervised moment, she starts to dig, follows her own instincts, and ends up digging up something she wouldn’t have gotten close to if her mother was around. A parallel to the kid growing into adulthood? Ha, what a great comparison I just now notice.

Everything leads up the confrontation between mother and daughter. What had the grandfather done in his past? Was he just a failed writer, and that brought shame to his children? I hope for the sake of all of us that that’s not a thing.

Maybe, just maybe, he did with his story what I did with this one. He took from his life’s experiences and regrets and sorted them out in an artistic way. But what if everyone around you rejects to talk or even recognize the past?

I start to ramble, so it’s better to leave you all with this for now.

Wanna guess which elements of the story were taking from my own experience? How do you approach reality and fiction in your work? Let me know in the comments!