Creative Prompt: A Secret Note

In last week’s post I wrote about a Thank-you Note I had spotted on the floor outside of one of our local small supermarkets. This week I had to go into Central London to be in the office for my day job, and I saw this little note on the pavement.

It’s folded up so I don’t know what it says (and I did not unfold it), making this note far more mysterious. It could be all sorts of things, like a set of important points that someone had compiled while revising for an important exam, or a shopping list.

Old school pen and paper is still reassuringly difficult to access from a distance. Most of the time you actually have to get your hands on a piece of paper to read it’s contents, or be sitting very close by. So it could contain important secrets that someone did not want easily stolen.

Maybe it is a love note. The star like patterns on the edge of the page suggest it could be from someone’s personal grimoire detailing an important spell.

The way the note is folded makes me think that at some point someone was clutching it tightly, so it is particularly mysterious that it ended up on the pavement on a sunny morning.

What do you think is in the note?
Who wrote it?
How did they come to drop it on the pavement?

I’m not a huge fan of creative exercises, so it’s not my habit to tell people what to do with these prompts. There are lots of options – a scene, some flash fiction, a short story, an idea for a short film or a physical piece of art. If you do have a go with this one and would like to drop the result in the comments please do so. I would be very interested to see what people make of these so please do link to blog posts or comment below.

If you like the photos featured in these creative prompt posts you may be interested in my latest collection of prints and other things on Redbubble which feature a small selection of my best shots.

Thank you for reading. I also write, make art and films. You can read my short fantasy stories here on Simily. If you like these prompts and want to get a copy of a free short book of them I wrote, and to hear more about my writing projects please join my mailing list here. You can see my films at my YouTube channel here. You can see things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying. If buying art is not your thing, but you would like to support what you see I also have a Patreon Page.

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Creative Prompt: The Thankyou Note

I saw this small lump of happiness when I was darting out of one of our local shops. It was laying on the pavement just at the threshold, just a little to the left if the automatic doors and the blast of the air conditioning. As I stopped to take a photograph, the security guard wandered over to see what I was doing.

I’m not sure how suspicious I looked, crouching in the doorway of the shop trying to take a photo of the floor with my phone while balancing a bag of bananas, but it probably isn’t normal behaviour. The two of us spent a few moments looking at this little note together, remarking on how sweet it was, which in itself was nice because we’ve never had cause to talk before.

I don’t know who made the note, who Angela is, or indeed who her mother may be. I don’t think it matters, that this little note exists tells us that someone made this little token of thanks, or of love, with there own hands for somebody else. That can be inspiring for all of us.

I’m not sure if this little note will prompt a story for anyone, or if it will simply function to spread a little simple joy on the internet, which can be a squalid place sometimes.

Why may someone make a note like this?

Who might it be for?

I’m not a huge fan of creative exercises, so it’s not my habit to tell people what to do with these prompts. There are lots of options – a scene, some flash fiction, a short story, an idea for a short film or a physical piece of art. If you do have a go with this one and would like to drop the result in the comments please do so. I would be very interested to see what people make of these so please do link to blog posts or comment below.

If you like the photos featured in these creative prompt posts you may be interested in my latest collection of prints and other things on Redbubble which feature a small selection of my best shots.

Thank you for reading. I also write, make art and films. You can read my short fantasy stories here on Simily. If you like these prompts and want to get a copy of a free short book of them I wrote, and to hear more about my writing projects please join my mailing list here. You can see my films at my YouTube channel here. You can see things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying. If buying art is not your thing, but you would like to support what you see I also have a Patreon Page.

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Reasons to be Grateful: Allowing myself some grace when I’m not at my best

The best laid plans…

About six weeks ago I had decided to try to be more consistent with writing posts about gratitude. I think they are helpful to me to write them, and they are helpful to some of the people that read them too. Within a week or two of making that decision, I tested positive for Covid, and then was quite poorly for about two weeks.

During that time my little cat, who I had a close bond with, became very poorly. We had been trying lots of things to treat him for a bowel condition, but it turned out that wasn’t what he had. Instead he had an aggressive cancer which just gobbled him up, which was increadibly difficult to watch. I took him to the vet to be put to sleep before I had really been able to recover from Covid, and have suffered a very sticky form of grief for him ever since.

On top of this I still have a busy toddler to look after, who is just going though a ‘boundary testing phase’, and managing this is exhausting. As I write this it’s been at least three weeks since I cleared Covid, and yet I still do not feel like I have recovered from either thing.

Frankly I haven’t been feeling at my best, and times like these can have unexpected results.

Just not finding my muse

I have found myself suffering an odd form of writers block, in which I have the initial ideas for little blog posts, stories, or even longer essays, but as I sit to write them I find it impossible to think through how to elaborate on that initial idea to create something readable.

For about a week or so I put pressure on myself to get back to the swing things and feel ok, and then I realised that I didn’t have it in me for that.

Those who have read bits and pieces of my work before may know I have struggled with anxiety and depression in the past, and those experiences have taught me that it’s not always sensible to struggle on. This time, instead of trying to push myself to write, I decided to take a bit of a break, and have written just a few little bits and pieces in that last month.

A few moments of grace

In the few scraps of time I have to myself in the day I’ve been doing other things instead, taking the time to sleep, to read the fascinating Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake (this is an affiliate link – if you buy this book using this link I’ll be sent a few pence as a referral fee), and to cuddle my surviving cat.

As I begin to feel like writing again, I feel grateful that I was able to give myself a little moment of grace to not do things, and to take a little time to rest.

Thank you for reading. I also write, make art and films. You can read my short fantasy stories here on Simily. If you like these prompts and want to get a copy of a free short book of them I wrote, and to hear more about my writing projects please join my mailing list here. You can see my films at my YouTube channel here. You can see things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying. If buying art is not your thing, but you would like to support what you see I also have a Patreon Page here.

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Creative Prompt: The Getaway Vehicle

I was walking back from the park with my son a few weeks ago when I saw this motorbike hidden under a tree. The path we like to take is not paved and is quite wild this time of year. It follows the curve of the railway line which runs through the area, and I like to walk my son down there as he likes to see the trams that run on those rails. The spot itself is quite secluded.

He was the first one to point out the ‘motobike’, which was quickly followed by a request for a ride, causing him not inconsiderable disappointment when I had to refuse him.

The way the bike was concealed within the low lying branches of a tree, and the way there is damage to parts of it suggests to me that who ever stashed it there may not have had the best of intentions.

It feels like a good opener for a crime procedural, a mysterious motorbike, found it the woods.

Who do you think may have left it there? 

What were they the ‘getaway’ driver for?

I’m not a huge fan of creative exercises, so it’s not my habit to tell people what to do with these prompts. There are lots of options – a scene, some flash fiction, a short story, an idea for a short film or a physical piece of art. If you do have a go with this one and would like to drop the result in the comments please do so. I would be very interested to see what people make of these so please do link to blog posts or comment below.

If you like the photos featured in these creative prompt posts you may be interested in my latest collection of prints and other things on Redbubble which feature a small selection of my best shots.

Thank you for reading. I also write, make art and films. You can read my short fantasy stories here on Simily. If you like these prompts and want to get a copy of a free short book of them I wrote, and to hear more about my writing projects please join my mailing list here. You can see my films at my YouTube channel here. You can see things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying. If buying art is not your thing, but you would like to support what you see I also have a Patreon Page.

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Reasons to be grateful: A young boy and an old train set

A few weekends ago I took my son on the train to visit my parents in the UK country side. During our time there we had an uncharacteristically hot day. We all have pale skin and are prone to burning, and on top of that I tend to get quite light headed when it’s too hot so I’m not a huge fan of the hot weather.

My parents have a nice garden that features a couple of terraced patios, and the highest one is sheltered by the shade of a graceful old apple tree. We decided not to go anywhere in the heat but instead potter around at home. My son is still a toddler and doesn’t need elaborate entertainment any way, he can spend twenty minutes examining a CD (my parents still have a lot of those).

After my son took his afternoon nap he was pottering about in the garden when my dad emerged from their cellar holding a mysterious plastic box. He put it on the table under the apple tree and invited my son to sit at the table with him. Once my son was settled in his chair my dad began pulling out pieces of track and old electric locomotive trains for my son to look at and hold.

My son really loves trains, and has a wooden train set at home that slots together like a jigsaw made by BRIO (this is one of the sets he has, they are compatible with other more elaborate sets, affilliate link so if you chose to buy this set using this link I would get a small commission), but the set my dad showed him was more elaborate, delicate and involved an electric track. It also had a number of detailed steam trains, which my son loved zooming up and down the table on a piece of track my dad put together for him.

It’s a very old train set, part of it belongs to a set that my father’s father gave him when he was a child, and part of it my dad bought for a set at some time or other (he used to be a set designer for TV programmes), so we didn’t think it would actually work. However, after a little detective work and some DW-40, my dad persuaded one of the units to race around the track. It was quite an exciting moment.

Generally I would have thought my son a little too excitable to play with something with such a delicate set up, but he controlled himself very well if it meant spending the afternoon playing with grampy’s train set in the shade. At times he sat and chatted with my mum about all the trains and what they were, even though he doesn’t really understand that much, which was enchanting to watch.

As I’ve said else where, we needed fertility treatment to have our son, and frankly there were times when I didn’t think we would get moments like these. I feel intensely lucky to have spent that warm afternoon in the garden watching my son play with his grandparents and an old train set under the apple tree.

Thank you for reading. I also write, make art and films. You can read my short fantasy stories here on Simily. If you are interested in the process of creativity and want to get a copy of my free short book of creative prompts, and to hear more about my writing projects please join my mailing list here. You can see my films at my YouTube channel here. You can see things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying. If buying art is not your thing, but you would like to support what you see I also have a Patreon page here.

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Creative Prompts: Treasure

I spied these beads the other morning while walking my son to the nursery. It was a bright hot day and sunshine glinting off the bright blue caught my eye. The beads were nestled in a collection of old leaves on the edge of a playground, and they seemed to me to be the kind of find I would have been very happy with as a child, making me think of treasure.

Some of the great stories and movies that I liked as a child started off as a hunt for treasure, and I still have a particular fondness for the Goonies. Most of the Indiana Jone’s stories involved the pursuit of some kind of treasure, for a range of different reasons. I think the pursuit of treasure can be a great device to use in a story, as it can reveal many facets of a character or a group of characters personalities.

What might a good treasure be?

Why does a character need or want it?

Greed?

Money worries?

It’s significance as an occult object?

I’m not a huge fan of creative exercises, so it’s not my habit to tell people what to do with these prompts. There are lots of options – a scene, some flash fiction, a short story, an idea for a short film or a physical piece of art. If you do have a go with this one and would like to drop the result in the comments please do so. I would be very interested to see what people make of these so please do link to blog posts or comment below.

If you like the photos featured in these creative prompt posts you may be interested in my latest collection of prints and other things on Redbubble which feature a small selection of my best shots.

Thank you for reading. I also write, make art and films. You can read my short fantasy stories here on Simily. If you like these prompts and want to get a copy of a free short book of them I wrote, and to hear more about my writing projects please join my mailing list here. You can see my films at my YouTube channel here. You can see things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying. If buying art is not your thing, but you would like to support what you see I also have a Patreon Page.

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Are Fictional Stories Like a Computer Simulation For Our Emotions?

Have you ever spent hours working on a story, only to read it back and find it feels like a formulaic series of events that happen to your characters, who don’t even seem to care that much, bolted together with some dialogue? Have you read a story with almost the same series of events, told a little differently, and find it so deeply moving that it stays with you for weeks afterwards? As writers we are aware that we are writing something that feels flat and fails to push any emotional buttons, but sometimes we struggle to understand why that is.

There is some insights from psychology that can help us with that: Fiction as Cognitive and Emotional Simulation Theory by Keith Oatley. This was described in his paper ‘Why fiction might be twice as true as fact: Fiction as Cognitive and Emotional Simulation.’ This peer reviewed paper was published in the academic journal Review of General Psychology in 1999, and can be accessed for free here. It is also the source I have used to write this article.

Fiction as Cognitive and Emotional Simulation

The core idea of this theory was that fictional stories and poetry, particularly the kind of stories that get badged under the term ‘literature’, could provide readers with a kind of virtual simulation through which to explore their emotions. This happens when a reader becomes wrapped up in the emotions of the characters as they make the journey that their particular story takes them on.

Fiction as a simulation

In his explanation of the first core element of his theory, that people may experience a story world like a computer simulation, he suggests that fictional stories do not try to create a perfect imitation of life. Instead, writers create a convincing simulation by describing scenes and events in a way that include the necessary contextual information about the goals and motivations of a character, and details about the setting and how those events occur.

This extra information allows the reader to construct a mental picture of a characters interaction with their story environment and with other characters within it. In doing so they may understand how actions taken may lead to consequences, and the emotional fall out that follows.

In his work he described two forms of information that the brain uses to create a simulation of a fictional world:

  • The event structure — the series of events that happens in a story.
  • The discourse structure — which I interpret as the creative and artistic decisions that a writer or artist makes which tell the reader how those events will unfold.

I like to think of this as a good way of understanding how, while they say there are no new ideas under the sun, we still encounter stories that feel new because of the way the particular writer or artist decides to tell them.

Fictional simulations as an emotional laboratory

In the second core aspect of his theory, he suggests that the simulations fictional stories provide us are so involving that they may allow readers to experience some form of personal truth, that may lead to personal insight.

This is because readers are likely to flesh out a story world with material from their own memories and experiences, and so build a personalised version of whatever story is put in front of them.

His main argument, which he describes in far more detail with than I have space for here, is that fictional worlds provide a kind of emotional laboratory in which people can experience emotional responses to a range of simulated events. Through that process they may experience both expected and unexpected emotional responses to things, and may come to understand themselves, and other people, better.

He suggests that there are three different ways in which stories evoke emotions in readers:

  1. Identification — Where the reader identifies with the protagonist of the story, takes on their goals and effectively feels what the character would feel as if the emotions were the readers own.
  2. Sympathy — Where the reader doesn’t necessarily identify with the character, but is none the less moved by their journey as it is described in the story.
  3. Memory — Provoking the reader to recall their own emotional memories in response to events occurring in the story.

Why does this matter to writers?

At the beginning of this piece I asked why some stories were convincing on an emotional level, while others were not. What this theory does is direct us to pay attention to how things happen to our protagonists, and how they respond to those things while we are crafting our stories. Do events happening to the character feel consistent with the story world? Does the character have reactions to those events that feel authentic to them?

I know that personally, if I feel that a character has done something or said something simply to service the plot (or event structure), that seems a bit silly or out of character, I tend to put books down or disengage from a film or TV series. For me it doesn’t matter what genre this is happening in, it can be some deep fantasy or complicated science fiction, but if the characterisation feels insincere I’ll often switch off (if this rings a bell for you, you may also be interested in the idea of false notes, mentioned in this article).

This idea has been influential in the way I try to write now. I try to ensure that my characters, made up as they are, have some kind of emotional truth within my stories. Sometimes I miss this a bit on my first pass and need to give a story a bit of time to ‘rest’ so that I can come back to a story and really decide if I’ve made the right aesthetic decision, but I think they are better for it.

Final thoughts

Sometimes, on a bad day as a writer, it’s easy to think ‘I’m just making stuff up, it’s not like I’m doing anything useful’. What this theory suggests to us is that good writing is important, perhaps essential, to how readers may view and understand other people, and that may influence their relationships with other people in the real world.

Exciting stuff, huh?

A note on the source text:

The way this theory is described in the original paper is more complicated, and has many more implications than I have described here. On top of that, this paper was published more than twenty years ago, since then a lot more work has been done on this idea. I do plan going to circle back to these themes at a later date, but if you are interested in psychology, storytelling, reading and writing I suggest you may want to take a bit of time to read the whole thing here.

This article was first published on Medium, where I regularly post content from this blog.

Thank you for reading. I also write, make art and films. You can read my short fantasy stories here on Simily. If you are interested in the process of creativity and want to get a copy of my free short book of creative prompts, and to hear more about my writing projects please join my mailing list here. You can see my films at my YouTube channel here. You can see things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying. If buying art is not your thing, but you would like to support what you see I also have a Patreon page here.

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Creative Prompt: Rope Walk

I took this photograph in a small town in the Cotswolds in the UK. The sign sits high up on a wall that lines one side of a small road that provides an escape from the main high street. The entrance is enclosed on both sides and above by squat old buildings made from Cotswold stone, and the alleyway winds away from the shops through a mysterious series of corridors until you find yourself at the back of the town in the car park.

In the UK many of the street names in old towns and villages had quite literal names. There are a lot of Station Roads that now, or used to, lead to train stations. When I saw this sign I could not imagine how it got it’s name and some google adventures later I still do not know.

The local area used to be famous for it’s cloth trade, and there were many woollen mills in the district from as far back as the thirteenth century. I couldn’t find confirmation that this particular Rope Walk relates to that activity, although the connection seems sensible.

How do you think Rope Walk got its name?

What kind of mysterious things may have happened there?

I’m not a huge fan of creative exercises, so it’s not my habit to tell people what to do with these prompts. There are lots of options – a scene, some flash fiction, a short story, an idea for a short film or a physical piece of art. If you do have a go with this one and would like to drop the result in the comments please do so. I would be very interested to see what people make of these so please do link to blog posts or comment below.

If you like the photos featured in these creative prompt posts you may be interested in my latest collection of prints and other things on Redbubble which feature a small selection of my best shots.

Thank you for reading. I also write, make art and films. You can read my short fantasy stories here on Simily. If you like these prompts and want to get a copy of a free short book of them I wrote, and to hear more about my writing projects please join my mailing list here. You can see my films at my YouTube channel here. You can see things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying. If buying art is not your thing, but you would like to support what you see I also have a Patreon Page.

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Reasons to be Grateful: Unexpected quiet moments with my son

I made a bit of a mistake this morning, and managed to get the whole household up an hour earlier than we needed to. I looked over at the clock on the other side of the bed and mistook a 5 for a 6.

My son was still asleep when I carried him downstairs and settled him on the sofa, and I didn’t wake him as I thought we still had a few minutes to spare. In the kitchen where I made some tea and warmed him a little milk the clock on the cooker alerted me to the fact that I was an hour early, and my partner grumbled a little before heading back to bed.

By the time I had returned to the living room my son was beginning to stir and it was too late to get us all back under the duvet. He asked to watch one of his favorite programmes. It’s a program in which an animated gecko teaches toddlers about emergency service vehicles.

My son and are sitting quietly together on the sofa as I type this, and he occasionally points out details of the program to me that capture his imagination. He’s still too sleepy to be rushing around yet, and instead rests his bare feet against my arm and clutches his comforter. The soles of his feet are warm and soft.

It would probably have been good for us all to get the extra hour of sleep, but there is a little magic to these early mornings with him when he’s not quite ready to involve himself in mischief yet, and we can just enjoy a little time together. So I am oddly grateful today that I got us up an hour earlier than I needed to.

Thank you for reading. I also write, make art and films. You can read my short fantasy stories here on Simily. If you are interested in the process of creativity and want to get a copy of my free short book of creative prompts, and to hear more about my writing projects please join my mailing list here. You can see my films at my YouTube channel here. You can see things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying. If buying art is not your thing, but you would like to support what you see I also have a Patreon page here.

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Creative Prompt: There She Is

A few weeks ago I left my house to pop to the shop and found that someone had dropped a pack of playing cards all over the pavement down our road. I stopped to take a few photos of some of the cards where they lay, as I always think there’s something a bit mysterious about a solitary playing card, maybe because they have been used in so many murder mystery and super hero films.

As I was doing this I realised that there was a particular card that I wanted to find, and then set about looking for the queen of hearts. I eventually found her loitering by the wheel of a parked car in the middle of the road.

This card has a dual meaning for me in that it reminds me both of the irrational and powerful Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland (this is an affiliate link – if you buy this book using this link I’ll be sent a few pence as a referral fee), and of the more generic archetype of the beloved queen or princess in many fairy tales.

I’m particularly drawn to the idea of a character who may be able combine the two different forms of representation, the caring and kind exterior, that may be disrupted at times by actions and decisions that carry power, and that may be unpredictable and make little sense.

Can you imagine such a person?

Who would they be and where may you encounter them in a fictional world?

I’m not a huge fan of creative exercises, so it’s not my habit to tell people what to do with these prompts. There are lots of options – a scene, some flash fiction, a short story, an idea for a short film or a physical piece of art. If you do have a go with this one and would like to drop the result in the comments please do so. I would be very interested to see what people make of these so please do link to blog posts or comment below.

If you like the photos featured in these creative prompt posts you may be interested in my latest collection of prints and other things on Redbubble which feature a small selection of my best shots.

Thank you for reading. I also write, make art and films. You can read my short fantasy stories here on Simily. If you like these prompts and want to get a copy of a free short book of them I wrote, and to hear more about my writing projects please join my mailing list here. You can see my films at my YouTube channel here. You can see things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying. If buying art is not your thing, but you would like to support what you see I also have a Patreon Page.

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Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

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