To change my habits and step outside my comfort zone, I decide to challenge myself to write some short stories based on a preset collection of prompts. I still wanted a random element involved (mainly to prevent myself from deliberately or subconsciously picking out easy or story-sympathetic prompts), so for that I went to my jar of fortune cookie fortunes -- yes, I save every one I get -- and pulled out twenty slips at random.
To prevent misplacing or losing my 2011 theme fortune, I made it into an artist trading card, something I'm using as my annual art project for this year (more on that at the photoblog here.) I decided to do the same thing with these fortunes and make them into an ATC series. I've named the cards my story prompt deck, and my goal is to pick at least one card at random every month and use it to inspire a short piece of fiction.
It's good writing practice; it's definitely different for me and I'm hoping to get at least one novel idea out of the exercise. The real creative room is in the interpretation of the prompt while (hopefully) remaining faithful to it. I'm not giving myself any limits on length, genre or time period -- during my busy months, I may only be able to write a couple hundred words -- but I do want to tell a complete story for each prompt.
Some of the fortunes are a bit odd, and I don't agree with a couple of them, so I've also given myself permission to flip, twist, and otherwise put my own spin on them. Such as the Fearless courage is the foundation of victory card; I don't buy that at all. The truly fearless don't need courage; they operate on self-assurance, certainty, narcissism or whatever drives their confidence. In my experience the courageous are generally terrified souls, but somehow endure it, plow through it and persist in spite of it. Courage doesn't even exist until you acknowledge that the odds are against you and no matter what you do you're probably going to fail. Fearless people are by their nature incapable of feeling anything like that. When I pull this card I have no doubt I'll write a story that turns it on its head.
If you'd like to create a deck of your own story prompt cards, you don't have to eat Chinese take-out from now until March. Try clipping interesting words and phrases from magazines, newspapers or other printed materials, or gathering some interesting images (faces, objects, landscapes or any other story element would work well.) Write or print out some lyrics to your favorite poems or songs and snip some lines from them, or feed them to Wordle and see what pops up in the cloud. If you'd like less obvious prompting, collect some paint chip cards from your local home improvement store, pick a color at random and use the color name or the color itself in some way in your story.
Big Huge Lab's photo trading card generator can help you design and print out some very cool-looking cards.
Creative Writing Prompts.com has 346 story prompts here to help spark ideas; hover your cursor over each number to read them.
Seventh Sanctum has an entire page of writing generators here that range from silly to seriously neat.