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Use the Power of Questions to Prompt Writing Topics

Why does the road curve in the desert?

By Brenda MahlerPublished 2 months ago 4 min read
Top Story - July 2023
Photo by Christoph Schulz on Unsplash

Traveling, visiting landmarks and eating cuisine of new regions ignites my senses. However, getting to the destination tests my patience. During the hours of driving, my interest wanes requiring me to get creative to stay awake. First up is the alphabet game. Once each letter has been spotted on road signs, I begin to find a license plate from every state in the union. Then I torment my husband by exclaiming, “I spy!” and describing some obscure item. He plays along until we both lose interest and move onto other stimulating games like listing animals whose names start with every letter of the alphabet.

Observing scenery out the window holds my attention — for awhile. Eventually, each trees’ uniqueness fades as they are placed into one of two category, coniferous or deciduous, without distinguishable differences. Spotting the ducks, dragons, and dinosaurs floating in the clouds kills time and even though I’ve discovered by squinting, the shapes change and grow, overtime, they resembled blobs of modern art.

Writing prompts

Recently, I’ve started a game of questioning my surroundings and discovered not only a means to pass time but writing prompts that spark inspiration. With a journal in hand, questions are recorded and accompanied by random musings. Inadvertently, I stumbled upon a strategy to gather writing ideas.

Why do roads in the desert curve?

Traveling through the desert with hundreds of acres spread before us, the terrain changes little except for a random Joshua tree, an occasional tower of sagebrush caught in a fence post, and tall cacti whose silhouettes, from a distance, resemble people with arms extended pointing to nowhere. As we weave right to avoid a shadow and then curve around a rock small enough to be moved by a medium sized backhoe, I wondered, “Why does the road curve?”

Somebody could probably provide a rationale, but that would stifle creativity. The easiest explanation probably involves alcohol, the most complex an ancient burial ground with Indians in war paint, the most scientific requires a working understanding of water runoff and erosion. I run through possibilities as the stories evolve.

How did that street name evolve?

Street names lead my mind in directions that sometimes scare me. Typically a writer of wholesome life experiences, the names Chicken Dinner and Frozen Dog Road seem like perfect titles for full length western movies starring Kevin Costner. I have plots outlined in my mind.

The adventure series begins with a family migrating in the spring over the Seven Devils Mountain Range. Captivated by the stunning vistas and futile soil of the flatland, visions of a homestead prompt them to put down roots. Each spring their decision is celebrated by a home cooked chicken dinner. The second story of the series testifies to the group’s determination when the storm of 1910 paralyzes the town and Kevin loses his beloved dog to the icy winds.

What were they thinking when they made that sign?

The road sign for Green Peter Dam activates inappropriate ideas and images. I found myself playing with the punctuation and spelling to create a title for a masterpiece.

Damn, His Peter is Green

When a Peter is Green, The Dam is Blocked.

Peter Turned Green with Envy.

Confessions of a Day on Green Peter Dam.

Green Peter! Green Peter! Green Peter! Damn!

Damn! What the Hell is a Green Peter?

Where have I seen that image before?

Image taken from author’s library

To preserve memories I snap pictures from my car window. Often, an image sparks my imagination. This one flashed me back to an underwater scene from The Little Mermaid when Ursula, the sea witch, feeds her prisoners, former Merpeople, dead fish. These polyps prompt a story that revolves around their new existence under the ocean.

My imagination goes on overtime as I think about the canyon where this picture is taken becoming submerged by flood waters. These bodies of shriveled Merpeople return to life with the rehydrating surge. From here the possibilities are endless.

Image taken from author’s library

“I sat there with Sally. We sat there, we two. And I said, “How I wish we had something to do!” — Dr. Seuss

Who doesn’t remember Thing One and Thing Two from The Cat in the Hat? Notice the resemblance? This picture stimulates ideas of a new twist on an old story. Think of the trouble they could conjure up if they uproot themselves and explore their domain. My journal fills with lines for my masterpiece.

  • I turned to my friend and barked out a request. It time we uproot our bodies and go on a quest.
  • She reached out a limb and with her stem gave a thumbs up. Together we’d cut loose leaving behind just a stump.
  • It may have been the wind but I believe her leaves winked. We’ll leaf when the sprinklers shut off; I need a drink.

Value questions and random thoughts

The ideas in my journal accumulated as the miles on the odometer grew. After each day’s drive, when I sat to write, an ample supply of inspiration lay within reach. Some of my musing may never move beyond my notebook of ramblings but some will develop into stories, poetry, and essays.

In the end, questions stretch my mind muscles, memories are recorded through words, and my husband is released from entertaining me with brain games. I have learned to never think of free time as boring moments but instead as opportunities.

The next time you are on a long trip, standing in a queue, or just have some ‘dead time’ to fill consider seeking writing inspiration from your surroundings.

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About the Creator

Brenda Mahler


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Comments (8)

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  • George Nikola2 months ago

    Can you tell me your opinion in my stories?

  • Dana Crandell2 months ago

    A fun and intriguing read! Congratulations!

  • Chloe Gilholy2 months ago

    One of the trees in the picture makes me think of Ursula’s legs.

  • Jazzy Gonçalves 2 months ago

    Literally my fav thing to do! And sometimes even when I’m watching a show I see a scene I want to rewrite and so I do that too!!!

  • Irfan Mustafa2 months ago

    Unlock your creativity with the power of questions! Asking thought-provoking queries can inspire a plethora of writing topics, unleashing your imagination and leading you on exciting literary adventures. 📚✨

  • You never know where your next story idea is coming from. Thanks for the brainstorming ideas and congrats on your Top Story!

  • Alexander McEvoy2 months ago

    I love learning about how different people are inspired! I haven't quite mastered taking creative inspirations from my trips, since I tend to turn my brain off and just enjoy myself, but I'm working on it. The way that you weave stories out of the everyday, normal questions we all ask ourselves is remarkable :) Thanks for the glimpse into your process

  • Babs Iverson2 months ago

    Love this!!! Lovel travel & asking questions!!! Fabulous story!!!❤️❤️💕

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