With the passing of my father-in-law last month, I’ve been thinking about the cycle of life and its turning points. Turning points in real life and fiction are similar—they change the character’s (person’s) life and viewpoint and take them in an entirely different direction. When searching for topics to write about, why not get inspiration from these turning points and your family’s history? What better source of writing prompts could there be?
One wonderful gift (among many) my father-in-law left to us was a notepad where he’d begun to write a book about his life and jotted down the important milestones (turning points) from his past. Families are full of stories, some told, but others still waiting for the right question to be asked before they come out. Talking and sharing will not only bring you closer to the people in your life but can be a wonderful source of topics to write about.
If you don’t have family members to speak with, share questions with your own imagination. You may come upon some eye-opening thoughts and wonderful stories of your own. Whether you begin with real events from your family or jump into pure fiction, here are some creative writing prompts to help you discover new topics to write about. Maybe some of these will inspire turning points in your own creative writing projects.
Topics to Write About – who were your great-grandparents?
- Where were they from?
- What were their lives like while they were growing up?
- Were they born here, or did they come to this country as immigrants?
- What country?
- Why did they leave their country of origin to come here?
- Where did they meet?
- Where did they live?
- What was their life like? Easy, difficult, and in what way?
- How did time and place influence their lives?
- What were their hopes, their dreams?
- What about their fears? Their struggles?
- What sort of challenges did they face?
Topics to Write About – who were/are your parents?
- What house did they live in?
- Did they ever move? Why?
- Where did they meet?
- How did they envision their lives together?
- How did your birth and the birth of your siblings change their lives?
- How did their lives change through the decades?
- What were their hopes? Dreams? Fears? Struggles?
Topics to Write About – a family birth.
- Who is being born?
- How will she change her mother? Her father?
- How will her parents’ relationship change with the new baby?
- What does the grandmother and grandfather see in the new life?
- Is it an easy birth? Difficult?
- Where is the baby born: in the hospital, at home, in a birthing pool?
- Or was she born in the back seat of a taxi or in the hospital elevator?
Topics to Write About – a family death.
- Who dies?
- What happens right before she dies?
- What about after?
- Who is present?
- Does he help her? How?
- Does he stand in the way? How?
- Does he have his own agenda? What is it?
- Who is not present?
- Why are they not there?
- How does the death impact each member of the family?
- How do the people on this side carry on?
- What rituals do they have?
- What (if anything) do the rituals mean to each family member?
- What do they believe happens after death?
- Is there a secret revealed after death? What is it?
- Does the secret change anything?
- Is there a deepening of understanding from the secret?
- Is there conflict surrounding the secret?
Topics to Write About – a family member’s life after death.
- What is it like to go from here to there?
- What happens on the other side?
- Does the person know they have passed?
- Who (if anyone) is there to meet the person who dies?
- Are there any signs on this side?
- Does the person who died try to contact anyone on this side? Why?
- Do they not care about contact? Why?
- Is there a supreme being? How does this being present itself?
- Is there a waiting place? What is it like?
- Is the person (spirit) happy to wait, or anxious to move on?
Topics to Write About – the morning of a family funeral.
- Who is preparing for the event?
- How are they getting ready?
- Where is the funeral?
- Who has passed?
- How will he be missed?
- Who will miss him?
- Where is the family on the morning of the funeral?
- How does everyone come together?
- Who is at the church?
- What is the service like? Who speaks? Who doesn’t?
- Who is missing? Who is there?
Topics to Write About – your own life.
Do your loved ones a favor and start with a list of important things that happened in your life and expand on them. With that in mind, I’d like to dedicate this article (and idea!) to my father-in-law, Elmer Steffen, who led a life well-lived and well-loved.
Award-winning novelist Kathy Steffen teaches fiction writing and speaks at writing programs across the country. Additionally, Kathy is also published in short fiction and pens a monthly writing column, Between the Lines. Her books, FIRST THERE IS A RIVER, JASPER MOUNTAIN and THEATER OF ILLUSION are available online and at bookstores everywhere.