Once upon a time I organized a writing night based around bad prompts. Each participant was expected to bring the worst prompt he or she could think of on an index card, then we would trade index cards and write to the prompts. Today I’ll share my prompt, the prompts I wrote to, and what I wrote.
You are an accountant managing the finances of a small chain of delicatessens in the southeastern United States. A shipment of roast beef is on a southbound train starting at one hundred meters per second and accelerating fifteen meters per second squared. One hundred miles to the south is a northbound train accelerating from 50 meters per second at a rate of 10 meters per second squared. When the trains collide and 150,000 lbs of roast beef valued at $5 per pound before North Carolina’s 7.5% tax is lost. If your manager charges you 10% of the losses, how much money do you lose?
This prompt received some consternation, but I was fortunate in that no one actually tried to solve the problem, which I myself had not troubled to solve. Mostly, they just wrote stories about grumpy deli accountants.
Ethan offered three prompts and exhorted us to pick one. I wrote a prompt incorporating all three.
Pick a card
You’re wearing a great hat, but can’t describe it.
You’re having lunch with your favorite author – describe the bread
I have the loveliest hat. I cannot describe it because I am under a non-disclosure agreement. I can tell you that I am wearing it because it is so gosh darn lovely. “Good morning, sir!” I say to a fellow hat-wearer. I can describe his hat, but I will not. It is less lovely by a substantial margin. Later in the day, I find a three of hearts stuck between the branches of a tree. It is a good sign. A sign that my meeting with George R. R. Martin will go well.
While meeting with George, a stellar fellow, I can’t help but notice the bread. It’s a thick, sour rye so flavorful it does not even need butter. I apply butter anyway, as does George, although I wish he would take better care of himself at least until he’s finished with his books. The bread is sweet ambrosia on my tongue. What majesty! What stellar, divine triumph! Luckier than the three of hearts, more lovely than my – well, let’s not get carried away.
In any case, when all the bread is gone, I open my mouth to tell George how much I appreciate his stark yet compelling portrayal of violent conflict, ha ha, no pun intended, when a waiter comes by with another dish of bread. What is this restaurant!? A spectacular complete loaf of LaFarm signature sourdough easily covers our entire small table. Out of concern for poor George’s health, I snatch it away and begin to, carefully, slowly, eat it all myself.
Lest my chance to speak to my hero be lost, I endeavor to speak between bites. “What is your inspiration?” I ask as I reach the one-quarter mark on my LaFarm loaf. George raises a finger to explain his secret to success when an olive-herb loaf, a pane caesarica, and a french loaf you could pole vault with are all wheeled out. Once again I strive to protect my mentor from early cardiac failure.
George R. R. Martin left that restaurant alive. For that, I am grateful. We shall see if some day I will get to leave, too. Just me, endless bread, and the most beautiful hat never described.
You discover that your identity was stolen by underpants gnomes
I am underpants. I must be underpants, or else how could my identity have been stolen by underpants gnomes? Yet, how could I still know that I am underpants if my identity is lost to me? What is the nature of the undergarment persona? I call my bank to try and cancel my credit card. Our conversation is brief, exchanging tough security questions and responses like a pair of duelling boxers. Soon a new one is in the mail. I take one last look at my old card, the little picture of me, or is it me? Perhaps it is some person wearing white woolen long-johns who are me. I take it to the shredder.
It wreaks havoc on your life, to have your identity stolen and to be underpants. Those goddamn gnomes. I am locked out of my Amazon account. Even my laundry card is maxed out. Pairs upon pairs of me begin to pile up. With no way to clean them, they are dirty. I am dirty. I am underpants. I travel to the coin laundromat. People are staring at the walking underclothes. I feel exposed. Ashamed. What am I doing wandering the streets!? I should be covered!
I get a letter from the gnomes. They are not cruel. They will return my identity if I wire them twenty thousand dollars. Underpants cannot wire money. I drape myself carelessly over the couch. Maybe someone will find me, and with a curled lip of distaste, toss me into the hamper where I belong. Without my identity I am worthless. I have nothing. I am underpants.
Dear Sam, Sometimes I think you’ve missed your calling. You have both creative imagination and strong writing skills. Should I know who George R. R. Martin is?
Great prompts! Great responses! Great comment from Grandma!