In the past, before I ever blogged anything or self-published fiction, I used to ask my friends who know me in real life for writing prompts on other forms of social media.
I got a lot of ‘a dystopian future where…’ and ‘a mystery about…’ and ‘a suspense thriller about…’ I got fantasy and sci/fi prompts and beginning sentences that were leading to medical dramas and war or crime stories.
But those suggestions never exactly worked out like my friends envisioned. I write love stories. I tried a mystery/suspense thing once, and maybe I’ll actually publish it someday, but it’s really mostly a love story. Family and medical dramas I write are really love stories. The one fantasy prompt I tried turned into a love story. My current work in progress that I’m hoping to get out to publish by the middle of next month is kind of a high concept speculative fantasy…thing…but…it’s really a grouping of love story vignettes.
I have a friend (whose lack of enthusiasm at my news that I self-published some work and started an author page was obvious and a bit hurtful…who has never read a word of anything I’ve actually written beyond a status update…and based on the new Facebook algorithms, whatever they are, she hasn’t read too many of those at any time in the recent past either) who would occasionally sent me links to literary magazines that have writing contests with prompts. To be helpful and supportive. They were all ‘YA story about…’ or ‘horror story using a river as a metaphor…’ It’s nice that she thinks of me when she sees these things. But it’s not the material I write. I’ve noticed there aren’t many outlets that solicit or even accept romance/love story material. I entered a local writing contest with no genre requirement once, and I was proud of the story I wrote (it actually became a chapter in my novel Unscripted, and then I expanded it into its own full novel form, Admission), but the stories that ‘placed’ in the contest were all ‘mystery, sci/fi, family drama…’ featuring violence heavy plot driven narratives and not relationship/character development, in friendship or family or romance, and no sex. If I have real life friends (even the women…I know that’s a stereotype of a romance audience, but still) who read love stories, they don’t admit it. Not even enough to search for outlets to help me get my writing out (which they claim to want to do).
I don’t think love stories in particular, or positive fiction in general, is taken seriously. Even in the fiction I adore, because it features positive relationship development, the main focus is still Ethereal Monster Tries to Destroy Town or war or crime fighting or natural disaster or emergency surgery or something else. When the story’s major focus is on a relationship, it’s seen as ‘frivolous.’ Love stories are for silly little girls, and they are sure not something a man would (implied: or should) enjoy, at least not without a heavy ‘shallow, empty erotica’ focus. (PSA: I don’t find all or even MOST erotica shallow and empty. I’m a fan…obviously. But the kind of sexist point I’ve heard made is that that’s the only kind of ‘romance’ a man might voluntarily consume.)
I’ve been ridiculed a bit for turning things that ‘shouldn’t’ be a romance into a romance before. ‘How’d you make a love story out of THAT prompt?!’
That comment actually came from a writer friend after he’d given me the following prompt…
“Ralph felt a tremendous sense of dread once the plane landed, and he looked out the window at the airport.”
I turned that into The Same Story. Which is actually two love stories in one. I know my friend wanted some kind of action drama. He wanted Ralph to be a CIA agent or something. Or even if Ralph was an ‘everyman,’ he wanted some kind of ‘everyman steps up to greatness as a hero in a disaster situation,’ or ‘everyman is befallen by mythical tragedy’ kind of a story. He wanted biological weapons of mass destruction or zombie apocalypse. But I wrote a romance.
That’s just where I go. Because I take human relationships seriously. I don’t think they are frivolous or silly pursuits. Because I take love seriously.
I’m going to keep writing love stories (stories about committed romance and strong friendships and supportive families). Because I need to see more loving heroes. I need to see more positive relationship development (friendship, family, and romantic love). I need to read stories where honesty and intimacy and loyalty and kindness are rewarded and deception and infidelity and emotional manipulation and violence are not. I need stories that showcase vulnerability in favor of cold stoicism. And because I need these narratives, and I don’t see enough of them, that’s what I’m called to write.
If you have a prompt you’d like to see me write from, please feel free to share it with me. But fair warning…it will almost certainly turn into a love story.