Friday, August 19th, 2011

Writing Prompt – Cryptic Notes

16491 written on a napkinI was emptying out the pockets of my favorite jacket this week before I’d tossed it into the washer when I pulled out a note I’d apparently written to myself.

I say “apparently” because I have no recollection of making the note. I also have no idea what it means.


Why would I jot down a number, without context, on a scrap of paper napkin? Didn’t this note deserve an entire napkin? This number must have been important…and yet, it’s meaningless now. I can’t even begin to think about how much time has passed since I wrote it.

What could it have meant?

All kinds of possibilities flood my mind: it’s a pin number for a bank account, it’s the amount of money in my bank account, it’s how much money I owe someone…

(Why does my mind think of money, just because it’s a number?)

Maybe it’s a measurement: in feet, or miles, or minutes. What if it’s the number of something my character desperately needs to complete her quest? Get on with his life? End her journey?

What if my character never figures this out?

Here’s Your Prompt:

Go dig through your pockets looking for cryptic notes!

I realize that won’t work for everyone, so here are some alternatives:

  1. Open the book nearest to your dominant hand, turn to a random page, and write down a few words, or perhaps the sentence, smack in the middle of the page.
  2. Do the same with a magazine, a newspaper, or some junk mail from today’s pile.
  3. Pick up a dictionary or thesaurus, turn to any page, close your eyes and point to a word. Do this five or six times to come up with a completely random phrase.
  4. If you’re feeling plucky, see if you can find a scribbled note tossed in a trash can at the local coffee shop or deli. (A list of someone else’s errands or grocery wants might be fascinating!)
  5. Do the same from a co-worker’s trash can… don’t get caught!
  6. This could work: Explain the task, then ask someone to write the (brief) cryptic note for you.

Now that you’ve got your note…

Write a story or poem (or song, etc.)…

The story could be about someone who finds a cryptic note (in a pocket, on the ground, in a sibling’s locked diary…), or about the ideas engendered by the words (or numbers…)

Maybe the note is a code. Maybe someone else put the note in the protagonist’s pocket. Maybe the note was written by an Alzheimer’s patient to her son, and found by him after her last will and testament is read.

The possibilities are endless….

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If you enjoy these prompts, please let me know by telling me so in the comments. Feel free to share a snippet or two of what you come up with, as well!