The Sun Singer's Travels

Malcolm R. Campbell's World

Archive for the tag “writing prompts”

I keep looking for a writing prompt in our on-going cow saga

Several days ago, I posted this status update on Facebook:

Here’s what we learned Monday night between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m. Black cows are hard to see in the dark. Lesa went out back to get the hummingbird feeder at 1 a.m. and heard stuff munching; turned out she was surrounded by maybe 30 cows.

The cows drifted both ways up and down the road, down to Lesa’s folks’ old house, across the road, lots of places at once. Just large sections of darkness moving around. The mooing and crunching did help us figure out where they were before we walked into many of them. The farmer and his wife weren’t happy, so the neighborly thing to do seemed to be to help them round them all up.

I went outside this morning rather tentatively, hoping they hadn’t busted out of the pasture again. So far, so good.

One of my writer friends wanted to re-write the first graph to say:

Here’s what we learned Monday night between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m. Black cows are hard to see in the dark. Lesa went out back to get the hummingbird feeder at 1 a.m. and heard stuff munching; turned out she was surrounded by maybe 30 cows. Then the murders began.

I told him we weren’t going there. Another writer friend said my update sounded like the beginning of a Dean Koontz novel. I may have read one of those, but that’s not my genre when it comes to writing.

Sure, they look cute in this Wikipedia photo, but in real life, they tear up stuff.

The cows have gotten out several times in the last week, and the farmer who owns the property adjacent than ours hasn’t yet found where/how they keep doing it. They were in the yard again last night, but it was another rainy night in Georgia and so we stayed inside while several guys worked for three hours to round up the cattle and put them back in the pasture.

Fences are always in need of repair. Goodness knows, when my wife’s folks owned the property the farmer now owns, cows got out from time to time, and more than once, we got pressed into service to get them back in the pasture. One stretch of bad fence was repaired a year ago. But there’s probably more work that needs to be done. Well, duh, has people often say.

We fenced in the area of our property where the septic tank’s feeder lines run just because we couldn’t trust all those miles of fences to stay sound. The cows were all around our fenced in feeder lines. Had they gotten in there, their weight in the wet soil from several torrential rains would have caused a lot of damage.

Maybe a short story called “The Black Cow Murders” is the way to go. The thing is, I’m superstitious and worry that if I write about a herd of cattle in our yard, I’ll create the events in my short story–kind of of like self-fulfilling prophecy. So, I’m holding back on a fictionalize version of the cow thing.

It’s possible I can solve the problem by writing a story where the herd of cattle runs off and is never seen again. Hmm.




Old Photographs as Writing Prompts

MHS Calendar

MHS Calendar

This 2016 Montana Historical Society calendar sits right next to my desk, so I find myself wondering about the people and the situations behind the pictures. Since the photographs are mostly posed, that happened before and after probably comes down to finding clothes and props and setting up the picture and then putting everything away afterwards. But forgetting that, what might have happened before and after if the photograph had really been candid?

Where did this cute kid go in her goat cart? Did she take a spin around the property, down the road to her nearest friend’s house, or maybe into some forbidden meadow where her parents told her not to go? The calendar’s June photograph shows a woman sending a stream of milk over to her waiting cat while milking a cow. I find myself wondering if the cat shows up daily during milking the way modern day cats appear when they hear a can opener.

Since these photographs sit next to my desk a month at a time, I have multiple occasions for playing “what if?”

You don’t need to be an historical society member to try using old photographs as writing prompts. Old pictures are fairly easy to find on the internet whether they’re in a museum, national parks, or historical society archive, or simply one of the many images available when you do a Google search. Candid pictures work best for me, followed by the posed pictures of everyday people. Famous pictures and/or pictures of famous people don’t work for me at all because I’ve seen them so often.

Of course, you can do this with modern day photographs as well, though if they include your family and friends, it’s a bit harder to pretend you know nothing about their lives and can make up stuff that happened a nanosecond after the photo was taken.

You don’t have to use photographs of people. Interesting outdoor shots, spooky buildings and strange street senes might be more to your liking. See what kind of a story you can tell about what-if events the photographer didn’t see.

I find this exercise kind of fun, especially if my muse has temporarily deserted me and I need to jump start my writing.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the audiobooks “Conjure Woman’s Cat” and “Sarabande.”




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