Pocket Prompt Expansion: Something Explodes #5 – Getting Political

In previous posts, we’ve explored literal and emotional explosions, dire consequences and Cause & Effect, and I promised we’d explore that more as the expansion of the ‘Something Explodes’ card continues.

When discussing Cause & Effect, and specifically when focusing on something so charged as an explosion, one question must be asked that, unfortunately, rings through the news on a regular basis: is it political?

Without getting too deep into current affairs, the political nature of an explosion, literal or emotional, can have a rolling effect on the entire story, and can inspire the origins of a much wider plot than you originally attempted to write about.

In this post, we’ll look at the multiple ways of writing politics.

The first thing most people might think of is extremism, so we’ll start there, and ask a few keys questions:

  • Is the political position in opposition to how your protagonist feels?
  • Is your protagonist affected by the explosion?
  • Does the explosion take place near your protagonist (e.g. in their hometown, or the place they’re living) or is it a faraway experience that drives conversation and controversy?
  • Is the political movement old, or is it a new level of extremism?

Answering those questions can help uncover a number of major plot points for your story, and guide the emotional fallout of the explosion for the rest of the narrative arc.

Another point you might want to look at with regards to politics and explosions: is there a political rally occurring in your story? If the plot, or a subplot, centres around an election or a dictatorship, how would an explosion disrupt one side’s attempts to gain popularity, or increase the notoriety of the marginalised position? Further questions you might want to ask:

  • Is your protagonist on the marginalised side of the political debate?
  • Is the explosion designed to injure or to inspire terror?
  • Who orchestrated the explosion?
  • Who benefits from the explosion?
  • What does the fallout of the explosion look like for all parties involved?

With those questions asked, we can move on from the literal explosions that centre around politics, and move onto emotional explosions.

During elections, emotions are raised. Families can argue. Neighbours can fight. Use the following questions to help guide the emotional stakes of a political event in your story:

  • Is your protagonist at odds with their family, friends, neighbours or co-workers?
  • How is the general public acting against controversy? Are there protests? Are they peaceful?
  • How is your protagonist involved in the politics?
  • What is on the line that has caused emotions to get raised? (Some examples from recent history: voting rights, abortion, divorce, legalising drugs, marriage rights.)
  • What can your protagonist do to escape the political drama?

Whether we like it or not, politics are a major aspects of our daily lives. We don’t need literal explosions in faraway regions of the world to inspire debate and discussion, and we don’t always need controversy to get riled up. Remembering to write about the political background of your story can be a game changer in making your world-building more believable and engaging.

And, if you really need the push, a political event can shift the entire focus of your story and raise the stakes of your plot from something that affects your protagonist to something that affects their entire city, country, or world.

Have you got your deck of Pocket Prompts yet? Order a set today!

Pocket Prompt Expansion: Something Explodes #4 – Cause & Effect

So far, we’ve looked at types of explosions and how to use them in a story, and a disastrous (or hyperbolic) consequence of the explosion. Now it’s time to look a little further back: cause.

Every story has a beginning, middle and end, and even if we begin with the explosion, the root explanation for it can – and should – inspire a lot more to come later.

We’ll be spending more time on this in the coming posts, but for now we’re going to look at Cause & Effect.

Both the name of an okay movie and an element of quantum theory, the Butterfly Effect suggests that one tiny action can have huge consequences given enough time. Writers shouldn’t consider themselves trapped by genre when it comes to science.

A small action can roll forward in any story. In Stranger Than Fiction, Will Ferrell’s life is changed because he resets his watch to just a few seconds behind his schedule. In How I Met Your Mother, Ted only meets the Mother because, one day long before, he found her umbrella and was using it as his own. In Game of Thrones, the Stark children are only separated because Ned decided to pursue the idea that the king might have an illegitimate heir.

You don’t need to look so close at the finer details, of course. You could seek to explain your explosion as either an action or a response.

As an action, your explosion is a result of a decision or something out of the control of those in the story. A bomb could explode – or a person, depending on your genre – or a pipe could burst. Someone could be looking for a fight, and so begin shouting.

As a response, your explosion is a consequence of an action. A gas leak combined with a lit match, a man grieving for his late mother, or any number of things that can cause a literal or emotional explosion in the aftermath. (Including, of course, a literal explosion resulting in an emotional one.)

Some questions for your consideration:

  • Is the explosion natural or man-made?
  • If it is natural, is it a result of weather, or was it like a volcano, waiting to blow?
  • If it is man-made, who is responsible?
  • If it is emotional, who is reacting to what?
  • How much of a build up to the explosion was there, either within your story or before it begins?

We’ll continue our exploration of explosions in your writing in the next post, as we get down and dirty with that most difficult of topics: politics.

Have you got your deck of Pocket Prompts yet? Order a set today!

Pocket Prompt Expansion: Something Explodes #3 – Dire Consequences

Something Explodes - Literal or Emotional

In my last post, I explores the concept of an emotional explosion, to pair up with the idea of a literal explosion. Today, we’re going to look at a different way of using the ‘Something explodes’ card: it’s time to look at dire consequences.

One question comes to mind every time the news channel plays a story about an explosion in a major city: Does someone die?

Pocket Prompts being what they are – non-specific but useful tools for creative writing – I’ve looked at this point in a number of ways. We have a few paths to take with this expansion, which takes into account literal deaths and metaphorical deaths through the use of hyperbole.

  • If the explosion is literal, does someone die?
  • How do they die? In the explosion, or by being trapped in the rubble?
  • How many people die?
  • If it is an emotional explosion, is the death still literal?
  • Who dies? How?
  • If it is an emotional explosion, is the death hyperbolic? (e.g. dying of embarrassment)

With every question and every additional prompt on the back of a Pocket Prompt card, ask yourself these two questions:

  • How does this affect my protagonist(s)?
  • How does this move the plot forward?

By having an answer to both questions, you’ll be able to make an informed decision about where your story is going, and how to move forward from this point.

Have you got your deck of Pocket Prompts yet? Order a set today!

Pocket Prompt Expansion: Something Explodes #1 – Literal Explosions

One of the first cards I decided upon for the first deck of Pocket Prompts was ‘Something explodes’. It’s bold, dramatic, and can stir a story.

In this series of posts, I’m going to show you how this one card can be used to tell many different types of stories, and affect much more change than you might imagine.

Creative thinking is all about asking the right questions. We’ll address many more of the specifics for an explosion as the month progresses, but for now: will you take the prompt literally, or metaphorically?

If it’s a literal explosion, you then have a number of other questions to deal with:

  • Is there fire?
  • Is it an underwater explosion?
  • Is the explosion a result of a bomb or just a change in pressure?
  • Could it be natural?
  • What sort of consequences are there to a literal explosion?

Some genres don’t loan themselves well to literal explosions, and that’s okay. There’s plenty more to come with just this card.

Have you got your deck of Pocket Prompts yet? Order a set today!

Pocket Prompt Expansion: Something Explodes #2 – Emotional Reactions

Previously, we looked at the ‘Something explodes’ card from the point of view of taking it literally. Now it’s time to step it up a notch.

In this series of posts, I’m going to show you how this one card can be used to tell many different types of stories, and affect much more change than you might imagine.

Something Explodes - Literal or Emotional

The natural follow-up to a literal explosion is a metaphorical explosion. In this case, one small plot point can have a knock-on effect for your characters: an emotional reaction.

Emotions are complicated and varied, which makes this a useful reminder that your characters should feel more than one thing and at more than one level. How a character feels affects how they act, and how they act affects the plot.

Some things to consider:

  • Is it a happy reaction? (e.g. cheering)
  • Is it an angry reaction? (e.g. shouting)
  • Is it a sad reaction? (e.g. crying)
  • Is it a fearful reaction? (e.g. screaming)

The Pixar movie Inside Out explores this concept of emotion well, and demonstrates an important fact to remember: emotional reactions are rarely just one thing.

As we grow older, and develop more intimate relationships, an explosion of emotion can come from a place of anger and sadness, happiness and fear, or any other combination of the above at different levels of potency – an unpredictable emotional cocktail that you wouldn’t order at the bar.

Have you got your deck of Pocket Prompts yet? Order a set today!

Introducing: Pocket Prompts

Launched on October 12th and 13th between the Dublin Comic Arts Festival (DCAF) and Octocon, Pocket Prompts are decks of double-sided cards that provide prompts in three categories:

Each deck comes with 25 cards, totalling 50 prompts, packed snugly to fit in your pocket, in your backpack, or in your handbag, so you can take them with you anywhere you go.

With 15 years of writing experience behind me, and a secondary school teaching degree in English, my focus when designing the cards was on creating something that can be used by anyone regardless of how much they’ve written, without restriction on genre.

Stay tuned for more posts on how I use the cards, and to explore how even the most specific of cards can be expanded for multiple uses.

Bulk discounts (10+ decks) are available for schools or writing groups – simply contact me and I’ll provide a quote.