Friday, January 20, 2012

Writing Exercise: Status update story starters

Something occurred to me on facebook yesterday as I was posting a strange experience I'd had at the phlebotomist's office that morning. Facebook status updates (or twitter updates) can be great story starters. Maybe not for that amazing book I'm going to write someday, but definitely as a writing exercise!

Here's how it happened. I posted this little story:

Before the guy drew my blood this morning, he palpated the vein a few times and then muttered, "It's harder to find with gloves on." Just the thing you want to hear from the foreign-sounding phlebotomist before he sticks a needle in your arm.

People I know responded with a mixture of humor and horror at this tidbit, and then it hit me. That wonderful "what if." It wasn't a story IDEA, but just a plain old idea. What if I made that the first sentence in a story? Would it work to draw people in? It had been compelling enough to attract comments on facebook, which is at least some kind of barometer for compelling-ness. :) I decided with a few tweaks, it would be a fun first sentence. It could launch me into a story about a woman getting a routine blood test drawn or a teenager with a chronic illness who spends an inordinate time getting needles stabbed in her arm. Voila. Writing exercise!

Try it with twitter:

"Don't even think of sneaking in that sausage!"

Is it Mom scolding your little brother for trying to feed the dogs at the pound? Actually, the link goes to a news blip about customs agents with adorable beagles putting the smackdown on people trying to smuggle illicit foodstuffs into the U.S. Hee hee. Something about 'illicit foodstuffs' just makes me giggle. The fun thing about this writing exercise it that you can bend the first line into any story you want. That's what makes it a creative exercise.

Go ahead, look at the cinnamon rolls. Mmmm... 

"I got up this morning and made cinnamon rolls because I couldn't think of a reason why not to." 

What I love about this tweet is the way it shows Claudia's personality. Starting with a voicey statement is always great. As a reader, I'm immediately intrigued. (Remember, if you are borrowing your first line from another writer's status update (I follow a lot of writers at varying stages of their journeys), make sure it just helps you START your writing exercise or story. If you want to get it published, you'll need it to be all your own work, so that first line will have to be changed. (See fabulous writer movie Finding Forrester for the consequences of plagiarism)

Something you might find fun is going through your old status updates to see which, if any, would work as first lines. Since we're writers, we naturally put care into those brief snippet stories we tell our friends through facebook and twitter. You might find that some of your best work has already been started by you. It just needs a little (okay, a LOT of) TLC to blossom into something else. 

I can't be the only person who enjoys taking things out of context! 

Here are some more of my own facebook status updates, sometimes tweaked a little to be story starters (feel free to use any of them):

There is one girl on Sam's basketball team.

I've had better days.

Heating pad, you are my only friend.

Mmmm, baby likes honey. She's moving around like crazy in my belly.

I had the absolute worst, vivid nightmare last night. Maybe I should lay off the California rolls before bed.

Okay, that's enough of my strange life. Now look at your own facebook and twitter pages and see if you can't find something that could inspire a story. This writing exercise could turn into your next book. Or it could just get you out of a writing funk. Either way, it's a win.

Happy writing!!

And for funsies, in the comments, post your favorite status update, either by you or someone else (give credit where it's due, please). 


  1. Love this! I think of my own recent tweets, the story starter might be this one:

    "I actually got my Bachelor's degree in Recycling Bin Location."

    (Someone at work walked past the recycling bin to my desk, handed me a huge stack of newspapers, and asked me to dispose of them for him. I should have been irritated, but I was wayyyy too busy cracking up.)

    Also, I've never spoken to this person, but someone I'm following retweeted this, and I absolutely love it:

    "One of my fav games: When the elevator doors open and it's full, I walk on and say "I bet you're wondering why I called you all here.""!/colleenaf/status/159369160432951296

  2. Ha ha!! Becky, I knew you were a nice person, but doing OTHER people's recycling for them? You should be sainted. And I love the elevator line, too! Sounds like something my corny dad would do.

    Thanks for sharing!!

  3. Great idea. I've used my facebook posts for blog entries but I haven't used them for writing prompts. I posted this one a few days ago. If I take out the second sentence, I could go anywhere with this one.

    My children have developed artificial British accents. Thank you You Tube and Monty Python.

  4. :) Good ole Monty Python! LOL!

    And good idea about using your facebook updates for blog entries! *steals the idea* Thank you. ;)

  5. What a fun idea. Thanks for sharing:)

  6. Great idea, fun and got my juices flowing! Thank you. :-)


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