Writing Prompts Memories and Shared Past

May 28, 2012 | Writing Life, Writing Craft, Inspiration, Writing Prompts

writing prompts memories and shared pasts Today, I thought we’d use objects from our shared past and our memories around those objects as writing prompts. Below is a list of things to stir your memories as writing prompts.

Last Memorial Day, I was going into the grocery store with my son. Standing outside the door was an older man dressed in uniform. In his hands were a silver bucket for collecting donations and a cup filled with paper poppies. Immediately I reached into my bag and pulled out a dollar.

Those poppies and I have history. I remember my grandparents buying them from a man who looked a lot like this soldier when I was my son’s age. I remember spreading the paper to show the dark center. I remember twisting the green wire stem around my finger and I remember my grandparents explaining that the poppy was in memory of those who had fought for us in war and the money would go to help those same men and women. I can even remember the heat of the sidewalk as we stood outside the Five and Dime to pay him and the relief of the air conditioning as we went inside. I remember feeling I’d gotten something special when I was handed that little red paper poppy that had probably cost my grandfather no more than five cents, and I remember trying to save it by twisting the wire stem around a knob on my dresser when I got home.

One simple little paper poppy, but it brings back sights, sounds, smells, and emotions. Writing prompts from memories and a shared past. Can there be anything more powerful? I don’t think so.

And I bet it does the same for a lot of you because that poppy isn’t just an object from my past, it’s an object from a shared past. And that makes it even more powerful because when someone else reads about it, they will remember it too. The feelings of warmth or sadness or joy are built into the memory of this shared past, just like it is for you. Once you have the memory, you probably won’t even need the writing prompts. The memories and ideas will flow. But just in case a list of writing prompts memories for you to use…

Writing Prompts Memories and Shared Pasts Ideas

What other shared memories, past objects, or experiences do we have?

  • Girl Scout Cookies?
    • What flavor was your favorite? What did it taste like? What did it smell like?
    • Did you sell them? Door-to-door or at a booth? Who did you talk to?
    • Did you buy them? From someone at your door or at a booth? Who was there?
    • How about delivery time? Did you pull them around in a wagon? Did your parents drive you?
  • The mechanical horse that sat outside the grocery or five and dime?
    • What color was it?
    • How did the metal feel in the winter or summer?
    • What smells do you remember?
    • Were other kids waiting?
  • Those cheap plush toys you could win at the carnival?
    • Which one did you want so much?
    • What color was it?
    • What did the ground feel like under your feet when you were trying to win it?
    • Did you win it? Did someone win it for you? Did you have to settle for some other prize?
    • How did you feel after winning it or not winning it?
    • What did your parents tell you? That it wasn’t worth the cost of the game? Or were they all for the fun of trying?
  • The ID bracelet you got from that first “boyfriend” or gave to that first “girlfriend”?
    • Was it cold against your skin?
    • Was it heavy or light?
    • Were you proud to wear it or embarrassed?
  • A corsage from a dance? Or a boutonnière?
    • What kind of flower was it? Color? Smell?
    • Who pinned it on you? Was that embarrassing? Did the pin graze you?
  • Selling chocolates or magazines or candles for school or a club? (write about the selling experience itself or just let the item you sold inspire you)
    • What club was this for? What was the prize for selling the most?
    • Did you go door to door? Who went with you?
    • Did you sell them at school?
    • Was it hard to sell these things or fun?
    • What was the item? Was it popular at the time? Have a smell or feel that you can describe?
  • The jungle gym or slide at the school playground.
    • Who used it?
    • What was it made of?
    • How did you or others use it that wasn’t “approved?”
    • What tricks did you do on it? Hang upside down? Run up it?
    • Was it hot or cold or have a spot that tore your clothes?
    • Was it popular?
    • Was there ever a fight or disaster that happened near it?
  • writing prompts memories and shared pastsYour favorite lunch item at school. (Mine was the rectangular pizzas.)
    • What day was it served?
    • What was it?
    • What did it smell and taste like?
    • Did everyone like it or just you?
  • A field trip.
    • Where did you go?
    • How did you get there?
    • Who went with you?
    • Sights, smells, things you touched?
    • Did you have to save to get there?
  • Buying school supplies. (Remember the excitement of picking out a lunch box?)
    • Were you excited?
    • What was your favorite new thing to get?
    • What did you want that your parents wouldn’t buy for you?
    • Who else was in the store?
  • Making glue fingernails in your ruler at school.
    • Did everyone make them? Just you?
    • Did you wear them?
    • Did you get in trouble for making them?
  • The kid with all the best school supplies. (I was so jealous.)
    • Who was this kid? Describe him
    • Who do you think he is today? Imagine…
    • What did he have that was so great?
    • How jealous were you?
  • Whatever “hot” toy everyone wanted.
    • Did you beg your parents?
    • Or have every color or style of whatever the item was?
    • How did you feel when you saw the box or opened the present?
    • What happened to the toy after it’s “hot” period was over? Is it in a closet or sold at a yard sale?
  • Making cootie catchers or Jacob’s Ladder.
    • Who could do this best?
    • How did it feel folding the paper or pulling the string through your fingers?
    • How did you learn new tricks? From whom?
  • Putting flowers on a grave.
    • Why are you there? Memorial Day or someone just died?
    • Who is the person? Did you know them?
    • Who is with you? Are they sad or just going through the motions?
    • Are you told not to walk across the graves or any other “rules?”
    • What do the flowers look like? Do you like them?
    • What is a grave that catches your attention?
    • What do you imagine about that person?
  • Eating your mom or your aunt’s or whoever’s best maybe “secret” dish.
    • What were they known for? How often did the make it?
    • What event were you at that it was served?
    • How did it taste and smell?
    • Did she share the recipe? Hide it? Brag about it?

There are tons of objects and experiences from our shared pasts that make great writing prompts memories. Pick just one and see what it brings to mind for you. Then take those sensations and emotions and look at them from your character’s point of view. How are they different? How are they the same? Play, explore and my guess is, you will end up with something that resonates with everyone.

So Writing Prompts Memories and Shared Pasts… do you have any to add to the list?



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