Story Prompts

Every writer has heard of them. Some of us have begged for them. We’ve even groaned and considered running away when we’ve seen them. I’m talking about story prompts. They can take many forms, everything from a short scene description to character description to a line from the news and more. They can help get you get past the “OMG, I can’t think of anything to write” phase. But they can also be a danger by jumping you with a plot you really don’t have time for. That’s what happened to me this morning–thank you, Passive Guy. So, instead of playing with the quote he posted (and which I will come back to after I finish the next umpteen things on my to-be-written list) I give it to you. What would you do with this prompt:

If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance.

George Bernard Shaw

The story is now yours. Post your opening paragraph(s) in the comments below.

Have fun!

Featured Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

9 comments

  1. The townsfolk said Lord Roger was a martinet. They were mistaken. He was a marionette. And when we weren’t using him, we kept him under the stairs.

  2. I’d had the story straight from Grandfather, so I knew he hadn’t actually slaughtered an entire village to retrieve his stolen horse. But there was the . . . wall decoration . . . So very few people argued with him, and they might whisper behind his back about some of the hopefully entirely made up details, but NOBODY even thought about stealing a horse anywhere in the county. And even in the court people had gotten out of the way of doddering old Count Dolph.

    His funeral was going to be . . . interesting, and all the older relatives were whether to flaunt their ancestor’s deeds or try to put them decently away.

    “Maybe I should go out and have adventures.” Gerolf sighed. “I can’t get a rep, just sitting around here.”

    His cousin Boris nodded. “Or not the right kind of rep. I was thinking . . .”

    “And they ought to bury all those skulls with him! I can’t believe he just kept them stuck on the wall.” That was Aunt Hertha, pretending she was in charge.

    Uncle . . . Count Alban snorted. “I was thinking we should plaster them onto the outside of his tomb.”

    “Yeah, that’d be great.” Boris kept his voice down, but not quiet enough.

    Three more Aunts converged to frown down on them . . . Aunt Ina led the charge. “Your Grandfather let you boys run wild, but now . . .”

    Gerolf pulled himself up to his four foot height. “I will keep the skulls. Grandfather always found them useful.”

  3. Georgia Lee sighed her deepest sigh. Upstairs the ghost of great Aunt Bedelia Jane Withers did her signature time step over and over. The click of taps on hardwood flooring was Georgia Lee’s cross to bear. But what if she arranged a dance recital for Aunt Bedelia Jane?

  4. If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance.
    -George Bernard Shaw

    A soft hand shook Samatha’s shoulder awake. “Miss Sloan,” the woman’s voice said, “they’re almost ready for you.”

    Samatha rolled her neck and sighed, and looked at her housekeeper. “So soon?” she muttered, knowing how petulant she had to have sounded waking up and Mrs. Niven didn’t deserve that. A gentle squeeze of Mrs. Niven’s hand was all the apology she needed.

    “Yes, Miss,” she nodded, straightening up and offered her a hand to get up off the couch. “The necroteers have fully assembled your father’s and mother’s bones from the ossuary and they say that they’re ready to start fabrication.”

    Samantha took Mrs. Niven’s hand and stood up. Like any working necromancer, she kept her hair short for easy cleaning and her outfit was scandalously daring and masculine in the Year of Our Lord 1934-a simple white linen blouse with jumper-strapped jodhpurs and solid ankle-high boots. But, she had to admit it looked good on her-especially since she had it tailored to her body to show off every curve. She pulled her tool belt off the chair and started to strap it around her waist. “Very well then. Please let Master Price know that I will be there and ready in…,” she looked at the clock in the corner. “Ten minutes. Considering the work, I would like…no, I want, an early dinner. Light but with something chocolate and sweet for dessert.”

    “Yes, Miss,” Mrs. Niven nodded, and started to step back towards the door. “I also made sure that the working area was secure and all of the men that know how are armed, just in case.”

    “Thank you,” Samantha smiled, and sighed. “I am sorry, this is never good for any of us, this work. I apologize for any frustration that I may have given you.”

    Mrs. Niven smiled for a moment, making her look half her age. “Part of my duties, Miss,” she nodded, and quietly left the room.

  5. Silver moonlight and a deceptively gentle breeze teased sharp leaves of the Acalath trees below, scattering light in every direction. A playful challenge. Her own shadow leaped from the balcony loosing itself far, far below, even as the faintly golden light from her room lost itself in the cool joy of the moonlight.

    The breeze dared to tug at her long copper braid, even as the moonlight shunned her dark skin. Skin bred to blend in the deep darkness of the below lands where no moon ever came. Jasmine and rose joined the moon and the breeze in calling her. Tantelizing her nose.. it was only three stories, an easy drop for such as she. The earth would catch her.. the Earth would catch her.. her only ally.

    She let her charcoal booted feet dangle over the railing, chasing her own shadow… the first shadow. The earth joined the call of the life it supported, beckoning her. She strained her ears, but there was no sound. No bird was foolish enough to come here, to this place. And the Earth mourned the loss. Lamented to her in voice her father must hear… he had tried often enough to get birds to come. But they were creatures of the air, not of the earth. So they did not come. Perhaps could not come.

    She reached out sensing as well as seeing the second shadow. The world shadow. Sharp lines of trees in the moonlight. The dancing lights of the brightly reflective Acalath leaves. Too bright to look at in daylight… not that was saying much for her deep-bred eyes. The alien strangenes of this bright world. Bright even at night. Shadows, rather than true darkness. The shadow of night. The world’s shadow. The second shadow.

    And what was she? A weapon. Her father had seen to that. But the power of Earth hummed in her mind and her veins even as it did in his. What was the weapon to be turned on? A tool to unearth the skeletons others hid so assiduously? That would suit him. The Black Baron was nothing if not ruthless.. and cunning. Even with his oldest daughter. Perhaps especially with her as she was his Heir.

    Heir in more than just power and blood… she flinched from the memory, the horror and the ecstacy both, and reached up to rub the two ivory horns peeking out from her copper hair, bright enough to reflect the moonlight itself. A sign of the demon blood her grandfather had bargained into their line. A half-known skeleton in thier own closet.

    She leaned back with perfect balance, taking in the night sky… stars scattered everywhere. So beautiful. If only their beauty hadn’t come at so dear a price. Her eyes, the violet eyes of the deep elves, turned down the mountain to where one by one the little lanterns the people here still kept with their ‘electric lighting’ gone and broken were being extinguished, like stars being snuffed in the sky.

    What had these people done to deserve the Black Baron? The Earth here bowed to the Tower, but resented it. She could feel the tension between earth and earth and when it gave… She shuddered. Was that what he wanted of her? To be a weapon to bring this land and its people to heel? To bring Earth into line with Earth?

    That wasy was dust. Why couldn’t he see it? Had the Earth not told him? She didn’t think it could keep anything from him. Not the Master of the Tower…

    She nodded to herself. If the answer was not to bring this old world into line with the new, there was only one other way. And if her father would make of her a weapon so be it. There would be a third shadow tonight, and her family’s skeleton would be used… Perhaps for the better in spite of itself.

  6. Rose nodded quickly whenever directly addressed. Which wasn’t often. They were already talking, with painful loudness, about what they would do to get Aunt Lucy out of her grave. It wasn’t as if they had ever had this much trouble before, not with Uncle Charles, now grinning in the laundry closet, or Aunt Matilda, dancing on the roof.

    She had packed already. When, in due course, she had turned into a skeleton in her grave, they would not discover why she would not dance.

  7. “Alethea Jennasdottir, that is not your father.” Miss Kaja was looking up at the tall man who’d come in with Althea, and gripping her desk tightly enough her knuckles didn’t have any blood left in them.

    Crane appreciated that her freeze response kept her hand away from the panic button under the desk, for his sake, but he mentally noted that the teachers needed better training to overcome the hesitation and alert security if anyone who intended to be a threat should enter. Alethea was bouncing under his restraining hand, sheer distracted delight overcoming any notice of her teacher’s disapproval. “Miss Kaja, this is Uncle Crane! He’s who mama calls to fix everything when Daddy’s gone, and since Daddy is Out right now, mama said he could come instead!”

    Crane smiled, as much at the consternation in the teacher’s face as the delight in the tiny hand dragging him to meet all her classroom friends and their fathers. “A pleasure to meet you, Miss Kaja.” He looked up at the paper chains and party decorations on the wall, and allowed himself to be towed off to the punch that was clearly off limits without adult supervision. In a few years, he’d have to teach his not-quite-adopted almost-daughter the dangers of open drink containers, but for now, he served the vile green concoction complete with two floating marshmallows to her, and took a glass for himself.

    The corner with the best lines of sight and access to the window exit was already occupied by a young soldier. Or, by the way his inskin reported to Crane, not so young, but freshly out of regen and back in retraining. The boyish face looked at him with wide eyes that didn’t help the impression of youth, and said softly, “Sir?”

    “You know what they say, Corporal. If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton… You might as well make him dance.” He smiled as Alethea started happily pogoing to the party music, knowing he had at least three songs on the playlist before she’d drag him out and try to teach him how to move.

    “Ah… Alethea is your niece, Sir?” From the sound of it, the corporal had just been checking an attendance list on his own inskin, but hadn’t yet gotten all the way to believing the information there.

    “Contrary to popular opinion, I did not appear fully formed out of the void of subspace after dark rites conducted by the command and general staff college.” Crane lifted an eyebrow, and returned the conversational favour. “Which one is yours?”

    “Elin, Sir. Elin Annasdottir. The little raven over there. Well, she’s not mine, Sir, but her mother, she was married to Stefan, one of my squadmates.” The boyish look was revealed for a lie at the thousand-yard stare, then. “He didn’t make it out of Sunstrand, so I’m standing in for him.”

    “Understood.” Crane nodded, and took a breath. “Alethea’s father is still alive and kicking, but… unavailable right now.”

    “Leave no man… or little girl behind, right, sir?”

    “Exactly, corporal. Even if it does mean drinking the punch.” He eyed the glass. “This can’t be healthy.”

    “Of course not. It tastes good, and it’s guaranteed to give a sugar high to anything massing under eighty pounds.”

  8. Jamie leaned against the wall and crossed his arms across his chest. “Let me tell you a story. You willing to listen?”
    She nodded. “Of course.”

    “My parents met backstage at a show,” he started. “Mom was a backup dancer, dad was covering for a singer with a hangover. Both had just put in their interests in being Talents for the agency. With me so far?”
    When she nodded, he continued. “They got married the same day they auditioned and signed a family contract. Mom was a Talent, Dad was a Talent, they would do shows together when possible and if one of them was sick or injured, the other could cover for them. The Agency would cover all their expenses and they got a cut from every show. They were traveling and performing so much, they didn’t bother to buy a house, just kept their rooms at the Agency.”

    “It’s a space station,” Victoria said softly. “It makes sense not to buy a house on a planet if you’re never going to be there. And the rooms here are nice.”

    “Much nicer than the typical space station quarters,” Jamie agreed. “It made sense. They didn’t need to spend money on those things so they didn’t. And when mom got pregnant, they just added another room from the dorms. All very nice and cozy and convenient. And there was the family contract. Any children they had would be considered a Talent until they could make the decision for themselves if they wanted to perform or not.”

    She frowned and he nodded. “I acted a lot as a baby and toddler but I was a better singer and dancer than I was an actor once I figured out how to do that. I learned to dance as soon as I learned to walk and made appearances in both my parents shows. Covered for Mom when she broke her foot the first time and she was in the front row, the anti-grav shoes keeping the weight off her feet until she could heal. I was ten at the time.”

    “A few years later, she broke the other foot and Dads show was booked to cover her recovery time. And she was there every night, front row, drink in hand and anti-grav boots on her feet to keep people from noticing she was injured. When I hit a growth spurt, I became a permanent part of her act, helping her dance and supporting her on stage so she could hide the pain she felt while she was dancing. Eventually, the anti-grav boots were just a part of the act. Designed to look like dance shoes, nobody noticed, and she could do jumps and twists that were impossible.”

    “She’d talked to Dominick about retiring. You’ve met him, right? And he said it was in her contract that she was a Talent so she had to be visible. She could step back from dancing but she had to do something. They made her and dad judges for the auditions to make the Starlight Five. My role was supposed to be temporary. The boys auditioning would have five minutes to learn their part in a duet and then sing it with me. As more boys were passed through, we’d do more ensemble pieces and add dance moves.

    “At the end of each round of auditions, Mom and I would dance to close out the show. I could see how much strain it was putting on her and tried to help but there was only so much I could do. At the last audition, I saw the terror in her eyes when her spine broke on stage. I changed the move to catch her and slowly lay her floor while the lights went down and we called for medical. Apparently, the anti-grav boots weren’t meant for long-term use and they’d eaten out her bones until they were almost hollow.

    “Mom retired,” he said with a bitter laugh. “And Dad, too, to take care of her. And I had a decision to make. See, it was a family contract but I was coming of age soon and it wouldn’t be binding. The Agency would continue taking care of my parents as long as they lived as long as there was someone from the family willing to do their gigs. And I’d have to do my own thing, too, to keep myself covered. Singer, Dancer, Front man, all in the same role. It’d be easy, they said, I just had to keep doing what I’d been doing with the band they put together.”

    “Oh, Jamie,” Victoria said, suddenly understanding what it meant to have your heart in your throat. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t know. I knew she’d retired but I thought-”

    “Nobody knows,” Jamie told her. “And nobody will know. We’ve all of us got skeletons in our closet, mine just dance. The point of that was the anit-grav boots.”

    “What?” she asked, confused.

    “Look, I know they help you do dance moves that nobody else can pull off but they’re not for long-term use. If you start using them now, you’re going to destroy your body before you even have a career.”

    “Oh,” Victoria said, looking down at her feet. “I’m not wearing anti-grav boots. Not even the fancy ones that look like shoes. I didn’t even think about using them.”

    He looked stunned. “You mean, you did that routine all by yourself?”

    She nodded slowly. “Yeah?”

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