Between the Lines

October. Caramel apples and pumpkins. Halloween! Halloween means make-believe, costumes, fun themes and parties. Prompts for such a creative month is a wonderful way to have fun with writing. It’s also a terrific excuse to take a magical trip down memory lane. But beware: Using these prompts may unleash creative thoughts that keep you up at night.

Memories: What is your favorite part of Halloween? Favorite memory? What was your best costume? What is your favorite terrifying movie of all time? See where these memories take you, and if a tale begins forming, go with it and free write to get your ideas down. Then go back and shape it into a tale of terror!

Places: List places or objects that could be haunted. What happened and why is it haunted? Write a story with a graveyard or an abandoned house as a setting. What about a seemingly normal house with murderous intentions? What about a noise in the middle of the night? What is making it? Write about someone lost in the woods. What about someone moving in next door who doesn’t seem quite right? What is going on? What about a bed-and-breakfast with evil hosts? Stephen King wrote many bestsellers (novels and short stories) using ordinary places. A resort closed down for the winter. A cornfield. A sewer under a small town. A prison, supermarket, railroad track, truck stop, even an industrial laundry. Make a list of all the places you’ve been, lived, even where you go on a typical day. What can go wrong (supernaturally or otherwise)?

Creatures: Write a story about a clown (yes, it’s hard to top Pennywise, who hides in dark sewers in the Stephen King novels, but give it a try). Other than a circus, where might you find him? What does he do when no one is looking? What about an alien who comes to earth and shifts into a human form? Write about making friends (or dating him/her). What might happen to make you suspicious? Create a monster. How? Imagine what would be terrifying for you. How did it come to be, where does it live, what does it do, why is it so frightening? And what about my particular nightmare, a doll or stuffed animal that isn’t as lifeless as it seems? What other object can become a creature with devious intentions? What about monsters who hide behind ordinary people: a psychiatrist, a tour guide, a supermarket clerk or a bartender? How do they avoid being caught? What is their motivation? The possibilities are endless.

Mix holidays: Write a story about Krampus — the horned mythical helper of Santa Claus/St. Nicholas, who punishes the naughty. What is his origin story? Why is he attached to Santa Claus? Where does he live? Is he jealous of Santa or is he happy in his role? What about other Santa helpers — a killer elf? What about a dangerous bunny (hats off to Monty Python here)? What about a turkey seeking revenge? Or a dangerous leprechaun (yes, been done, but consider how to make it fresh — Neil Gaiman did so in “American Gods”). 

Start by journaling or making lists, and when a story comes, free write and let your creativity flow!

Kathy Steffen is an award-winning author of “First, There Is a River,” “Jasper Mountain” and “Theater of Illusion.” She writes, creates art and gardens from her home in Spring Green that she shares with her husband and kitties.