It was for "Homework Assignment #3," a story just published in The Militant Grammarian, and the prompt was: “Write something in which a place becomes a metaphor or is a locus of a specific emotion.”
Seems simple enough. But at the time I was given that prompt, I didn't want to write a simple straightforward story. I didn't want to write a serious story about a heavy emotion.
I wanted to write something that would be more fun.
So I decided to write a dramatic monolog from the perspective of a college student in a writing workshop who is trying to explain to his writing professor why he's struggling to write a story using the same writing prompt. In the end, he does actually describe a room and the emotion it holds but only in an indirect way that allowed me to have some fun.
Along the way, the narrator describes seven different ideas along with the reasons he doesn't think they'd work. For me, part of the fun was that instead of coming up with just one room and one emotion, I had to come up with eight -- the seven that the narrator dismisses and the one room that he ultimately describes.
For example, one of ideas would require a flashback, and the narrator dismisses the overall concept because he knows -- has been told, as I have -- that flashbacks are much more complicated than you'd think, in part because they disrupt the narrative flow. So of course, I included a significant flashback in "Homework Assignment."
The goal was that all the story concepts had to be different from each other, different characters, settings, etc. They couldn't be a variation of a theme or involve the same character or location. At the same time, they had to have a way to connect to the narrator, had to seem like concepts he could have devised, and had to help with the emotional payoff at the end. And I wanted many of them to have a humorous element, something to make it fun to write and to keep the reader's interest.
An added benefit for me was that when I looked at the stories-within-the-story, I decided some of them were worth writing as standalone stories. One of them, "Shrine to the Cult of Joy," recently received an honorable mention in the 2023 Marblehead Literary Festival. Another needs some polishing and I hope to start submitting soon. In the meantime, I'm working on two others.
Which is to say that "Homework Assignment #3" has spun off several stories I'm proud of, a pretty good payoff for one writing prompt.