The Hidden Object: A Prompt for Fiction Writers

This week before Christmas, I’m thinking about how, as a child, I couldn’t resist searching for presents my mother had hidden from me. I wish I could say I was a better kid who could resist that temptation, but, alas. . . . Of course, one of two things happened whenever I found a gift meant for me. I either felt deflated when I opened it on Christmas day because the surprise was gone, or I was disappointed because what I found wasn’t what I had asked for at all. The moral of this story? Be careful when you go looking for hidden treasure because you just might find it.

Or maybe you won’t, which leads me to this brief prompt for fiction writers. You can use this to begin a narrative.

Your main character has hidden something in a drawer or a closet or a basement, etc. From time to time, they check to see if it’s still there. But one day, they look and find it gone. Where did it go? What will they do to try to retrieve it? How will their attempt change them forever?

Stories often open with a hint of mystery. Who took whatever it is the main character hid? Why did that character hide this item? Do they suspect a particular person? How do they feel now that the item is missing? Why is it so important to get it back? What’s the first step they take to try to find it? How does that first step complicate the search? What surprise waits at the end of it? These are some of the questions that might guide your plot.

When we write fiction, we might think about the inciting incident, the one that sets the plot in motion. Let the character create the action. Find ways to complicate that action. Come to a climactic moment in which the character has to make a choice. That choice will change them. Think of ways to complicate the final action. Maybe the character makes a choice that surprises them. Maybe the consequences are the opposite of what the character intends. Land in that place that surprises both on the plot and the character level.

Characters are always hiding something. Sometimes they repress something about their true essences. Sometimes they refuse to acknowledge some truth about themselves, others, or dramatic situations. Something is always working its way to the surface because of the pressure the plot provides. If the character can create that plot through their own choices, all the better.

I hope everyone has a very happy holiday season. May whatever someone is hiding from you come to light with delight and joy.

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