Google “writing prompts,” and a wealth of story starters appears. It’s this glut of sometimes ridiculous material that Dan Wiencek satirizes for McSweeney’s with “Thirteen Writing Prompts.” Among my favorites is this John Gardner-inspired exercise:
Write a scene showing a man and a woman arguing over the man’s friendship with a former girlfriend. Do not mention the girlfriend, the man, the woman, or the argument.
and this wild setup:
A man has a terrifying dream in which he is being sawn in half. He wakes to find himself in the Indian Ocean, naked and clinging to a door; a hotel keycard is clenched in his teeth. Write what happens next.
Think these are just goofs? Check out these contest-winning samples inspired by these prompts.