“What did you see yesterday that affected you in some way?”
After asking myself the question, I use the first image that I see, and make up a story.
Yesterday as I was walking from Lincoln Center and talking to a friend about not how to stop making excuses for not doing things, we were momentarily blocked by a handsome, gray haired man who emerged from his brownstone, crossed the pavement just as we approached, and threw away a single crutch. The synchronicity of the moment amused me and I took it as positive reinforcement of current efforts. The story I created was about a man finally accepting the death of a lover, and so he cleans out his house in order to begin anew.
Out of the exercise came one phrase I liked: “In the middle of deep fall, the man was feeling spring awakenings, new buds forming on the old gnarly tree of his heart.” Overdone? Of course, but I enjoyed writing it.
The exercise is that once you recall the thing that struck you, you spend 15 minutes making up a story about the events that lead up to that moment for that person. It can be about a still life as well. For example if you were in Riverside Park at the Marina, and sat on a bench and enjoyed the view, you could make up a story about the last person who sat where you did.
You’ll find that this exercise cures the existential angst and puts you in the mode for your current project. It also trains you to put an image into words, very useful for screenwriters.