Postcard Story Ideas
August 30, 2023 2:58 AM   Subscribe

I have an extended work trip coming up and I wanted to do something special for my 10-year-old. I was thinking of getting a bunch of different postcards and sending one a day with a partial story written on them so when the twenty or so postcards are all together they create a short story.

The problem is that I'm not a great writer. I have a premise in mind, but was wondering if there were any short stories already written that I could edit/modify to make it into our own. Or if anyone has thoughts or ideas that could work better. This is still very much in its conceptual phase.

I am also open to any alternative ideas that might be radically different than this.

posted by wile e to Writing & Language (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I don't have any ideas of my own coming to mind immediately, but I will say this is a great question for ChatGPT. I copy-pasted the first few sentences of your query into it and it gave me a 14 postcard outline for the story of Whiskers, The Magical Journey of a Curious Cat, with a couple of topline bullet points on what each card could include.

You could then personalise this further with additional prompts to change the main character and what happens to them. Or you could keep hitting 'regenerate' until you find something that resonates with you.
posted by guessthis at 4:20 AM on August 30 [4 favorites]

A popular choice is to take along a stuffie or toy (but not THE stuffie or toy, if they still have a ONE AND ONLY) and send photos of it at different landmarks in the place you are visiting.

For the postcard story, be sure to number them, because no matter how carefully you send them in order, they will arrive in a completely different order.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:24 AM on August 30 [4 favorites]

You could do a "Things I saw/did in CITY NAME today" with the pre-arranged caveat that one of the things will be false and your ten-year-old will have to guess the false item for each day. Example: Today in Sacramento I: 1) Ate lunch on an old riverboat; 2) Walked past a Sacramento King eating an ice cream cone; 3) Drove across a big yellow bridge, and; 4) panned for gold.

All of those things could be true and #1, 3, and 4 could also be found on the front of the postcard.
posted by mulcahy at 7:38 AM on August 30

Not sure if it could run to 20 days and it might not amuse your 10y.o. but . . . send a banal message (time, breakfast menu, weather, old joke) each day in a different code: Morse, Braille, PigPen, semaphore, Caesar, a-z=1-26, Cyrillic alphabet, maritime signal flags cited French site has a number of coder/decoder options.
posted by BobTheScientist at 8:28 AM on August 30

Also, keep a photo of each postcard where the text is legible as postcards can get lost and your kid having only 19 of 20 would be a big disappointment. It's not just the very slight possibility that the post office could mislay one, it's the possibility that your kid could mislay one or more before they even had all arrived. The collection could end up real incomplete if you kid takes the first five they receive to school to show their best friends and they go missing there...

I'd personally suggest that your story be about you doing a spy mission, so that you can claim to have rappelled down the enormous tower, and fought a bad guy on the roof of a train, and send post cards of the tower and the train. Make it way over the top so that there is no chance your kid will believe it. A nice round up of spy cliches would be fun - there is probably a postcard of the interior of an amazing glamorous restaurant where you can claim to have been slipped a Mickey Finn by the sexy spy on the other side.

But to do this properly you may need to get some of the post cards before the story is entirely plotted out or you might have to illustrate the I got slipped a Mickey Finn story with a mediocre postcard of a park, where you came to consciousness, instead of a photo where your kid can imagine the clink of champagne flutes.

If your trip will take you to some destination with a massive art museum, buying a bunch of postcards of the paintings would enable you to centre the story about a glamorous mission involving international art thieves and you could buy a bunch of those for destinations where no other suitable post card could be found, and have that day's installment be the recovery of the painting depicted. But even the most dull of scenic photographs might work if you are inventive. One showing a moored tour boat could claim to be the boat you commandeered for a wild boat chase scene down the river, and a distance view of a bridge could be paired with a story about how you did a car chase over the bridge, or an airplane chase through the bridge pylons. A boring hotel could have an X drawn on one of the windows and be the room you rescued the kidnap victim from.

Most spy stories involve a McGuffin, so start with something you can bring back to your kid as a gift - stuffed animal, box of chocolates, low end real jewelry, data stick to save their games on - and have the microfilm/recording hidden inside the stuffed animal or the box of chocolates, which you present to the child on returning as once the evidence has been recovered the chocolates or the locket themselves are no longer needed.

You could test out this option for customized postcards, so as to include yourself in some of the pictures, or to get postcards of scenic views that aren't available in shops, such as creepy alleyways, or take a shot of a body silhouette drawn in chalk on the pavement in your hotel parking garage when you are desperate and don't have time to buy a postcard because the meeting with the clients in Mesa AZ ran late.

Also, you might possibly want to include your coworkers in this mission, should you choose to accept it, as they might both be able to find you more postcards or be willing to assist or offer suggestions of local plots/postcards. This is where taking photographs of all your postcards and your stories will be useful, because you can show them the pictures to more easily explain what you are doing.

Don't be afraid of dangling ends. It's fine if the postcards you can locate don't enable you to finish the thread about the kidnapped US Senator, because you can always inform your kid airily with an indifferent shrug, "Oh, he escaped on his own."

One good technique for the telling of short stories like this with random elements like when the next installment is limited to one of whatever postcards are available at the airport, is the fortunately/unfortunately theme to move the action along. Each installment begins with one and ends with the other. At the airport leaving your own town you were handed the box of chocolates with the secret evidence hidden inside. Unfortunately it was stolen by a woman with gold tooth.

Next postcard, you fortunately tracked the woman with the gold tooth down in front of this monument and recovered the chocolates, unfortunately she took a hostage so she could escape.

Next postcard, fortunately you commandeered a sports car to chase her across this bridge, unfortunately she managed to commandeer a boat and get away down the river.

Next picture: you found out she had gone to Cape Coral FL (because you did) where she abandoned her boat in this marina, but luckily the hostage left behind a note saying they were going to Lubbock, TX (your next destination).

In Lubbock the spy with the gold tooth will attempt an assassination and you will get into a fist fight with her, but after that the trail goes cold (because it turns out you punched her in the mouth and she lost the gold tooth so you can't identify her again)

You'll fortunately swap her gold tooth to get on the roller coaster at Six Flags to try to catch her, but it unfortunately turns out that roller coasters are carefully spaced to prevent crashes so she'll get away... and on and on
posted by Jane the Brown at 8:30 AM on August 30 [1 favorite]

My mom did something like this for me when I was a kid but she actually pre-wrote the postcards and gave them to my grandparents so they could give one a day to me while she was actually gone. You might consider that since otherwise some of the postcards might not arrive till you’re back. You could supplement with real ones sent from the road, too! What if you look up fun facts about the place you’re going and write down some interesting tidbits for your kid? Another idea: a mystery story set in your location could be fun, and each postcard gives clues—“I was down by the hotel pool and saw a mysterious set of footprints leading into the locker room but nobody was in there and no footprints led out! I wonder where they went?”
posted by music for skeletons at 8:30 AM on August 30

Best answer: One of the few use cases that actually make sense for ChatGPT are personalized stories for children. You can tell it what to include in the story and have it rewrite based on your feedback.
posted by Jacqueline at 3:44 PM on August 30 [1 favorite]

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