Day 2- A Pocket Sized Prompt by Mary Robinette Kowal

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A question from Mary Robinette Kowal, to prompt today's story

The Prompt

The thing that I want you to think about is is just the answer to a question :

What’s in your character’s pocket?

  • So is there a thing that they carry with them all the time?
  • Is there something that they have put in their pocket specifically just in that moment?
  • Do they not carry anything in their pocket? How can they get away with that?

What’s in their pocket?

Mary Robinette Kowal

Mary Robinette Kowal is the author of The Spare Man, Ghost Talkers, The Glamourist Histories series, and the Lady Astronaut Universe. She is part of the award-winning podcast Writing Excuses and a four-time Hugo Award winner. Her short fiction appears in Uncanny, Tor.com, and Asimov’s. Mary Robinette, a professional puppeteer, lives in Nashville. Visit at maryrobinettekowal.com or visit her Patreon

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53 thoughts on “Day 2- A Pocket Sized Prompt by Mary Robinette Kowal”

  1. Did this one in memory of my Mamaw, who always carried her dentures in her apron pocket!

    She was an iconic character, a woman ahead of her time and one of my biggest inspirations for stories.

  2. I began with a jacket with pockets that my first person narrator slips on to wear on a walk and took myself on a riverside walk on a fall day. I didn’t know what was in my pockets until I was sitting on a bench by the river. It got me thinking reflectively on what my own writing life could be like.
    Thanks for the prompt.

  3. I finished Day 2. Imagine my surprise when the prompt was about a pocket since yesterday the prompt was about something lost and I used a hole in my character’s pocket for her to lose something. Anyway, I created a scene for my existing characters from my Middle-Grade Portal Fantasy story that I’ve been working on for 4 years.

  4. I’m horribly late to the game, but I couldn’t resist signing up even with heightened work obligations this May.

    I loved this prompt and enjoyed what unfolded on the screen as I typed. I’m shirking the guilt of not completing a story. I produced a lovely puzzle piece for a project which has been shelved for too long.

  5. I started with just the list of what might be found in my MC’s pocket; then what each of these items meant. Ended up with the set up of a scene; thanks for that.

  6. I am trying to write a day out of schedule. I tend to get the prompts a little late as I’m an Aussie. I have written using the prompts for day 1 and now day 2. I’m using my problematic WIP that I love but find difficult to write so I am getting some new scenes down.
    I researched the items 19th century people would have in their pockets, glad that women tended to have quite large pockets back then. My heroine is a dressmaker’s assistant, and my hero is a squatter’s son, just back from university. They are running from a bushranger / disturbed brother of the hero for most of the story. Emma is looking through her pocket contents for something to help them, or just for something to distract her in a quiet moment. Jack does the same, and they find that Emma has a lot more on hand than he does. Still nothing on hand to help apart from a mostly empty pistol.
    Interesting prompt and interesting in the scene I wrote. Not very many words, but something at least.

  7. I’m commenting a day late, but I did write on day 2! (in my rule set I’m going for writing either fiction or poetry every day). Even though I know it will become a tougher pull later in the month, I was still very pleased that I got my writing in after missing my scheduled morning writing time. I did it by stopping on my route home for half an hour, knowing the distractions that awaited me at home would be too powerful for me to resist! *triumphant bugle noises*

    I also found that this prompt grew on me the more I thought about it. The “how do they get away with it” part grabbed me too. I wrote about someone fleeing a sewer creature through tunnels underneath a building, wishing they had something in their pocket to break another pipe open with. (In this society it’s fashionable to carry nothing in one’s pockets). The tunnels also exist in real life under my work building, half full of pipes of every size, sloping up and down and taking turns at odd angles, full of heat from somewhere…

    The pacing is terrible but I had a good time and there are some lines I’m fond of!

    1. Definitely dusting off the triumphant bugles for you. Amazing what we can do when we commit!

      I love your assessment of the story. I’ve been writing very flawed stories this month too, but I’m writing and, as you say, there are some lines that work 🙂

  8. I wrote a 1300 word story on this and happy with the overall story so far. It might be a good candidate for a submission I think.

  9. I’m totally amazed at how these prompts the last two days have helped to render me such excellent prompts. I’ve never had luck like this trying to write stories, seriously. On Day 1 there was a lot of information in the prompt, and I wondered if that’s why I was able to write something I liked so easily (that’s not the norm for me). Then on Day 2, I was disappointed with the briefness of the prompt. Nevertheless, same thing happened as Day 1, I came up with another story I really like! The ideas just flowed! My Day 2 story involves a little boy who always carries a toy pig in his pocket, then he dies, and his mother begins carrying the pig in her pocket but loses it to her utter chagrin. Then it shows up in her dreams and a medium tells her she sees a child holding a pink plastic pig who was very close to her. Nearly 2,000 words! I’m jazzed! Keep those prompts a comin’!

  10. I loved today’s prompt! I actually followed it for a character I’ve been working on and managed to get 2032 words down.

    1. I did the same! Wrote a story that may or may not end up as a quiet little scene in the novel-in-progress, but it certainly deepened the characters for me. I learned a few things about them!

  11. I wrote a 1,044 word story where my Earthbound Vulcan gets pickpocketed and finds a non-violent way to overcome the difficulties that presents.

    I like it. AND I got to do some nifty research!

    Posting daily to AO3 for my fanfic followers. =)

  12. Done! Bit of a character sketch today for a fantasy story hero and the talisman he carries that enhances his magic.

  13. May 2 2023

    He fondled the metal piece in his right pocket of his only pair of pants. The pants were worn, ripped, torn and patched. The right pocket somehow always remained intact, and he considered it his safe place, where he kept his most prized possession.

    When he felt that little metal piece in his pocket, he could see a sky stretching out before him, taking him to a better place, one where his hard work would be rewarded rather than for nothing.

    “Que haces?” the boss asked him. “Trabaja!”

    Shaking away his daydream and disconnecting with his trinket, he went back to work on the concrete foundation of a new home, one that he could build but never afford himself. The home was sitting atop the tallest mountain in the aldea, looking over the valley below.

    Just as he got back into his groove, he heard a rumbling noise. He knew what that sound was. He had heard it before, when his grandmother’s home was buried under the crying mud of the mountain. Rainy season brought many tragedies, and today would be no different.


    Inside the modest clay walls of his childhood home, the home passed down over many generations, loud wailing could be heard. Some of the women were passing around fresh, hot bowls of caldo de pollo, but no one was eating, just staring and crying and praying for his soul. His little sister waddled over to where his remains lay. He looked almost as if he was a rumpled pile of dusty brown clothing. Something shiny fell out of his barely attached pants. She picked it up, entranced by the only recognizable piece of her brother that was left; a United States quarter worth 25 cents – but in his aldea, it was worth almost $2, and would remain a symbol of a richer life that he would never get to see. His sister put it in her right pocket.

  14. I was really taken with Marie Robinette Kowal’s question about “how do they get away with it?” That stuck in my brain. I first started out with one scene that has to do with an arrest which would have started the story at the end, but then I reconsidered and found a way for my investigator ( an insurance investigator) to hit upon his hypothesis, literally. He is taking public transit and lands on someone’s shoulder and that has him suspect something. His spidy senses weren’t wrong. We are dealing with an unusual gadget that can change a person’s demeanour; many of his claimants depended on a persona that is now called into question. But our adjustor finds a way to test the gadget and voila… cases solved. May all comedians be able to elicit laughter again!

  15. I wrote 2 stories for this exercise. First, a NF about a lip balm I always carry in my own pocket. It used to be Bert’s Bees brand with bees wax. After comparing brand ingredients, sadly I determined the bees wax is what broke out my lips. Reluctantly I switched to Banana Boat Lip Balm, which has been very good, but I sure wish it had a banana flavor.
    For the second story, I used my MC in a middle-grade story I’m writing. She has a pretty pink stone marble in her pocket. It was accidentally found when she plopped herself down on the ground during a picnic outing with the family. She investigated what was poking up under her and discovered the pretty pink stone marble. The rest of the time she ponders how it got there. This was fun to write and I might just use it in my MG story, which has a geology base to it. Thanks!

    1. Excellent.

      I was just re-watching the video version of this prompt and thinking “Wow, that could spark a different story for each of the suggestions/questions asked by Mary Robinette!”

  16. 2 prompts 2 stories. Well actually todays was just a continuation of yesterday’s. Something like a sequel. Yesterday’s character lost her scene of security and found loneliness. Today’s character helped her fill the void with something he found in a pair of pants at a thrift shop. Really excited on how this is going.

      1. I did the same thing last year with May 29, 30, & 31. Three parts to the same story. That one I’m really proud of.

  17. What a great prompt! Once I got past the LOTR reference (“What has it gots in its pocketses, precious?”), I was off and running. Over 2,000 words later, I have a story about a teenage girl who finds thrift store pants with a time portal in the right pocket. Honestly, this is the first story I’ve written with a character change and an actual ending. There’s still a LOT of editing to do, but I’m happy with it. The only “downside” is that I wrote all day rather than the two hours I had planned!

    1. I know, the Gollum fanfic was really hard to resist!

      Ooo, I love a time portal.

      SorryNotSorry for taking up your whole day. Give yourself a pat on the back!

  18. One of the great benefits of this prompt is that not only does it let us get to know our characters more deeply, it lets us practice putting action into a story: my character asked the other person in the scene to pass her jacket to her. It was heavy. As she unpacked the myriad things from the pockets, the two characters talked, teased each other, got to know each other, and then one scurried off to get something for the other one.
    It was a great way to put some action into a non-plot-driven story!
    (P. S. I’m sharing video updates on my progress here: https://storyaday.org/category/extras/vlog/

  19. This was a fun prompt and I cleaned out several of my character’s pockets, then chose one to write a 524 word scene. I wasn’t thrilled with the scene but learned more about my characters and will find a way to incorporate the items I found into my novel.

  20. When in doubt, I prescribe to Horace Greeley and “go West, young man.” However, I’m an old man, so this might not work.

    Better a Pocketful of Respect Than a Fistful of Lightning

    Tuesday was a red glowing promise on the eastern horizon as I blinked the tobacco smoke and whiskey from my eyes. That’s when young Jesse Fountain ran up behind me as I stepped outside the gambling house.

    “Do you want to see?” he said. He was pretty lucky I was so tired and my hand was a second slow behind my eyes opening and head recognizing.

    “See what? Can’t we talk after I get a few hours sleep?” I said.

    “This can’t wait. Do you want to see the piece I bought?” he said, leading me down the alley behind The Grand and Mrs Pynchon’s house of horizontal delights.

    “Piece of what?”

    “A gun, Daniel. I bought me a gun.” Jesse said. He reached down and pulled back the long canvas coat he received from the effects of his brother Matthew, a sometime deputy, other times cheating gambler. When his hand came out of its folds, it held a nickel-plated pistol he must’ve been hiding in his pocket. Jesse pointed its business end directly at my chest, where a triphammer suddenly started banging.

    “Jesus Christ, Jesse. Be careful with that thing” I said, as I pushed the muzzle down and away from my chest. If you don’t know, let me tell you, any gun pointed at your vitals has a way of waking you up no matter how sleepy you might be.

    “Sorry, Daniel. Isn’t she a beauty?”

    “I have two questions. First: Why do you want a gun like that? Second: Who in the world would sell you a gun like that?”

    “I want it for protection. And Dutch Van Dorn sold it to me. Actually, I traded my horse for it, now that I have Matt’s.”

    “If Van Dorn’s involved, I’d be careful squeezing off any rounds lest the damn thing blow your hand off. But again, why? And put that away.”

    “You know. I want it for…protection.”

    “Jesse, having a gun don’t mean you can use it. For protection or anything else. That thing was made for one purpose.”

    “Yeah, to show everyone I’m not to be trifled with.”

    “No, a double-action Colt Lightning is made to kill other men.”


    “See what?”

    “Ain’t nobody, not from around here or some yahoo up from Texas, gonna mess with a man who can pull his iron and get off six shots without once slowin’ down to cock the hammer,” Jesse said, once more pulling out an eight-year-old sorrel’s worth of backbone.

    “I’m not gonna tell you again, Jesse. Put that thing away. If a lawman sees you waving that around at me in an alleyway, he’s likely to get the wrong idea and drop you like a sack of corn.”

    “I’d like to see him try.”

    What is it they used to say? “God created all men, but Samuel Colt made them equal.”? In my times lawing in some cowtowns in Kansas and Colorado, I met too many young fellas bought into that. Some, either touched in the head by going too long without liquor or women or getting too much of either too quickly — or maybe just plain touched — they believed a gun made them more than equal. Jesse was one of those sad cases that qualified on all counts.

    “Shot it yet?” I asked.

    “Yep, yesterday afternoon behind the stable. Pretty good shot if I do say so.”

    “That’s nice. Loud, wasn’t it? What you shoot at, cans or bottles?”

    “Cans…and a chicken”

    “I’ve yet to meet any cans — or chickens — that can draw a pistol and return fire with mortal intent. But congratulations, I’m sure you showed those horses who’s boss.”

    “Stop it, Daniel. Told you, I won’t be disrespected no more.”

    “Jesse, I want you to listen close. I’m telling you this for your own good. A gun — even a wonder weapon like your Lightning — won’t earn you any extra respect. In fact, I can attest to the fact it can get you less. Or killed.”

    “I told you, I’m a dead-eyed shot, Daniel.” Jesse’s tone changed. I’d heard it maybe a hundred or two times before and I was ready.

    “And I’m telling you that will not be enough to change how people regard you. I don’t want to see you turn out like Matthew, s’all. Listen, you’ve always been a good boy…”

    “Don’t you call me that. I’m not a boy.”

    “No, not really anymore. But you’ll always be a kid to me, Jesse.”

    “What do you mean?” I knew I was taking a chance, but I needed to prove something to him.

    “I mean I’ll always think of you as Matt’s little brother, tagging along and watching him swagger into a room, gun slung low, eye’s cold, looking for some mark he could spook while he bottom-dealt…”

    “Take that back, Daniel, or I’ll…”

    “You’ll what?”

    I had him.

    Jesse reached for the Colt in his pocket, but he had to pull his coat out of the way. As he looked down, I pulled my pistol and cold cocked him a good one with the barrel. I flagged down Deputy Charlie Bassett, who was making his rounds, and we hauled away young Jesse and, minus his Colt of course, stuffed him into the calaboose.

    “Charlie, see if you can hold onto that Lightning, will ya? The kid is in no way one to own a piece like that. Same damn gun the likes of Hardin carries, for Christ’s sake. Maybe you can talk some sense into Jesse before…”

    “I know. Maybe you taught him a lesson, though, Dan.”

    I left Dodge that day and headed over to Trinidad, Colorado for a couple of weeks. When I got back, Charlie met me and told me the story over a couple of beers.

    Seems after his two of nights in jail, Jesse and his gun left the safety of Charlie’s hospitality and right off he walked into the Long Branch and tried big-footing some Texas cowboy. They told Charlie Jesse reached first, but he fumbled his draw. The cowboy didn’t.

    “Caught his hand in his coat pocket,” Charlie Bassett told me. “Lying there, four fingers of his right hand tucked inside his pocket and thumb hooked outside. With the exception of a .44 caliber hole in his head, I thought he looked rather respectable that way.”

    I nodded.

    “Good, good. That’s all the boy was ever looking for. Respect.”

  21. I was pleased with my work, even when I wasn’t sure how it would turn out as I wrote. I love the activity and challenge of a prompt. And this one is so intriguing!

  22. I use this type of prompt a lot when I’m creating characters. This time I used it to create a story of its own.

  23. Really enjoyed todays promp also. Got me in my seat, and now I know a lot more about some of my characters. Never thought of that angel, – what is in the pockets. Looking forward to tomorrows. I think I wrote for half an hour today.

  24. Yours Truly
    I had been keeping an eye on this gentleman for quite sometime. What drew me to the man as an easy target was the way he was clutching at his shirt pocket.
    Not that most of the passengers bothered much about his posture though. The passengers were like this – always lost in their own world. Some either spread out a towel tucked under their thighs while the expert dealt the cards. The teenagers made life for finger-smiths like me even easier. Throughout the entire length of the journey, they buried themselves in that thing called mobile, sometimes yelling at it, sometimes hiding it in a corner, or simply breaking into a divine smile looking at their own reflections in it.
    Anyway, I looked at the man clutching his pocket again. He had to be a smart fella. Looking at him, sitting on the berth along with three more passengers, anyone would think that he was keeping his hands folded across the chest to keep himself from catching cold due to the open windows, doors and the running fans overhead.
    A seasoned fingersmith like me knew better. No, I am not boasting of my intelligence or capabilities. But in a profession like ours, it is of prime importance to be observant. So, I knew that he was sitting with his shirt pocket clutched in his right hand as he was trying to protect whatever he had kept inside the pocket from busybodies like us.

    The passenger train, by then, had started trooping into the Howrah Station. The man looked listless. He once stood up and then sat down as the train came to a halt, awaiting the signal for the available platform. Standing at the door with a crowd of people all around me, I looked down at him again from over their heads. I noticed the side bag then. But for an empty tiffin carrier, a book, a musk , a tie at the most and such stuff there wouldn’t be any valuables inside. Just then, for the first time during the entire one-hour journey from Bagnan to Howrah, the man withdrew his hand from the pocket, having brought them, both the hands close to his eyes, he examined them before taking out a hanki from his side pocket and wiping them dry and clean.
    Just then, a corner of an envelope peeped from his pocket. Now, I knew why he had been clutching his pocket like a mother hen protecting its chicks. What date was today? The 10th of April, right? He must have got his salary for March. The five-hundred notes were put safely inside it. There couldn’t have been more than twenty four or five of them from the look of the envelop. Enough for me to manage my next fortnight.
    There was an announcement asking the passengers to detrain once the train reached its destination. I saw the passengers making a beeline for the opposite door to get down on the platform. My target, his hand back to its place again, had placed himself behind an innocuous looking family with the middle-aged mom giving instructions to the elderly daughter.
    “Babar hath theke ekta luggage ekhu ne na. Ichchheo karena?” ( Don’t you ever feel like taking one of those luggage items from your father?)
    There was a sea of people waiting outside for us to get off.
    If I had to transfer that envelope from the target’s pocket to mine, I had to act fast. I let the man come out from inbetween the rows of berths on either side to the exit passageway. I had been keeping myself silhouetted near the other door till then. If my plan was to be successful, I had to see if Rahib was there amongst the passengers waiting to get in. Baba Bholenath! He was there. My eyes pointed the prey to him. Passengers were getting in and out like crazy.
    “Shala, train e ki kore chorte hain, shekheni.” (The bloke was never taught to board a train.) Someone, using all his muscle power while getting out, teased another. A few had entered our coach by then. There were people snaking out and in. In the ensuing melee, I heard our target let out a gasp. Rahib, while trying to get in holding on to the door handle, had hit on the windpipe.
    I was standing behind him by then. As he let his hands down to the stomach as an instant reaction, I pushed him from the side towards the middle, making sure that the envelope got deported in my fist without anyone’s notice.

    Once back in our den, I chuckled to myself smoothening the envelope. I tore it open then, grinning from ear to ear. There were no notes in the envelope but a love-letter for the rascal from a girl called “Yours Truly”!
    The end

  25. Feeling better about today’s writing than I did yesterday’s. Increased my word count by 53%. Yeah me! Once again did not use the prompt, but I like it so I kept to for that day when I need an idea. Calling it a wrap on Day 2 – Win 2.

  26. I managed what’s more of a vignette than a story, but it’s got a timeline, and a couple of characters in relationship to each other and some feelings, so I’m happy with it.

    What a cool prompt! Our pockets tell so much about us.

    And what *has* it got in its pocketses?

  27. A story about a lucky penny and a discovery about what a character in my longer WIP keeps in his pocket!

  28. Wrote a 542-word dystopian story where it was the lack of something in the character’s pocket that got her into some trouble, to put it lightly. Fun prompt. Excited for tomorrow’s!

  29. Done early! I explored the same characters from yesterday. Wrote this one from the other character’s POV, and she carried something in her pocket that had a connection to the other character, in a sort of magical way(still figuring out how that works, but that’s what these are for). Wrote 546 words that are maybe not good, but I’m not entirely repulsed by. So a win!

  30. Today I wrote my first StoryAday-story. It’s a rather short one about one of my characters from the novel I’m currently working on. Maybe not even a real story but a journey through his mind. So it was quite easy today, a good way to start. I’m looking forward to the next waiting prompt.

    I’m planning to write on all days that my kids are in school and kindergarten. Here in Germany, we have quite a few holidays in May, so I won’t be writing on those and on weekends. But I’m determined to do it on all the other days!

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