Posted by: Matt Q. McGovern | March 23, 2016

Fiction Triggers

As I do all the time, I was walking outside on a busy block in center city Philadelphia the other day and passed a bus. As the diesel exhaust smells hit my nose I immediately thought of a collection of short stories I had to read in high school (over 25 years ago). This may seem like a strange association, but for whatever reason it has stuck with me.

The full memory is from my Sophomore year, and I was reading a homework assignment for English class. I don’t remember the reason I had to leave school early…I suppose I wasn’t feeling well or something because I fell asleep on the bus while reading. I woke up at the bus station which was about fifteen minutes walking distance from home. I can still remember now, decades later, waking up and looking at the paperback book in front of me. The title was something similar to 21 great classical short stories. I remember distinctly the number 21. I also remember that the book had an older smell but still a reprint.

That’s a pretty decent amount of information to come up in my head after a bus drives by. 🙂

My point in writing about this is in thinking about the escape mechanisms our brains process when reading or writing. For reading, I’m interested in knowing what pulls you instantly. For writing, is it possible to affect your writing by “engaging” the escape mechanism – maybe by visualizing the same thing that pulls you when reading?

The one I mentioned above is not just the smell of the bus, but also the visualization of it. The mental trigger would be more effective if I were actually at the bus terminal, I would imagine.

As I leave work some days there are some violinists that play in the corridor that leads to the train station. The sound pulls me instantly into the memories of watching Masterpiece Theater when I was a kid, which for whatever reason is a good trigger for me for writing in general.

My individual associations involving the sound of the violin in a dark, cavernous setting with the creativity necessary for writing can be explored some other time. Other associations are simpler, like listening to the album “Disintegration” by The Cure is an instant writing trigger. Certain movies will do it, for subject related reasons. The image of seeing blank writing stationary will also do it, for a more tactile and practical sense of rationale.

What are your favorite triggers for reading and writing, and do you ever try to let one affect your writing?


  1. […] Fiction triggers-where do ideas come from? […]


  2. Mine drop in unannounced, and they come in the form of questions. I don’t recall a smell trigger or a taste or pain or vertigo. Mine don’t seem to come from my senses. I wish they did, then I could ignite them. Follow a bus.


  3. […] Fiction Triggers […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: