Setting the Stage

Your mom probably told you not to talk to strangers. But the truth is you almost certainly speak to strangers every day — at the grocery store checkout, on the bus, walking through the park. Most of these encounters are unavoidable even for the most dedicated introvert.

Talking to strangers isn’t always a bad thing. It can bring us out of our comfort zone. Help us meet new friends. Maybe even help us meet the love of our life! (Hey, a relationship has to start somewhere.)

Every "stranger" is the star of their own story.

Every “stranger” is the star of their own story.

Of course, sometimes it can get…awkward. Like when you get hit on by a legless 80-year-old Vietnam vet at the bus stop who keeps asking for your number (true story). When people ask you for directions in a new town full of streets you just don’t know. When that seemingly nice old lady you just met suddenly lets loose with a stream of racial epithets. No wonder people get nervous about talking to strangers!

What do people have to say about talking to strangers?

“You see I usually find myself among strangers because I drift here and there trying to forget the sad things that happened to me.”

― F. Scott Fitzgerald

“Smile at strangers and you just might change a life.”

― Steve Maraboli

You can never really know what someone you just met is up to.

You can never really know what someone you just met is up to.

“Nothing is stranger or more ticklish than a relationship between people who know each other only by sight, who meet and observe each other daily – no hourly – and are nevertheless compelled to keep up the pose of an indifferent stranger, neither greeting nor addressing each other, whether out of etiquette or their own whim.”

― Thomas Mann

“Love between strangers takes only a few seconds and can last a whole life.”

― Simon Van Booy

But maybe if you ask they'll have an interesting story to tell.

But maybe if you ask they’ll have an interesting story to tell.

“Meeting a stranger can be totally fleeting and meaningless, for example, unless you enter the individual’s world by finding out at least one thing that is meaningful to his or her life and exchange at least one genuine feeling. Tuning in to others is a circular flow: you send yourself out toward people; you receive them as they respond to you.”

― Deepak Chopra

“My mother used to say that there are no strangers, only friends you haven’t met yet. She’s now in a maximum security twilight home in Australia.”

― Dame Edna Everage

How To Use This Prompt

If you’re a nonfiction writer or poet, think about a time you spoke to — or steadfastly avoided — a stranger who approached you. Was the experience positive? Negative? Or just plain surreal?

How many "strangers" do you see over and over -- at the store, during your commute, at the coffee shop?

How many “strangers” do you see over and over — at the store, during your commute, at the coffee shop?

If you’re a fiction writer, write about your character encountering a stranger, perhaps in an unusual situation. (What happens when a robber in the midst of a bank heist is stopped by a nice old lady asking the time?) Does your character humor the stranger or try to escape the conversation altogether? What happens next?

Write a short story, an essay, a poem, or even just a paragraph or two based on this prompt. Then feel free to share what you’ve written in comments, post a link to your piece on your own blog, or submit it for our site!

And if you’d like more prompts and can’t wait until next week, check out our free e-book, “A Year of Inspiration: 52 Writing Prompts from the Renegade Word.”