I often use writing prompts to generate stories (standard length and flash fiction) and these come in a variety of forms.
Sometimes a prompt for fiction can be adjusted to generate ideas for future blog posts. (Before you ask, this isn’t the case for this one!).
Effectively, every writing competition with a set theme is a writing prompt – the theme is the prompt!
Types of Prompt
There are dozens of these! It is a question of trying some and find those which suit you best.
- Opening Lines
- Closing Lines
- You have to include a set line in the middle of your story (and that is a tough one because by the time you have got to the middle, you are well into writing your tale, you are in your stride and you have to ensure your set middle line will flow in well with your character’s situation here. Hint: use a spider diagram or simple flowchart around that middle line to work out in advance what could lead to it and what could lead from it. You’ve then got a rough outline to work with).
- Picture Prompts
- A set number of words you have to include anywhere in the story
- You’re set a situation and a number of characters to include
- You’re asked to set an object (or more) within your tale and said object(s) must play a pivotal role somehow
- Writing a letter to a younger version of yourself. I’ve done this for this very site.
- Using the Twitter character count as your word limit. Gill James did this for her 140 x 140 collection of flash pieces.
Why Use Prompts At All?
Prompts are useful in that they make you rise to the challenge of writing them up. They can also make you think of ideas in ways that might not come to you in any other way. And they help you mix up the way you approach your writing. I like that. It keeps me on my toes and, I hope, things fresh and interesting for my readers.
And there is nothing to stop you taking a prompt and putting your own spin on it. An opening line, say, which reads “the light at the end of the tunnel is a myth” could be taken to create a story (and here I would probably go for the option of proving the character wrong) or become an interesting blog post. (Here I would either look at where the light at the end of the tunnel saying comes from, ask if it is ever true and maybe get a second article out of it by examining the power of myth).
I’ve found using prompts from outside sources to be a great way of kick starting my writing. I’ve even contributed to a couple of books of Prompts produced by Gill James.
Prompts can be great fun. For picture ones, if I use a landscape one, I try to think about who could live there, what would they be like what would their conflicts be. If I use a picture of someone, I try to think of a name for them, what is their major trait and how that could drop them right in it. There are the beginnings of story ideas there already.
The Challenge of Coming Up with Ideas
This is a challenge for every writer, regardless of what they write. It is one of the things I love most about creative writing. It makes me use my brain! It’s shown me how to think laterally. But there are times when you’re tired and run down, the ideas don’t seem to flow, and a good writing prompt can literally be that kick start to get you going again.
Hands up time. I don’t believe in writer’s block. I do believe every writer gets tired, has periods where the ideas don’t flow as well as usual, and that is all to do with us being fallible human beings. We’re not robots. I think it is a natural state of being but it is temporary.
What matters is generally you can write the stories or the articles. And it doesn’t matter if on some days you can only write a few words and on other days you write far more. Go with the flow! What matters is you’re creating something and nobody says you have to create it all at once. (With a novel that would be impossible anyway).
Ironically, it is that fallibility I think that makes us creative. Our fallibility makes us look at ways to overcome problems. In the case of a writer the problem is coming up with a story or an article to entertain and/or inform readers and to keep on doing so. But everyone needs a “refresher” every now and then and prompts can be so useful for that.
I’ve found at writing conferences such as Swanwick Writers’ Summer School, the talks and workshops I go to often set a kind of exercise based on the topic. Yet another form of prompt, of course, but it makes you think outside of your particular box.
You don’t want to become stale. And becoming used to thinking outside of your own box stretches your imagination. You find you come up with more ideas. And a prompt in itself can fire off further ideas as you think of links from it you could write up as separate stories.
And practicing writing to a prompt is really useful for when you do go to conferences and the like. When they’re set there, it won’t come as such a shock if you’ve managed to get some practice in first! Incidentally, it won’t matter what kind of prompt you practice here. The idea is to get yourself into the habit of being able to respond creatively to a prompt someone else has set.
I remember feeling some panic when set my first writing exercise like that. My thought was I can’t do that. But you can. The lovely thing here is nobody is expecting perfection. The whole idea is to get you started. What is in your notebook can stay there for nobody else to see or you polish it up and submit it somewhere later. But it is that prompt which got you started.
Writing prompts can help get you into the discipline of writing and producing work regularly. I’ve found opening and closing lines and picture prompts work best for me. I don’t use them all the time but see them as a useful tool in my writing “toolbox”.
Writing prompts encourage creative thinking and can help you “up your game” by making you think of something different to write about.
Above all, they’re fun!
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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