I love writing prompts.
It’s just one – of many ways – to get the creative juices flowing but more so, they are an excellent tool to use when you have no current project in the works.
If you are like me, then writing prompts may serve you as well.
For I – way too often – neglect to “write” until I have a pretty good idea of its shape, tone, plot, etc. already fixed in my head. I don’t necessarily have to have it fully formed; there’s plenty that works its way out once the actual writing begins, but still – I need it rooted. Until that happens, I find that I read a whole lot of books and journal aplenty, waiting for that moment of magic when inspiration strikes.
It’s pretty silly, I know. And unproductive. This I know too.
So writing prompts are a sort of bridge. And if I’m very lucky? I can sometimes find the seed for a longer story — bonus!
Types of Writing Prompts
The simplest form of writing prompt requires no forethought – just a quick sentence or two to place atop the blank page sitting before you. This type of writing prompt is more of an adventure than an exercise, because you as the writer have no idea where the story will take you, until it does.
Here are some examples:
- You, a grown adult, are afraid of the dark. Explain why this is a legitimate concern, so friends won’t laugh at you.
- Rewrite the Gettysburg Address for today’s audience.
- A soldier is about to embark upon a mission that she knows will kill her.
These prompts came from the book: “642 Things to Write About” by The San Francisco Writers’ Grotto. However, there are many other books and resources from which to choose. A simple Internet search should net you plenty.
The next type of writing prompt is more of an exercise since it targets specific areas of the actual craft of writing in which to practice.
For example: Scene. Pull all elements of fiction into the event of a scene – POV, dialogue, character, setting, plot.
“Write a persecution scene. Is your character being followed? Keep suspense building. Use scary images if character is scared. Work a basic nightmare that most readers can relate to.”
This prompt came from a creative writing workshop. At the end of each class, we would be given a writing prompt and about 15 minutes to write. It didn’t take long for my initial fear of the empty page to quickly disappear.
Sometimes, you can get lucky too. In one such class we were instructed to write a scene using a cemetery as its setting. I ended up turning the results of that exercise into a ghost story.
I wrote about a widowed woman, clinging so tightly to the memory of her beloved that his spirit was bound, haunting her, until she ultimately found the strength to say goodbye.
Lastly, this type of writing prompt is best illustrated by Sarah Addison Allen.
Although I’m partial since #1 – magical realism is my favorite genre, and #2 – I love all her works, especially Sarah’s “Garden Spells”, which remains at the top of my list.
Every Sunday, Sarah posts a Facebook writing prompt and encourages folks to continue the tale in the comment section of her posts. She calls it “Short Short Story Sunday”.
Each post is also accompanied by a picture, which in and of itself can be a writing prompt too. Sometimes her prompt is so wonderful, I wish she would turn it into another book herself, like the one she posted on March 19th:
“The Help Wanted sign in the window of The Imaginary Gift Shoppe read: “Apply within if you remember the name of your first imaginary playmate.”
All of Brinley’s friends had gotten jobs at clothing stores in the mall that summer — at Abercrombie & Fitch and J.Crew and American Eagle. Well, all except Leo, who was working at Cinnabon. He was going to smell like vanilla icing constantly now, which he rather liked, though his girlfriend Reagan had sneered and said bees were going to chase him all summer.
The gift shoppe was an unassuming storefront in an otherwise abandoned Art Deco building across from the downtown library. Brinley would eye it curiously every week she checked out books, sometimes twice a week if she’d hit a good reading stride. If she could get this job, her parents would get off her back about doing something constructive this summer, plus she would be near the sanctuary of the library, which wasn’t taking applications (she’d asked).
She walked into the gift shoppe, which smelled like strawberry licorice and incense, and had carved shelves piled high with pottery face jugs, crystals, retro toys and colorful gossamer scarves tied to every available hook. There was solid wooden door behind the desk with a gold plaque that read: Tea Room Courtyard. Membership Required.
The woman behind the desk had hair so stiff and blond it looked like pulled sugar artwork on top of a cake. Her gooseberry eyes were keen and blue, surrounded by a roadmap of fine wrinkles.
“I’m here about the job,” Brinley said, hugging her library books to her chest.
The woman looked her over carefully. “And the name of your first imaginary playmate?” She asked, like she was asking for a reference.
Brinley felt a little foolish bringing him up. Truth be told, she hadn’t even liked him that much. “His name was Limp-Along Louie.”
“I’ll be right back,” the woman said. She opened the door to the courtyard and Brinley could have sworn she saw cups and teapots and plates of cookies floating in the air above dark Moroccon tables before the door closed. Brinley frowned and looked around the shop more carefully, wondering exactly what this place was.
“Good news!” The woman appeared behind the desk again. “He remembers you. Can you start today?”
Brinley suddenly wondered what she’d gotten herself into.
Some Sundays I post a short, short story about a random photo. Feel free to continue the tale in the comments!
I don’t know about you, but this short-short story simply whets my appetite to know more!
Happy writing, my friends.