If I had to guess the part of our weekly writers’ group that is the most popular, I’d say it’s when I give the gang a writing prompt and fifteen minutes to produce a story based on it. It’s funny, but individuals who really struggle to get started when they’re on their own really respond to this exercise.
I suspect there are a few reasons why it’s so effective:
The Prompt Itself
Being given a peculiar scenario or just a word or two really helps to unlock the imagination. Last week, for instance, the prompt was, “You’re digging in your garden and find a nugget of gold…”
Because the prompts are usually odd and unexpected, no one has a preconceived idea of how the story ought to go. That really frees up the imagination.
The Time Factor
Even the most procrastinating of writers will rush to write when they are told they have fifteen minutes to produce something. You can try this yourself at home: Set your alarm and just start. Fifteen minutes isn’t long, so there’s no time to edit or second-guess yourself. Second-guessing clogs up so many creative arteries, so anything that gets the blood flowing is wonderful. Give it a try and see if it unleashes your creativity.
We have a very nurturing writers’ group and we are an enthusiastic audience. We laugh, cheer, applaud, and otherwise support each other. Knowing a positive response will greet a story helps most of the members to produce something innovative.
Variations on the Prompt
If you are interested in trying prompts for yourself, you can do it yourself at home. Here are a few methods:
Go to your bookshelf and take down the 7th book. Now go to the 7th page. Look at the 7th line, and use that as the beginning of your story. You can, of course, use other numbers, or sets of numbers.
Close your eyes and just select a book at random, open at any page, and, with your eyes shut, point anywhere on said page and use that sentence or phase. This works particularly well with books of poetry. Some people stick pins in the sentence, but I shudder at the thoughts of damaging something so precious as a book, so don’t do that.
Write nouns on pieces of coloured paper. One noun on each sheet of paper. TIME. NIGHT. FAMILY. MUSIC. SPACE, etc. Now, using a different colour, write verbs: CRYING, LOVING, RUNNING, KISSING, SLAPPING… and so on. Now, mix them up and randomly draw one of each colour. Whatever you end up with is the theme. You might have ‘Crying Time’, for instance, or ‘Kissing Space’.
It’s helpful if you can get a few friends to help you by writing nouns and verbs. That way you can’t anticipate what you might end up with and it makes for freer writing.
You can also add adjectives in a third colour and use that in addition to the first two, or instead of one of them. For instance, you could have ‘Yellow Night’, or ‘Blue Kissing.’
Have friends give you photographs or pictures cut from newspapers or magazine. Randomly select a picture and use that as your prompt.
There are lots of sites on the internet that will offer you prompts, no matter what your interest. You can Google, “Fiction Writing Prompts”, or “Creative Writing Prompts”, or even, more specifically, “Science Fiction Writing Prompts”, for instance, and see where you end up. If you then select the ‘images’ option, you’ll get pictures to inspire you. Printerest offers some great ones. Here are a few of my favourites (the picture at the bottom of the page comes from the visual writing prompt site I’ve linked):
The only downside to using writing prompts is they can become something of a lifeline. They are certainly fun exercises, and they will get you started, but they’re really not a substitute to writing a well thought-out story. Think of them as the literary equivalent of playing chords on the piano.
Anyway, here’s an example of one of the visual writing prompts to give you an idea. See what you can do with it. You have fifteen minutes. Your time starts…