Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Writing prompts

I always have stories in my head. My brain is populated with fascinating people I'd love to get to know. Sometimes they're amalgamations of people I've actually met, sometimes they're made up in my imagination out of whole cloth. But they're always there, just waiting for me to tell their stories.

So what use are writing prompts? Why would I spend my time taking a subject and exploring it through writing when there are so many ideas in my head already?


People outside the profession of writing, indeed, even some newbie writers, forget that much of telling a story is a skill. A skill that can be learned, a skill that needs to be honed, a skill that needs practice. The ideas are in my head. The techniques, however, are ingrained only through many years of practice.

You can pick your analogy: musicians and their instruments, athletes and their particular game, artists and their creations. All have a combination of innate talent and developed skill. What's the shortest route to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice!

Over the next few weeks I'll be providing writing prompts designed around particular skill sets a writer needs. To use them:

1. Determine how much time each week you wish to set for practice (remember, musicians and athletes practice for several hours A DAY; serious writers should consider following their example).

2. Choose one prompt as a 5-10 minute warm-up write. Use this time to relax and get your head in the writing game, so to speak.

3. Choose a second prompt for a longer writing, 30-45 minutes. Tie the prompt to a work in progress or start fresh. Be cognitive of the choices you're making as you're writing. Note the techniques you use, the sentence structure, the arrangement of words.

4. Reflect. This is the step we most often ignore and yet it's the step where the learning takes place. After you've done both writings, take another 10 minutes and, in writing, record what you did, how you did it, what you learned, what you need to change either in your process or your writing. Don't skip this step!

Remember, every artist needs to hone his/her skills. Use these prompts to hone yours.

This week's prompts are centered around reaction. An event occurs, in your practice, show the character's reactions to that event.

(in no particular order)

  • Friends sitting in a living room, talking. An indigo bunting appears at the bird feeder outside the window. One of the visiting friends has only ever heard of these birds and never thought he/she would see one and is thrilled by the sight. Write from the point of view of the person who sees the bird.

Alternate prompt: write from the point of view from the person who owns the house and sees indigo buntings all the time.

  • Two friends half-way through dinner at a restaurant. Waiter drops a full tray of dishes beside them. Write from the point of view of the diners.

Alternate prompt: write from the point of view of the waiter.

  • The obligatory break-up scene: two people ending a relationship. Write from the point of view of the person being dumped.

Alternate prompt: write from the point of view of a person nearby who has no ties to either person, but overhears the conversation.

Play safe and drop a tip in the jar on your way out!



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