Writing Prompts

Happy Super Bowl Sunday, everyone. Hopefully everyone’s doing something fun today. And, I admit, while I’m going to a party later, I am bringing my notebook along with me (darn inspiration after a week-long writer’s block…) So, for all the other writers out there looking for some non-football inspiration, we have today’s post on Writing Prompts.

Now, there’s a reason I’ve never taken a true creative writing course. I can’t stand writing prompts. For me, if I didn’t think of the idea organically, I just can’t write about it. Or I can, but it sounds awful. I have the sneaking suspicion I would do very poorly in a class that required me to write a certain type of story off a certain prompt.

That doesn’t mean, however, that I don’t sometimes need some inspiration after a dry spell. I’m lucky in that I almost always have some idea bouncing around my head, but every once in a while I really want to write, but can’t think of anything I want to write about.

As I’m sure most people know, there are plenty of writing prompt generators out there, like this or this or… But I don’t think I’ve ever actually been inspired to write a story based on any sort of set prompt. Maybe I just don’t want to write a story about a dog saving the world or an evil hairdresser (the second would probably come out a little too close to Sweeney Todd anyway…) So, what to do?

Prompts like that may work for some people (I assume they do, since I’m not sure why’d they exist otherwise) but I tend to find my inspiration from different sources:

1. What ifs: These are always fun. What if zombies were an endangered species protected by law? What if a high school student was accidentally elected president? What if, we’re all the dream of an eight year old girl, who lives in Slough? Similar to regular prompts, but at least I feel like they leave much more room for originality. And even if you don’t want to consider the exact what if, they give you a place to start and let your mind wander. You can come up with them yourself, a movie/show you’re watching can bring one up, or you can go to places like the NaNoWriMo “Adopt a Hypothetical” Thread, where other writers drop ideas off when they have too many “What ifs” and not enough time/plot.

2. Pictures: Rather than just general prompts (“You wake up one day and find out the world is black and white. Write that story.”) I find some pictures help give me more ideas, that often seem more original than something another prompt might (insert comment about a picture being worth 1,000 words and all that). Though it wasn’t entirely inspired by a picture, the first scene from a book I am currently shopping around, The Copper Witch (excerpt here if you like), came from looking at this painting. Go ahead, read that excerpt, I’ll wait. … See how the main character is positioned for her portrait? Yeah, they’re staging some version of that painting (sorry for spoiling it those who didn’t actually go and read. I promise I understand. Your time is precious).

For prompt sites, if you don’t just want to click around google image searches hoping to find something interesting, this is one of my favorite, because it also gives interesting pictures with the actual “prompts” and I find those more inspiring (I mean, look at this picture. How couldn’t there be a story there?)

3. Song Lyrics: Perhaps my favorite in terms of generating random ideas. While you don’t want to quote actual song lyrics in a book (can get into nasty, nasty copyright infringement suits that way) I’ve always found lines to be a good for inspiration. My other novel, The Bleeding Crowd, is a good example. The plot and characters weren’t inspired by a song lyric, but the title was inspired by the song “Easy to be Hard” from the musical Hair, and that shaped how the two main characters related to each other and their political causes.

I don’t actually know if there is a site that lists song lyrics as novel prompts, but by listening to whatever music you prefer, it’s possible to pick out your own lyrics you find inspiring and start a list that can give inspiration when you come to a writing roadblock.


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4 thoughts on “Writing Prompts

  1. bwtaylor75 says:

    I just found your blog and was pleasantly surprised. Yay for intelligence!

    I tend to agree with you on this issue. I love the whole creation process involved with writing and wouldn’t feel like anything that was prompted had truly come from me.

    The creation comes first, then the writing. If the creation doesn’t come from you, is the writing really yours?

  2. Meg Cameron says:

    My Gmail’s not working right now…. But I have a lot of songs I listen to for inspiration; one of my books is named after a song, Weapons Wired, and the song fits the relationship of the main characters perfectly.
    Songs that are great inspiration and great listens, the SHORT list –
    – Weapons Wired, by Higher
    – Boats and Birds (can’t remember by who)
    – I’ll Follow You Into The Dark (look for the version on YouTube done by katethegreat. It’s sooo much better.)
    – Let The Record Show and Misery Loves Company, by Emilie Autumn
    – Never Be The Same, by Red

    I don’t want to mention too many, so I’ll stop there. I hope some of the songs inspire people, and thanks for the post!

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