Thursday, December 13, 2012

Write Club -- Writing Prompts

Hey y'all!  I discovered the secret to making yourself write when you don't feel like it: writing prompts.  A prompts is basically an assignment from a teacher or writer pro that gives you a little gimmicky motive to write.  It entails writing in such a unique way that it's interesting and it doesn't take long enough for your inspiration to dry up.

For example, I created a prompt I call drawing a line through two dots.  Several notepad bits have random words on them, names of objects and places.  The writer takes two of these notepads, and then figures out what they have in common.  By making up the reason in a super short story.  The point of this exercise is not necessarily to finish a tale (unless you want to) but to take two different things and write, in one or two pages, a possible connection between the two.  The possibilities are literally endless.

So, here are some things.  Pick two at random and write a connection between the two.  Pick once and go for it; no switching.
- spoons
- Santa
- the British government
- a train station
- an old rifle.
- pianos
- pizza
- a pot of coffee
- Toronto, Canada.

I can think of some connections off the top of my head.  Like, for example, someone used the old rifle to prove that someone in the British government was related to an ancient British noble family.  Or, a child gets pizza sauce all over his mom's piano.  Or, a kindly person sees a lonely girl trying to stay warm as she waits for a train, so he brings out a pot of coffee to share.  Cute, no?

If you think about this for a moment, you might realize that I'll I'm doing is using a gimmick to get you to write.  I'm giving you a guideline, and this guideline makes it seem easier and quicker to get some writing done.  What is the obvious application?  Use writing prompts to make you write to make your own work. 

Let's do some practicing.  Write prompts for yourself.  We've been over the nine forms of writing in the blog already, but here's a recap.

Novel -- creating a fictitious world.
Short Story -- creating a story based on one specific theme or emotion
Screenplay -- creating a story based purely on what you can see
Poetry -- free-flowing emotional symbolism
Lyrics -- poetry partnering with music
Prose -- uninhibited writing with a lot of thought and opinion but little research.
Biography -- telling a personal story in an entertaining way
Analysis -- doing an unemotional, rational examination of one subject.
Report -- doing an all encompassing research project on a specific place or time.

For the sake of this exercise, ignore report, biography, novel and screenplay.  For the others, write yourself a little prompt that can be used to write more.  Imagine you're a teacher, and you're creating a prompt for your students to use in your writing class.  Here are some examples.

Short story: take something annoying that happened to you in the past week and write a little story of how opposite-you would have handled it.

Lyrics: take the music of your favorite song and write words that have to do with an animal or animals that you don't like.

Analysis: Look at the amount/type of books you own and figure out what sort of personality a stranger observing these books would think you have.

Notedly, you don't actually have to do any of these prompts if you don't want to.  The point of the exercise is for you to just come up with prompts.  If you can summon up things in your mind you want to write about, you can finish a novel.  It's all about coming up with ideas. 

For a more serious, personal exercise, examine the story you want to write.  You have a general plot in your head, or maybe just a character, or maybe even just a scene.  Writing prompts can help you decide how to fill out your story and beef it up with detail.  However, I can't come up with these prompts for you.  I don't know your story as well as you do, and you being able to come up with your prompts increases your talent as a writer anyway.

How do you use prompts to write your story?  You interview yourself.  Writers love being interviewed and talking about all the thought-work they put into the story (and yes, it's thought work, despite the fact writers don't generally see it that way).  So all you have to do is ask yourself the right questions.

I was doing this for my friend, and what I did was listen to the synopsis of her story as she explained it to me.  I took a notebook and wrote in questions for her to answer, leaving space between them so that she could write her answers down and always have them on hand.  Now, for your story, you're going to want to figure out questions that specifically refer to your plot.  I'm just showing some questions that can help out my friend as an example.

1. What is your main character's name?
2. How is he disadvantaged?
3. What is he talented at?
4. What is it he's after?
5. When he steals from another character, how does that character react?
6. Who is the villain?  What sort of king is he?
7. How is the queen dealing with her situation?
8. What are the older brothers doing in the meantime?
9. Name three conflicts that the MC runs into on his journey.  Categories: theives, kindly women who want to help but only make it worse, weather hazards, etc.

So it's like that.  Take a blank notebook of your own and ask yourself the right questions.  Be sure to write them down to refer to later, so even if you change things, you at least have the basis to go on.

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