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Writing Prompts

Give your writing muscles a proper workout.

Part of my job as a creative writing teacher is coming up with writing prompts for each new workshop or lesson I devise. Each prompt focuses a student’s attention so that they can practise whatever new skill or tool we’ve been working on. Normally, a prompt is the beginning of a scene with several elements such as setting, characters, genre or tone already in place. The idea is that the scene is expanded upon or finished using the new information I’ve taught in the class.

In a lesson on writing authentic arguments, the prompt might be the first few lines describing a family dinner. If we’re working on tones in a psychological thriller, the prompt could be the first lines of a disturbing telephone conversation.

Think of a prompt as a diving board. You’ve already made it up the stairs and onto the edge of the board. The only thing you have to do now is decide how you’ll get down. You can dive into the water in a variety of ways; you can descend via the steps; you can carefully lower yourself down by holding onto the board until the very last minute; you can close your eyes and step off the edge of the board.

The prompt is the board that keeps you steady whilst you decide what comes next. It allows for your imagination to take off. And it does. No matter what prompts I come up with, my students always surprise me. No one ever comes up with the exact same story. (Although in one of my recent crime writing classes several students did all decide to incorporate amputated fingers into their scenes.)

As well as being a great way of practising new topics and skills, writing prompts are good in and of themselves. If you’re between projects and itching to write but can’t yet face the idea of embarking on a new novel, writing prompts allow you to play a little, to test yourself, to experiment and work out what it is you might want to write next. If you think you never want to write romance, try some romantic prompts. If you’re not at all interested in dystopian fiction, have a go at finishing some dystopian writing prompts. If you never write comedy, work on finishing a few comic writing prompts.

Prompts are also a good way of flexing, stretching and working your writing muscles as you jump from one subject to another. You don’t have to commit to a whole story; you just have to focus on: What happens next? When the vicar is caught with his hands in the collection box, what happens next? When two sisters are fighting over their mother’s ashes, what happens next? When someone has just thrown their engagement ring off a cliff, what happens next?

Have fun trying to make a reader laugh out loud. See if you can write something that would make a reader too afraid to turn off their bedroom light. Finish that heartbreaking scene and reduce your reader to tears. Keep moving from prompt to prompt and test yourself.

If you’d like to sign up for a prompt workshop, please send me an email.

© Deana Luchia


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