Why I Use Writing Prompts

Though I am always working on ‘serious’ projects, I like to make time to write using a writing prompt at least once per week. Writing prompts allow me to experiment with new styles and to explore ideas that otherwise I may not have thought were worth putting on paper. These strange, varied creations generally appear here, as part of my writing portfolio.

There are many forms of writing prompts that you can use, and each writer generally has a preference. One of the reasons I enjoy participating in a writing subforum where we alternate between who provides prompts is that we are forced to break out of our comfort zones, not only writing for the types of prompts we enjoy or are familiar with, but also for completely unexpected prompts that we might never have encountered otherwise. The forms of prompt I see on this subforum can generally be categorised as such: textual, visual, musical, and challenge.

Textual prompts sometimes provide a first line, a last line, a key word, or something similar that needs to be included in the piece. This can give the writer a theme that they might not usually write about, a beginning that inspires an idea they may not have otherwise written, or an ending to aim for that forces them to think in an unusual way, working backwards rather than forwards.

Writing prompt:

Write a piece that is inspired by the phrase 'gunboat diplomacy'.

Visual prompts are fairly self-explanatory. An image is provided that gives the writer a setting, a character, or an object that needs to be included in the piece. This is possibly my favourite form of writing prompt, as images that depict characters or locations contrary to those I usually write about can be easy to find and, as a visual person, I enjoy losing myself inside these images. Adding music from my own collection that suits an image’s atmosphere can also help encourage an immersive experience. I have a folder on my computer that contains hundreds of sci fi and fantasy settings, designed to be wallpapers, that act as my stash of emergency prompts, should I ever need one.

Writing prompt:

Use this image to inspire a story.

Musical prompts involve audio/visual clips where the primary focus is a song. This is possibly my least favourite form of writing prompt, as I find music (unless instrumental) often contains quite obvious storytelling that I find it difficult to deviate from. While some lyrics are ambiguous, some are quite apparent and seem to tell the story for us. However, some writers find quite significant inspiration in these musical prompts, and I have to admit that with the right song I have written some very peculiar (in a good way!) pieces.

Writing prompt:

Use this song to inspire a story.

Challenge prompts are designed to force the writer to stray from what they know, making them include something in their story or to write in a style that is foreign to them. Most prompts that don’t fit into the previous three categories belong in this one. Two recent challenge prompts that I have responded to involved writing a story with characters inspired by the three faces of Eve trope and to write the opening paragraph of eight stories using the same starting sentence. Prompts that fit into this category are often the ones most likely to push us, unforgivingly, into the sharp air of the unknown.

Writing prompt:

You are challenged to create a short piece of exposition that could exist within a larger text. Bonus points for doing it in a 'showing' not 'telling' fashion (maybe use dialogue) and even more bonus points if you use the ''Exposition Fairy' trope.

While a writing prompt has never been the catalyst for one of my ‘serious’ projects, they have inspired me to write in varied and interesting ways, to use a variety of styles, and to search farther afield for inspiration, all of which have directly and indirectly influenced my craft. So, here’s my challenge to you: try responding to the writing prompts in this post—even the ones that don’t immediately strike you as inspiring. You might just be amazed by the strange stories you create. Be sure to post to link me to your attempts via Twitter!