I have always been a little wary of writing prompts. To me, writing prompts have always felt like they were writing for the sake of writing. I’m talking about the type where you, for example, write a detailed description of something every day. The kind that are meant to work on technique, but not to tell a story.
Well, recently my write-in group has decided that we’re going to do a prompt every week, with a focus on technique. This sounds like the type of thing I was complaining about, but instead I’ve found that the prompts we’ve been choosing have inspired their own stories or parts of stories. We’ve mainly been using prompts from a book called The 3 a.m. Epiphany: Uncommon Writing Exercises that Transform your Fiction by Brian Kiteley. As the title suggestions, these prompts aren’t your normal prompts. Sure you have things like writing a scene while focusing on scent (totally the kind of prompt that I’d have rolled my eyes over before), except the prompt suggestions go beyond that, suggesting how you can incorporate that initial prompt idea and make it richer. So the scent-writing prompt became (as interpreted to us in our weekly write-in e-mail):
Describe a place by its scent. Don’t let the olfactory sense overwhelm your description. Instead, use it as an unconscious trigger of memory.
Well, upon reading that, my imagination takes me somewhere totally different from just “write a scene, focusing on scent.” In fact, I do my little Sage Logic thing, and go with the last POV character you would expect me to for this prompt.
The one who can’t smell.
Yep, I totally established in A Paranormal Bromance that Ren, my ghost, cannot smell. So instead of using his best friend Blake, who hates scented things and would be perfect for this prompt, I use the one who can’t possibly describe a place by its scent. Or can he? The “place” part of it was important to me too. Once I established that I was going to use Ren (and, to some extent, olfactophobe Blake), I knew I had to draw on the magic-based scents that they would find the magic store where Blake’s cousin works. Since I always had this romantic notion that Ren would eventually fall for Blake’s cousin, I had the beginnings of a story right there. They go in, scents are everywhere, Blake goes to the back to escape them, leaving Ren to flirt with the girl who can’t see or hear him. And from here, it’s the “memory” part of the prompt that really allows me to complete the prompt. Ren can’t smell now, but he’s surrounded by scents he recognizes from before he died, and he ends up relating Blake’s cousin to the romance with Shannon he had before dying thanks to those scents. The sage she’s smudging reminds him of how Shannon’s house smelled after she cleansed it. The patchouli in her hair and sandalwood on her skin reminds him how Shannon smelled, since she used them the same way. He has an unspoken moment of relating Shannon to Blake’s cousin and believing that he can smell everything in that room, and then the atmosphere is shattered by outsiders.
So, yeah, it managed to take the type of prompt that I dislike and turn it into something that was easy to build off of into a story.
Not every prompt is that easy. I thought this week’s, which I chose because it seemed like my kind of thing, would be a piece of cake, but I find myself stuck on it. There are a few moments of idea, but nothing that inspires a short story out of me.
Of course, then there are weeks like a few weeks ago, where I was inspired to write a 9K story. That was a ton of fun. At least for me. I can’t speak to my NaNo Peeps who then had a 9K story in front of them, instead of a 500-word story.
In the end, we decided that nobody had to feel obligated to do the prompts, but I’ve never missed one yet. They’re meant to keep us writing on weeks where we’re stuck on or in between projects, while also learning. And I must say, it’s nice to have a new story each week and then almost immediately share it (nobody has to share either, although we always have). It’s a sweet bit of instant gratification. And it’s already inspired two (but really three) novels, which, in the end, is where my strengths lie in writing. In fact, my last one continued with the Ren and Blake’s cousin storyline, just in case I ever write a sequel to that book.
Anyway, despite my initial wariness over writing prompts, these are proving to be lots of fun.
How do you feel about writing prompts? Or do you have any good or bad ones you’ve done?
Lots of love,