Do you enjoy writing prompts?
They make excellent warmups, allowing your mind to drift easily into a “writing” state—you’re busily writing your current project before your resistance and inner editor try to stop you.
Writing prompts: conquer resistance in five minutes
Resistance can be tricky, so avoid looking for reasons:
… (resistance) can also dress itself up in fancy clothes: beware of hunting for reasons for resistance.
Try starting a writing session with a writing prompt when you’re not in the mood to write, and want to procrastinate: I can write later. I should really make those phone calls and run a couple of loads of washing…
They’re useful when:
- You’re avoiding writing an important scene;
- Characters need a swift kick to make them interesting;
- Conjuring a plot twist is challenging.
Once you get into the habit of using writing prompts, you can create fun prompts whenever you need inspiration.
Let’s look at some prompts for the common situations above. Although I’ve included word counts, you can write as much or as little as you please.
Kickstart an important scene: details matter
Do you write chronologically, or skip about, writing whichever scene triggers your imagination?
I like to skip around. Although you need to smooth transitions and slot your jigsaw-puzzle scenes into place later, the process prevents boredom. It makes creating surprises easier.
Try these prompts if you’re avoiding a scene.
- 200 words: a main character walks along a beach. Combine sensory details with your character’s thoughts. Suddenly, he sees someone he’s avoiding strolling towards him.
- Roadworks close off a road: your character has an urgent appointment. The detour means he’ll be late. Write 100 words of the phone call he makes.
- When he returns home unexpectedly, your character sees someone’s car in the driveway: 100 words.
Motivate one of your characters: give him a negative trait
As we suggested, if you want to create drama, balance good and evil characters. Some authors try to avoid giving main characters negative traits, but we all have them.
What negative traits could you inflict?
- His parents died when he was a teenager: your character wants to live up to their memory. He’s kind, polite, and thinks of others, BUT… he’s also quick-tempered. (Choose another negative trait if you wish.) In 100 words, outline a scene in which his temper flares.
- In 200 words, write a main character’s diary, in which she reveals her envy (or other negative trait.)
Craft a subplot to keep readers’ interest: develop minor characters
Can’t think of a plot twist? Do more with your minor characters.
Every character in your novel is on his own journey. He has desires and goals for his life. Think about the goals of your minor characters.
Subplots are useful to develop your main characters via their reactions.
- (200 words) A main character and his close friend (a minor character) work at a large company. The friend is out having dinner, when he overhears a couple at the next table discussing something which affects the main character.
- Minor character, Jenny, is adopted. She’s traced her birth mother. In 200 words, describe Jenny’s hopes and fears, as well as her relationship with your main character.
Writing prompts build creative inspiration
Recently a fiction writing student objected to using prompts. She’d already missed her publisher’s deadline for her current novel, and didn’t want to “waste time.”
Although I find writing prompts useful, your mileage may vary. Try a couple of prompts. You’ll quickly discover whether they help your writing process.
Copywriter and marketing pro Angela Booth maintains a busy copywriting and ghostwriting practice. Fascinated by online marketing, she wrote one of the first business books for internet marketing, published by Allen & Unwin. She’s been an enthusiastic blogger since the late 1990s.