When it is time to write (usually early in the morning), and I have nothing that I currently want to work on, I have no new ideas, or maybe I just don’t want to think about writing. I turn to a trusted ally, the prompt. Most writers are aware of prompts but for those who might not be, simply put it is a cue card, an idea, a statement meant to spur your imagination into the act of writing/creating.
There are a handful of websites that provide prompts. They may be as simple as the first lines of a sentence, i.e. ‘Jimmy shot her a look of pure murder…’ It is up to the writer to tell us about Jimmy, why he might be upset, and who the female is and so forth. It might be a situation, i.e. ‘Two men enter a bar at three in the afternoon. They run into a priest who is obviously drunk and trying to fend off a woman who is blasting him for his impropriety.’ The writer’s job here is to tell us why the priest is drunk, who the woman is and why she is in the bar in the first place did she follow him in? In other words, fill us in on the details, tell the reader a story that follows or ends with this scene, or you could treat this is a midpoint in a drama, and the woman who is harassing the priest is pregnant with the priest’s child.
Another way to go about getting started is to pick random words and make a story out of those. Maybe I’m odd but, I like this approach for some reason. The issue is having random words that are not extremely common and not impossible to put into context. In a writing class, the instructor asked each of us to go to the board and write our favorite word. There were eight of us in the class, and the students put some pretty interesting words up. Antidisestablishmentarianism, dendrochronology, love, and sheepishly were listed along with others. Our assignment for the next week was to use all the words in a single story. Let me tell you this presented a rather huge challenge. The vast array of stories that came out of that assignment shocked me. Some used fiction, others memoir, but the stories, for the most part, were interesting, and they were as different as eight people could be.
Another prompt I have used in the past is writing a story in response to another story. Let’s take Gone With The Wind, the stories one could write in response might be, what Brett Butler did with his life after walking out on Scarlet, another might be Scarlet’s realization of what a spoiled brat she had been and the work she did to change herself to a rounded woman and finding happiness with someone else. It might be Mammy’s story of how she dealt with the sudden freedom and lack of belonging afforded her after the war ended.
Understand these writing exercises are just that exercises. I am not necessarily trying to write for publication when I start on one of these escapades. I am writing because I write every day and I try to challenge myself to write better and even more difficult pieces. I challenge myself to put a character into an impossible situation and work them through the processes required to get them out of it, and of course, I try to make the process as realistic as possible.
Even when I am in the middle of a WIP (work in progress), I can find myself stuck. A prompt can be used to help find a new path.