Today’s guest post is from Graham Storrs, a writer from Down Under whose story “After the Party” appeared in my editorial debut, Sidekicks! Graham’s post is about prompt writing and how it has shaped his career.
The very first time I attended a tutorial on writing, the tutor opened a newspaper and said, “This is what I use for writing prompts.” It seems he scans the headlines until one catches his fancy. It could be anything. In today’s news, for instance, I see, “Doctor’s Reject Work Contracts,” a story about 3,000 public sector doctors being forced by the State government onto very disadvantageous employment contracts. Having picked your story, the writer went on, you turn it into a “What if..?” question. “What if all those doctors decided to up stakes and leave the State?” Finally, you look at how your hypothetical would affect an individual, one of the doctors, perhaps, or a member of their family, the nurse who’s in love with her, a patient, a member of the patient’s family, and so on. I’ve never used this formula, but it’s easy to see how it could work. He claims to have based several best-selling novels on the technique.
At the time of the tutorial, I had never come across the notion of writing prompts – phrases, ideas, pictures, or whatever, intended to stimulate the imagination and kickstart the process of story creation. Yet, I realised, my very first book had been written as a result of one of them. I was a child of ten or eleven years and a creative writing exercise in a school textbook asked us to take a paragraph presented there and to continue the story, which I did, spinning it out across several notebooks into a fast-paced adventure story involving a couple of kids my age who had found an alien creature and were trying to keep it safe from the authorities – and that was a long time before E.T., I’m pleased to say.
For many writers, having ideas is not the hard part. The difficulty lies in evaluating the ideas and selecting the one that can be developed into a short story or even a novel. Yet, for many, the creative muscle needs a poke with a stick to get it twitching. Loads of websites exist to stimulate writers in this way, offering daily writing prompts or collections of writing prompts. Take a trawl through Writing Prompts, Daily Writing Prompts, Writer’s Digest’s Creative Writing Prompts, and a hundred others like them to see what’s on offer. But don’t do it just yet. I know how stimulating these things can be and I’d rather you finished reading this before you’re driven to your laptop in a frenzy of inspiration.
One of the most effective sources of writing prompts I’ve ever come across is the call for submissions to a themed anthology. The beauty of such a prompt is that, if it does inspire you, there is a market for your story, ready and waiting. Some I’ve written for in the past few years include Sidekicks! (the theme being the perspective of the great hero’s sidekick), In Situ (archeological finds), From Stage Door Shadows (the lyrics of the Elton John song, Tiny Dancer) and Masques (masks and masques). The same goes for themed writing competitions and themed magazine issues – which have also paid off in prizes and publications.
But inspiration may strike at any time from any direction. I’ve written two fat space operas based on a glimpse of a young starlet in a TV ad, and two sci-fi thrillers based on a drawing of a robot I saw on DeviantArt. I suppose the take-home message from those two examples is that, when you’re in a receptive frame of mind, just about anything and everything becomes a writing prompt.
OK. You can go and look at all those great sites now. But, before you go, why not leave a comment to share your favourite source of writing prompts?
Graham Storrs has released three novels since Sidekicks! came out. Two of these, Timesplash and True Path, are set in the same world as “After the Party” and were published by Pan Macmillan/Momentum. The third is a near-future thriller about the perils of augmented reality called Heaven is a Place on Earth.