Let’s talk a bit about story prompts. This is something that gets brought up in today’s author interview, so I just want to quickly go over a few things. But first, think about where you’re at with your current project. Are you writing a novel? What are you struggling with?
One of the things I struggle with in most of my novels is I get to a point where I know how it begins, I know how it ends, and I have to figure out what important things need to happen to carry me through to the ending. When I get to that point, I tend to procrastinate and it’s because I don’t feel like any of my ideas are fresh, new, interesting enough. I worry that my writing has gone flat, for lack of a better way to explain it.
The thing is, writing is like a never-ending spring of fresh water. There’s no end to the ideas that can come out of it, you just have to be willing to dive a little deeper to look for them sometimes.
One of the most important things that story prompts can do is to open your mind to possibilities you haven’t thought of. A good, quick, little exercise you can do to see what I mean is to go through this list and jot down the first thing that comes to your mind. Pause if you need to, grab a pen and a piece of paper, or open up a document on your screen and type something gout. It doesn’t have to be detailed, just a few words. I’m going to give you five random prompts, and you have 10 seconds to write down your first thought that those ideas spur on. Think about setting and emotions. So, time of year, what’s going on in the scene, who is it affecting, what are the feelings, etc.
- A cat meowing from a tree branch.
- A sink full of dirty dishes.
- A splash in the pool behind your house.
- A suitcase parked by the door.
- The elderly women walking into a dive bar.
So, without even knowing what you wrote down, I can tell you that it has the chance to become a story. Now, you could pause this here and take a few minutes if you have some lines nagging at your about one of the prompts, and if that’s the case, I encourage you to do so.
And did you notice what just happened? I can almost guarantee you that, for those few moments, you weren’t thinking about whatever you’re struggling with in your novel; you’re instead thinking about all these other ideas that just popped into your mind from those prompts.
So don’t ever worry that your well has dried up, or your writing isn’t good enough, or your ideas just aren’t coming. They’re in there. Sometimes they just need a little bit of coaxing to get them to come out.
Something I’ve learned to embrace is the art of writing short pieces of fiction. It’s something I’ve talked about before and, in fact, I have a special guest coming up soon to get a closer look at flash fiction. But for now, let’s just touch briefly on the idea of writing a story with a beginning, middle, and end, in a thousand words or less. Even 500 words. And even if the story doesn’t go anywhere, you can use it as an exercise to get some words on the page. Because as soon as that happens, words should start flowing. And you never know where it’s going to take you. Once the motivation hits, the sky is the limit.
I read short stories on Reedsy Prompts. It’s a website that provides five prompts every Friday. You can enter their weekly contest and submit a short story within their guidelines and based on one of the prompts for that week’s contest. It’s a fun little exercise to do whether you enter the contest or not. Sometimes I read the prompts and am immediately struck with an idea, and I’ll use that just to write something for myself. I don’t necessarily intend to try to publish it, it’s just something to stretch my brain and get me thinking about something other than my novel, especially when I’m in the thick of it and can’t see my way out.
If you’ve listened to other episodes of my podcast or read previous posts, you probably know I LOVE brainstorming. And usually, once I start, I can’t stop. I love the idea of taking one word or sentence and branching out from there, and then taking it another level out for each of those idea branches, etc. etc.
But it doesn’t always have to be about your main project. Take a step back sometimes, even regularly, and do another form of creative writing.
Sometimes I even find that subconsciously, my writing subjects or certain elements will come out onto the page that have to do with my novel project in one way or another, and it’ll just click. Some kind of connection. It’s amazing what our brains can do for us when we give it a chance to breathe.
When you’re looking for prompts, you can either generate them yourself by just looking out your window and writing about what you see. Animals, nature, cars going down the street, a strange bird sitting on the bird feeder, your neighbour out in the garden, anything. Incorporate sounds and scents. Be descriptive in your writing.
Or, you can use prompt generators. You can go to Reedsy and look at the previous prompts—there’s a TON of them there. Or you can use google and search for story prompts or story prompt generators. You can use the first one that pops up on your screen, or you can scroll down until you see something that speaks to you.
Other places you can find ideas are in the local newspaper or on a news channel on tv. Search Twitter for #storyprompt. Or open a book from your shelf, turn to page 143 and write about the first sentence in the second paragraph down.
The purpose is to generate thoughts and ideas and get words on the page. Because, I don’t know about you, but it seems that once I start writing, it gets a little easier. You write one word, then another, then another, and pretty soon, you’ll have an entire page full of words and you’ll be amazed at what you came up with just based on one little random prompt.
I really enjoy writing short fiction whether as a tool to help me out of a slump or because I just really want to write a short story. I don’t want to give the impression that writing flash fiction is easier than writing a novel, because there’s a lot more to writing really good flash fiction than what many people realize. But the act of letting ideas flow onto the page based on a random idea will help you get back into the game with fresh perspective and renewed motivation.
Today’s guest is science fiction, fantasy, and horror author John Steiner. John earned his Associate of Biology at Salt Lake Community College, where he is currently working as a tutor in math and chemistry. He exercises an avid interest in history, science, philosophy, mythology, martial arts, as well as military tactics and technology. John has a wide selection of books and short stories that you can find out more about on his website. Many short stories can be found by clicking here. John can be found on Twitter @JohnSteiner32.
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