Monday, April 4, 2011

Writing Prompts

One of the questions writers often get is ‘where do you get your ideas?’ The answer, as most writers know, is that ideas are everywhere. We are flooded with them by the constant stream of sights, sounds, smells, and emotions which we are subjected to every day. Every one of them can be an ‘idea,’ and the juxtaposition of two or more taken out of context and reassembled in a creative way can often lead to a ‘story.’

Sometimes a story will pop into my head almost fully formed, but this is usually the exception to the rule. Often when it comes time for my daily writing, I must take some of those sensory images that have hit me throughout the day, and work on combining them into a story. Sometimes it helps to use ‘prompts’ for this exercise.

Writing prompts can take many forms. There are websites devoted to them, and they often take the form of a starting sentence that one is supposed to take and ‘write the rest of the story.’ I don’t really care for these too much, as for me, the first sentence is someone else’s. Ditto for the little situations that people put toghther–i.e. a story synopsis for which you are then supposed to write the story.

Instead, I like to manufacture my own prompts. Sometimes I will do this by randomly paging through a book (or books) and randomly touching the page, and writing down the word that I touched. I do this about five times, and then take those words, and see what sort of story is conjured up in my mind. I’ve done many stories this way, including one of my recently sold stories, “The Thinning.”

Another good writing prompt for me is using a painting, a photograph, or a song. Sometimes I will randomly search words on Google Images and see what pictures come up. When I find a good one, I look at the various things that are in the image, and see if I can come up with a story for it. The same goes for a song. I’ve written several stories that I really like that were inspired by songs. For me, the song technique has the added benefit of the emotional tapestry that the music creates affecting the story, as well as the images of the lyrics.

Today I wrote a story called “Raincoat,” after listing to Leonard Cohen’s song ‘Famous Blue Raincoat.” It’s not really a great story at the moment–it could use some work–but hey, they can’t all be gems. And sometimes, old ‘not so great’ stories can be hammered into great ones, with a little (or a lot) of rewriting. So for now, “Raincoat” will rest in the metaphorical drawer until it’s ready for that rewrite. And tomorrow, the random splashes of thought and images will converge to form a story as yet unfathomed.

Write On!

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