Five Tips For Using Prompts

Prompts are a wonderful way to strengthen your creative writing skills. They also serve as a conduit to stretch our imagination and write freely. Prompts come in many ‘flavors.’

  • They can vary from explicit to vague;
  • They can commence from a starting sentence or give you an ending sentence;
  • They can list words that you must include in the story/poem;
  • They can give you a cartoon or picture to spark your imagination for a story/poem;
  • They can give you a setup for your writing such as a fill-in-the-blank character or setting;
  • They can ask you to reword someone else’s work or expand someone else’s story, e., a different take on a fairy tale or morality tale.

There are as many variations of prompts as there are snowflakes. They give us a starting point – a place from which to build. Prompts remove any preconceived ideas because they present unexpected topics. We can then experiment from that point forward. After writing from many prompts, I have some tips for writing from them.

     1. Write the obvious: Write the less obvious.

A prompt can be taken exactly as it is written or you can look at it through a different lens and explore the less obvious. Say your prompt is to write about a ‘key.’ You could then concoct a story about the object that is a key. But looking at the prompt with a less obvious lens, the key could be the essential reason for doing something, or it could be the pitch for a musical number. Or you could write about the lock connected to the key. Before you plunge into writing, give some thought to how you want to interpret the prompt.

     2. Keep Writing

Once you start writing, keep going. The important thing is to keep the words flowing. If you hit a glitch, think “and then…” over and over until a thought forms, and you can go from there. Remaining open to your thoughts helps to reveal the story you want to tell.

     3. Don’t Edit

Stopping to edit can break the flow of your writing. I am a great proponent of using a spelling/grammar checker program like Grammarly to point out the errors after I have written the story. I also use the speaking function of WORD to listen to the story to edit the flow or to pick up less obvious problems in the prose, but I do this after I have gotten the story on the page.

      4. Use Sensory Descriptions

Use all your sensations in your descriptions. As we have discussed in other blog posts, giving specific sensory descriptions draws your readers into the story and has them experiencing what you are experiencing. Strong descriptions are not necessarily lengthy ones, but by using words which express the specific quality of the experience you want to explain, your descriptions will be clear and crisp.

      5. Be Proud Of Your Finished Project

The goal of writing from a prompt is to stretch your imagination and practice your ability to construct a narrative that makes sense. Filling a page with words that matter is a great accomplishment. Your story is unique to you, so don’t go comparing your work to another’s work – especially if you do your prompt reading in a group session. What matters is that you were able to construct something out of thin air and they were too. So revel in your accomplishment and be proud.

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