"Keep your eyes open on Thursday for a special opportunity," the note said.
OK--it wasn’t a note. It was my fortune from my fortune cookie, but it makes a great opening line for an article on writing prompts. What can you do with that line? Doesn't it get you wondering as to what the opportunity could be…what makes it special...and will it really come true?
A good writing prompt will spawn all sorts of questions for a writer to ponder and attempt to answer. When you are suffering through the summer doldrums or maybe you have a minor case of writer's block, a writing prompt can jumpstart your muse into action. You can find writing prompts just about anywhere. Writing websites usually have pages of them. Here are few techniques I've learned for building my own file of writing prompts.
Ripped From the Headlines!
The "Law & Order" franchises on TV used this prompt all the time. They say truth is stranger than fiction so why not look to the news for ideas? If you write nonfiction, take a national headline or subject and work the local angle. If you write fiction, use the basic facts of the story to build your own conflict between characters. Every news story has a personal conflict on some level.
I once read a report that quoted Amy Winehouse's father Mitch announcing the singer had emphysema. At age 24, Winehouse, because of her drug use and smoking, had a disease that usually afflicts people two or three times her age. How many article ideas can you glean from that without mentioning the singer? On the fiction side, you can put your heroine in her shoes and give her the battle to win or you could take the father's point of view and the struggle he'll have.
Read the newspaper, at least one, every day to find prompts to get your creative juices flowing.
A Picture's Worth a Thousand Words!
Many years ago, I took a class at the SWA Writers Workshop with a wonderful author several years ago. LeRoy handed out photographs he pulled from magazines, instructing each of us to write the first page of a novel or short story based in the photo. These were random photos. I remember one was Marky Mark in his Calvin Klein briefs, while another was a deserted highway in Utah's Monument Valley.
Years later my sister sent us a book that was one of her favorites because it was bizarre. The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg, author of The Polar Express and Jumanji among others, supposedly features drawings by Harris Burdick with titles and then a one-line caption. The drawings all have a fantastic element to them, sometimes funny, other times disturbing. Wouldn't be fun to sit down with those drawings and captions and concoct a story around them?
Images are great writing prompts, especially for fiction. Keep a file of photos, illustrations, postcards even that capture your imagination.
You Can Quote Me!
I collect quotations. Some spawn scenes in my head that I have used in my artwork. When I edited The Purple Pros before, I always began my column with a quotation from a famous person. Most of the time the quote sparked the column's topic, but sometimes it just summarized the idea.
Quotations can inspire us for many reasons, including prompting ideas. I keep a file just for interesting quotes on my computer. When I'm stuck for an idea, I read through them all to see what will spark, like my fortune cookie did. Oh!--If I do find a "special opportunity" on Thursday, you'll be the first to know.