The year I discovered writing to prompts.
Then I discovered to write to prompts you need to understand flash fiction.
The first time I heard the term, ‘flash fiction’ I had to google it. It sounded intriguing to write stories under 1,000 words. I’ve never lost the excitement.
Soon I had flash fiction sorted. Sorted? Yep. Flash fiction works in mysterious ways. It demands a snappy beginning, clues you drop along the way, and a twisty ending where the reader goes back and exclaims over your cleverness.
Not so different to regular writing.
That’s the point. Writing to a prescribed low word limit sharpens our writing as we edit, rewrite, edit.
But my world wasn’t complete until I stumbled upon sites that offered writing prompts in the form of swords or images or both.
During my early blogging days, I friended Francine Howarth, now a best-selling author on Amazon. The British aristocrat and the Wild Colonial Girl formed a partnership. Having a romantic bent in our writing, we found none of the writing challenges a good fit. I had the idea of starting our very own ‘writing to prompts’ challenge.
The year was 2010.
‘Romantic Friday Writers’ was born.
When we began weekly prompts, we soon gained a following, some who continue to write to the WEP (Write…Edit…Publish) writing prompts. How’s that for longevity in the internet world? The prompts were mainly words or phrases, but the picture prompts proved popular (a bit like my alliteration!)
So what’s the value of writing prompts?
I’ve found there’s nothing quite so useful as an insightful prompt to set the gears of our brain in motion. It can become an emotional experience when a word triggers a thought, painful or pleasant, in our minds. Over the years of running writing challenges, I’ve been constantly amazed at how many interpretations come from one word or phrase. Hmm. Think of the word, ‘tragedy.’ What comes to your mind? How many interpretations could arise from this one emotive word?
Various age groups would see ‘tragedy’ in completely different lights.
• Perhaps a toddler considers it a ‘tragedy’ when he loses a toy.
• Perhaps a teenager considers it a ‘tragedy’ when a huge zit appears the day of that special school social.
• Perhaps a thirty-something considers it a ‘tragedy’ when she can’t afford that glorious red dress in the shop window or that yellow snappy car.
• Perhaps a middle-aged person considers it a ‘tragedy’ when a partner dies.
• Perhaps an elderly person considers it a ‘tragedy’ when they want to die, but can’t.
So why did I rattle on about ‘tragedy’?
To give you a quick snapshot of the value of writing prompts. A participant’s mind may flash to that suffering parent who begs to be euthanized but it’s against her beliefs. She might write an emotional story that sounds like fiction, but it’s really her pouring her heart out onto the page, coming to some realization – maybe she’ll realize she’s being selfish; maybe she’ll search and find another treatment to alleviate her parent’s pain; maybe she’ll realize that her parent has the right to choose, even though it contravenes her beliefs.
Writing to prompts is so valuable to our writing craft. But at WEP, we count the image on the badge as equally important. Consider these three badges I had our badge maker, Olga Godim, mock up for ‘Tragedy’.
See how a badge is an important element? The badge often dictates the genre and the general feel of the story. Here I see maybe sci-fi, romance, murder … for starters.
I cast around for opinions from the WEP team and this is what they said:
• “A writing prompt alleviates writer's block by giving me a nugget around which writing can happen, a take-off point that leads somewhere exciting.
• Makes me think in POV's/settings/genres which might not have occurred to me independently. A specific prompt often leads a participant to write sci-fi for example, something they thought they were incapable of.
• Writing prompts help motivate you to write more regularly. A lot of people struggle to write consistently. Resolving to write something small each day based on a writing prompt is a great way to hone your writing skills.”
I have no doubt writing to prompts improves our writing. I’ve been doing this for 9 years now and another thing I love is when writing to a prompt leads to a novel. This has happened so many times. Pat Hatt comes to mind. Oftentimes someone comments on a WEP entry and likes the teaser so much he/she offers suggestions for turning that idea into a book. Sometimes it’s in the questions readers ask – what happens next? What happens to so and so? In 1,000 words, readers are already invested in a story/character/setting.
If you’ve never written to a prompt, I highly recommend it. It’s a great investment in your writing career. Google it and find many options. If you’d like to try WEP, you’ll find a supportive online writing community.
Denise is everywhere online, but start with her blog or at Write…Edit…Publish.