4 writing prompts that will change how you write.

This article was featured in Self Publishing: Carnival of the Indies Issue #44!

If it hurts your brain, you're on the right track!

If it hurts your brain, you’re on the right track!

I run across writing prompts all the time on the web. After my Creative Writing program, I don’t find many of them helpful in so far as challenging and improving a writer’s craft. Many writing prompts are just too comfortable. They focus on flexing your imagination instead of developing your technique.

Here are 4 amazing prompts I used in my Creative Writing 300-level workshops that will both challenge your writing and hopefully improve it.

1) Write from the perspective of an inanimate object.

The point: too often, we find ourselves only focusing on our main character when we write. We forget that a single scene has limitless possibilities. A desk, a flickering light, a wall clock, a house, or even a city block can have its own personality.

-Write a 1-page scene from the perspective of a house observing the people who live in it.
-Write a story about two inanimate objects falling in love.
-Write a story where a street becomes the main character.

Flex your characterization skills to include more than just ordinary people or animals. Practice describing a setting or environment that embodies its own character and atmosphere.

2) Write a story out of chronological sequence.

The point: As novelists, we are often focused on beginning, middle, and end. Sometimes mixing up the scenes can add a lot of life to a story. What if a book started at the “middle,” and worked its way back to the beginning?

-Write a 3-5 page story where the scenes happen out of chronological order.

If you’re not sure where to start, begin your first scene at the end of the story. Try to work backward (or forward?) from there. Read Catch-22 if the concept of this seems confusing, or watch the movie Momento.

3) Write a single scene from 3 different “distances.”

-Write a single scene about a character meeting a friend over coffee.
-Write the same scene from farther away: a person across the street observing two friends meeting for coffee.
-Write the same scene at an even farther distance: a person reflecting on that one time, years ago, when they met their friend for coffee.

The point: experience the difference between each of these scenes. Learn the strengths and weaknesses of each one: “in the moment,” “from across the street” and “from years and years ago.” How do the scenes change? Which do you feel is the strongest perspective or time frame? Which felt more “safe” to you and which was more of a challenge? This helps you break out of the mode of always writing from one “distance” or one sense of time.

4) Write a story that includes 3 dictionary definitions.

Use a definition from a dictionary in a 2-page short story (or scene). Try using this technique 3 different times throughout the text. Make sure your definitions fit the context of your story.

The point: explore new narration techniques. Think outside the box. Shake it up a bit!

And most importantly, have fun!