Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Prompting Ideas, pt 1

CC0I'm pretty sure the question most commonly asked of writers is "Where do you get your ideas?" This week, I want to talk about types of writing prompts. Next week, I will discuss ways to use prompts to improve your writing. My stories tend to be realistic fiction, which makes it easy to come up with ideas (they play out around me all day, every day), but much harder to make those ideas fresh and unique.

I've found that adding an element of randomness to my thinking allows my writer mind to jump to new places. I have all kinds of characters and settings swirling around in my own brain, but they're all doing the same old things they've always done. With writing prompts, I can push them to try new things.

Here are a few of my favorite ways to jump-start my creativity:

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Story Cubes

As an elementary school teacher, I was a big fan of Rory's Story Cubes, published by Gamewright*. When I left the classroom, I kept my story cube collection to use with my own writing.

Each side of each cube has a unique image. I have the Original collection (nouns) and the Action collection (verbs). I usually roll 2 or 3 from each set.

If you'd rather have a bit more structure, you can roll a die specifically for each story element - protagonist, antagonist, setting, conflict, resolution, etc. Sometimes limiting the options forces your brain to get more creative.

Or, if you're the crafty type, check out this blog post on how to make your own story cubes!

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Text a Friend

Sometimes when I'm stuck for ideas, I'll text friends and family. I ask each person for a different suggestion - "Mom, name an animal, please!" "Nikki, give me a place!" - and then compile their answers into a single storyline. Speaking from experience, it's a good idea to let your muses know what's going on the first time so you don't get several variations of "Huh?" as your responses.

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Dixit/Mysterium cards

My husband and I recently started stealing cards from our Dixit and Mysterium games for inspiration. The artwork in these games is intentionally vague and chaotic. Dixit has more whimsical images, while Mysterium runs a little darker.

We pull three or four cards from each game. From this random selection, we individually create an outline for a story, either stringing together a beginning-middle-end combination or identifying a protagonist, antagonist/conflict, and resolution. Once we both have an idea, we go for a walk and discuss.

These cards inspired a story about a bookish girl with good
intentions who has to choose whether to remain among her elite
crowd or give up her life of leisure to join a real revolution.

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Idea Generators

There is no shortage of random idea generators available thanks to the wonders of the world wide web. Here are just a few of the idea generators I've found:
  • My personal favorites are the prompts embedded within DavidRM Software's The Journal**, and that’s not just because Writing Prompts 2 and 3 were created by my own Dear Hubby. This software has prompts for prose, poetry, journaling, memoir writing, and more which can be purchased as individual add-ons or in the Writer’s Edition pack.
  • Always Write is the classroom webpage maintained by a Nevada writing teacher, Mr. Corbett Harrison, who implements writing notebooks as part of his curriculum. There's lots of interesting information here (makes me wish I still had a classroom so I could do this with my students!), including an idea generator.
  • Springhole.net has a collection of random generators, many of which target specific genres (fantasy, sci-fi, fairy tale, romance, etc). I particularly like the ones that give suggestions on how to add a surprise or twist to your story. 
  • Writing Exercises has generators for character, plot, dialogue, titles, and other story elements. It also has exercises to use to develop your skills with different elements of storytelling.
  • WritersDigest.com has a prompt page with new prompts added regularly. Many of these provide a quick set-up and ask you to write the "and then ..." part.
  • Reddit has a Writing Prompts section. As with anything on Reddit, YMMV and you should keep a careful eye out for troll holes.
  • ThinkWritten.com has accumulated 365 writing prompts for your daily writing pleasure. These tend to be pretty basic and open-ended, allowing for maximum personalization.

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Do you have a great way to kick-start your writer mind? 
Is there an idea generator you use on a regular basis? Share in the comments!

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Gamewright is responsible for many of my favorite games - Qwixx, Rolling America, Sushi Go, Forbidden Island and Forbidden Desert. They know how to make a game smart and fun at the same time!

** The Journal is great for all kinds of other things as well. I've used it to track health and diet info, create menus, and organize my calendar and to-do lists. I strongly recommend checking it out.

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