Writing prompts help you to jump-start your imagination and generate ideas. You receive a prompt, such as an intriguing question or assignment, and you write down all the fictional scenarios that occur to you. You can do it as a timed exercise or not. The point is to have fun and to stimulate your creativity. Text writing prompts are better than picture writing prompts at conveying complex situations with precision.
Of course you need the right type of text prompt. Some of us writers might not want to do any autobiographical writing. We remember the creative writing essays of our schooldays and shudder at the thought of wasting time on such assignments as, “Describe your most wonderful childhood Christmas memory,” or “Who was your best friend in seventh grade and why?” But the best text writing prompts are not strictly autobiographical because, frankly, most of us either had a bad childhood we’re trying to forget or a good one that would still bore us to death to relive.
And you don’t want abstract prompts such as, “What are your impressions of the current government?” This is fiction we’re writing, not nonfiction. It is possible to pour out all your frustrations about the government’s treatment of senior citizens, and then find yourself with an idea for an older character that is moved to start a revolution to change things. But it takes drive to extract fiction from such a roundabout process: a nonfiction question that elicits your own beliefs that leads to a fictional character with a problem that finally initiates a plot.
A good text writing prompt will give you an immediate scenario involving one or more people reacting to something. Your response might turn into a story idea if the situation or characters are compelling enough. If nothing else, you get practice and insights when you write about people under stress. Stress is part of the everyday human experience. You can use autobiographical elements to get yourself started. However, the real goal is to creatively rearrange those elements and amplify upon them to create the most interesting fictional scenarios.
For example: “Describe an awkward first date.”
The prompt isn’t limiting you to describing your own most awkward first date. Maybe you can’t even remember. Nor is it asking your opinion on teenage dating or dating after divorce or anything abstract like that. It is suggesting a certain scenario but leaving it up to you what and how you are going to create.
Say you remember a time in your teenage years when you and your date were sitting in an empty playground on the swings and you were kissing – only to be startled when some younger kids giggled and rustled around behind the nearby bushes where they were spying on you. That is the autobiographical foundation that you start with. But then your imagination takes over. What if the rustling in the bushes hadn’t really been younger kids spying on you? What if a murder was taking place? You and your date might have become witnesses and had to run for your lives. Now you have something really exciting to write about in response to your writing prompt.
Text writing prompts like this can be great fun rather than the stodgy assignments we think they will be. They make us think in a way similar to when we were children listening to stories and couldn’t help wondering, “What if THIS thing had happened?”