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To Prompt or not to Prompt

This whole blog posted was prompted (a-hem) by a conversation I had on twitter with a friend a few days ago. She had recently finished her first MS, and was lost and wandering in the sea of first-time writers with a ready MS and no idea where to go next.  Some of us have often sailed that sea – whether you have no idea which of your ideas to pick next or simply no idea at all.

For writers, the second is a lot harder. Usually, we just have TOO MANY book ideas and never know which one to pick. I often have had the same problem. I’ve moved on from an MS to the next, until I had found exactly the right story I wanted to present to agents. But honestly, it was never lack of ideas, I usually just had way too many popping into my head. And since I’m prone to switching between genres, it was absolutely crazy on how it could change so fast. Is it Egypt? A fairytale retelling? A historical fantasy about pirates and mermaids? A fantasy based on the animal kingdom?

For my friend, the problem was exactly the opposite. She just had no idea what to write next. She had no vague idea for a protagonist, or for a story, or even a setting. None whatsoever. That’s when she was prompted by the idea of using prompts. (Okay, I’ll stop. Promise.)

For me, prompts have never really been attractive – in a way, they are an exercise for writing and to keep you going when you don’t have anything else, or for getting rid of writer’s block. Or even when your story is stuck to a point and you need a new twist to keep it moving. The thing is, propmts have never been an attractive because I’ve always thought they were either cliché or boring. Something that hangs around the internet and that absolutely everybody has used. It’s not even new to the story, or most of the time it won’t fit and people were forced to struggle to make them fit into the WIP. We’ve seen loads of them up on Pinterest, and to me, I never thought I needed to use it.

But when my friend pointed out that she bought a book with exercises and prompts, and from then sparked the idea of the current WIP, I started seeing it another way. It may be a way for you to un-stick your story, train your writing skills, invent new characters and new plots. Sometimes, the scene prompted won’t make it to the final cut – but it will have helped you to create another part of the story. This was something that I thought truly interesting, since none of them seemed to spark anything in me to write, ever. I handle writer’s block in another way.

But still, something has propmted me to write my stories – be them images I saw, movies I thought were interesting or concept ideas I read about it in another book. In a way, there were also prompts. All of them begin with an ‘what if?’. That’s all that needs to be in a story. The only difference is that the ‘writer prompts’ give you a line of dialogue, a scene or a setting specified, and you build it up from there. Sometimes, it changes the whole story, and sometimes, it remains the same.

So, do writing prompts work for you? What do you think about them? What prompts you to have new ideas for a story?

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