I hate writing prompts.
I know, I know, why am I writing a whole article about writing prompts if I hate them? Well, simple, I hate the regular old “write a story with a dog in it” writing prompts.
I hate writing prompts that don’t challenge me as a writer. I hate writing prompts that don’t include a bit of deliberate practice in them. I hate writing prompts that remind me of standardized testing. I hate writing prompts that don’t make me think.
Those writing prompts don’t do anything more than help you get words on a page. Which is great, don’t get me wrong. But getting words onto a page isn’t going to help you craft better stories or be a better writer.
It definitely didn’t for me until I stopped relying on other people’s writing prompts and began designing my own.
How I Did It
A couple of years back, I was a struggling writer, trying to make a sale by saturating the market with my mediocre stories. My talent or skill was average if not below average, and I couldn’t get an editor to look at let alone buy my work.
So, I changed things up. I started writing more. Now, the writing I did wasn’t all about writing stories that I would one day sell. Naw. I was writing to learn specific craft elements.
I created writing prompts around the basic principle of deliberate practice. When it came to regular old writing prompts, most of them don’t have a clear end goal or result. By crafting new writing prompts that aimed at bettering craft elements like characterization, dialogue, description, and more through challenging my writing limits, I began tapping into a greater well of creativity.
That well of creativity led me to an ocean.
The more I focused on the minor elements of my writing, the better I was able to connect with my work. That connection to my craft and pieces coupled with the fact that I was getting better at telling stories turned me into a better writer in a few months.
Using my focused prompts that targeted different craft elements, I stopped just writing and began learning through writing. The more practice I put in, the better I became at recognizing story elements and being able to utilize them to ramp up my stories.
After practicing for months, I started submitting stories again and opened up a couple of writing gigs. As a hired gun and freelance writer, I sold over 100 stories to publications, self-published authors, game developers, children’s publishers, and more.
Each client and project I worked on, kept giving me the same praise and feedback:
“Aigner, you just get story and how to use it to better the experience of the audience.”
Through all those random writing prompts, I had Mr. Miyagi’d my way into being a better writer. I not only knew the story, but I could use my knowledge to help others and craft engaging stories.
I’m sure that’s what you want to do:
- Be a better writer.
- Write well-crafted stories.
- Sell more of your stories.
Writing Prompts To Make You a Better Writer
Prompt #1: Write an argument without any dialogue
This prompt is meant to get you thinking about dialogue in the way you should always be thinking about dialogue. Subtext. Dialogue isn’t about making your characters sound like real people but about making them sound like actors.
Supercharge the words your characters say by never stating what they are actually feeling or thinking but keeping that hidden beneath their words. The reason you’ll be writing an argument is to bring about the most emotion in your subtext and scene.
Prompt #2: Write an opening to a story in all dialogue
Now that you are beginning to understand subtext and how to make your characters say dialogue that drives the conflict and plot of your story, write in a way that makes them all sound unique.
Focus your writing energy on making it so the reader can tell the characters apart and get a sense of who they are and their role in the story. By doing this, you’ll begin thinking and understanding not only characters and dialogue but how to write an opening that grips your reader and sets them in the story.
Prompt #3: Write contrasting scenes between characters that show character growth
Showing how the characters in your story change over time through subtle differences in how they interact with the world will create tension throughout your story. It will also make you stand out among the other writers who are simply stating their character’s change instead of showing it like a pro.
By using two scenes that are in contrast to each other, you create a sense within your readers that you know your story and characters. They’ll trust you. And trust makes readers want to continue reading to see what other clever tricks you have up your sleeve.
Prompt #4: Write an opening paragraph that sets the stage without info-dumping
If you’re a skilled writer who has studied their craft, then you know that well-crafted openings tell the reader who the character is, what genre the story is, introduce the problem, and set the tone of the story. Pretty much, a great opening lets the reader know what they are in for without wasting their time. Write an opening that does all of these things without exposition dumping. Craft an opening, don’t rely on telling it.
Prompt #5: Describe a scene from multiple characters’ POV
Characters not only speak differently, they see the world differently. To get into your characters’ heads and to embody them, use this exercise to target what they care about and pay attention to. This prompt will also help with your descriptions by honing you in to what’s important to show your readers: what your characters care about.
Prompt #6: Write a flash story with a thematic statement about death
Themes connect the parts of your stories and help you stay focused through your writing. Writing with themes and a thematic statement in mind helps guide your writing and strengthens your storytelling elements. A theme helps you decide what your characters should talk about, where they should go, and helps you create unique experiences and moments for your readers. Using this prompt will get you thinking about how to not only get to the story quicker, but also how to create a heavy piece of thematic work.
Prompt #7: Write a short story with a flat main character
A flat character is one that never changes. I know, you’ve been told that character change and an arc are important, but sometimes stories need a steel hearted character that never changes. A Tarzan. A Heriot. A character who knows who they are and goes up against whatever the world throws at them.
Stories featuring a main character who never changes are about the characters and the world around them changing. Your job is to show that growth throughout the story. This prompt will help you focus on your story’s other elements and how they change so that you can craft a compelling and multifaceted story.
These prompts open the door to the possibilities of how you can learn to be a better writer and sell more stories. Don’t simply do these seven prompts, but aim to design more and find more. Becoming a better writer isn’t something that you achieve in one sitting or attain and keep forever.
Being a better writer means challenging and growing from the writer you were yesterday and never stop pushing yourself and craft further.
If you’re looking for a group to teach you the writing ropes, check out my international writing group aimed at crafting better writers through direct instruction, craft exercises, professional insider tips, and more.