In a previous tutorial, I wrote on the use of prompts to help writers understand craft elements and level up their career. A lot of writers got something out of those prompts and have had fun playing with them.
Since my bread and butter is speculative fiction, I wanted to do a series of articles surrounding prompts for different genres within the field. So, this article is for my fantasy fellows; the writers who create spellwork and monsters with the stroke of their keys.
How to Do These Prompts
Like I’ve previously stated, I hate writing prompts. Most of them are simple and basic prompts like write a story about a dragon. Like cool, but that doesn’t really help with understanding how to craft a story.
So, these prompts are going to go beyond the normal and ask you to challenge yourself. Take the challenge because it has been designed with the principle of deliberate practice.
Spend your time focusing on the craft element that each prompt highlights. This will help you work on your writing muscles while getting you in the mood to write. Each of these prompts is meant to be written in a flash style. So keep your writing under 1,500-words.
The added constraint is apart of the deliberate practice. You’re forcing yourself into crunch mood and trying to focus on what is most important to the story and to the reader, which is how you should always be writing.
Prompt #1 Write a story from the POV of an unreliable narrator who is a Vampire Hunter
An unreliable narrator is a point of view character that is, well, unreliable. Think Fight Club, the Usual Suspects, or You. We’re so conditioned to believe that the person telling us the story is doing it from a place of trust and honesty that we often don’t question the story that our POV character is telling us. Using an unreliable narrator creates tension and conflict in the story as the reader begins to learn the truth.
To write an unreliable narrator, you can use the world and other characters in the story to let the reader know that the narrator is unreliable. There’s also the use of irony and sarcasm or using the narrator’s on demeanor to cue the audience in on their untrustworthiness.
By doing this prompt, you’ll learn how to craft an unreliable narrator for your stories. It will also teach you how to subtly manipulate the reader’s expectations for your stories.
Prompt #2 Write a story in a magic school with each sentence describing the world without info-dumping
Info-dumping is when you give the reader all the information needed for a story without having it tie into the forward motion of the story. A lot of writer’s struggle with this. Most don’t even know they are doing it. It stops the progression of your story and leaves the readers wading in back story, world info, and other things that aren’t the telling of the story.
To not info-dump in your own stories, tie the descriptions, histories, etc. to the forward movement of the story. The trick, however, is to do this without it being a simple function of the story. So, no characters who are only there to serve as a plot device to deliver backstory. Most skilled writers do this by making sure every element in their story is serving more than one purpose.
By doing this prompt, you’ll test your skills to writing an engaging story without slowing down the actual story. It’ll also help you nail down what’s truly important for the story versus what’s fun info that you want the readers to know.
Prompt #3 Foreshadow a catastrophic event that leads to a zombie outbreak
Foreshadowing is when the writer hints at events to come in the story through having the character(s) or narrator(s) dismiss something they notice only for it to come back to bite them(pun intended) later in the story.
There are a lot of ways that you can foreshadow something in your own story. The simplest way is by writing a scene surrounding the dismissal of a problem and then later in the story make that problem grow to the point where no one can dismiss it any more. Pros usually do this in a subtler way by hinting at it throughout the story.
By doing this prompt, you’ll learn how to foreshadow events in your story that create tension and conflict, making your reader want to know what comes next.
Prompt #4 Write a story set in a secondary fantasy world where the main character is a teapot
A secondary world is a world different and unlike our own—Earth. Secondary world fantasies are popular but hard to do because it involves creating a whole world, culture, and language unique to a totally imagined place. It takes a lot of research and vetting to pull off but has immense rewards.
To write a secondary world fantasy, many beginning writers pick a culture or place in this world and just change some things around. This is cultural appropriation and doesn’t actually create a new world. To steer clear from doing that by still using our world as a jumping off point, instead of using one culture or place pick at least three and blend them to create a totally new and different culture.
Crafting a secondary fantasy world in a short space of time takes using the same principles that you would to avoid info-dumping. Allow the world and characters to speak for themselves and do it while moving the story and character forward to its conclusion.
This prompt will help you learn how to build a unique world and tell a story from the point of view of a passive observer or a personified object. By doing this prompt with a teapot as the MC, you are restricting yourself to telling the story through the ‘eyes’ of an object, forcing you to show the world in a new way.
Prompt #5 Use a red herring in a werewolf’s murder trial
A red herring is used as a way to mislead the reader and characters in the story about the villain or baddie. Think Sirius Black in the Harry Potter series. By using a red herring, you are creating more conflict, irony, and tension in your story, especially as the events unfold and the red herring is revealed to be innocent.
You can create a red herring by designing a character to appear or come off in a negative light, making the readers and characters in the story suspect them of foul deeds. Don’t have this character actually be the big bad in your story, though. In fact, make your baddie appear nice or not even appear at all in the story until the final reveal.
By writing this prompt, you’ll learn how to build conflict and irony in your stories that will help you keep your readers captivated till the end. Just make sure to give them the real baddie at the end to seal their satisfaction.
Prompt #6 Write a story about a fantasy creature telling stories to earn enough money to go back home
This writing prompt is all about frame stories. Frame stories are stories that hold other stories within them. Arabian Nights is an example of a frame story. Using frame stories in our work is a great way to create deep layers of narrative that develop and communicate with each other, causing a unique sensation in the reader.
The best way to create a frame story is make the main story dependent on the telling of other stories. Like this prompt does, the best frame stories require the telling of other stories, each building to a central end.
By doing this prompt, you’ll be exercising your storytelling and restraint muscles to create multiple stories within one story all under 1,500-words. Focus on what is important and exciting to the reader. Have fun.
Prompt #7 Write a correspondence between two immortal and ageless enemies leading up to a battle
An epistolary tale is a story written in documents or letters. Think This is How You Lose the Time War or Dracula. These stories are great because it creates a sense of reality for the reader, like they’ve stumbled onto a real secret or mystery.
You can create an epistolary tale in many fun ways. Text messages are a popular contemporary use of the literary technique. Letters or diary entries are another popular form.
By doing this exercise, you’ll develop your skills to write a story through a character’s POV and using their voice.
If you’re looking to develop your writing skills further, consider joining my international writing group. We go over various writing topics, and you get a direct line to me. This month’s topic is all about confidence. Next month, we’ll get into character, crafting distinctive voice and designing them.
In this prompt series, I’ll be doing science fiction, horror, and magical realism. Subscribe to this publication, Starburst School of Writers, to keep up on the next round of prompts and other craft advice and tips.