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Writing to Prompts

Last week, I talked about writing to a theme. This week, I’m talking about writing to prompts. The two things are related, but not entirely the same.

Writing to prompts comes up frequently if you’re looking to challenge yourself to write a daily, weekly, or even monthly story, when you don’t necessarily have an end goal in mind. It may also be a part of a challenge amongst writers, where all of the writers (or at least a subset of the writers) are working with the same basic inspiration. But it could also just be a casual writing exercise rather than a competition. I do a little of both, but I find that I use a lot of the same guidelines either way.

First, much like when I’m writing to a theme, I often discard the first couple of ideas I have. Odds are that if the ideas spring easily to mind, they’re the most common way to approach the prompt. Because I want my stories to stand out from the ordinary, skipping over those first few ideas generally forces my brain to think about the prompt in a fresh way, so that my story can be different.

One thing I’ve noticed is that possibly because many of the writing challenges I do are for flash fiction, my story ideas from prompts are often flash length (or poetry). This doesn’t necessarily mean I’m going to just be able to write them immediately, though. I still often need to do a little research (though generally less than I do when I’m writing to a theme), and I need to rough out what events I need to hit in the course of the piece. It’s not normally a fully outlined story, but more of a “this happens, so then this happens, and then this happens.”

The advantage to writing to a prompt rather than a theme for a submission call is that in the end, I generally have a story that isn’t going to be similar to a bunch of other stories that are being finished at the same time. When it’s a story for a contest, I still do run the risk of that (there is a gorgeous tea set that inspired a lot of stories for one group of writers last year), but the odds are higher that my story isn’t going to seem exactly like the others, simply because it’s got my unique touches on it.

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