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Jul 28

“Creative Writing Prompts” An Article by Mary Deal

Writing prompts and story ideas can be found in numerous lists on the Internet, but the best ones are found right around you.

How many times have you searched to find topics that might serve to shake a story out of your Muse? A list of words or phrases just might jog your Muse into action. Then, when you find such a list, you are not enthused by its offerings and you continue to search for more.

Story starters that encourage descriptive writing abound around you. Everything you see day-to-day is a writing prompt. If you don’t see life that way, I encourage you to take another look.

Take new interest in the things you take for granted. Let your mind wander from the probable to the improbable. Fantasize about things and events. Give them new life.
Here are a few samples of story ideas taken from everyday life that might help you see what’s around you in your world.

Imagine you’re walking down a road. Normally you see rocks and you side step and walk on.

If you’re a fantasy writer…

What would happen if all those rocks lying dormant for eons suddenly came to life? They pop. They explode. Wow! Would they be friendly? Or would they be alien, just waiting for the right moment to change the universe?

Want to write a mystery?

Suppose one of those ordinary rocks had fresh blood on it?

A romance?

You find an envelope caught under a rock along the road. It’s open and money is sticking out. You want to get the money to its rightful owner so you return it promptly and find yourself looking into the fiery eyes of…

See where I’m going with this? Writing prompts are everywhere.

In my day to day life in Hawaii, just this morning, I saw or heard the following writing prompts out of my window from where I sit composing this bit of descriptive writing at my desk.

~ The man across the street is trimming branches off a tree with a buzz saw. He stops suddenly and tries to see into the window of the house. (Someone from inside that house may have called to him. But as a mystery writer, I can make a real thriller out of that teeny bit of action.)

~ A kid runs down the street, like he’s real scared. Now I hear a siren coming close.

~ A dog limps across my yard. It has a broken leg, or its favoring an injured leg, and hobbling. A moment later, another dog crosses the yard. Looks as though it’s had one leg amputated.

~ A car passes by on the street. The girl looks like she’s gushing all over her guy, the driver. She’s almost in his lap. They look blissfully happy.

~ I hear a strange sound and it doesn’t sound like any of the neighbors using power equipment as they repair their houses and structures. The sound is most curious and I can’t get it out of my mind.

~ I hear a loud bang, like a gunshot. It comes from the next group of homes adjacent to this small neighborhood. I hear another.

~ The woman in the house to the left is standing out in her yard. She never just stands there. She’s always on the go. Her husband comes out. They talk. They hug. She cries. He comforts.

The best writing prompts are right around you. However, if you wish only words or phrases to trigger your Muse, then here are a few samples.

Buried money and valuables in a box
White powder in the kitchen and you don’t bake
Loving a married person, learning he is divorcing
A child who leaves alien footprints
An ugly knot growing on your body
Learning your spouse is a murderer in hiding
A horrific recurring dream that gets closer and closer
Lightning always striking only your house
The neighbors on your left practice swinging with the neighbors on your right
A rock containing clear facial images that seems to pull you in
A grotesque Halloween mask
A drop of acid rain
Unidentified creature footprints

This list is just a sampling. I could go on and on.

When searching for writing prompts, keep in mind that it is said only twenty types of stories exist. All stories have been written. This is true, but every story contains a different setting, unique characters, and unusual occurrences and endings. That is how we’re able to create new stories all the time.

As you seek mental stimulation through prompts, begin by having an idea in which genre you wish to write. Genre is what you need to decide first. Take for example, this prompt listed above:
~ A car passes by on the street. The girl looks like she’s gushing all over her guy, the driver. She’s almost in his lap. They look blissfully happy.

A romance writer will turn that scene into, perhaps, one of a happy couple of kids. Then life pulls them to opposite ends of the world. They meet again years later, only by chance, depending on the circumstances of the plot, and realize that they still love each other.

A mystery writer could turn writing prompts such as this into a thriller where the girl is gah-gah over the guy, but he’s got other plans. He turns out to be a serial rapist!

A science fiction or fantasy writer would have the guy taking the girl out to a deserted field, she thinks for a bit of petting. Instead, he beams her up to a hovering ship and whatever fate waits.

Know your genre and then, as you read prompts, determine what appeals to the type of story line you wish to create.

Begin to make a list of story starters that you notice. They are innocent gestures and occurrences that you might find in any good novel or short story. Make a list of anything that strikes your Muse.

Allow yourself to dwell on story ideas that may come to mind. Loosen your imagination. Do it now. You will need to free your Muse to write any story. Begin with your writing prompts.
Any story starters that you discover can also be used as occurrences and highlights in the story itself. Story starters need not only start a story. Starters can also fill in the story middles and endings.

I have used many instances from my life and ancient family history as writing prompts. You might wish to read “Grandpappy’s Cows” in the Flash Fiction section on my website to see how my Muse hilariously stretched the truth.

Or you may wish to read what my Muse made of seeing a boy out in the dead of night with a scissors in “Boy at the Crossroad.”

Writing prompts, story starters, or story ideas, wherever you find them, can trigger descriptive writing if you will loosen the reins of your Muse and let your mind wander on things sometimes best left alone. But then, after all, it’s only fiction. Right?

Mary’s stories mentioned above are further analyzed in the Flash Fiction section of her website writeanygnere.com.
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Mar 31

Mary Deal Talks about “Writing in the Dark”

Many people have asked for a way to catch that spark of creativity as they wake from sleep.

History is full of writers and people of science and other fields, who have said they receive inspiration in the wee hours of the morning. Some of my most creative moments were when I woke in the middle of the night, so I decided to emulate these great people.

In the past, I lost a lot of sudden inspiration by allowing myself to toss and turn with an idea before returning to sleep, thinking I’d remember it in the morning. History teaches us that we should write down insights and creative flashes on the spot. So I placed a pen and pad on the nightstand. Still, turning on the lights felt like robbing me of sleep.

After a while, I gave up the idea of writing on a pad and decided to go directly to my computer since keying is faster than handwriting. That required waking even more and I found that fully waking sent my muse fleeing. Too, walking to another room, half asleep, and waiting for the computer to boot, I’d forget why I was there!

Handwriting in the dark proved the best way. I got used to the idea of not turning on the lamp or waking fully, and to sitting in bed under the warm covers. The best ideas came and were easily captured when I was only partially awake. Once the notes were jotted, I went back to sleep or lie back to wait for more inspiration.

When writing, the shape of the white paper shown by moonlight, or by the dim light of the street lamps filtering in through the window. Never mind trying to follow those barely discernable blue lines on the paper. I never saw them. All I saw was the shape of my hand moving across the area of white, and my pen, depending on its color. I just wrote.

In the beginning, it helped to imagine each letter of each word. It kept me focused just enough to keep from falling asleep while sitting up. It also helped me write legibly. The tendency—and I’ve heard this from other night writers—is to write hurriedly and the letters and words end up being only partially formed. The writing is difficult to decipher when re-reading later. I soon learned how to write readable letters and words without having to concentrate on each. I didn’t write small. In fact, it was best that I wrote large and got the idea on paper legibly enough to read in the morning.

And forget about hand printing notes. The following morning all you may see will look like chicken scratching! Not only were my printed separate letters haphazard on the paper, but the individual parts of each letter were disjointed and scattered. So, deciding to write only in script, the problem left was how not to write on top of what was already written.

It’s easy to add more notes, not knowing where on the page you left off. You’ll most likely end up writing over what was already there. In the morning, if you wish to keep the valuable information you took the time to jot, you’ll had no choice but to try to decipher the over-writing. So at the moment you’ve finished writing one thought, even if you used only a portion of the paper, turn the page. If more notes are added later, they won’t be written over earlier inspiration.

Another way of avoiding over-writing when finished writing one line across the page: Place the opposite hand over what was just written. Cover each line as they are added and that takes care of that problem.

When stopping writing for a while, attach the pen to the edge of the next blank page. When fumbling for the notepad in the dark, the pen allows a fresh start on a clean page.

Always use a bound notebook. I tried loose pages once but that was short-lived when, in the dark, everything fell to the floor and I didn’t know what was written on and what was not. What a mess! Not to mention being totally distracted and losing my brainstorm!

Any bound notebook will do. You can also punch holes in computer paper used only on one side and put it in a binder. It’s a very thrifty idea. When I run proof copies of my stories and edit, then go back into the computer to make changes, I am left with pages of paper used on one side. Nocturnal note taking can make fullest use of that paper before it’s finally discarded.

Writing on both sides of the page is difficult to do, depending on how each sheet folds backwards. If you use a pre-made notebook, once you reach the last page, and certainly if you need to keep writing, close the book and turn it over. Begin again from the back of the book by writing on the backsides of the pages you have already used.

Sitting up in the dark to write seemed arduous at first. Inspiration can be easily discouraged by the need to sleep. To accomplish what you wish in your writing career, accept creativity whenever your muse presents it. It’s a matter of dedication.

Most practiced writers I know who wake during the night say these techniques have proven invaluable. But the one quality that everyone must have in order to make these techniques work is incentive. It is one thing to wake with glorious information and marvel at the wonders of our minds, then return to sleep. It’s another to want to record some of the best ideas our own brilliance has produced. We must have the incentive to sit up and write in the dark and persevere till we’ve developed the easy habit of doing so.

When I get those great bits of information now, I seem to sit up even before I begin to awaken. I jot my ideas till I think I’ve said what I needed to. Sometimes I merely write the skimpiest of notes and sometimes complete sentences because we all know how fickle the muse is. Recapturing an idea is never the same if we are forced to try to remember details hours later. After writing everything I need to, I lay down knowing I’ve not lost anything and I can sleep in peace.

Only to wake again.

And again.



A common practice to remembering information that fades upon awakening is to do what dream therapists suggest for those wishing to remember dreams.

Assume the same position you lay in when you woke. Place your arms, legs and head where they were. If you were laying on your side, back or stomach, stay in or turn to that same exact position. The dream or that brilliant idea will usually reappear as you relax.

Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre.
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