Writing triggers – prompts to get you started

Use these tips to add freshness and the unexpected to your work-in-progress.

Use these tips to add freshness and the unexpected to your work-in-progress.

Writing triggers

by Janet Lane

Has the muse deserted you? If you’re staring at a blank screen and need some help, this is just the place for you.  Try these exercises to help get those creative juices flowing.

A word of caution – do not be cavalier when using these methods. Exercise prudence and have a loved one stationed nearby with a water hose just in case you’re so inspired that your fevered typing burns up the keyboard. Ha-ha, so now that you’re smiling, let’s try this.

As you work through these and similar exercises, remember that there are no rules for your imagination, just rules for your behavior during this session. Your goal is to trick your conscious gate-keepers (doubt and worry) to tap the vast resources of your creative mind.

No researching. If you don’t know the name of the animal or the weapon or the car, make up a name. Resist any and all distractions.

No editing. Absolutely no editing! If it takes promising yourself you’ll put a match to whatever you produce during this session and burn the papers to ashes, make that promise.

No re-writing. Accept that this is a creative exercise and any mining for useful tidbits will happen after your session.

Do not allow yourself time to second guess. Write it down as it comes to you, feeling safe in the knowledge that only you will see these gems. Close your eyes. Breathe deeply. Let the images flow, and have fun with it.

1. Analogy smorgasboard

Without reading ahead, list four adjectives. After you’ve completed that list, write down four nouns. The next step involves writing down four gerund phrases. Need a quick review? A gerund phrase starts with an -ing word. Example: walking down the street. Once you’ve assembled these three lists (and you haven’t peeked ahead, have you?), now mix and match these phrases to make an analogy. My product list was fun: Like a lively cup working at McDonald’s. Like a lush coin following the leader. Like a cool desk eating pastrami. Like a sensuous mouse kissing the printer. Thanks to Evil Editor at blogspot.com for this one. Oh, what do you do with this, you ask? The Evil Editor would have you write a 250-word scene around your analogies. You can try that, or adapt the product loosely and use it for plotting purposes.

2. Play with Clues

From Anne Randolph’s Soup Kitchen Writing web site, she offers this prompt, one she calls “Clue.” Fold a piece of paper and write a name. Then an action: What did the character do? Then write down an object. Then write down another name. You could end up with people like Professor Plum, places like the library, and objects like a rope, but I suggest you depart from the game and think of some whimsical items and places from your childhood. Maybe something like, Carrie Smith tripped Mickey Mouse with a lamp. Jimmy Donahue threw the earth at Peter Pan. Repeat until your creative well is primed.

3. Add the unexpected

From RMFW’s day-long workshop several years ago, try Donald Maass’ plotting exercise. From your current work-in-progress, think of certain locations and actions you know will be written soon in your book. Then write down five settings. I was writing Tabor’s Trinket at the time, so I wrote down the solar (the lord and lady’s private living room), the bailey (area between the exterior wall and castle), the church, the village, and the dungeon. Put these short notes in a paper bag. Next, write down five possible actions, perhaps a first kiss, an argument about wages, a binding agreement is made, a fatal duel, something is stolen. Place these five notes in a separate paper bag. Shake them well, and allow yourself only ONE draw from each of the bags. Then, as unusual as it may seem, find a way for it to work, and write the scene. This exercise has become a favorite of mine over the years because it breathes fresh air into the novel.

4. Situational prompts

!A drunk man sits next to you in the shadows of a dimly lit bar and thinks you’re his best friend. He confesses “the truth” to you, and the truth will devastate your protagonist. Write about what the truth is.

! You’re walking to your gate at the airport for a very important flight, to an exotic destination and a crucial meeting that will change your life. Because you’re running late and boarding has already begun, you opt for the elevator instead of the slow escalator that takes you to the next level for your gate. The elevator jams between floors and you worry on the paper, writing your concerns as precious minutes tick away.

! Write a pure dialogue story. Make your story move along by using dialogue ONLY. No narrative, no settings – just dialogue. If you’d like a gold star, limit yourself to 200 words. Two gold stars if you can fit it in over 75 words but under 100.

Above all, have fun. I’m wishing you a dangerously exciting session of creativity!

What are your favorite strategies to prime your creative pump? Please share one or two with us!




Filed under success techniques, The Writing Life, Writing Craft

6 responses to “Writing triggers – prompts to get you started

  1. Hello Janet Lane, author extraordinaire. I bumped into your website by accident from perusing twitter followers of other tweeple…LOL..

    I just finished reading your piece on creative thinkingsuggestionsand will now follow you on twitter and book mark your site. I am a novice writer, learning more about proper writing by reading and learning from columists, novelists, essayists, authors, bloggers and writers ,like you. I’l be waching fopr helpful hints along the way. Thanks.

    Have a great day!

    Phillip J Condo
    1510 Dover Bay Drive
    Clive, Iowa 50325-8325

    • redplume

      Thanks for dropping by, Phillip. I wish you much joy and success with your writing, and look forward to your visits.

  2. Watching very good movies. For me that’s Lord of the Rings fare, Star Trek and most recently Harry Potter. Often the most inspiring movies come from inspiring books.

    • redplume

      Hi, Nick,
      Isn’t it interesting how excellence inspires? Your website is inspirational to me. Great photos and content!

  3. Pingback: Wednesday Writing Exercise: Mix-and-Match Analogies « Mots Justes

  4. Pingback: Wednesday Writing Exercise: Clue « Mots Justes

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