Saturday, January 07, 2012

Story Prompt Cards

I never run short of story ideas, but for writing prompts I usually depend on music, poetry, art or anything random to strike me and start the gears turning. My habit is to wait for it to come to me, and I've always viewed this as a necessary evil, as my interest needs to be seriously engaged by concept before I dive in to investing my writing in it.

To change my habits and step outside my comfort zone, I decide to challenge myself to write some short stories based on a preset collection of prompts. I still wanted a random element involved (mainly to prevent myself from deliberately or subconsciously picking out easy or story-sympathetic prompts), so for that I went to my jar of fortune cookie fortunes -- yes, I save every one I get -- and pulled out twenty slips at random.

To prevent misplacing or losing my 2011 theme fortune, I made it into an artist trading card, something I'm using as my annual art project for this year (more on that at the photoblog here.) I decided to do the same thing with these fortunes and make them into an ATC series. I've named the cards my story prompt deck, and my goal is to pick at least one card at random every month and use it to inspire a short piece of fiction.

It's good writing practice; it's definitely different for me and I'm hoping to get at least one novel idea out of the exercise. The real creative room is in the interpretation of the prompt while (hopefully) remaining faithful to it. I'm not giving myself any limits on length, genre or time period -- during my busy months, I may only be able to write a couple hundred words -- but I do want to tell a complete story for each prompt.

Some of the fortunes are a bit odd, and I don't agree with a couple of them, so I've also given myself permission to flip, twist, and otherwise put my own spin on them. Such as the Fearless courage is the foundation of victory card; I don't buy that at all. The truly fearless don't need courage; they operate on self-assurance, certainty, narcissism or whatever drives their confidence. In my experience the courageous are generally terrified souls, but somehow endure it, plow through it and persist in spite of it. Courage doesn't even exist until you acknowledge that the odds are against you and no matter what you do you're probably going to fail. Fearless people are by their nature incapable of feeling anything like that. When I pull this card I have no doubt I'll write a story that turns it on its head.

If you'd like to create a deck of your own story prompt cards, you don't have to eat Chinese take-out from now until March. Try clipping interesting words and phrases from magazines, newspapers or other printed materials, or gathering some interesting images (faces, objects, landscapes or any other story element would work well.) Write or print out some lyrics to your favorite poems or songs and snip some lines from them, or feed them to Wordle and see what pops up in the cloud. If you'd like less obvious prompting, collect some paint chip cards from your local home improvement store, pick a color at random and use the color name or the color itself in some way in your story.




Related links:

Big Huge Lab's photo trading card generator can help you design and print out some very cool-looking cards.

Creative Writing Prompts.com has 346 story prompts here to help spark ideas; hover your cursor over each number to read them.

Seventh Sanctum has an entire page of writing generators here that range from silly to seriously neat.

14 comments:

  1. This is a really cool idea.

    When I want writing prompts for short-stories and flash fiction, I just post a status on facebook saying to send in writing prompts and requests. A few of my friends usually have some suggestions. Some are really dumb but I do them anyway, others are really good. Either way, it's good exercise for authors. :)

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  2. I love writing prompts. While I don't really need them, they do help me look outisde of my usual pool of ideas. Just like you said, they are perfect for short stories and all. Usually I stick to online prompt generators, but there's something extra inspiring about a dek of cards like that...

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  3. You always come up with great sites to help us write. Thank you so much. I will have to start using writing prompts to see what I can come up with.

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  4. It's been awhile since I have used writing prompts (I used to do Sunday Scribblings, but I am too busy now).
    When I am stuck in my story, I just add a character - usually opposite of my main character. Sometimes it actually works. ;-)

    Cyn

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  5. I've never used writing prompts, but these are so pretty, I think I might have to try.

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  6. do you think that an author ought to practice with writing prompts even during periods of time when they have ideas flowing regularly?

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  7. Bonnee wrote: When I want writing prompts for short-stories and flash fiction, I just post a status on facebook saying to send in writing prompts and requests.

    What a great way to use Facebook -- I especially like the requests aspect; that must bring a lot of neat ideas.

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  8. Jane wrote: While I don't really need them, they do help me look outisde of my usual pool of ideas.

    That's what I'm hoping this will do for me. I have a million ideas, but they're generally in established universes where I've written before and feel comfortable. I want to break out of those orbits and try some territory that isn't so well-defined to me.

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  9. Juanita wrote: I will have to start using writing prompts to see what I can come up with.

    I think you'll have fun with it; I know I am (so far I've got over a thousand words on this month's prompt in a completely new universe.)

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  10. Cyn wrote: When I am stuck in my story, I just add a character - usually opposite of my main character. Sometimes it actually works.

    That's an interesting way to liven things up. Must try that next time I get mired down. :)

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  11. Theo wrote: I've never used writing prompts, but these are so pretty, I think I might have to try.

    I love making art into story, so it was natural for me to gravitate toward the cards. Plus I have nothing but cards on the brain this year, ha.

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  12. daniel wrote: do you think that an author ought to practice with writing prompts even during periods of time when they have ideas flowing regularly?

    I think it's good not to get into a creative rut, and if writing prompts help get you to a new place with the work, it may translate into benefits for everything else you write. I needed to get out of my routine for this year because I feel like I'm a bit too comfortable with everything I do. I know for some writers too many new ideas can be a distraction, though, so you really have to try it once and see how it works for you.

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  13. Some time ago, I did something similar, writing down words and phrases on index cards or outdated business cards and drawing one or two for inspiration. But mine were never that beautiful.

    Anyway, a great idea. I'll probably make some for myself.

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  14. Great idea. My Sunday writing exercise group often uses index cards that I made up with different categories (Setting, Theme, Character type, Time Clauses, Random Words, etc). I haven't actively used writing prompt cards to help me to continue writing a story, but I think that it would be a great way to break through writer's block and move me beyond predictable story arcs.
    Check out my Saturday Writing Prompts site for prompts and use at will: http://spawningworlds.blogspot.com/
    Here every Saturday I post three prompts that tend to be unrelated and the challenge is to use them to write one story.

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