Writing competitions can be great, especially if your head is full of ideas and you’re already scribbling them down any chance you’ve got. But what about when the creative juices aren’t flowing, or you’re only writing a story because your teacher told you to? Although ideas can arise anywhere, from all sorts of sources, having to create something from nothing can be overwhelming.
So if you’re facing a blank page, and not sure where to start, why not experiment with one or more of the following writing prompts? And while these writing prompts are aimed at young writers, I hope others will find them helpful, too.
1. Three Words
Choose one group of words from the following:
- kicking, earthworms, mulberries
- artist, cheese, cleans
- adventure, keyboard, kitten
- any three random words you want to use
Write a story that includes each of the three words on your chosen list.
2. Three Pictures
Images from newspapers and magazines can be a great source of inspiration. It may be that you know the story behind the photo and want to use that as a basis for a poem, story or essay. But often the fun can be in not knowing any information, and completely inventing the story.
You can find a related activity using photographs in another post, Five Faves: Writing Prompts for Young Writers
3. Creating Characters
Unless you’re writing fan fiction, magazine editors and judges of competitions are looking for originality. This means it’s important to create your own characters, rather than base a story around a character someone else has already invented. Something else worth noting is that while a novel might contain numerous characters, a short story usually has only a few characters because there isn’t enough space to develop them properly.
Using an image of a person from the previous activity (or find a new picture), ask 10 questions you would like to know about him or her. Here’s a few to get you started:
- What is his/her name?
- What is/was a favourite school subject? Sport? Holiday destination?
- What is s/he afraid of?
- What is something s/he dreams of achieving?
- Who or what would stop him/her achieving it?
- What are his/her strengths?
- What are his/her weaknesses?
- What did s/he eat for breakfast?
When you’ve finished your list of questions, spend time inventing the answers. As you do, you will hopefully be creating a character to use in a story.
4. Take a walk
Sometimes, our imagination can be sparked simply by observing the immediate world around us, like Tessa and Zachary do in the picture book, Ten Tiny Things, written by Meg McKinlay and illustrated by Kyle Hugh-Odgers. When Tessa and Zachary are forced to walk to school, they discover all sorts of things they would have missed if they’d travelled to school in their usual mode of transport.
So, head outside with your camera and, like Tessa and Zachary, discover the things you usually miss when Mum or Dad drive you everywhere. Take 10 photos of different objects, people, places – whatever sparks your interest.
Here’s some I took in the garden and nearby streets while staying in the Perth hills, but you could take them wherever you are and however far you venture.
You could also try the ‘what if’ or ‘ten questions’ activities that can be found in this other list of writing prompts.
5. Writing on a theme
Some competitions have an open theme, meaning you can write about anything you like. That can be both liberating (because you can submit any story that’s captured your imagination) and frightening (because you don’t know what to write about). But other competitions specify a theme – some of the themes I’ve seen recently include:
- waiting (Dorothy MacKellar Poetry Awards, closing date 30 June 2016)
- nerves (Voiceworks Issue #105, closing date 12 June/19 June 2016)
- Mars and Beyond (Rees Prize for Young Writers, closing date 30 June 2016)
- the hitchhiker (Cambridge Youth Network Young Writers Comp, closing date 24 July 2016)
- Choose one of the above themes, or a different one provided to you.
- Write down the first five words or phrases that come to mind when you think of your chosen theme.
- Who might be the main character? Who might be waiting? OR who refuses to wait? Who might be hitchhiking? OR Who might see a hitchhiker? Who is nervous, or getting on someone’s nerves, or has the nerve to do something?
- Where might the story be set? Where is someone waiting? Where is someone feeling nervous? Where are you if you are on Mars or beyond?
- Brainstorm, by asking ‘what if?’
- Using the ideas created from the above brainstorm, writing your poem or story.
And if you’d like a few more writing prompts, you can check out a couple of posts elsewhere on my blog:
- Five Faves: Writing Prompts for Young Writers – some of my favourite writing prompts which I continue to use regularly
- 5 Writing Prompts for National Bookshop Day – which are all connected to bookshops in some way.
Over to You
Which writing prompts did you test out?
I’d love to know what poem, story or essay you came up with, as well as what writing competition you entered – or did you just create something for the fun of it?