So I decided to give NaNoWriMo a go last November–I knew ahead of time that there was no way I would finish anything, and it’s true, I’m still maybe 1/3 of the way through my story, but it’s been going well, even if I put it on hold lately to make sure I could finish a short story in time to submit to Tor.com before they closed for unsolicited submissions. As I was gearing up for the marathon I did some searching online for writing prompts, because I knew the key would be to somehow just keep writing (and not filler, but actual story–plus I know that I am more of a “gardener”, letting the story develop organically, than an architect). I wasn’t all that happy with what I saw, apart from a bit here or there, so I wrote up my own on a page of one of my art journals. I thought I’ve give my list here–and to clarify, this is not “what am I going to write about?” prompts, but “how do I get this story unstuck?” prompts. I believe these are all original, but it’s possible I grabbed one from someone else’s list or remembered something from years before (this was originally just notes to myself, which actually went missing for most of the time I was writing…). I’ve included all the “why, how” questions as a reminder to myself that a prompt isn’t just a cool gimmick, but that every part affects the whole, and vice versa. These were meant to help me with my epic-ish/sword and sorcery-ish fantasy novel, but I think these prompts are pretty applicable across the board.Feel free to share your own writing prompts in the comments!
1) What more can we learn about a particular character’s desire or motivation? What triggers our new awareness of this? Will this play out in the plot, or will it involve explicitly telling the story of the character in question?
2) Ecological factor–Complication emerges, violently or subtly, from the environment. Not deus ex machina, but it doesn’t have to be a crisis either–can just make things more complex. What new issues/insights must be considered? Or is it just a straightforward obstacle? How does it transform the story world, the narrative? How do we become more aware of the environment as character, as an agent in the narrative, rather than just a static, taken-for-granted setting?
3) Breakdown–one character suffers a panic attack, shuts down, freaks out, something along those lines. Why? Where does this come from (in the plot or the backstory), and how does it complicate things from here?
4) Change in affections–a good relationship with one person sours, transferred to a new person–or any change in how one or more people feel about one or more people. What causes this? What misunderstandings, or maybe revelations, are involved? Does this resolve towards reconciliation or is this indicative or a new normal? Or do things continue to worsen?
5) New story goal–for everyone, or a particular character? Again, where does this come from, and how does it change things?
6) Injury/Illness–a bit like the ecological factor, in that it is something from “outside” the main players that disrupts things. Since I’m doing a travel narrative in a Migration Era-style world, this is pretty relevant.
7) Surprise gift–from a person or from the environment. How does it help? How does it complicate things? What is the reason for the gift?
8) Something missing–was it taken? Lost? What was it important for?
9) New Perspective–character(s) gain new perspective/awareness regarding their situation. From an event or a person? What changes?