Here endeth the week of writing prompts. I hope you’ve gotten at least one idea from them. Leave a comment if you have a favorite exercise or prompt to inspire your next story.
The last prompt: “No one expected this apocalypse.”
Musings on the craft of writing.
Chuck Wendig has flash prompts each week. Find one you like in the archives, or use this one.
The story includes a botanical garden, fatherhood, and something talking that doesn’t normally talk.
Online writing prompt generators and lists can be very useful, particularly for practicing ideas rather than writing entire stories. One exercise I did in high school speech was to take a prompt and outline the speech I would give, but not perform it. You can use a story prompt the same way. Who are the characters? What is the setting? What’s the problem, and how will it be solved? For best results, do this three or four times per prompt. You’ll dig deeper into the ideas.
Pick a lost or abandoned city. Set the story there, but maybe not in its last days.
Atlantis, Port Royal, Pompeii, Machu Picchu, Helike, Camelot, El Dorado, Troy, Songo Mnara, Angkor, Great Zimbabwe, Tikal, pick a place and run with it. Or write about sunken New Orleans, the lost city of Tokyo, or the tiny towns being blown away as the plains become the deserts.
(Yes, this is an ambitious writing prompt. You may want to consider this one for the next story you write. Either way, have fun with it.)
What happens when humans figure out immortality, but you can’t get younger and you can’t have kids afterward?
No, really. A lot of immortality schemes involve eternal youth, but as Tithonus discovered, that’s not always how it works. Fictional immortality often frustrates me because characters sticking around forever unchanging isn’t nearly as interesting as characters doing just about anything else.
What tropes frustrate you? Do you find yourself questioning soulmates and true love? Do you roll your eyes at the thought of a band of teenagers bringing down society? When the hero beams down from orbit, do you snark about the continuity of identity? Write a story where something goes wrong or unexpectedly, terribly right.
Here at the Alpha citadel, we’ve gotten some questions about the word count guidelines for Alpha application stories–that is, the requirement that application stories must be between 2000 and 6000 words. So, we wanted to talk a little about why this requirement is in place and how you can edit your story to fit within that range, if it doesn’t already.
When writers are just starting out, as most Alpha applicants are, keeping a target word count of 2000-6000 words in mind actually makes it easier to tell a good story. Stories that are shorter than 2000 words may not be fully fleshed out. Stories that are longer than 6000 words may ramble or drag. The sweet spot is somewhere in the middle.
But if the application story draft you’ve written right now is too short or too long, don’t worry. You’ve still got almost a week before the application deadline, and there are some simple questions you can ask yourself to guide your revisions.
If your story is too short, consider asking the following:
If your story is too long, consider these questions as well:
If you’ve already submitted your story and you answered “no” to any of the above, no need to panic! A story doesn’t have to be perfect to be accepted into the workshop, and presumably if you’ve already sent your story in, it’s within the 2000-6000 word sweet spot anyway. But if you’re still working and you can’t quite figure out how to add or subtract those last 500 words, maybe asking these questions will help.
Best of luck!
A comet burned in the sky and snakes fell from the heavens the night of my birth. Problem is, there were another couple hundred thousand people born that night, too, and I think maybe the comet was for them. Not the snakes, though. The snakes are mine.
This is a gift to you. Make of it what you will. Given the same opening lines and even the same premise, writers can create vastly different works. Even the same writer, sometimes– Robin McKinley’s Rose Daughter is not the same as her Beauty. You don’t have to keep the lines, but if the prompt sparks, run with it.
This is not the original They Fight Crime!, but it’s still amazing. Spend a little while clicking through until you find a pair– or a solo hero, or a trio– that makes you want to write that story. You don’t have to stick with the format, either.
“He’s a fast talking skateboarding cat burglar possessed of the uncanny powers of an insect. She’s a green-fingered tempestuous doctor with an incredible destiny. They fight crime!”
Are insect powers really that uncanny? What powers do insects have?
“He’s a sword-wielding guitar-strumming gangster who must take medication to keep him sane. She’s a plucky tempestuous doctor in the witness protection scheme. They fight crime!”
Clearly the doctor is providing the medication to keep Mr Swordguitar sane. Maybe there’s something in the gangster-witness-protection interplay, maybe not.
“He’s a leather-clad small-town paranormal investigator in drag. She’s a warm-hearted tomboy museum curator in the witness protection scheme. They fight crime!”
Sasha Jameson is an urban fantasy heroine who knows the rules: wear black, stay snarky, and be a woman. That’s how you get gigs. But Sasha has a secret….
How about yours?
The Alpha application deadline is fast approaching, and that means at least a few people are panicking. Is the story good enough? I should write another– but I don’t have any ideas! Everything is ruined!
Don’t worry! Really, try to give yourself some breathing room. At Alpha, everyone writes a story in about a week. Try doing it now!
You’ll probably want to read How to Write a Good Application Story in the Next Week and A Fellow Procrastinator’s Guide to Writing Your Application Story at the Last Minute. If nothing else, know that this has happened before. You are not the only person staring at the deadline and wondering if you can pull this off. You are not the only person who will pull this off.
I’ll be kicking off a week of writing prompts to get you started. Some will be silly, some less so. If you have a particular favorite prompt or prompt generator, leave a comment and I’ll try to include it in the next posts. If you have requests for a particular genre, chime in.
So you didn’t get into Alpha this year.
What do you do now?
First off: recover. It can be a really tense wait and all the ignoring it in the world doesn’t help if back-of-brain decides to fixate on it. I’ve refrained from posting this for a while so you can chill a bit. Let yourself feel disappointed or sad. Let yourself feel relieved if that’s what you feel.
Next… well, what next?
Be proud of yourself. Applying to Alpha means that you wrote a story you think is great. That is not a small accomplishment.
Consider what you can do to improve the story and the ones that come after it. “But wait!” you cry, “I didn’t get into Alpha! How can I possibly improve as a writer without this workshop?”
Read. Read books and stories both, especially the ones you want to write like. Read outside your usual subgenres or genres. Read books about writing (I particularly like Lamott’s Bird by Bird). Read essays about writing, worldbuilding, character. Read blogs from your favorite writers, especially if they go into detail about process. Read essays that contradict each other. Read.
Write. Quickly, slowly, a short story, a novel, write. Write something all the way new. Write something related to your past work. Write words that weren’t there before. You can do this. Your application story was not the only story you will ever write.
Examine. What do I mean by this? Read critically. Analyze the places that essays disagree and consider both viewpoints. Read what you’ve written carefully and decide what makes one story better than another for you. When you read a book, no matter what kind, examine its structure, its sentences, its genre conventions– or examine how it makes you feel as you read. Compare stories to each other. Try to figure out the conversations going on via short fiction, or long, or both. Find the connections.
Network. Get in touch with a creative writing group through school or your community. Some schools have terrible creative writing classes, others have great ones– know which one yours has. Talk to other people about what you read and what you think about it. Share your writing with fellow writers. You can do this through Critters, the Online Writers Workshop, the Cicada writing board*, anywhere that you find writers you respect and admire who are willing to help. Comment on blog posts on worldbuilding. Ask questions. Email the people in the 2013 Worry Thread and ask to trade critiques. Find a convention near you with a writer’s workshop. Check in with your Nanowrimo friends and find out what they think. Use the comment threads to share online spaces you’ve found welcoming– that’s networking, too.
Keep going. Do all of these, singly and in combination. Writer’s workshops are often a way to jump-start these habits. Keep reading. Keep writing. Keep thinking. Keep talking.
*I should add, I’m not part of any of these, nor have I ever been. My original writing-and-critiquing stomping grounds are long gone these days.