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Animal House, John Belushi, parchment wanted sign

5 Fantastic Signs of a Solid Prompt

(Fizzling Prompts Need Not Apply)

Not every prompt will have the same appeal for you or your readers. As the writer, you have to be willing to jump on the one that excites you and pushes you to write each line that eventually culminates in a series of sentences and paragraphs that tells a pleasing story. Although what constitutes a pleasing story will always remain a sort of mystery, what motivates you to write one is not.

There are 5 basic responses behind a good prompt.

Number 1

Is that smoke I smell?

Or is that just the grinding from the wheels spinning in your head?

Are there sparks shooting out from your eyes?

This effect should cause the sound of metal on metal; a forging, forward momentum that should be activated upon reading a good prompt. It’s the beginning of an 8-hour shift and someone has just turned on the automated system. If you ask someone to stop the line, your co-workers {a.k.a, fiercely firing fingers} will look at you and threaten to personally stretch your bladder for you.

The only way you are going to stop typing is if someone douses you with a fire hose!

Number 2

Are those tears in your eyes? Geez…get a grip!

Did you just read or see something that provoked an immediate emotional response from you? There’s already the heat from the grinding in your head, now it has to register in some way with your emotional strings. But remember:  Emotional responses don’t have to be, well…mushy.

Was there one that made you laugh out loud or think about something else that made you laugh? Even if the prompt is a photo of the Zombie Apocalypse but you spot a man in the shot talking on his cell phone and is totally oblivious to the slobbering, blood-thirsty leeches crouching up around him.

What do you think could be so engrossing about that conversation? How funny would it be if he tells one of them to “buzz off dude! Can’t you see I’m freaking on the phone? I’M UP FOR THE PART!

This one is going to be a reflection of how you think…or feel… and respond. So don’t see an image of Zombies.

Look for the part of the image that speaks to you in some way and pulls that emotional trigger.

More examples of these: Anger, Fear, Hate, Love, Sorrow, and Guilt (just to name a few).

If the emotional response is strong enough, the story will sustain itself.

Number 3

I was just talking about this!!!

We know!!! You talk about it all…the…time.

This one may seem obvious, but doesn’t need to be. Maybe it only slightly resembles a topic you’re interested in; Call them distant cousins. You’re into space and the moon walk, but the prompt is the story of a rare and beautiful stone that was found near a natural crater. Suddenly, you are holding the jewel from the crown of Luna, queen of  the Stone Thrown (pun intended) and ruler of the dark side of the moon.

Yeah, she lost it in a struggle with Neil Armstrong while he was racing back to the Apollo in what is still an unclassified encounter with a UFO. There was an exchange of fire and the stone was struck from the clutching gloves of Armstrong that sent it hurdling through space and on a direct course to Earth. Haven’t you ever wondered why there was never another moon walk?

Humph…that crown has been in the family for ions! They are mad as Hell and they want it back!

Number 4

You didn’t really just write that, did you?

Can it be adapted to your style of writing without causing an adverse emotional response in others?

Conversely, depending on your style, that may be the effect you are going for.

But assuming for a moment it isn’t: you have a picture in your possession that tells an incredible story; a family gathering that SPARKS your interest and invokes a warm and fun EMOTIONAL response to a memory you have of that day. With this picture you get to showcase your humor and dazzle your readers with your wit.

However, the image in the picture could generate ill-will with readers and potentially cause hot-topic discussions you hadn’t counted on, nor wanted. In other words, controversy isn’t your style.

Does that mean you shouldn’t use the picture? Probably so.

Does it mean you shouldn’t write the story? Not if the story itself isn’t offensive. There may be similar photos you can find in public domain sites that allow you to use images for free that will still catch the general feel of the original photo, or you can take the original photo and remove the offending part. This might require the use of technical skills in Photoshop® or another similar program.

If your artistic skills are any good, you could try creating an image yourself through the same process.

If the story is good enough and pulls the right cords in you, you will find a way to complete the image you had in mind for the story.

And finally:

Number 5

This is Kizmit!


Does the story seem to write itself?

Sometimes we get lucky. We stumble upon an idea or prompt that just seems to manifest from thin air. As much as the greats of writing will tell you, “Writing is hard work!” there are times when the keys on the pad feel like the tip of a magic wand, and words just appear on the screen faster than you can say “Your momma’s uncle.”

The sentences are formed like perfect little negatives reeling from a projector flashing on the bright white surface of the screen. You heard the sounds of the first words forming in your head and the verbal feast continues as you try to keep up with the courses…Insert belch–à here and make room for more. This is a 5 course meal and you already know what’s on the menu!

It’s when during the middle of writing dialogue for one character, you have to hit the enter button 5 times to write the backstory for the upcoming chapter. Information is flying at you like the famous food fight in ANIMAL HOUSE and you are John Belushi grabbing food- fist to mouth.

Don’t stop now my little muses…Momma’s hungry!

There you have it.

Does it create the initial spark?

Does it provoke an emotional response?

Does it feed a passion?

Can it be adapted to your style?

Does the story seem to write itself?

If so, break out the good china and let’s eat!

I hope this gives you some food for thought. {Oh, no she didn’t!} And gets you motivated to keep your senses peeled to the possibilities of all the promising prompts that will titillate your responses, as well as feed the 5 senses of your readers!

Unpublished work © S.L. Davis 2015; use with links and acknowledgments back to the original source.

image produced in PowerPoint using clipart®