How To Use Writing Prompts

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Written by JJ Barnes

Writing prompts are a great resource for writers looking to develop a story. I regularly give them on my Creative Writing For Kids videos on YouTube because of it. A writing prompt can be used to grow your story from a tiny seed into a full grown tree, as long as you know how to use them well.

What Are Writing Prompts?

A writing prompt is a phrase or idea designed to spark your imagination.

If you search for a writing prompt on Pinterest, you get thousands of results. They’re all designed to get your creative writing juices flowing.

Here are two examples I will be dissecting to show how to use them for your own story.

This is a conversational writing prompt. This is designed to put images of distinct and clear characters in your head for you to write with. At some point in your story, this conversation will happen between them.

This is a conceptual writing prompt. This idea is designed to put an idea in your head for the world in which your story happens. The revelation of whatever familiar is summonsed will be your inciting incident.

Why Use Writing Prompts?

How To Use Writing Prompts, The Table Read Writing Advice
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Sometimes, the one thing blocking us from starting writing is what to write about. If you feel like you have the passion and the drive but just can’t quite form a story concept, writing prompts do that job for you.

The writing prompts work as a nudge in the right direction, and as I mentioned before, a tiny seed. Everything that grows from that seed is your idea, everything that comes out of that single idea is yours. You just needed somebody to plant it.

If you’re not struggling for an idea, but want to get involved in the writing community, pose a writing prompt. You can get everybody to write a short story from it and share your results.

The wonderful thing about writing prompts is that you can give 100 people the same writing prompt, and you’ll get 100 different stories. It can be a really fascinating experience to watch the different directions one story prompt sends different people. How many worlds and characters can grow from that one tiny seed.

Characters From The Conversational Writing Prompt

For the conversational writing prompt, you need to establish who those characters are.

“Oh you’re still alive.”

How To Use Writing Prompts, The Table Read Writing Advice
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Did this person attempt the cause the other person’s death, observe it, or just hear about it? What is their tone and is that genuinely how they feel or are they acting, and why do they feel that way about it? What is their relationship to the other character?

“Don’t sound so disappointed, I might think you don’t like me.”

Were they expecting an attack and prepared, or did they avoid an accident? Were they frightened and are acting tough, or is the calm response genuine? How well do they know the other character? Have they been found immediately after the expected death, or in another location a time afterwards.

Of these two characters, you need to pick which one is your Protagonist. Establish what it is they want and how the none-death plays into that journey. Once you know who is your Protagonist, you can start building an image of both in your head. Work out their ages, names, sex, and profession.

How To Use Writing Prompts, The Table Read Writing Advice
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Characters From The Conceptual Writing Prompt

For the conceptual writing prompt, you are given more information about your Protagonist. You are writing about a 13 year old, and in the first person. You’re 13, you’re from a family mocked for not being strong, and you’re about to summons a suprising familiar.

A life of being associated with a weak and mocked family has an impact on your personality. Do you conform to that history, or are you trying to over compensate by acting tough and hard to separate yourself out? Are you nervous about summonsing your familiar, or are you excited about it? Have you rigged the system to summons a familiar that stands out as different? Perhaps you’re chosen to use a magic in that world, or are you surprised by what happens?

As the Protagonist, you have to work out what it is you want, and how the familiar plays into that journey.

What Is This World?

Pick the world you’re writing in. Your story could be set in a world that is either our world with no magic. It could be an urban fantasy world (our world but with magic integrated, such as The Avengers). Alternatively, it could be a high fantasy world (not our world in any way, such as Lord Of The Rings).

The Conversational Prompt World

The conversational prompt could happen anywhere. In our world, the assumed death would be something mundane. It could be an attempted murder with a knife, or by an avoided accident such as falling from a window and landing safely. A world with magic opens up doors for magical duals or monsters that were defeated. It depends on whether you want to create a magical system within your story.

The Conceptual Prompt World

How To Use Writing Prompts, The Table Read Writing Advice
Northern Lights

The conceptual prompt requires an alternative world. You’re given part of the magical lore by the fact that familiars are summonsed at age 13, and that a weak one has an impact on social status.

Are the familiars connected on a deep level to the characters, such as Pantalaimon is connected to Lyra in the His Dark Materials series by Phillip Pullman. Or are they a separate creature more like a pet that comes by magic? Do they live forever or do they age and die?

Is this world’s societal structure built around physical strength? Or, perhaps, the section of society your character is in is poor and has to fight, but different class lines have different requirements of their familiars.

Are the familiars the only magic in that world, or is that part of a greater magical system? Is the strength of the familiar connected to the strength of the magic in the characters? Are they able to work different magics, spoken or potions for instance, or is the magic tied to their familiar?

What Is Your Story?

For the conversational prompt, does somebody want the character who survived to die, and will they try again? Are these two characters a mismatched team who unite to stop the bad guy? Are you going to follow them through the enemies to friends/lovers storyline? Or are they old friends or siblings with a natural banter which is being played out here?

What does your Protagonist want? Why does the almost death connect to it, and who is trying to stop them get what they want?

For the conceptual prompt, what does your 13 year old want from their life? How does the familiar connect to that, and who or what is in their way? Is society built to suppress them because of their family line and they want to fight their way out and move up in the ranks? Or are they hoping to use their surprising strength to liberate their entire family? Is it the societal structure that’s trying to stop them achieving their goals, or a specific person with a vendetta?

Are Writing Prompts Worth It?

How To Use Writing Prompts, The Table Read Writing Advice
Lilly Prospero And The Magic Rabbit

Whether you’re using writing prompts as practice, to network in a writing community, or because you need a new idea for your next novel, writing prompts can be an excellent resource. Every idea starts somewhere, and it’ll always grow differently for whoever gets that idea.

My idea for my Lilly Prospero series was small. It was essentially the writing prompt I made for myself. Then I had to ask myself the questions and develop my characters and world around them.

I knew I wanted to write about a girl named Lilly who had the power to make her drawings come to life, and she had a talking rabbit named Jeffrey. That idea even in my own head went in multiple directions and was written in several incarnations before I finally perfected my concept and characters for the final version of Lilly Prospero And The Magic Rabbit.

I’m putting together a writing prompts board on my Pinterest. I’m creating some myself with ideas I have, and some created by other writers such as those I’ve talked about here. If you see one that you connect with, embrace is, grow it, and see where it ends up. Because I can guarantee that what you write will be totally unique to you and your mind, and that’s a beautiful and wonderful thing.

More From JJ Barnes:

I am an author, filmmaker, artist and youtuber, and I am the creator and editor of The Table Read.

You can find links to all my work and social media on my website:

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Follow me on Twitter: @JudieannRose

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