Author and creative writing tutor, Beth loves helping her students improve their technique.
1. Find a Good Picture as a Prompt
I use this creative writing game to overcome writer's block. Start by choosing an interesting picture to work with. Try a picture postcard, or a holiday snap, or pick one of the photos in this article. The subject matter isn’t important; the key is to choose something that interests or intrigues you.
If you can't something suitable, try the Wikimedia Commons website. There you'll find photos and paintings that are in the public domain, so you can print them off or copy them as you wish. The pictures in this article were all found on Wikimedia Commons, Pixabay, or on Unsplash, all of which offer free-to-use images. I find a close-up picture to be particularly good for this exercise as it prompts you to think about small details.
2. Imagine Yourself in the Scene
Take a good look at your picture. (You may find it helpful to print off a copy, rather than staring at a computer screen for a long time.) Get comfy in your favorite armchair or go and sit in the garden so that you can concentrate on the photo.
Imagine yourself as part of that scene. Do you feel comfortable there? Is this somewhere familiar or is it new to you? How does it feel to be there, are you happy, sad, excited, worried? Are you a stranger or is this a home-coming? How did you get there?
Allow yourself 15 minutes of imagining time for this stage of the exercise … but no more! Now return to your writing desk and open your notebook.
For each of the remaining parts of this writing game, you must limit your thinking time to 5 minutes and your writing time to 5 minutes. I use this sand-glass timer. I can take it wherever I’m writing and it doesn't disturb anyone else.
3. Change the Scale of Your Surroundings
You have 5 minutes to imagine that you have become very small or very large. Picture yourself inside your scene. How do you feel? Are you scared? Angry? Omnipotent?
Many famous books have been written with the hero changing relative size. One of the best-known is Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. She finds messages to “Drink me” and “Eat me” attached to a bottle and some cake. These make her shrink to ten inches tall and then become a giant measuring more than nine feet high.
Another example is Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift which is a satire on traveler’s tall tales. The hero experiences all kinds of extreme adventures including finding himself in a land where he is a giant compared to the miniature residents. In another place the reverse happens and he is dwarfed by enormous people and is the smallest person present.
Now write for 5 minutes (using a timer to limit your time) describing how your character feels.
4. Use the Five Senses as Writing Prompts
Spend the next 5 minutes thinking about your character’s emotions. What are their feelings at being there? How are they interacting with the scene? Think about the five senses to bring your writing to life. The five senses are sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing. And don’t forget to include some similes and metaphors in your writing to help paint a vivid picture for your reader.
The next 5 minutes (and no longer) are for writing these thoughts down. If you want some inspiration, take a look at the Concise Dictionary Of Metaphors And Similes. It contains thousands of the most widely used metaphors and similes to make your writing fizz with life.
5. Introduce Someone Else Into the Story
So far, the scene you have been describing has just yourself (or a solitary character) in it. Now add some action by introducing someone or something into the picture. They could be a love interest or maybe the person is a stranger. It could be a fluffy pet animal or a dangerous wild creature. Whatever you choose, their arrival will spark a response from your original character.
Get your timer on. Ready, steady go! Five minutes thinking time and five minutes writing time.
The 5 W’s (Who, What, Why, Where, When) and How of Storytelling
An essential technique in storytelling is to craft the drama around six key questions. These are known as the 5 W’s and How.
- Who is the story about; who are the people at the center of the tale? Who are the principle characters?
- What is the issue at the heart of the story? What is the problem that needs to be addressed? What is the dilemma facing the characters?
- Why do the characters act in the way they do; what motivates them? Why is it necessary to report this event or action?
- Where is the story located; where geographically is the action?
- When do the events take place; is it today, sometime in history, or a futuristic vision of what may happen?
- How is the issue resolved? Is there a definite conclusion or is the reader given a range of possible outcomes? Is there a moral to the story? Is there a unexpected twist to the tale?
Ask the five W's and How questions about each element of your story. By doing this, you will build three dimensional characters and make your plot believable.
Remember you only have 5 minutes thinking time and 5 minutes writing time for this part of the exercise. Hopefully, by this stage of the game, your writing muscles are starting to work and you are finding words are easily spilling onto that (previously) blank page.
Your Writing Future Is in the Balance
The final part of this exercise can go one of three ways.
- You have been successful at overcoming your writer’s block. You put aside the story you’ve created by doing this exercise. You return with renewed enthusiasm to the piece of writing you were originally working on.
- You love what you have written today. Your writing notes trigger a whole new story or plotline that you can’t stop thinking about. You get started on your new novel, short story etc. without delay.
- You’ve struggled with this task. It hasn’t helped fire your imagination at all. In fact, you think the whole thing has been a complete waste of time. You need to seriously consider whether being a writer is the right path for you.
Be Sociable and Learn About People
Non-writers assume that authors lead isolated lonely lives. Of course, some do but most live in the real world and use their personal experiences to enhance their writing. Don't be shy, staying at home will not improve your creativity. Socializing is a great way to understand how people interact.
If you are a bit quiet and reserved, try joining a class and make new friends while learning a new skill. Meeting new people will put you in touch with what matters in your community. You may find like-minded authors who can share tips with you on how they put words on the blank page.
Being a writer is a great excuse to socialize, but don't overdo it! Once you have some new ideas for topics to write about, you must get them down on paper. Successful writers have clear goals and are disciplined in how much time they spend at their craft. Creativity is a mixture of hard work and inspiration.
Allow your thoughts to wander as you complete your daily chores. Be kind to yourself and you too will have a “lightbulb moment”. Have a few notepads and pens dotted around the house and when that winning idea for a surefire article arrives you can jot it down right away. And don't forget the value of reading. Good writers are almost always avid readers.