The very idea probably sends you back to your 100-level college composition courses. Nonetheless, a good writing prompt can pull you out of a creative slump and help you put some words up on the blank, white screen you’ve been staring at on your laptop.
There are quite a few sites out there for this type of thing, so just Google it and find one that works for you. Seventh Sanctum, a great random generator site for sci-fi/fantasy/horror writers and gamers. It’s got generators for plots, themes, characters, and settings.
I should probably mention that I’ve never actually written a story based on the results of a random writing prompt, but I have used them as a simple starting point. In other words, a writing prompt or generator won’t write the story for you; it’s still up to you do to do the work.
Another possible way to get a writing prompt is to visit a market listing, such as Duotrope, Ralan, or the 2015 Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market and browse through the anthologies. Find one with a theme you’re interested in and write a story for it.
Sounds easy, doesn’t it?
Not quite. If you’re going to take the time to write a short story specifically for a themed anthology, there’s a few things you should think about before you start and even while you’re writing.
I’ll start with the obvious: there is a chance that your masterpiece doesn’t get picked up by the editors of the anthology. I know, I know. But if the anthology too specific, say the main character needs to be a transsexual elephant from one of the moons of Jupiter, then you might have a problem on your hands. That last thing you want is to have a finished piece of work that you can’t resubmit anywhere else because it’s too specific for the anthology you wrote it for.
This is where you need to plan ahead and write carefully. Start with a backup plan. For example, if the transsexual elephant anthology doesn’t pan out, is your story compatible enough with other markets to submit it elsewhere? If not, could you modify the story and turn the elephant into a lonely space cowboy instead? Can the basic plot be moved from one of the moons orbiting Jupiter to one of the planets in the Gliese 581 system? Be ready to change a story based on where you’re sending it.
Finally, don’t be afraid to use a random generator or themed anthology listing to get you started when you’re stuck. Just don’t let the writing prompt confine you to the point that it gets in the way of the story you’re really trying to tell.
What other type of writing prompts do you prefer?