“Explain It Again, Sam”: Writing Prompts to Stretch Your Conceptual Skills

Image Source: Flickr: J E Theriot via Creative Commons
Image Source: Flickr: J E Theriot via Creative Commons

Writing prompts are to writers what practice drills are to athletes. They keep us in shape, enhance our creativity, and help hone skills we might not be using as much in our current project/stage of the writing process. Yet, there’s a wide variety to writing prompts and the amount of mental stretching they ask us to do. My favorite kind of prompts require you to conceive alternate environments or explain something complicated (or even impossible).

One great source for prompts like these is the Writing Excuses podcast. Not only does it feature weekly smart conversation about writing fiction, the show also delivers a weekly writing prompt, and these frequently are the type to stretch your conceptual thinking.

Rather than regurgitating some of the past prompts (and there are many excellent ones; my recent favorite is in Episode 9.8), I’m trying my own hand at crafting these concept prompts. Give it a shot with one or more. If you’d like to share what you’ve written, that would be wonderful!

  1. You have no knowledge of modern technology. How does a smart phone work? (The answer can’t be just “magic.” Sure, magic can be involved, but wouldn’t such a device require lots of magic working together?)
  2. Buttons are alive. What is it like to be a button? What is it like to be a human who uses buttons? Let’s see a scene in the life of a button or a human.
  3. Think of your favorite historical figure (one you admire or one that just interests you; they don’t have to be the best person ever to be your favorite). Now, imagine this person never existed. There are two ways to tackle this prompt. You could imagine what the world would be like if no one had ever made the changes/accomplishments they made, or you could imagine that the person’s life was just a myth, covering up real reasons historical events turned out the way they did.

Image Credit: J E Theriot, Creative Commons

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