Generating Story and Character Ideas from Writing Prompts: The 5Writers’ Group Story
Where do story and character ideas come from? The oldest and most clichéd piece of writing advice is to write what you know. But writing what you know doesn’t always have to mean write about things that happened to you or about the people in your life.
What makes this such a great piece of advice involves how it can help you think about your craft in a bigger way than just what you have experienced. Consider how your work instead reflects the world you know: how you understand people and the world in which you live to operate. There are several ways to create something to showcase this point of view. Of course, the best way to generate story ideas is to free write. One effective way to focus this exercise is to respond to a writing prompt. These offer a starting point that allow you to interrogate a situation, probe its boundaries. What is there? Who is there? Why is what is there present?
In Writing Fiction, Janet Burroway offers several nuggets of useful writing advice, among which she includes a series of writing prompts designed to get you writing. This month at 5Writers, we have decided to respond to one of these prompts:
In the opening scene of a story, a man is lighting his house on fire but insurance money is not the motivation.
As you can imagine, there are several ways to jump into this story: who is this guy? Why is he setting the house—is it really his house?—on fire? Where in the country is he? When is he? (era)? Is he getting back at someone? Is there anyone inside?
You don’t have to tackle every question that comes to mind, but probe them. Which one seems interesting enough to pursue? Then get writing.
Rather than craft five separate stories to this prompt, we decided to collaborate: how could we craft a solid story that showcases each of our skills? So, over the course of this month, we will post our story in five installments. As you will read, these installments will take different forms: traditional prose, script format, and narrative poetry. They will also showcase different approaches, different tones.
We hope to demonstrate that writers can benefit from using writing prompts, use them to your advantage in different forms—these don’t just work for fiction—and how different forms can combine to tell a single story in a unique way.