Writing Prompts: Good or Bad for the Writer’s Soul?
by Courtney Vice
As a writer, I have noticed a trend surging online amongst the writing community: writing prompts. These prompts are generally short and—if they’re good—creative starters to writing. Essentially, they’re a cure for writer’s block. An example could be an opening line, a scenario, or even dialogue from a character. Entire subreddits are dedicated to writing prompts, both the good (“Give the hero the most villainous powers you can, and the villain the most heroic”) and the bad (“Write a story that takes place in our universe”). Nowadays, these prompts are a way to get the creative juices flowing. But the question remains: are they actually beneficial to the writer, or do they limit their creativity to ideas that others have already come up with?
Writing prompts are a great way to get a head start on a wonderfully crafted idea. Different writers can create unique scenarios, characters, and plots based on the same prompt. Someone can take a small bit of dialogue and craft to have multiple different meanings; that’s the beauty of the written word. There are countless possibilities that come with these prompts, and they are a great way to inspire authors and help them hone in their craft. They’re particularly good for young authors who may feel discouraged that “everything has already been done.” After all, how many stories do you know about the White House staff playing their weekly game of D&D? I thought so.
However, using them as a basis for a major project might not be as helpful. Writing prompts are writing exercises and just that— they shouldn’t be what a writer relies on. They can be fun and create engaging, funny, and fantastical stories, but they can definitely limit an author’s creativity if used too frequently. While they might be a cure for writer’s block, it’s only temporary. If you have to come up with an original story, a writing prompt should never be used. Getting inspiration is one thing. Using an opening line that hundreds, if not thousands have used beforehand can come off as lazy or, in the worst case, minor plagiarism. “A boy wizard is whisked from his mundane, normal life to a magical school of wizardy” would make a wonderful writing prompt, but also a nice legal case for J.K. Rowling if someone ever published it as their own original idea.
Writing prompts can have characters, worlds, and entire storylines written around them. There is no literary law stating otherwise. Taking an intriguing scenario and making an even more intriguing storyline about it is the foundation of fictional writing, after all. But creating one’s own original idea is the foundation of honest and challenging writing.
So, go out there. Write wonderful continuations to a single line of dialogue. Craft a world around a vague scenario. But, while you’re doing that, make up your own writing prompts, and complete those. Heck, maybe even let others if you’re willing to share.