When I was in year 12, a lot of our English classes were boring. Not because of the teacher or the class itself, but because no one really enjoys memorising quotes from Othello to put in an essay where you have to compare Shakespeare with a famous political speech from the last thirty years.
But one specific class-time I do remember, and I remember it because it was actually amazing.
I can’t quite think of the reason, but there were less of us there that day; maybe it was near exams so a lot of people were skipping class? I’m not sure. Anyway, there were only about fifteen of us, and our teacher decided to give us one-line writing prompts, then she gave us five minutes to write about the prompt we were given. It was such a nice change from all the essay writing and the practise exam papers, and I think she knew we needed a break.
One of the prompts we were given was “a man comes running toward you covered in blood. What does he say to you as he runs past?”
I wrote something weird about a giant turtle attacking the city.
(Actually, that I should explain. This prompt was perhaps the fourth prompt we had been given, and I thought, for some strange reason, that every short-short-story I wrote had to be connected, as though different scenes from one novel. So the first prompt we were given was about an island or something, and in mine I made the island actually be a giant turtle that the protagonist was stuck on. Because of this strange first idea I had, for the rest of the prompts I involved a giant turtle, thinking that all my stories had to revolve around the same characters.
So this guy was covered in blood because he was attacked by a giant turtle. At the time I thought it was pretty cool, you know? Only upon looking back do I realise it probably wasn’t my best moment.)
Okay, back to the original story.
We went around the classroom hearing each other’s micro-stories, and one of the guys in my class, a quiet-but-funny guy, had written in regards to the prompt:
“Hey, someone’s handing out free blood!”
I think it genuinely is funny, but perhaps it was made hysterical because we were all stressed about the HSC, and for some reason having less people makes class a lot more enjoyable and relaxed.
So why am I telling this story?
I think of that English class surprisingly often, and this guy’s response. I think I remember it because it shows what you can come up with using the most random sentence. One line, and this guy comes up with funny dialogue. Writing prompts are actually the best; I can’t think of a reason why someone would dislike them. Unless it resulted in plagiarism. Don’t plagiarise, campers.
Sitting at the back of my desk I have a cork-board which has my to-do list, Bible verses, cards, photos, and an envelope that has a bunch of writing prompts in it.
In some ways I like writing short stories, sometimes using prompts, more than my novel, because I like the amount of detail you can put into one scene, and how much you can drag it out and expand on one tiny thing. In a novel this is hard to do because, for me at least, it would result in a lot of words that aren’t needed for the novel. If you’re trying to get your novel moving forward, and going at a decent pace, you don’t want to suddenly find yourself drowning in one scene that lasts ten pages. Unless your whole novel is like that. Mine is not. That would be boring (if I wrote it, anyway).
In a short story, you can write five-thousand words just in a coffee shop, just on dialogue between two people, just about one tiny daily habit. I like that short stories, whilst they can be fast-paced and have a lot packed on, can also make you slow down and write a lot about one small thing, like the steam coming off a cup of tea, or raindrops clinging to a window.
The thing with me and short stories though, is that I tend to write about the same thing every time. I’m only twenty; I don’t have experience in too many areas, so I tend to stick with the same few ideas.
So having these prompts helps me to write, still what I know, but about topics I wouldn’t usually think to write about. Where I usually write about, say, the beach, or a girl watering plants or something, these prompts have me writing about bicycles and old people and family holidays. Most of what I write from these prompts I don’t put in my novel, and they’re completely unrelated and random, but I just like writing without the pressure of making it lead into something else.
You know, writing my novel, each scene has to be useful, has to flow into the next event; everything has to click. But with a random writing prompt, I can write as little or as much as I want to, and it can just finish without needing to attach to something else. These short stories don’t end up anywhere (except maybe on my blog) (except let’s be honest how many short stories have I put on this blog) (two) (literally just two) (I guess I’ll have to change that) but that’s okay.
Sometimes what I also like doing is putting the character’s from my novel into these micro-stories, because it means I’m practising writing their different personalities and how they would respond in a certain situation, or how they communicate with each other. It’s all practise and it’s all because I want to, and for when I just genuinely feel like writing.
It’s always exciting choosing a slip of paper out of my ‘new writing prompts’ envelope and seeing what there is to write about it (only sometimes do I put it back and choose another…).