Friday, July 13, 2018

Weird Crime and Writing Prompts

I love a good writing prompt. Some of my best stories were written from prompts in workshops or friendly short story competitions (special shout out to Jessica Leonard, who may be the best prompt writer out there). If I’m ever stupid-rich, after I hire people to do my hair and makeup, I’m going to employ someone to just feed me prompts whenever I hit a wall. Unfortunately, I’m not a self made woman like like Kylie Jenner, so I don’t have “hire people for insane jobs that don’t exist” money in my bank account just yet.

Most of my writer-friends, even the really, really good ones, don’t have that kind of money. Instead of having amazing prompts fed to us by ideas people, we have to look for inspiration and prompts wherever we can find them. I used to think scanning the crime news would make for good writing fodder - but I run into the same problem again and again - if you include something in a story, people have to believe it.

With the news, the more unbelievable it is, the more people want to read it. If it’s silly, even better. But in books and film, things have to make sense. If a criminal in a story is too dumb, people don’t get invested - or worse, they lose their investment the second your hapless protagonist tries to rob and escape room, gets stuck in it, and has to call the police on himself to get out (no, really).

The viral stuff is even worse because you’re the thousandth writer trying to put their own spin on the latest “stupid criminal” or “Florida man” story. Though, now that I think of it, a story inspired by the hot felon that went around a couple years back could be really good - just make it a short story, not a novel.

The best prompts aren’t set ups or plot points, anyway. They’re a phrase, quote, or ominous photo that spark something in the creative part of the brain. A good premise is worth it’s weight, too, of course, but without a great story built around it, a premise is as useless as an unbelievable true crime story.

Oddly, though I really enjoy writing from prompts, I hate prompt books or searching online for “writing prompts” because the abundance of choice paired with trying to force myself to connect with what’s in front of me keeps me from getting into anything at all. I like looking at photos of people and places online, people watching, listening for interesting words or phrases, or even eavesdropping on people who have too personal conversations loudly in public. Those can be too weird and unbelievable for fiction, too, but they don’t all have to be winners.

Where do you look for inspiration and/or writing prompts?

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