Writing Prompts: Orange You Going to Get Some Writing Done?

orange_outThe Debs did a little topic juggling this week and what fell out the other side was the theme of “orange.”

I can’t really even explain how that happened. Theoretically someone coming up behind me this week will have something more profound to say about…orange. I do not.

This orange business makes me think of all those writing prompts out there, billed to help you “kick start” your writing. A writing prompt can be a single word, a phrase, a quote, a situation, or even a photo offered as a starting point for a writer to leap into word creation.

I get the value of these things for people who say they want to write but can’t seem to get started. The blank page is a bitch, and if you’re a real beginner, it can be honestly difficult to know what to write about, and how to jump in. Prompts are random, unrelated to any idea you might already have, but that might be a boon to someone really stuck. Maybe “orange” gets you a character sketch you didn’t know you needed, or maybe it’s a little piece about the cat you used to have as a kid that ends up an essay. Prompts can also just be grease to get the wheels turning, and a nice little word-generation habit you can develop to get other projects going.

Prompts are great for creative writing classes, I can tell you that. I like using photos to get students thinking about situations and scenes. New writers often don’t know how to start scenes, which is why so many early fiction attempts start with the protagonist opening their eyes in the morning. (Don’t do that.)

For more advanced writers, though, I prefer Donald Maass-like prompts. Maass doesn’t give you “orange” and wish you good luck. He asks you to think about your protagonist, your story, and to find ways to dig deeper into the specific universe you’re busy building.

Here’s a few from Maass:

“What’s the worst thing your MC (main character) does? Whom and how does that hurt? Now work backwards, set it up to hurt even more.”

“Find any violence in your manuscript. Delete any shock, fear or horror. Replace with two *conflicting* emotions that are less obvious.”

“What’s the worst thing that happens to your MC? Work backwards. Make it something your MC has spent a lifetime avoiding.”

BOOM. Your mind is blown, right? THOSE are prompts you can take to the freaking bank.

Orange? Orange as a story starter might work for some people. If you’re one of them, go for it. You have to get your zest for writing where you can.


Is there a writing prompt that works for you? Share with the class.

Author: Lori Rader-Day

Lori Rader-Day is the author of the mystery THE BLACK HOUR (Seventh Street Books, July 2014). She grew up in central Indiana, but now lives in Chicago with her husband and very spoiled dog.

10 Replies to “Writing Prompts: Orange You Going to Get Some Writing Done?”

  1. I mostly don’t pay much attention to writing prompts, since a lot of them seem silly to me, and getting started is not usually my problem (stopping, sometimes, but not starting).

    The one that really hit me was something like “Does your character read? Where are his or her books?”

    That knocked me for a loop, since I had a character who was very bookish, who has based her whole life on classic detective fiction, but she has lived a very mobile life and certainly doesn’t have a library with her in her hotel room.

    So, her books are somewhere. In storage. Back in the town where she grew up. In somebody’s garage. And, now that she’s more settled, she will go to get them. With her husband, and her daughter, neither of whom has ever seen the town. And of course there will be a murder.

    That was a good writing prompt, at least for me.

  2. I’ve attended a couple of Maas workshops, and though some his prompts are great, I find his whole Donald Mass thing off-putting. Too much of a showman with a product to sell. In the last workshop I attended, I felt bad for the beginner novelists–some of them just looked glazed. I could tell they thought they needed to revise their novels per every point/prompt that Maas made.

    All that said, great way to segue “orange” into a fun post, Lori!

  3. We’re crazy, us Debs! You never know what you’re gonna get from us next!

    But I love how you used this as a springboard to talk about writing prompts, and whether or not they’re helpful. I think regardless of the quality of the writing prompt, I like that it usually helps us overcome that fear of starting.

    And this…
    “What’s the worst thing that happens to your MC? Work backwards. Make it something your MC has spent a lifetime avoiding.”

    …Is pretty awesome.

  4. Hmmm….I was really hoping to work the prompt in to my writing. Looking for some random inspiration. All that popped into my mind is William of Orange, and I can’t shake it. If only you’d said apples!

Comments are closed.