The Power of Prompt Writing

I’m pleased to announce that 4 of my 5 submissions to The Sirens Call eZine were accepted. Look for “Cereal Killer,” “Efficiency,” “Pain Relief,” and “Whole Hearted” in issue 43. ALL of these were the results of prompt writing. So, let’s talk about the value of prompt writing.

First, what is prompt writing? Simply put, it’s writing based on a topic, idea, sentence, situation, etc. Often the prompt comes from an outside source. There are websites and message boards dedicated to giving prompts. You can find books on it. One series I recommend for poets is the 31 Days of Poetry Prompts by Jim Russo. You can find the series on Amazon here.

Prompts can be anything and from anywhere. The other day I found a deck of zombie themed tarot cards at a thrift store and I realized I’ve never really written a zombie story. Here are 78 zombie prompts just waiting to happen. My plan is to pick one a week to share here with the work it inspires.

I also belong to a monthly prompt writing group called Ladies of Horror hosted on the Spreading the Writer’s Word blog by Nina D’Arcangela. Each month Nina sends us a photo and we write a short flash fiction or poem inspired by it. I’ve had many of my LoH stories picked up for other projects and have done some of my best work as a result.

I urge writers of all levels of experience to participate in some prompt writing. It breaks us out of our rut, challenges the creativity muscle and opens new territory. As an example of the power of the prompt, here’s where the four stories headed for Siren’s Call came from:

“Cereal Killer” was from a prompt given by another group I belong to called Fright Club. I’d tell you more about Fright Club… but you know the first rule. The assignment was to write about cereal gone wrong. In my opinion, things are at their most interesting when they are going wrong.

“Efficiency” was from a prompt given to me by Ruschelle Dillon in an interview for Horror Tree. You can read that interview here. She started out with a sentence, “A vampire, a werewolf with a spatula and the Loch Ness monster walk into a bar looking for hookers…” Super fun story to write that would have never happened without Ruschelle’s push.

“Pain Relief” was a prompt from the Borderlands Bootcamp I attended in 2018. The prompt was the first line of a famous horror book written on a slip of paper randomly drawn from a hat. My line was ““You think you know about pain? I know about pain.” from Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door. This was personally meaningful for me because I had the honor of meeting Jack a few times, and he had just passed away a few days before the camp. You didn’t have to know Jack well to know he was an amazing writer and person. This story is one of my favorites because of it.

“Whole Hearted” was written for a class I was teaching as an example of flash fiction. It was a prompt I gave myself. As I was explaining what flash was, I stated as long as it had a beginning, middle and end it could be about any topic—even about a girl serving soup to a boy. Of course, if I write about a girl serving soup to a boy it will probably turn sinister somehow, even in just 96 words. And it does.

So that’s my take on prompts. Anyone else like to write from prompts, and where do you typically find them?

About Angela Yuriko Smith

Angela Yuriko Smith's work is published in print and online publications, including “Horror Writers Association's Poetry Showcase” vols. 2-4 and “Where the Stars Rise: Asian Science Fiction and Fantasy” anthology. Her first collection of poetry, “In Favor of Pain,” was nominated for an 2017 Elgin Award. Currently, she publishes Space and Time Magazine, a 52 year old publication dedicated to fantasy, horror and science fiction. For more information visit SpaceandTimeMagazine.com.
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2 Responses to The Power of Prompt Writing

  1. Marge Simon says:

    This is great stuff, Angela. Bring this to our panel in May (Stokercon) and that book, if you have it!

    • Oh, I will! I plan to work through the book for April (Nat’l Poetry Month). After I posted this it occurred to me that really all artists/writers work from prompts. Stoker was inspired by the legend of Nosferatu, I was just reading. Tolkien’s Shire was inspired by Sarehole, the country town where Tolkien grew up. Prompts are just deliberate, focused inspiration.

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