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06 July 2007 @ 02:58 pm
Prompts and Writing  
I promised a rant on this earlier in the week (during the pre-4th-of-July madness).

Anyone who's been around here long enough knows that I like prompts for writing. Sometimes lots of prompts-- combining two or three different ones occasionally bounds an idea enough for me to have something very clear to write about. People may get tired of seeing my lists of prompts/comms/challenges for a given story, but those prompts certainly help me.

The other day, though, I started to wonder if I have a different viewpoint on the purpose of prompts than other people do.

I like for prompts to evoke or inspire writing. Ideally, they should be an aid to get your creativity flowing.

But it appears that some people view them as more of a challenge, i.e., I'm throwing the gauntlet down-- Ha! See if you can write about THAT.

I belong to two different 100-fic communities, for the purposes of writing Prison Break fiction. One is for all fandoms, not just Prison Break, and its prompt table often frustrates me: Orange, Brown, Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Spade, Club.

The table is set up in generalized themes, but not all members of the themes are worth writing about! Heart from "Card suites" is useful, and maybe Diamond. But Spade and Club are kind of duds, and I struggled to find something that would remotely touch those so that I could be done with them. Similarly, for all the bazillion colors (at least 8 in that one table), Orange isn't necessarily inspiring and Brown kind of sucks.

The other 100-prompt table is one that I created. It has Prison-based ideas like Redemption, Regret, Run, Chase, Hide, Crime, Punishment. In general, those are more open-ended to me.

I have a ton of tables that I created for spn_25, with a similar goal: find prompts that elicit ideas or themes from writers. I.e., help them to write-- don't make the writing a chore!

Now, for the Prison Break Fic Exchange, I noticed that this also comes up with authors leave prompts for the stories they want written for them. I always have trouble finding something meaningful, but other people seem to have the goal of flummoxing the intended author, and I just don't get that. If you want a good story written for you, and you're hoping for maybe Drama or Angst, why do you throw in the prompt that is either silly or just begs for crack?

I remember that one assignment had "Christmas bow" as one of the prompts for a PBFE story, and the person who wrote it used it for pathos instead of crack (Dark, Angsty Michael story here). How much easier might that job have been without the whacky prompt? Similarly, another story had "You know, this would be easier if you hadn't lost the duck" as a prompt, and WTF? That seems like insta-crack, even though "romance/angst/humor" was the desired story (and it could have been humor only, but the prompt certainly flummoxed me). The author managed to work the prompt meaningfully into a drama about relearning how to live, but again... I think the prompt had a better chance of hurting the story than helping it.

How do you view prompts? As challenges? As inspiration? A mixture of both?

As evil muse-killers? ;)


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love makes the little thickness of the coin: eyeballkimonkey7 on July 6th, 2007 10:30 pm (UTC)
Nine weeks ago, I created a challenge prompt comm. I figured, if nothing else, at least I"D try to write one story a week and see how it turned out.

How did it turn out? Amamzingly. I'm...AWE every week when I see the posts the pormpts have, well, PROMPTED. Even though only six or seven stories have come out of each prompt, they've been - with little exception - really excellent stories. Really excellent writing.

I never would have imagined how different and unique each author's take would be.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphors: Sam & Dean Genhalfshellvenus on July 7th, 2007 03:48 am (UTC)
That's one of the parts I love about prompts-- as with the drabble communities for SPN, or 60_minute_fics. You get such different results for the same prompt. Not to mention the impetus to write.

When I look at all the fics I've written for that last comm, it's definitely worth it to me. :D
girlguidejonesgirlguidejones on July 6th, 2007 10:31 pm (UTC)
I can't (okay, can VERY rarely) write for a prompt. I have to have a story concept with a beginning, middle, and end in sight before I can write. That is rarely achieved with a prompt, and also causes me no end of frustration. I'd really like to be more prolific than I am.

That said, I think some writers seem to enjoy rising to the challenge of wacky prompts. A simple way to achieve what you're looking for might be to specify "one-" or "three-" word prompts. They can only get so cracky at that point.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphors: Sam & Dean Genhalfshellvenus on July 7th, 2007 03:52 am (UTC)
I have to have a story concept with a beginning, middle, and end in sight before I can write. That is rarely achieved with a prompt, and also causes me no end of frustration. I'd really like to be more prolific than I am.
I often wish I HAD exactly that for most of my stories, but it's only once in awhile that that happens. Most of the time it's either vaguely in the upstairs ether, or sometimes the end is clear but not the path through the middle. Which is how a "La-di-da" story that's supposed to be about 800-1K words winds up climbing into the 3K range and taking forever to finish. :(

They can only get so cracky at that point.
We still had a person last round that specified "purple dildo," which I would have been entirely tempted to ignore as a prompt. ;)
Princess Robot Bubblegum!astrothsknot on July 6th, 2007 10:35 pm (UTC)
Inspiration, but I regard "Write THAT!" as inspiration, you know, when you sit and think about how to work the prompt in. I often ask for prompts when I'm hitting writers block. They give me something to work with. Sometimes I'll see a prompt and I'll just have to write for it. I often come up with my best work that way.

One thing I love is that one prompt might lead to another in the comments or something.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphors: Venushalfshellvenus on July 7th, 2007 03:56 am (UTC)
For me, the weirder prompts can get me going to write something, but it usually isn't something worthwhile. If I'm screwing around they can be fun, but the stories that expand and are worth keeping are usually from the less flat or cracky prompts.
Ah yes, quite a bunch of us, isn't it?unhobbityhobbit on July 6th, 2007 11:18 pm (UTC)
I can't do one-word prompts, they never leap out and grab me like sentences do. Possibly because it makes me actually think of a plot myself and I'm lazy like that. Also, I'm incredibly bad at thinking of an original take on prompts. You know, I get a prompt and the most obvious thing pops into my head and that's what I write. OR, I end up writing something that you really need to squint to see how it relates to the prompt.

Most sentence-type prompts I take are complete crack and I enjoy writing them that way.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphors: Venushalfshellvenus on July 7th, 2007 04:11 am (UTC)
Most sentence-type prompts I take are complete crack and I enjoy writing them that way.
:D This is good when that's the goal (and sometimes it is-- I saw your comment blurb on Dean and walls earlier today). ;)

It sounds like, for you, the prompts are already too closed-ended just by virtue of being so short. I.e., you get a single flash of an idea and that's it-- they don't evoke, they dictate, and they don't do it in detail.

Comms where there are sentence prompts to choose from and you claim an idea you like also work pretty well for me. That isn't the case with the comm I'm talking about-- the stories are assigned in an anonymous exchange. :(
sassy, classy, and a bit smart-assy: MikeSpoilerFreebadboy_fangirl on July 6th, 2007 11:34 pm (UTC)
My series that I wrote about Lincoln and Veronica began as a *use 5 prompts from this list* challenge at another writing community I used to be involved with. They were helpful because they got the ball rolling. Once the ball was rolled, however, I didn't need prompts. I only use prompts when I'm stumped, or need something to start the flow of creativity. As a general rule, I don't care for prompts, because I can usually generate my own creativity. When I can't, however, prompts can be very helpful and useful, and surprise you with what you can turn out: Two of my favorite pieces (both Lincoln centered) I've ever written were from a series of challenge prompts or prompts I asked for.

As for the prompts I'd leave in something like the PBFE, for sure I'd try to make my prompts gel in some way for the writer, however when I did the PBFE, my prompts were green tea, memories and hobbies, and I had no use for the hobbies prompt, so I just left it aside. Better to have a good story than a excess prompt standing out like a sore thumb. (Though I must give kudos to whoever wrote the duck story, that was sheer genius, incorporating that!)

Here I am again, plugging up your LJ! :D
PamalaX: Alexbitelippamalax on July 7th, 2007 12:00 am (UTC)
This is my first time not joining the PBFE and while it is in part because I can't hide my funky style its also because, in part, I think the meaning of the prompts for the exchange has evolved a good deal in 5 rounds.

I do agree there may be a bit of laying out hoops for the author to *attempt* to jump through going on at times which confuses the hell out of me because to my mind an exchange is about requesting a fic you'd like to see written.

While many requests surely are about a sincere desire to see this, that or the other thing spun into a well written fic there are also those that are a test far more than a wish.

I do a lot of fic challenges myself so thanks for the interesting and very thought provoking post!

Pixpixel_0 on July 7th, 2007 01:21 am (UTC)
Hm, I tend to view prompts as a mixture of both. I've joined one prompt comm (last summer) and occasionally take prompts from the flist. More often than not, when I ask the flist for prompts, I'm looking for inspiration to get around writer's block. Sometimes, though, I like a challenge to write something different that I haven't before.

I think, for me, prompts are always a form of some inspiration. I try to make them a bit challenging but not to the extent where it just becomes ridiculous. If the challenge ruins the fic, then it just isn't worth the challenge. But, if the challenge might make a better story, then I'll give it a shot.
Rosie: Linc Voguerosie_spleen on July 7th, 2007 03:06 am (UTC)
Hey Karen *waves from across the seas*

Firstly, another great job to get the pbfe up and running, thanks again, and I know I've waffled before and told you this - but your work is appreciated.

other people seem to have the goal of flummoxing the intended author,

Hope you dont mind, but I'd like to add a bit of ranting here. This is an extremely difficult situation to work within - it is almost as if the prompter has given the stimulus of, for example, darkfic and then added the extra prompt of 'going to see a comedian'

I suppose you can look at it two ways: maybe it is given to further extend the author, to challenge the way they're thinking, to develop the fic on a different path. I am a huge fan of black comedy, so this concept is used a little in this genre of movies, programmes, stories.

Negatively, it could be seen as the prompter saying - well, see if you are good enough to include this, even though it is totally unrelated. This idea defeats the purpose of a true fic exchange, and Im sure this is not the main underlying sentiment of any prompter involved.

Its an interesting quandry - my mind often veers towards the whacky (ok, I admit it, even though I have discouraged people writing things like 'kooky, odd, crazy, sick' in my journal, lol) but I understand the struggle to include prompts that seem to war with each other.

Thanks for raising this issue, its always good to get up on the podium and pontificate with merry abandon.



Take care!
Deadbeat Nymph: transfixeddeadbeat_nymph on July 7th, 2007 04:06 am (UTC)
I do think of prompts as challenges, but not challenges to be beaten (ha! take THAT, ridiculous phrase!), more as challenges to be creative. I feel that any approach that engages with the prompt in any way is valid, but I like the idea of trying to approach the prompt in a way that might be unexpected, strange, or in some way novel. I like the three-things prompts with the PBFEs because there's usually something that I can use for a thematic structure while incorporating the other two in ways that are, I hope, novel.

For example, in my first PBFE fic "Venus Incurs", 'video games' became the basis for the plot in which sex games occur via videotaping, 'something Italian (a la Italian leather couch)' became Nutella, which is very Italian but completely different from something luxurious or refined, and 'Franz Kafka' provided the structure, which I based on his "The Trial".

I won't discuss the details of my fic for the current PBFE since it's still a secret, but I spent a great deal of time on the prompt. Here, the big idea came very quickly, but I laboured extensively about how to approach the idea itself, and then on the specifics of the extended metaphor. I know it probably won't matter to readers, but I wanted to get it just right, and I after I finalised it, it even pushed me to think about various interpretations of the idea as a whole and also about the specific elements.

As for process, I tend to just let the prompts stew in my head for a bit and then brainstorm around the words of the prompt to come up with as many possible takes and then decide what works.

Because that's how I approach writing from prompts, it's also how I approached creating them for others until more recently. When I've asked for things that might have seemed strange, it's not because I had something particular in mind, or because I was intentionally trying to flummox the writer, but because I wanted to give the writer the opportunity to use the words in whatever way they wanted. I hoped to be surprised, and I got excited about the possibilities. I also tried to make them things that could be interpreted or incorporated in many different ways.

Now, I must say, when someone gives me a prompt that's obvious, I feel kind of cheated. Or disappointed. Or something. I guess I enjoy the challenge. Or rather, I enjoy the creative process of engaging with the seemingly odd or disparate words/phrases. So, prompts like the ones you've listed above (Redemption, Regret, Run, Chase, Hide, Crime, Punishment) would feel somewhat limiting to me, like I was being asked to write a story about redemption, regret, etc., whereas random words or items allow me to write about whatever I can conjure, and the conjuring is so much fun. Of course, that's kind of narrow-minded, come to think of it. There's no real reason I couldn't interpret 'theme' words as openly as 'object' words, but I guess I feel that the requester would herself feel cheated if she asked for a fic with 'redemption' and I wrote a fic with a title from a goth rock song or one set at a multimedia sci-fi convention.

Overall, I guess I feel that prompts should foster creativity, but that they can only really do that by pushing at the borders of imagination.
mercurybard on July 7th, 2007 04:32 am (UTC)
You say "brown" and my first thought is this line from Boomtown by normalhumanbein: "Coffee flavoured? People, there is a time and a place for coffee and this isn’t it and it’s brown so it’s not even an aesthetic –" talking about condoms. (It's bandom, but it's still hilarious.)

And that was really random and not what you wanted.

Um...I pretty much hate tables ever since I did one for icons and Claire/Peter from Heroes when they'd only been in two episodes together. I will never do another exchange prompt ever. Not that I had a particularly bad prompt, but it was still like pulling teeth.

But I found a comm, we_are_cities, that puts out a prompt twice a week, and I've been pretty good about writing for them. And by prompt, we get an entry that has a picture and some poetry snippets and maybe a song to download. I usually take some tiny little piece and run with it, and I'm sure people look at what I write and the prompt and go "wtf?" But there's lots and lots of wiggle room, which makes me happy.
The Good, The Bad and The Lanathelana on July 7th, 2007 06:45 am (UTC)
I'm starting to wonder if it's really a talent that some people have and others just don't. Like some people actually feel spurred into action by cracktastic prompts. Others might prefer having a very clear order of what they are supposed to write while others might resent that. Some might place importance on writing something that will please the author, others might focus more on seeing to that the prompts are filled.

Maybe somebody should put some investigation into this, what the "Prompt Writer Archetypes" are.

I also wonder if there is any theoretical correlation between the types and the quality of the resulting story. Like a clear order might be more likely to produce a solid story, while a crazy combination might be able to produce either an off the wall excellent story or something really, really dumb.

Maybe it would be worth a poll, which types of prompts people prefer or on which types of prompts they think they have written the best stories on. Simple and very free and open prompts like they can usually be found in the 100 tables. Very concise restraints on what the story should be [A and B meet on the beach, talk and there's a happy ending]. Or off the wall prompts.
Steffi: Music & Lyrics - Sophie Writerlegoline on July 7th, 2007 07:22 am (UTC)
Generally, I'm with you. I view prompts as something to get your brain working, not as a challenge. I recently jioned the spnflashfic challenge and the first two prompts were "Souvenir" and "Weaponry".

What I absolutely love to do is come up with fic that doesn't deal with these themes on first sight. The challenge for me was to write something about souvenirs that wasn't a typical souvenir, you know? I start thinking "Okay, what else is a weapon besides weapons?" And though I did write about knives in the fic, the true weapon were Sam's tears (though I'mnot sure anybody noticed :-p )

I think I like challenges as long as they're do-able, you come up with fic you usually wouldn't because you have to search deep in your brain and take other directions you usually wouldn't take :-)

With some challenges I'm not sure the "challengers" actually want the writers to achieve the goal. Picking random unrelated words might be a challenge but the fic that comes out of it will probably lack something, if you know what I mean :-)
jeyhawk: supernatural: kiss heartjeyhawk on July 7th, 2007 10:52 am (UTC)
I love prompts and challenges and since my brain is a weird place to be I usually do get bunnies from the weirdest prompts.

I understand what you mean though. I sometimes ask for prompts/ideas and a lot of times I get the most whcaked out things. Sometimes it's fun to try and twist the prompt into something the person asking for it never expected but sometimes it just makes me frown.

I pretty much sign up for every challenge I stumble across though, because I love writing for challenges. It means I get a ready served idea AND a date when it has to be done. *grins*
shaitanah: pb_michaelshaitanah on July 7th, 2007 05:11 pm (UTC)
I never write prompts. I just can't. I have to be absolutely free at what I'm writing. Everything must be my own idea - starting from the summary to the very last word in the story. I only let beta-readers correct me, but if smn dictates me what to write and how to write, it;s most likely my muse will simply refuse to work. Though I guess it could be viewed as a challenge. But then again, I come up with my won challenges for myself, too.