Get a free video course on Writing and Mindset Click hereJoin my author mailing list

What I did on my holidays

Writing Prompts

Because it was so hot in this part of the UK over the weekend, this week’s writing prompts are inspired by hot weather and the summer. You’ll find me talking about them over on Instagram. I’ve already suggested some writing prompts using beaches (one of my favourite things to write about!) so in this post you’ll get two more. Scroll down to the end of this post if you want to get at the prompts straight away.

Writing constraints

First of all I want to say a bit about writing constraints. Those are ‘rules’ that we invent or someone else gives us that we apply to our writing. A writing game is a constraint, so is writing to a fixed number of words. The conventions of a genre are a kind of constraint so is a particular form, like a Haiku. A writing prompt can be a constraint although some are rather loose. A constraint could be thought of as a parameter for your writing or as a way of shaping your work.

Sometimes writers think that constraints will hold them back and make them less creative because they’ll have less freedom. But in fact the opposite is true. Because absolutely anything and everything could be a potential starting point for a piece of writing, constraints allow us to come up with specific ideas, characters, stories and poems.

Using the world around you

When you’re stuck for an idea, it may well be because the ideas around you (remember that anything and everything could be a potential starting point!) aren’t fully formed. They’re rather woolly and general. They aren’t specific enough yet. So use whatever context is going on right now and get specific to give you a shape. Is your friend off on holiday? Make up a character who changes as a result of a holiday. You could use a familiar destination, or a fantasy one!

Use change

You’ll have noticed that I suggested that the made up character on the holiday (or vacation for my American readers) changes somehow. An essential component of storytelling is change. Readers want to know how characters will change during the story as a result of the challenges they face. Therefore, for an ‘instant’ writing constraint, pick something going on right now (in my example, that was: some of my friends are going on holiday) and add change. You will then feel much freer to invent characters, places and ‘what ifs?’ because you have an arena to operate within.

If I had simply suggested that you invent characters and places and something happens, the writing would be harder. The lack of specificity would feel frustrating, even though ‘invent a character on holiday and have them change as a result’ is essentially the same as ‘invent a character in a place and something happens’, with added detail.

Use written method acting

Method acting is when you deliberately experience something so you can recreate the authentic response on stage. Written method acting is when you experience something (say hot weather) and write about it during the experience, capturing how you feel and describing the world around you using the senses. You can collect experiences like this. For example, write during a thunderstorm, then when your characters are listening to a storm, you can describe what they hear in great detail.

These techniques overlap, that is, the use of constraints I’m suggesting here and written method acting. That’s because (as I said above) I recommend that when you need a constraint:

  • you base it on your immediate environment and context
  • and get specific.

That gives you the starting point. The authentic detail comes from writing ‘live’ during the experience or shortly afterwards. Obviously I can’t write on my friend’s holiday (it might give them a shock if I did!) but I can write during a hot day on the beach down here on the sunny south coast of England, or I could think myself into my favourite holiday destination using my imagination.

As a writing prompt, ‘what I’m doing on my holidays’ (in this particular place, in this particular moment) produces writing that is so much more vivid than ‘what I did on my holidays’ ever will.

You can use this combination of techniques to come up with your own writing prompts whenever you need them:

  • Pick something from your environment or context.
  • Get specific somehow.
  • Invent a character and place.
  • Try some written method acting.
  • Remember to add change.

The Poetry Version

The above has a storytelling bias – so what if you wanted to use these ideas when writing poetry? In fact, they’re easy to adapt. You can still use ideas from your environment or context for instance. Instead of focusing on a story, think about creating a word picture based on your senses. Try not to rely only on the visual when you do this. So poets, your rules are similar:

  • Pick something from your environment or context.
  • Get specific somehow.
  • Decide on the place.
  • Try some written method acting.
  • Create a word picture or image using the senses.
  • Remember to add change.

The Nonfiction Version

As with poetry, you can easily adapt these techniques to use when writing nonfiction. The method acting will make your writing more vivid, as it does for any other form.

  • Pick something from your environment or context.
  • Get specific somehow.
  • Decide on the place.
  • Come up with an issue based on it. (For example, littering on Brighton beaches.)
  • Who are the key players?
  • Try some written method acting.
  • Remember to include the possibility of change.

Writing prompts

  • This first one is all about holidays or vacations. Imagine a holiday or vacation that you’ve taken, or a fantasy holiday or vacation. Alternatively, imagine a character who goes on holiday somewhere. Where do they go? What happens when they get there? How do they change as a result? Ask ‘what if?’
  • The second tip is about being hot. Either wait for a hot day first, or try this when it isn’t particularly hot and when it is and compare the results. How do you feel when you’re hot? How does your skin feel? What’s it like to be in a hot environment? Describe a character who feels hot.

More soon. Until then, happy writing,

Lou xx

P.S. If you’d like more exercises like these, take a look at the Small Steps Writing Guides.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.