Best Writing Prompt Ever

photo by Canva
photo by Canva

Next month, I’m set to embark on my creative thesis. It’s a novel. When I entered my MFA program, I had a story idea in mind. During the program, it changed. Oh, that story’s still in my head, just not presently on the plate for my thesis. Several months later, after a few courses where new short pieces were drafted, another tale came to mind – which is the piece I’d submitted to two workshops as my intended thesis. It’s the one that’s been egging me on to outline, prepare, draft, etc… that’s until a couple of other tales dodged their way in for attention.

See, that’s the thing – with all of these additional story ideas, I’ve been struggling to determine which one is strong enough to captivate my own attention enough for four months of intense dedication. Which characters am I most interested in right now? Most importantly: which narrative can be plotted, shaped, and twisted properly for a damned good story?

Yesterday’s email from Poets & Writers magazine offered me an awesome way to help find out whose story I’d work on for my project. It’s a beautiful little gem of a prompt called, “Dear Author”:

Dear Author

Posted by Writing Prompter on 1.13.16

The importance of knowing one’s characters is well understood and near axiomatic for fiction writers. However, sometimes we think of this mostly as preparatory work done at the start of a story or novel and not for what it is: an ongoing process. One of the pleasures of writing fiction is seeing the way our characters develop and surprise us as the story evolves and works to make its meaning. For this exercise, pick a character who appears in a story or novel currently in progress. Write a letter to yourself in the voice of that character in which he or she reveals something to you that you didn’t know before.

This week’s fiction prompt comes from Andrew Malan Milward, author of I Was a Revolutionary (Harper, 2015). Read Milward’s installment of Writers Recommend for more inspiration.

A letter! Genius! Why hadn’t I thought of that?

For quite a while, the main characters in three of my stories have been knocking at the gate for my complete consideration. That’s approximately nine people. Once I read that prompt, I immediately sat down, poised to take a letter and one of them popped up to tell me about her life and the direction it’s taking. I took it all in via dictation. I needed that to take her out of my head in a different way, since it allowed me the chance to see her from the page and place her in front of me as a person.  I need to make them people – to completely flesh them out, bring them from one dimension into three. Her letter to me did just that.

I feel extremely confident that this will help me decide on the story for my thesis. Not only will these letters help me figure out which characters and stories I’ll concentrate on for the project, they’ll definitely help jump start the other stories after it’s done.

So, fellow writers, I highly recommend this assignment! Your characters will appreciate you too. Please let me know how it works for you!


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