The Power of Science Fiction Writing Prompts

This tarot card was my first writing prompt.
A tarot card showing the Wands was my first writing prompt.

Two things incited Chimera Catalyst: a dream and writing  prompt. I dreamed that I had a dog that was also part parrot. She had fluffy white hair and a lovely streak of turquoise on her back. She was small and unruly. I had to drag her out of mischief, but I loved her spunk

The dream was simply one of those I enjoyed, remembered and revisited—until I took a workshop called Full Moon Writing. The idea was to get together with a group of writers on the night of the full moon and write.

Not working on existing projects, that is, but rather, letting the unconscious loose. To help us, the workshop leader had gathered some prompts. These are also known as story starters; they can be phrases, sentences or suggestions of what to write about.

I thought I didn’t like prompts. There’s a feeling of “being told what to write about” that puts me off. But this brilliant woman handed each of us a Tarot card as the prompt. I know nothing about the Tarot; all I knew was my card had a guy with what looked like a handful of rushes. Maybe he had a sword, too?

My first line was jokey, but the piece I wrote about a man battling to clear brush, but it grows faster than he can cut it. He sends his parrot up into the sky to see if there’s a way out.

That became the opening section of Chimera Catalyst. And now I love prompts.

Everyone’s different, but what works best for me are visual prompts; I think engaging the nonverbal part of my brain lets me write more freely. And I think there’s something to be said for not getting to choose your prompt. Something in the way your mind must wrangle with an image or phrase that feels foreign pushes your writing out of its ruts.

I’m teaching a science fiction/fantasy workshop in Tillamook, Ore., soon, so I’m gathering a variety of science fiction prompts and fantasy prompts. Here are a few that intrigue me, with links to their sources. (If there’s no source given, I made it up.) Give them a try if you feel stuck or want to have fun:

  • I learned to stop time traveling today. I was doing it just to hurt myself. (Writepop)
  • When my bionic liver joined the Internet of Things, everything started to go wrong.
  • A lonely man clones himself but switches the sex chromosomes to “XX.” (Writepop)
  • I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each. I do not think that they will sing to me. (S. Eliot)
  • I can smell the dark matter. (30 SciFi Writing Prompts)
  • Then darkness took me, and I strayed out of thought and time, and I wandered far on roads that I will not tell. (R.R. Tolkien)

PHOTO (CC License: Inderamaia

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