Emotionally Charged Creative Writing Prompts
In fiction and poetry, one of the greatest skills that a writer can possess is the ability to make the reader feel. If you can engage readers on an emotional level, you’ll have them hooked.
Think about it. Most of the books, poems, movies, and TV shows that you love best are the ones with which you forged an emotional connection. You felt like the characters were your friends, so you felt for them. You felt with them.
Sounds easy, but emotionally effective writing can be a complex and difficult endeavor. Today’s creative writing prompts include a few simple guidelines and a list of prompts that you can use to launch a writing session that will produce emotionally compelling creative writing.
Rules of the Road
To engage a reader, we have to create scenes that are so vivid they seem real, even if they are not. Through scenes, imagery, and dialogue, writers can actively engage readers with what’s happening on the page. Here are a few tips for engaging readers:
Show, Don’t Tell
The best writing shows readers what’s going on instead of telling them. If a character is sad, you don’t write, Kate was sad. You write, Kate lowered her eyes and swallowed hard, choking back a sob and blinking away the tears that were welling up in her eyes.
Using imagery goes hand in hand with showing rather than telling. Instead of writing something like Jack’s heart was broken, use a compelling image to show the reader that Jack has a broken heart: Jack stood in the street with his hands clenched at his sides, and he watched her walk away. She didn’t care anymore. Maybe she never had. His entire body shook and tears streamed down his face. She had betrayed him and now he was all alone. It was over.
Feelings can be revealed through dialogue, and dialogue can also incorporate imagery. When you use imagery and dialogue together to show (rather than tell) the reader what is happening and to reveal the emotional aspect of the situation, the reader visualizes the action and becomes a part of it, often experiencing the characters’ emotions right along with them:
“Jack, stop talking. I’m not going with you,” Elizabeth said.
“What do you mean you’re not going with me? We’re supposed to go together.”
“We’re not together, Jack. We were, but not anymore.”
Jack couldn’t believe his ears. “You’re leaving me?” he asked.
“That’s right,” she said. “You and me — we’d never work anyway.” She started to turn and paused briefly. Jack thought she had changed her mind. He saw her hand flicker and for an instant, he knew she was about to reach for him, but then she pulled her hand back, turned on her heels, and walked off.
“That’s it? You’re just going to walk away?” he screamed. She didn’t stop, didn’t even flinch. Jack hung his head. “You’re just going to walk away,” he whispered.
It’s a lot easier to tell readers what’s happening. Kate’s sad. Jack has a broken heart because Elizabeth left him. But when you show readers what’s happening through imagery and dialogue, they can enter the scene and become part of it. This makes reading an experience and it helps readers connect on an emotional level.
Creative Writing Prompts
Apply the guidelines above to show readers the feeling in a piece of writing. The creative writing prompts below will help you kick-start your sentence, paragraph, poem, or short story. These prompts allow you to focus on effectively generating emotion instead of trying to come up with characters, plots, and other basic writing ideas.
The creative writing prompts tell you, the writer, what is going on in a scene or situation. It’s your job to craft words that show the reader what’s happening.
- While on vacation and shopping in a department store, a middle-aged man comes face to face with the guy who kidnapped his son ten years earlier.
- A woman has three sons, all of whom are soldiers in a military that is at war. Within the span of three days, she learns that two of her sons were killed in combat. Six weeks later, there’s a knock at the door. When she opens it, she finds her third son standing there.
- A family of five is driving across the desert on their way to vacation in California. They get lost, then the car breaks down in the middle of nowhere. The cell phone is dead and the sun is setting. The kids are hot, tired, and hungry. Mom is scared and frazzled. Dad, a mid-level sales manager with no survival skills, is frustrated and angry. An animal howls in the distance.
- The only thing that Daniel ever wanted was to be a musician. He loved playing piano more than anything in the world. But after his mom and brother died in a car accident, Daniel’s dad insisted he become active in sports and drop the music. And being active wasn’t enough. He had to be captain of the team or suffer through endless jibes and insults that his father uttered through a beer-induced haze. Then, on his eighteenth birthday, a delivery man brings him a piano, and tells the boy that it’s from his father.
- Rose and Bernie met in high school and married as soon as they graduated. Life wasn’t easy. They had five kids and money was tight. Rose worked as a domestic servant and Bernie had a job with a waste management company. Every day was a financial hardship, but they loved each other. Three years after their youngest child leaves home, Rose and Bernie win the lottery — and they win big.
- A little girl has a sister with a rare and terminal illness, one that eventually takes her sister’s life. The girl vows to become a doctor and cure this rare disease. At the age of 42, she successfully cures a patient with the disease.
- A ten-year-old boy comes home from school and heads out to the backyard to play with his beloved dog, but he finds the dog lying dead underneath a big, shady tree.
As you can see, each of the situations presented in the creative writing prompts above has characters in an emotionally volatile situation. But the prompts are flat. They tell you what’s happening but there’s no essence — no imagery and no dialogue. Craft one (or more) of these creative writing prompts into a scene, a poem, or a short story. Be sure to use images, action, and dialogue to demonstrate what is happening emotionally. Avoid words that describe feelings (sad, angry, excited, remorseful, etc.).
Update: Novel Publicity has an insightful post titled “Bring Your Fiction to Life with Emotion,” which is packed with excellent examples and guidelines for writing emotionally compelling scenes.
When you’re done, be sure to edit and polish your piece to make it as sharp and compelling as possible. Then, come back here and either share what you learned from these creative writing prompts or go ahead and post an excerpt from what you wrote using these creative writing prompts. Good luck, and keep writing!