How to Do the Dictionary Creative Writing Prompt
Writing prompts can be found anywhere from events in your life to ordinary pictures. Even your own ancestry can give you a story. Stories exist all around us. You just have to stop and notice them. Simple acts can turn into the basis of a huge novel. Stop and pay attention. As you grow as a writer, you’ll find yourself going crazy seeing everything as a story line.
You can even get a writing prompt simply from the dictionary. Yes, I said dictionary. It is not just a source of definitions and pronunciations. It can be where to find your next story. Billions of stories exist within the pages of a dictionary.
How does this work? You pull various words from the dictionary. Use no more than five or six. Then use those words to create a short story or flash fiction piece. A short story is usually 700 to 7000 words while a flash fiction piece is 100 to 700 words. This guideline varies but you can use this as a baseline. That’s all you have to do. Okay, fine. Let’s go into more detail.
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Step 1 – Open a Dictionary
This first step might be the hardest. For this, don’t use an electronic dictionary. Pick up a print copy, preferably a large one. This is one part that makes it fun. If you absolutely cannot get a print copy, then an ebook version will work in a pinch. I also suggest not using condensed or abridged versions. Why? Because you’ll lose out on so many words. The reason for this prompt is to expand your creativity and to challenge you with words you don’t use normally.
When you use an expanded dictionary, you get a larger pool of words to pull from. I’ve also found that the older the dictionary, the more fun you can have as it has words that today would be considered ‘out-dated’. Another thing you can do is use the websites that have different vocabulary words shared each day. Go into their archives and use it as a source. But that can ruin the spirit of this. Using a real dictionary is fun and gets your hands literally on the words.
Okay, now on to the next step.
Step 2 – Pick Numbers
Now before you look down at the dictionary, you need to pick your numbers. You’ll need to know how many pages your dictionary possesses. Write that number down. For example, in my dictionary there are 1702 pages. That’s a big dictionary. So I note that number at the top of a piece of paper. I now know how far up the number scale I can go in choosing different pages to pull words from.
Then I start picking page numbers and word number. For many people doing this creative prompt, they just open the dictionary at random. That can easily be done, but I find that I end up on the same page too often or too close to the same page. I’m not sure how that is, but it happens so I like to choose my page numbers as well. Even then I get close to the same page which I guess is fate.
For my numbers, I look for anything that has a lot of numbers. It can be the nutrition label on a box of cereal or a phone book. I then begin to pick numbers that are within the confines of the number of pages of my dictionary. The first number I note is the page number I’ll look for the word on. Then I note the number of the word on that page. If the number in the old phone book is, 867-5309, I might choose 867 as my page number and 5 as my word number. Then page 309, etc. See what I do? Or you can just randomly open the dictionary and be boring. LOL I’ll let you decide.
Here is how the list on my page will look:
P(age) – 7
W(ord)1 – 19
P – 8
W2 – 3
P – 30
W3 – 6
P – 5
W4 – 15
P – 70
W5 – 8
So on page 7, I’ll chose the 19th word. Then on page 8, I’ll choose the third word. Then I continue on down the list the same way.
Step 3 – Pick Words
Now that I have numbers for five words, I’m ready to pick them. For the first word, I turn to page seven of my dictionary. I then count to word number nineteen. That turns out to be ‘abut’. Next is page eight and the third word which is ‘acanthaceous’. I’m not even going to try to pronounce this one at this moment. From there I go to page thirty and word number six to find ‘aiglet’. On page five, word fifteen is ‘abranchiate.’ On page seventy, word eight is ‘appellant’.
Now my list looks like this:
P(age) – 7
W(ord)1 – 19 - abut
P – 8
W2 – 3 - acanthaceous
P – 30
W3 – 6 - aiglet
P – 5
W4 – 15 - abranchiate
P – 70
W5 – 8 - appellant
Now I have my list of words: abut, acanthaceous, aiglet, abranchaite, and appellant. Before I can use them I have to know what they mean. Good thing I have a dictionary. Knowing what they mean helps me use them correctly. Here are what the words mean:
Abut - to touch along an edge
Acanthaceous - of or relating to the Acanthaceae, a mainly tropical and subtropical family of flowering plants that includes the acanthus; having spiny or prickly outgrowths
Aiglet – variant of a tag or sheath, as of plastic, on the end of a lace, cord, or ribbon to facilitate its passing through eyelet holes; a similar device used for an ornament.
Abranchiate - An animal that has no gills.
Appellant - adj. Of or relating to a court appeal; appellate. n. One who appeals a court decision.
You’ve done all the hard work. Well, maybe. Depends on your definition of ‘hard’ and ‘work’.
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Step 4 – Write a Short Story
Now you write your short story. You could have one in mind before you start this prompt. That is what happened with me. I had the overall story idea from a dream I had the other night that won’t leave me. I have no details, but this prompt will help me fill those in. I’ll use these words in my story to help direct it.
If you don’t already have an idea for a story, take a few moments and just stare at the words you have chosen. You can use the ones I have picked or you can do your own. Let your muse contemplate on the words. You might even find yourself sleeping on it. Suddenly in the midst of doing dishes or driving down the road, you’ll muse will spin out and entire story wrapped around these words. It never fails.
If you get a chance, share the link to your short story or flash fiction piece here for us to enjoy.
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