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Creative Freedom and Structure: Prompts Worth Writing

Updated on February 11, 2015

Some prompts in a creative writing class are worth the pen and paper, but others are merely busywork. These classes should serve the needs of the writers-in-training as well as teach them different techniques to get the ideas flowing. While some might have success with certain approaches, others will not. As such, the following contains suggestions that might be helpful to supplement the current curriculum.

Although not all writers are actors, acting out short stories is one technique used in creative writing classes. While partnering with an acting class from time to time might be beneficial to both classes, acting out each other's writing will do in most cases. Lessons can also be learned from studying improv. The Whose Line? game called "Film, TV, and Theater Styles" (or "Options") can help stretch those creative muscles by transitioning from one style or mood to another in a single story. "Conducted Story" (a.k.a. "Fairy Tale") will accomplish a similar goal in a group setting. Inspiration can be found anywhere and in anything, so teachers may allow students to roam around the school grounds or listen to music while writing. The spark can come from anywhere in response to anything, even when you least expect it; regular assignments are no exception, depending on the subject matter.


Acting exercises are not so dissimilar to writing exercises. Acting students are often required to make up skits of their own, either improvised or planned out in advance. In both cases, students will have to be mindful of each other's weaknesses. Psychiatric help isn't just a suggestion; certain material can contain trigger situations to which people are sensitive or take exception. For instance, an acting group I was part of wasn't allowed to include a character who had an eating disorder because someone in the class had a different eating disorder we didn't know about, and the teacher said we were being insensitive. These situations are probably best left out in a classroom setting, but there is no need for such censorship on a grander scale. In professional writing, such conditions add a sense of realism and evoke reader empathy. There is a fine line between a cathartic release and hitting too close to home, but the reader must decide what they can handle; the writer is free to do what he or she feels is necessary to telling the story.

Some students enroll in a creative writing class because they have a set of stories they would like to work on, but that is not what the class is about. What they are looking for is more along the lines of a workshop, but even at the college level there is no guarantee that they will get to write what they want. (Odd, considering that education is a service industry, "as in, 'serve us'" according to Lewis Black's character in Accepted.) This is discouraging, as they are working on prompts that mean nothing to them as well as other homework, leaving little-to-no time for working on their own projects. In order to give them what they came for, teachers should consider turning one class a month into a workshop, provided they turn in their work at the end of the class not for a grade but for valuable feedback. This seemed like a no-brainer in elementary school, even though at that level teachers were merely encouraging an interest in writing rather than anything beyond correct spelling and grammar.


In conclusion, the last thing students want is to leave a class feeling unfulfilled, especially if that class is an elective of their own choosing. The literary standards in education need to be less strict when it comes to creative writing, otherwise it's no different from composition writing. While there have to be some restrictions to impose order, let's be smart with them. Teachers give out prompts with the best of intentions (or just as a way of baby-sitting), but the important thing is to inspire creativity within their students by playing to the students' strengths as well as challenging them by taking them outside of their comfort zones. It's a waste of time if they don't get anything out of it, and the arts will suffer.


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