NaNoWriMo — aka National Novel Writing Month — launched today (and I have a suspicion that Starbucks’ stock will, too)! Since I know that a lot of writers follow this blog, I thought it might be cool if I shared some “Instigation” prompts just for novelists who are speeding through a caffeinated session of binge writing but hitting roadblocks along the way.
These prompts are intended to help you get over those hurdles more than just help you get started — but whatever they do, I hope they instigate you to take your book in a weirder direction than you ever imagined. Because “finishing” in a month isn’t good enough…you have to get CRAZY!
I hope this injection of the dark side helps in some way. And you can always come back here and read the whole Instigation department of The Goreletter for more ideas. Good luck! — Mike Arnzen
+ Unexpectedly kill a character. Have your protagonist hear their dying words…but only partially.
+ Take a break and reflect: What element of fiction is the weakest in your book right now: character, setting, dialogue or conflict? Choose one. The next time you hit the keyboard, write three paragraphs of prose dedicated just to that element in some way. And make it DARK.
+ The next time you give a description of a character’s physical features, identify a disfigurement. ANYTHING, ranging from an almost imperceptible scar on their brow to giant webbed feet. Expound through dialogue or monologue about what sort of torment that disfigurement causes the character, and how they endure it.
+ Notice the teeth.
+ Give your viewpoint character permission to have a lengthy flight of fantasy, imagining what they would do if they had psychic powers or dreaming how they might solve the main conflict if they had superhuman powers of some kind.
+ Set your next dialogue-driven scene in a foul restaurant. Break up the conversation with intermittent observations of the low hygiene and filthy food. At the end, draw comparisons between the establishment and the novel’s conflict or antagonist.
+ Use a banal object in a scene as a makeshift weapon.
+ “Goth up” a minor character and give them something morbidly pithy or darkly ominous to say.
+ Take your main character’s hostilities and frustrations out on an inconsequential object…but in prose that dramatizes this eruption in an ultraviolent way.
+ Treat weather as a monster.
+ As you head into your next plot point, ask yourself: “And what could make the outcome even worse?”
+ Review your manuscript so far. Seize on an object or image from your description that you mentioned in passing, and bring it back into the picture in an uncannily meaningful way.
+ Something strange is hidden under the desk/table/seat. Your protagonist stumbles on it. This is important to a future scene. But keep the discovery a secret for now. You’ll figure out its importance later.
+ Make your main character sick. Whether a cold or a contracted disease. Use this sickness in an unexpected way to solve a problem.
+ Describe a new character (as they enter the story) in the darkest way you know how, from head to toe. Then make them so nice it’s laughable.
+ Introduce your viewpoint character to Insanity.
+ Reference a horror movie or book in an explicit/overt/obvious way. Then turn it inside-out.
Be sure to check out my book-length collection of prompts, INSTIGATION: Creative Prompts on the Dark Side. It also includes some deeper articles that can help with conquering Nano.