Saturday, 13 July 2019

Weekly writing prompt: random imagery


Random Imagery

Your weekend writing prompt is a particularly delicious exercise: to play with random imagery.

First, you're going to pick a theme: something that you describe a lot OR that writers in general describe a lot OR that's on your mind. (There are suggestions you can use below.)

Next, you're going to get a bunch of randomly generated words from randomlists: https://www.randomlists.com/nouns?qty=20&dup=false. (I've deliberately set it to 20 nouns). Ignore any words that are abstract concepts or very generic categories - in the example below, I've struck out "peace", "tendency" and "language" because they're too abstract, and "animal" and "metal" because they're too generic. If you aren't sure, leave it in. (I wasn't sure about "flock")

Pic: Screengrab of 20 words. Words crossed out: peace, tendency, language, animal, metal. Words remaining: judge, rod, flock, wren, nest, island, breath, roll, van, jewel, drain, cup, chicken, coat, throne.


Then, you're going to write an image or metaphor for your theme, for every word that's left on the list. In the example, there's 15 words left, so that's 15 separate images / metaphors, written either as sentences or just phrases / fragments. (They don't have to make sense as a group, they're stand-alone.)

This is a brilliant exercise for finding new images for things we describe loads, and also excellent for stretching your own repertoire of imagery - I tend to stick to the natural world, because that's what I see most of, so it's super-fun to suddenly be writing about machines instead. If you need an idea for your theme, try...
  • excitement / nervousness / falling in love
  • your favourite quality of light
  • the thing that recurs most often in your novel / poems / writing
  • the thing you don't want to write about right now

If you're new to writing with imagery or need a starting point, you can start each one with "X is like..." and then use your random word. For example: "Evening light is like a van swooping in front of you on the motorway..." Erm... how so...? Okay, it makes you gasp: "Evening light makes you gasp like a van swooping in front of you on the motorway." Next one: judge. "Evening light is like a judge pardoning every crumble of tarmac, every aesthetic crime..." and so on. It's slightly mad, frequently funny, and surprisingly productive!

Have fun!


This is the 10th of 12 weekly writing prompts in the run-up to the Summer of Writing workshops in Oxford this August. Each of the prompts loosely connects with one of the Summer of Writing workshops: this one links with Hone Your Style, as playing with different types of imagery helps you expand your stylistic repertoire. That workshop's waiting-list-only at the moment, but it's worth adding your name if you're keen, as places do come available sometimes.

You can see all the previous prompts here and there's also a new prompt each week, so you can subscribe to the blog here:

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You can also follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram to get reminders. The full list of Summer of Writing workshops is...

  • Saturday 3 August: Page-Turners: how to keep the reader reading – whether you’re writing literary fiction or a pot-boiler thriller
  • Saturday 10 August: Writing In Scenes: explore how to balance the different ingredients of a scene and ways of approaching the “big scenes” in your story
  • Saturday 17 August: Characters Unlike You: explore a range of ways to write characters unlike yourself and vary a story's cast, while you develop new characters
  • Saturday 24 August: Hone Your Style: explore what makes quality prose, from angela carter’s richness to margaret atwood’s restraint, and hone your own style
  • Saturday 31 August: Publishing: how to submit your writing for publication: find where to send it, sort your layout, and write synopses and cover letters
Read more details about the Summer of Writing workshops and book your places here. NB: Workshops are limited to 12 places and fill up quickly, so do book in advance if you can.

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