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2021: Celebrating The Writers' Greenhouse
10 YEAR anniversary!

Saturday, 24 July 2021

Weekly writing prompt: Mystery premise

Scrabble letters: Mystery premise

In the run-up to the online Summer of Writing workshops in August & September, I'm posting a writing prompt each weekend – plenty of different stuff for you to play around with as a chance to experiment, get your pen moving, and have fun! Each of the prompts loosely connects with a weekend pair of the Summer of Writing workshops, and I'll explain the connection at the end of the post each time. I find it's often more useful to play with prompts first, then think about their purpose afterwards, as we're more open and uninhibited that way. (That said, if you need to understand the point of something to enjoy it, feel free to scroll down and read that first!)

New to weekly writing prompts? Read about them here.

This week's prompt is Mystery Premise: this is part genre-prompt, part list-exercise-prompt, to get you started on exploring mystery. You're going to complete the sentence "Why did she..." (or he, or they) with as many different things as you can think of. You can mix up the he / she / they / etc options, or just use "they" throughout, or get very precise and say "the protagonist". Each one is the potential starter question for a different mystery story.

For example, the two that I use to kick off the 12-prompt storytelling projects are...

You can do this as a ten-minute exercise, writing as many questions as you can think of in ten minutes, or decide you're going to write 20 and keep going until you have all twenty – up to you. At the end, read back through them and pick out the three that most kick off your imagination.

This prompt links with the pair of workshops on Unravelling Secrets: Dramatic Secrets (Sat 28 August) and Tricksy Storytelling (Sun 29 August). Both these workshops deal with the genres which centre around secrets: mysteries, crime / detective fiction, and thrillers. The first workshop explores how to create these: their common requirements, essential ingredients, and pitfalls to avoid. The second workshop looks at how to plot a story where what's happened is a secret: managing what you give away when, backstory, and red herrings. You can read more about both workshops and book your places here.

There's a new prompt each week, so you can subscribe to the mailing list on the side or at the bottom of the post.

The full list of Summer of Writing workshops is...

  • 1. Characters Unlike You: The Other Types (Saturday 7 August): exploring different systems of personality types to create likeable characters who are fundamentally different to you
  • 2. Characters Unlike You: Tools for Change (Sunday 8 August): a range of tools to separate yourself and esnure they’re still characters you have respect and affection for
  • 3. The Art of the Short Story: Shaping Short Stories (Saturday 14 August): strategies and techniques for creating and plotting engaging short stories
  • 4. The Art of the Short Story: Stories on a Postcard (Sunday 15 August): extreme economy in storytelling while keeping the prose sensory and rooted in real time
  • 5. Page Turners: Compelling Stories (Saturday 21 August): the underlying principles of gripping storytelling, to develop a story’s narrative drive, plot map, and scenes map
  • 6. Page Turners: Compelling Pages (Sunday 22 August): using micro-tension to tauten every scene and paragraph, so that every page is engaging
  • 7. Unravelling Secrets: Dramatic Secrets (Saturday 28 August): creating thrillers, mysteries, and crime / detective fiction: the genres structured around secrets
  • 8. Unravelling Secrets: Tricksy Storytelling (Sunday 29 August): how to structure a story around its central secret, and managing what you give away when, backstory, and red herrings
  • 9. Orientating the Reader: Shifting Between Scenes (Saturday 4 September): how to keep the reader oriented about who characters are, what happened last, moving in time and place, and dealing with flashbacks elegantly
  • 10. Orientating the Reader: Deft Exposition (Sunday 5 September): a range of ways to weave explanation into a story and how to deal with "heavy-duty" exposition for more complex info

Read more details about the Summer of Writing workshops and book your places here. NB: Workshops are limited to 16 places and fill up quickly, so do book in advance if you can.

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