A three-word writing prompt is… just that. Three words chosen at semi-random. You write whatever those three words bring to mind. If possible, try to include those three words in the writing, but this isn’t required. Think of it as free association.
The three-word writing prompt is my personal favorite. I always come up with new story or character ideas when I use it. Sometimes the ideas don’t pan out, but I always feel creative and “like a writer” when I have to force myself to stop when the timer goes off.
But, to use a three-word writing prompt, you have to have a set of words to pull from. Or a helpful writing website to provide words for you. Each month, I’ll do just that. If you find you enjoy the three-word writing prompt, you can hop on to your favorite search engine and look up other “three word writing prompt” websites.
Or… you can create your own. You need a list of words, slips of paper, and a container. The paper and container are the easy part. You can print your words onto fancy cardstock, cut the words out, fold them in half, and drop the paper slips into a mason jar. I just did that for a girlfriend’s birthday present. You can write words on strips of paper and toss them into a bowl. How crafty are you?
No, the hard part is coming up with the list of words. When I created my friend’s present, I started my list by writing down some of my favorite words: pellucid, chiaroscuro, juxtaposition. Then, I added concrete nouns: dog, chair, tree, car. People (nurse), places (park), things (toy), times of day (noon). Next, adjectives. I went a little overboard here, my first list out, including all the color and size words I could think of. Go ahead and go a little crazy at first. It’s easier to cut than to add more later (this is true with revising also).
Then, I wanted words that could do double-duty. Words that have more than one meaning, or that could be both a noun or a verb. Words like bell (belling the cat, sleigh bell, church bell, doorbell), ring (jewelry, fairy ring, ring a bell), flute (the fluting on a pie, the musical instrument).
Next, I thought about words that had “freight.” Words with a LOT of connotation behind them, or a deep history. Words like: blood, lightning, betrayal.
Next, I thought about and then rejected, because this was for a gift, words that may be specific to a particular genre. If I knew my friend was going to write only space operas, I might include words like planet, stars, FTL, tachyons. If she wanted to write only medieval fantasy, I might include words like wench, chamber pot, knight, trews. Mystery writer? Words like blood, clue, detective, pistol.
This left me with a VERY long list. Too long for me to cut out all those squares, even with a fancy paper cutter. So, I started cutting (words from my list; not paper squares!). First went synonyms. Then, sadly, most of my favorite words. They were either too specific (pellucid) or too hard to spell (chiaroscuro), which would have me stumbling during my writing. Then, any words that didn’t give me ideas just by looking at them.
Finally I was left with a list of some 40 words. That seemed plenty.
Now, you try it.
So, if you want to create your own, personalized word list, I recommend you follow a similar process. Start a list by using:
Your favorite words
Words specific to the genre you write
Concrete nouns, such as:
Or, use mine!
Then, cut back until you have a manageable list.
Adjectives (describing words): colors, sizes, textures
Verbs (action words)
Double-duty words: words that can be both nouns and verbs; words that have multiple, disparate meanings
Words that carry freight with you
I'm Val Serdy, and I'm an editor. I love writing, and I love writing about writing.