Using Prompts in Writing……Mystery/Suspense Prompt for Young Writers

I wrote of this prompt in my recent post on workshops with young writers, primarily considering the usefulness (or not) of using prompts.  Often with young writers, through high school, they can be very helpful.  This is one I created to teach them about writing mystery/suspense.  Not horror.  We have had a lot of fun with this.

Sharing ideas and best practices is a hallmark and foundation of the teaching profession.  If any teachers find this appealing, go for it.  It’s almost Halloween.  Actually, silly as it sounds, I have done this with an adult writers group.  We laughed, a lot!

Although I use prompt worksheets, such as this one, I encourage writers to move to their own notebooks, journals, computers as soon as possible.  Whatever works best for them in their own writing process.  It gives them ownership of the piece.

Something’s Not Right

She nailed her windows shut one morning. Nervous and cautious, she stepped out onto the back porch and crossed the twenty-five feet of brown late summer grass to her father’s tumbledown shed.  It still smelled the same, of oil rags and old wood and sawdust. But she had no time to reminisce.  In a couple steps, she was at the work bench, scanning the overhead mason jars. As a child, it had fascinated her.  Her father’s cleverness. Each jar held a different size and type of nail, screw, or other fastener. By memory, she found the four inch roofing nails, unscrewed the jar from its lid. The heavy hammer was already on the kitchen counter.  Four hours earlier, it had been on her night table, as it had been for the past three nights.

This is the first paragraph of a story I began writing a few months ago. At some point, I might finish it.  Or I might not.  But you can.

As a writer your goal is to make the reader hold their breath. You are writing a story or poem (or even a book start) in which your main character realizes that they or someone they know and/or love is in danger.  Then as your story develops the main character must try to figure out who is dangerous and why. Finally, your story reveals the truth, and the main character can resolve the dangerous situation that has terrified them and other people.  Often there is another main character who helps them face the danger together.  This is not a horror story. The fear will be rooted in a particular person who is a threat.  It is a blend of mystery and suspense.

Because this is a short story, you must introduce the fright or danger early. Put the main character or another person beginning to feel something is wrong. At some point early on they will realize there is some sort of danger. It can begin with a mystery or incident. Develop your story, then bring it to peak of fear/danger, then resolve the issue as you think works best for your reader.

You can use my story beginning as your story beginning and go from there if you want to. Most of you will probably want to create your own.  Give it a try.  See how long you can make your readers hold their breath.


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