• Member Since 14th Jan, 2012
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Experience is the name we give our mistakes.

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  • 1 week
    Photography stuff but more

    Trying to do some impressionist stuff bare with me

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    12 comments · 161 views
  • 7 weeks
    The Mare who Once Lived on the Moon published!

    Gosh, isn't Harwick just the best?

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    25 comments · 1,221 views
  • 10 weeks
    Ponzi Schemes

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  • 13 weeks
    Photography stuff

    Hey! Turns out it's really hard to write while recovering from one surgery and having an even bigger one on Monday, so I've been doing more photography stuff after the break.

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  • 15 weeks
    Still alive!

    First surgery went well! My face looks like it got stung by a bunch of bees from the inside, and I'm going to be out of commission for a bit, but I'm alive and safe and looking forward to the big follow up in three weeks.

    Thank you all, again.

    11 comments · 302 views

Prompts and Positivity: A Competition · 10:12am Sep 28th, 2016

Contained after the break: Three writing prompts in no particular order, a discussion about what makes a good writing prompt for different situations or reasons, and the friendliest competition in the comments section that you ever will see.

So this one is dedicated to CavemonkyNick, one of the most kind and generous souls in the world. Kind enough to throw money at me to write blogs like this! Crazy, crazy stuff.

It's also a thinly-veiled middle finger to the concept of the Writeoff, which I have left recently and make no plans of re-entering. Now, I won't be saying anything negative about it here, because I don't want to say anything negative in this blog post. I don't want the comments to be negative either.

First Prompt: "For Want of a Nail"

This is the prompt that should have won a few Writeoffs ago in a minific round. The winning prompt that round was mine, instead; "Look, Man, I just want my Sandwich". It was democratically voted in, so don't all of you grab your pitchforks at once. Cold in Gardez was not happy about it, at all, because a lot of other prompts were good and -- I'm going to break my own rule here, aren't I? -- trying not to be negative, but the truth is, mine sucked.

Why? What's the difference between them?

Want of a Nail is an aesop of sorts. It's possible to tell a lot of different stories based on that without veering from the core lesson. You can tell all sorts of genres, have all sorts of characters, fit it to a lot of length, and the scaffolding is still going to be strong because stories are always best when they teach us lessons, or have a strong idea of a morality to them. It helps give them a spine, give the characters a direction, and establish in our minds what the conflict is going to be. All strong driving forces to a narrative. That's a good prompt.

The problem with my sandwich prompt, though, is the same as the problem with a prompt I actually genuinely love:
"You go back in time to 1905 and pull out your tablet. It connects to a wifi hotspot: "If You Can Read This Turn Back"
Like that's a cool idea. That's a fantastic idea! But it tells the whole story in the prompt. There's the twist, already done, and nothing left for the author that's so meaty, so juicy. It's not the setup, but the payoff, and it's a lot harder to get different story ideas from it. A lot of the stories are going to end up feeling very similar, which isn't as fun.

So there's my first lesson on prompts: For a group of people, a good prompt should start at the beginning, not at the end.

Ah, but there's a hedge and a half: A group of people! When you're just sharing ideas with friends, or if you're King Of Beggars anyone who you can make listen to you, a more creative and evocative response is better. You don't have to worry about the possibilities of the idea, because you're more just trying to get one good one out of it.

What do I mean by that, then?

Well, why don't I give one of my favourite prompts of all time, from Reddit WritingPrompts;
Second Prompt: "Harry, Ron and Hermione fail early in their quest to get the horcruxes. Hogwarts is abandoned before the big battle, only one 4th year transfer from America sleeps through the alarm. Kevin McCallister has an hour to prepare for the Death Eaters."

That's right: Harry Potter 7 and Home Alone crossover.

You couldn't do this prompt for too large a group of people. There's only so many ways you can twist the settings, the characters, around this one rigid focal point of time. In fact, here we are, starting at the end! Only really able to get away with it because it's established characters and everything.

But, by God, don't you have ideas already? Kevin McCallister has had a whole year to befriend Fred and George Weasley by this point. Think about that!

This kind of prompt can make you more inspired than type one, but give you a lot less room for growth and potential. But, hell, it's still pretty fun isn't it? That's the kind of thing that's just fun to write about, even if you're unlikely to get a meaningful moral lesson out of it.

So, where does that leave us with the third prompt?

I'm going to do something very dangerous here, risky even, and try to write a middle ground so we have the strongest base of comparison between prompt types. Something that's evocative, but starts at the beginning. A firm, established setup. It'll be interesting to see, then, which of these prompts gets the most interest, and which get the best results. I'm genuinely curious. Of course, there's a lot to be said about the quality of the ideas behind the prompt as well as their approach, but maybe if I like this enough I'll do it again, and we'll try again and do this all right-proper.

My own attempt at a prompt then:
Third Prompt: In the show, Celestia's throne is on top of a fountain. This seems like an odd thing to do, doesn't it? There's a very simple reason for it though. Celestia built her throne on top of the legendary Fountain of Youth.

So those are the prompts, dear readers, and why I chose them. Try to keep responses under, oh, let's say 10,000 words. If you're going to write something R rated, try to hide it behind a link and tag it appropriately. But, ideally, just start writing whichever one you have the best idea for.

Post your prompt response in the comments below. Take your time, you have a week. All my favourites will be sorted by prompt, I'll write a nice summary of them and the reason I liked them at the bottom, and there's no set limit to how many I'll repost. Just "as many as I really like".

I will also be highlighting my favourite comments and responses to other readers, and talking about those comments in the blog proper. I don't just want to encourage writing, I want to encourage positive feedback culture here as well.

Another rule. Just for this, just this once; All replies to other people's stories in here have to be kind and sincere. If you can't say something that fits both criteria simultaneously, don't write it. I can't stress this enough, I want this to be a purely positive experience. There are plenty of other places and prompts and competitions where people can get criticism to help them improve, but I want this to be here to show people why showing people their work can be a wonderful thing. I want to encourage that. Because it's all well and good to help people write better, but I want people to learn how to enjoy it more. It's too late for me, I take it far too seriously and angst and angst and angst and I get rather maudlin about it. Insufferable. Chuck Finley's been doing his best to re-educate me and he's doing an admirable job of it, so I figured I'd pay the favour forward.

Have fun.

I mean it.

Comments ( 25 )

Oh! And maybe upvote this comment if you're interested in entering. That way I can get a good gauge of interest before I see results.

I do hereby declare my intent to enter this... uh, non-competition, as the case may be. Since apparently ol' Numsy is getting antsy about the lack of comments. :trollestia:

Not sure if post is genuine or a masterclass in trolling your own readership.

Well played, Numbers. Well played.

I have a plan in mind for prompt #3. I'll just need to find time to implement it.

I'm assuming the first prompt about the nail is the classical where everything goes wrong because one minor mundane item wasn't there when it was needed, yes? If so, I could maybe do something with that. If not, I don't really have anything for the other two prompts. Don't know enough about Harry Potter to write about it beyond the fact that I already knew how it would end before finishing the prologue of book one. As for prompt three I've got literally nothing on ideas for that one at all.


“For the want of a nail the shoe was lost,
For the want of a shoe the horse was lost,
For the want of a horse the rider was lost,
For the want of a rider the battle was lost,
For the want of a battle the kingdom was lost,
And all for the want of a horseshoe-nail.”

How strangely appropriate that little poem is considering my idea. Just to be clear before I begin, does it have to be an object or can it be a pony/person/personification of cosmic concept?


Whatever you want.

Interest but probable lack of integral of ability over time. :applejackunsure: I shall keep a tab on it! A browser tab. :pinkiesmile: And maybe if I feel inspired...

4230972 oddly enough that prompt tickled my fancy as well.

I think the main problem with prompts 2 and 3 (and sandwich, and time-travel warnings) is that, as you note, there's only so many ways you can twist it. And their strength (as you note) is their specificity if you're soloing them: "You don't have to worry about the possibilities of the idea, because you're more just trying to get one good one out of it."

Prompt 2, here anyway, has the additional complication that anyone without a good grounding in HP is dead in the water.

#3 sounds interesting, but the fact that at least one other person is writing a story about that already makes me feel pretty "eh" about giving it a shot as well. I think there's a spectrum between "super wide open prompt" and "solid story idea with only one real interpretation" and that's far enough toward the latter that I'd feel like there would be duplicated effort. #1 is generic enough that it's not on its own super inspiring, which is a strength for competitions because you have to put some skin in the game and take it in your own direction, but leaves me drawing a blank in a situation like this, and then the guilt about all the stories I need to edit sets in. <.<


I have to say, this largely supports all the conjecture I made quite nicely, thank you for that. Makes me feel all warm and legitimate

Y'know, I had most of a thing written for the fountain of youth prompt, but I didn't really think the premise through as carefully as I should have. I got caught up in character interactions and jokes early on, then I had to start explaining more and more to get to the actual point, until I didn't think the punchline would be worth it. Also, sleep.

I'll throw up the unedited, unfinished draft here anyway. Maybe when I've slept on it, I'll give it another go.

For the record, I'd say the type 3 prompt gave me the inspiration to start something, and then killed the inspiration when it came time to finish it.

Huh, I thought I had until tomorrow for this. Do we post it here or in a fic and link to it? I'm going to post it below so I hope that is okay.

Prompt #1 For want of a nail. Uhm.. not my best but I kind of speed wrote this as I had lost track of time. Sorry for the roughness of it.

For Want of an Egg

The day was a lovely day for a test or at least that must have been the idea Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns. Presently several students were lined up waiting for their personal skills application test after all the paper tests had been collected roughly an hour before. A few of the students were milling about talking with their potential respective school mates or sticking to their family due to personal fears either of a social or academic nature.

One filly amongst the lot was a small purple unicorn by the name of Twilight Sparkle. Unlike so many others though she was pacing at a rather rapid pace about her worries on showing her practical skills knowing full well she had aced the written portion of the test. This kept her physically close to her family about half the time and other students away from her due to the young not being able to discern rage from aggressive planning. As she paced she plotted out at least thirteen different potential tests they might ask of her based off of her studies of past tests that the school had attempted and all the ways she could pass or fail them. It was actually rather upsetting to her parents on both an emotional level and to their stomachs.

After about an hour of this and Night Light, Twilight's father, relieving himself of breakfast due to how dizzy he got watching his daughter pace it was finally Twilight's turn. Her parents followed her in to give moral support even as they worried they might be crowding their daughter by sitting in on her test. Twilight Velvet herself in particular hoped her daughter would make it in because the only other option for schooling Twilight properly would have been at the estate with her parents. Public schools open to just any student could never keep up with Twilight after all as she had already proven herself smarter than any of the teachers back in kindergarten.

The teachers were scrambling today to come up with enough tests for the students. It was rare but sometimes there were more applicants than they had resources to use and they had just used their last potential tool, an unhatched dragon's egg, on the previous student. The less said about how that turned out the better. Oh the egg was fine and unhatched but it was currently glued to the blue unicorn filly and so it and her had been rushed off to the hospital to be separated. After some quick conversation they decided on their safest option given a lack of any thing set aside for testing at this point. This was the last student of the day so what did it matter if it was not the flashiest test available.

Arcane Circle, the highest ranking teacher present and head of the magic division of the school, stood up and approached the little unicorn. "Well my dear, it seems you are the last student we have today. Normally we would have you do some basic tests and then try something a bit more difficult but sadly some of the earlier students attempts have left us without some of our tool. I propose instead that either we wait until tomorrow or we can have a minor duel to test your mettle. What do you say?"

Before either Night Light or Velvet could interfere or say they would wait Twilight spoke up instead. "When you say duel do you mean a magician's duel where we each try to one up each other with tricks or do you mean a noble's duel of honor?"

"The first one would be preferable. It wouldn't do to challenge a child to the second."

Night Light tried not to laugh about the last time someone tried to do the second. Velvet still felt bad for the poor prince and the fact that his whole family moved away the day after that mistake hoping that someday the prince would no longer be terrified of water.

"Very well, I'll accept. I suppose you should go first as you are administering the test." Twilight offered.

Arcane nodded and then with a twist of his head turned an eraser for the black board into a flower. Twilight nodded at this and zapped the flower turning in into a stone statue of the teacher. Arcane was amused at this while his fellow teachers noted down how easily Twilight did this as well as how creative her response was.

Next, Arcane summoned a bowl of water before him sure this student could not manage conjuration of two things at once. Twilight summoned before herself a burning torch. While the teachers continued to make notes Arcane began to be annoyed. No way a child could be out performing him this easily however this child was a part of the Sparkle household so he kept his temper remembering they were trained quite extensively in magic from the moment they could walk.

Arcane next summoned lightning to his horse shoes and then used them to pull some of the broken tools from earlier tests to himself via magnetism. Twilight followed what he did up by tossing a spell at the broken tool melting it down and then used her telekinesis to shape it back into its intended form thus repairing it. At this Arcane was very upset as not only did she show him up but she was mocking him and his comrades by easily doing something they should have thought of.

The other teachers made note of Twilight's accomplishment and felt the test was nearly over. They signaled for one more thing to be tested. For this Arcane got a devious idea and set it in motion. "You've done very well Twilight. One last test and you are done. I'm going to conjure up a wall and then I want you to try to make a way through it. Will that work for you?"

Twilight nodded and waited as a brick wall teleported into the room. This wall looked normal enough but it was a prop from a play the school did in the past about a famous unicorn duel. While the outside appeared brick the inside was made up of some orichalcum which was great for absorbing magic. On top of this he cast a discreet barrier around the wall that should absorb anything thrown at it. He felt this was fine as the final test usually contained something near impossible and he wanted to show up the little wunderkind somehow.

Twilight looked at her target and got prepped to blast her way through it. She could detect the barrier the teacher thought he had slipped on it. 'Apparently you've never had a student that can literally see magic I take it.', Twilight thought to herself as she lined up her shot. Just before she could fire on the target there was a loud explosion and a flare of colors in the air outside. This caused Twilight to be startled and summon up much more magic than intended. What would have been a minor piercing beam that would have been stopped by the orichalcum within became a giant column of ethereal power that obliterated the target wall, the room wall, a chunk of the hall outside, the outer wall of the school, one of the castle's towers, an outcropping of the Canterhorn mountain, and who knew what else beyond.

Needless to say everyone else in the room froze in shock at this and stopped moving. They failed to register when Twilight passed out from the expenditure of magic or the arrival of several teachers and students trying to found out what happened. It wasn't until Princess Celestia arrived that any reacted at all. As the teachers rushed to explain to her what happened and why Twilight's parents raced to their daughter to check on her. After some hassle Celestia got the story and approached the worried parents.

"Is she going to be okay?", asked the royal in the room.

"She'll be fine Celestia. She just passed out." Velvet turned to the princess to inform her about her daughter's condition.

"That was impressive. I don't think I've seen this happen since your grandmother took a test here and even then it wasn't as spectacular. She just blew up the room." Celestia smiled at the matriarch of one of the few families she was personally familiar with.

"However this means she is going to need some highly specific training. I'll have to start setting up control tests and curriculum for her at home as well as looking into some sort of limiter system for her in the mean time." Night Light was already trying to figure out how to help his daughter since he knew how some would react to a child having that much power.

"Why not let me train her?" Celestia knew how important it was to train those with immense talent so they were not a threat to themselves or others. "After all, who better to train her than someone who literally has to be careful or else they immolate everything around them?"

"Let us ask her when she wakes up about that." Velvet offers.
******** 20 years later ********
"So that is how you wound up studying under the princess, Twilight?" Rarity asked her commander.

"Yes it was. After that I was trained by the princess and then joined the military. After all I might as well put all that power to use protecting my home. Still hard to believe sometimes that I'm responsible for keeping this front with the changelings secure. Moondancer and you are about the only two who I get much of a chance to talk with without dealing with the whole rank thing. I wonder what life could have been like if something else had gone differently, don't you?"

My response to the third prompt is over two kilowords. I figured you didn't want that cluttering the comments section, so here's a link to it.

Mine is 1415 words long, so I'll be sharing a google doc too.

My original story kind of didn't go the way I wanted it to, so I scrapped the darned thing and chose the "for want of a nail" prompt instead.

I'll read/review the entries in this blog post when I get the chance :twilightsmile:

Okay, here's mine!

Like I said, I scrapped my original idea and went with this instead:

Prompt: For want of a nail

At least I had fun writing it :pinkiehappy:


Very nice! I like tiny Twilight stories. A couple things I'd like to note:

due to the young not being able to descern rage from agressive planning.

This made me chuckle. "Aggressive planning" sounds very much like the Twilight we know and love, indeed :twilightsmile:

it was currently glued to the blue unicorn filly

Oh? :trixieshiftleft: :trixieshiftright: I have no idea what you're talking about...

The ending was interesting, as well. It's always fun to think about how a little change can make a huge difference in the future!

Thank you. Also, just noticed a typo thanks to you.

I had fun reading it! A wonderfully absurd take on the prompt, doing a great job of escalating from the mundanely familiar to the Equestrian norm to utter insanity, while still feeling true to the show. Very nicely done all around.

Nice story. Had me laughing about half way through and chuckling at the end. Always a good sign in my opinion when I'm reading something.

I might, unless the deadline's come and gone.
Edit: Yep, come and gone.

The notion that you genuinely submitted prompt #2 here has some real "man with a fork in a world of soup" vibes.

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