Sunday, July 19, 2020

Writers and Writing Prompts

by Tammy Karasek @TickledPinkTammy

Writers often receive emails for writing prompts. They can come in handy and I’ve used them, too. 

But they’ve not worked for me. I’m not sure how you’ve dealt with the effects of the shelter in place, but as an extrovert, it’s been different. I’ve been grateful that my FOMO (fear of missing out) has been kept at bay knowing nothing was happening—for anybody—so I wasn’t missing anything.

Until the end of May arrived. 

May brought with it loneliness and an achy feeling of sadness. Writer’s block was bigger than a block, it was more like a wall. Our favorite little spots to go and write were closed. My favorite spot was the mall to people watch, but also closed. I’d enjoyed that and would play the game of  “what if?” as the people walked by. I’d make up stories about them. I missed that. 

I decided I was going to figure out how to do it again. That day, I needed to get a few things at the grocery store and I made a plan. 

I grabbed a mug of iced tea, a tablet and my pink fountain pen loaded with pink ink (of course). I went to the grocery store first, then moved my car under a tree and rolled down my windows. I’d positioned to see the store but also facing a coffee shop. From where I was perched, I could see the comings and goings of two plus businesses. 

The time passed quickly. Before I knew it, I had five pages of ideas. And what started out as watching life and letting it be my writing prompt, turned out to a little bit of prayer time, too. On occasion, I felt led to pray for specific people. 

As an extrovert, I got to see people. No, I didn’t scare them by yelling hello out the window—but don’t think the thought didn’t cross my mind several times. Just saying. And I wrote down many ideas for characters in my stories.

Here’s idea I spent a lot of time on. Maybe you’d like to give this a try. 
  • I made two columns. Women and Men

  • On one line I wrote: The man parked the car, got out, shut the door, walked to the front door, and went in. 

  • I moved to the women column and did the same, always leaving a couple lines before the next sentence.  

  • I did this several times.

  • When there was a break before new suspects, I mean people, I’d go back to a sentence and rewrite it with more details. The above one with the man became: The man dressed in jeans and a vivid red t-shirt slid halfway out of his car, then paused and leaned back in to retrieve his keys and a bag. From his left hand, he put his mask on his left ear and then reached around his face to do the same on his right side. All masked up, he walked to the door of the grocery store. As he walked, he seemed to step, then slightly drag his right foot. Had he been in an accident? An old sports injury? The intriguing part was the way he flipped his circular key ring around his pointing finger as he walked. Flip. Hold. Flip. Hold. Did something have his attention? Was it a nervous habit? Details that could enhance the character.

It became interesting to me watching and trying to describe the people all the little ways the people moved. Then taking it to the next level of what might be going on in their lives. 

Then came my first nudge to pray for someone. A very small elderly woman came along and I found myself entranced in her every move. She was slow and rhythmic as she walked through the parking lot with her cane. Her head hung down slightly as she watched the parking lot and walked. When someone got within a few feet of her, she’d raise her head, smile and speak. I couldn’t hear the words, but every time—every time, the other person would walk as if they would pass her, but as she’d speak, they’d pause, smile and speak back. She’d wave to them, then look back down as she carefully walked on. 

A tear let itself go. And I felt in my gut, pray for her. So I did. I prayed for God to watch her steps and keep her safe. I prayed for her sweet and gentle spirit to wash over all those people she would encounter in that store. And I prayed that I would remember her actions and do them, too.

After wiping the rest of the tears that had released after watching her, I stared at my page with blotches now smearing a few of the sentences. And I turned the page to write again. 

I’ve always been a body language reader. But I realized I wasn’t using it in my writing very well. This lady’s actions reminded me to not leave out the tiny details of life. The rest of my time their, I’d watch for someone, make a story about not just their mannerisms, but also their facial expressions. Shoulders up or drooped down like in defeat. A grimace or a smile.

And I began filling life into my characters as I placed their stories down on paper. 

Are you in a rut with your character development? I encourage you to find a place you can sit and people watch with a tablet. What catches your eye? Describe it in full detail on your paper. What motions or actions set them apart? I’ve noticed a difference in my descriptions of people in my scenes. Maybe it will help you, too. 

Have you tried something like this? 


You’ll find Tammy seeing humor and causing laughter in every aspect of life. Her past, filled with bullying and criticism from family, is the driving force of her passion to always encourage others and give them The Reason to smile. She’s been married to her college sweetheart, Larry, for 37 years, a mom to their grown daughter, Kristen, and wrapped around the paw of a little dog named Hattie. Born and raised in Ohio, her family now resides in South Carolina. She is the President of Word Weavers Upstate SC, member of ACFW and My Book Therapy/Novel Academy. She’s the Blog Editor for Word Weavers International. A Conference Assistant for Blue Ridge Christian Writers Conference. A monthly contributor for The Write Conversation. A contributor in the 2018 Divine Moments Compilation Book—Cool-inary Moments. Also a regular contributor to several other blogs. 

Connect with Tammy: Blog:  Email:


  1. Wow. Thanks for this great post. Love the whole idea and writing pointers. Appreciate you. :)

    1. Thank you very much for your kind words! I hope it gave you an idea or two.

  2. Thanks for the great blog post, Tammy. I like your idea of watching people and building a character from their expressions and motions.

    You reminded me of the practice of silently praying for people as we pass them on the street or observe them at their occupations. Thank you!

    1. People watching is fun and can really get your writing thoughts going watching their mannerisms! And praying for them is a bonus for our hearts.

  3. Great use of time, Tammy. Thanks for the “prompting’!😊

  4. Tammy, I loved your post. What a fun and fascinating journey I had reading it. You've inspired me! Even though I'm an introvert, I miss being around my people.

    1. Thank you, Emme! Yes, next trip out to the store, take a tablet and leave it in the car to people watch a few minutes before you go in!

  5. Tammy, here's another introvert like the one above, but still I sometimes miss being around people. I gave a writing assignment to one of my kids when we homeschooled, and he vividly described both the actions and expressions of an elderly woman in our church who wanted everyone to feel sorry for her. He could have won a prize with that essay. And so could you with your idea. Thanks so much.

    1. Thanks for the compliment, Roberta! It's very interesting to watch people's expressions and then try to describe them. I think it's fun!

  6. Looks like a fun process! Sharing link on my author page!

  7. Thank you so much for this encouragement! Great example of not letting circumstances diminish purpose and calling! Though nothing about me is extroverted, everything, just everything, is so weighty. This is fresh and alive, a wonderful help!

  8. Thanks for this, Tammy. I'm an introvert and just realized maybe that's why I tend to leave out a lot of description of people. I'm going to try this and see if I can learn to be more observant and imaginative...and not in such a hurry to get home!