Starters are writing prompts. A starter can be a set of rules, a pool of words, a scenario, a quotation, a picture, or any combination of these. When placed in your fiction world, starters can help you explore characters, setting, and craft.
Character. Starters help you learn about your view-point character by placing him/her in a variety of situations. An part of character development is learning how characters behave in public, in private, and under stress. To make these behaviors logical, you will need to figure out your character’s motives and back story. When writing off a starter, try to draw on your character’s powerful motives rather than the more shallow driving factors. Hint: try to incorporate inner conflicts.
Setting. Starters help you develop your world by forcing you to think about your setting. The most obvious level of your world is the current physical setting. Your character needs a place to stand, after all, and the setting you choose will affect the action. People often act differently in private or semi-private settings as opposed to public settings, feel more confident on their own turf as opposed to standing in the enemy stronghold. How your character is dressed can affect him — especially if the opposing character is dressed differently (ghetto versus business suit, for example). Is there a physical barrier that a threatened character can move behind? Is the threatened character sitting while the opposing character looms over her?
Craft. Like flash-fiction, starters are a great way to hone your craft. Their short length makes them easy to finish and revise. They also contain all the elements of a scene or short story. their short length also makes it easier to identify your strengths and weaknesses — especially if you ask other people to read your revised product.
When using starters, don’t take the easy way out. Try to be every bit as creative with your responses to the prompts as you are when writing in earnest. There are a lot of ready-made starters out there and I’ve listed a few sources at the bottom of the article. But if you find them limiting, uninspiring, or irrelevant then the next post — Create Starters — was written with you in mind.