If you're learning how to write a novel, or fiction of any kind, you may find fiction writing prompts a useful spark for your inspiration. Of course many of the writing prompts you can find online are geared toward teaching elementary school children to write. Subjects range from writing lists to writing short notes or journal entries.

Other sites have more general writing prompts, meant for a broader age range. But most often, these writing prompts are intended to start you writing, not help you get better at it. How much help is writing lists when you want to write fiction?

To that end, I work at creating or manipulating fiction writing prompts that will improve various aspects of my novel writing skills. If I don't find any that inspire me, I write my own.

For instance, take a line of dialogue from one of your own books, or anyone else's. Every good novelist knows various characters in a novel need to speak differently. Use that one sentence of dialogue and write it five different ways. Make it sound as though five different people said it; people who use distinct words, distinct word order and distinct slang.

Here's a simple example:

"It's quarter past five."
"It's five-fifteen."
"It's fifteen past five."
"It's forty-five minutes till six."
"It's oh-five-fifteen."

You've started with a short sentence. And found five different ways to express it. Each line is enough different to create a bit of characterization. Which is the point. That makes good practice for novel writing!

Another way to use fiction writing prompts to hone your craft is to dig deeper than normal. Take description, for example. If you have a photo for your writing prompt of the day, describe the scene it depicts in detail. Try to use all five senses. Make your reader see it, hear it, feel it, smell it and taste it.

Granted, you wouldn't stuff all that into one paragraph of description in a novel unless you wanted to scare away your readers. But you can practice finding vivid details to describe your settings and characters, then sprinkle them in discreetly along the way.

One of my favorite ways to use fiction writing prompts is to use one that prompts a story idea in me. Then I see how far I can up the stakes in the plot I create from it, without making it unreal. Depending on the genre you write in, unreality might be okay, but you must keep it believable to the "world" you created.

Building on that, I often write a scene or two, and practice using point of view by writing it from at least first person POV and third person limited viewpoint. If I have enough characters in the short bit, I can practice omniscient viewpoint as well.

These are only a few ideas to get your own thoughts going. Everyday writing prompts can be idea generators, or they can be far more, if you make them more.

So if you want to get more from your fiction writing prompts, take them to the next level and practice your novel writing skills with them. After all, aren't fiction writers supposed to be good at making things up?

Copyright 2009 by Susie Henderson

Author's Bio: 

Susie Henderson has written both fiction and non-fiction for thirty-five years. Her website brims with novel writing tips to help you create believable characters, write compelling plots and polish your novel to the last word before you try to publish it.

You can sign up for her free newsletter, A Novel Approach and get lots more tips on novel writing every month.

Ms. Henderson offers novel editing and critiquing services, ghostwriting of books, blogs and more. She is currently developing an online creative writing course that will offer one on one instruction for the various aspects of novel writing. She can be reached at her website: how-to-write-a-novel.net