writing prompt

WRITING EXERCISE: Forbidden words


For today’s exercise, writing is hereby FORBIDDEN.

Wait, what?

Only kidding. But what would you do if fiction was illegal? What would you do if you were no longer allowed to write? <shudder> Getting the cold sweats just thinking about it? Yeah, us too. Thankfully, our literary freedoms haven’t been curtailed (yet) but that brief flash of outrage you just felt can be harnessed as fodder for today’s exercise – plucked straight from the low-hanging branches of our Writing Short Fiction online course and has also been featured on Thresholds Short Story Forum

Ooh! Taboo! 

If plot = a character who wants something they can’t have, what happens if that something is totally out of bounds? Flirting with someone else’s lover. Saying ‘Macbeth’ in a theatre. Opening a locked door. Reading a banned book. Speaking Voldermort’s name. Riding your big sister’s bike. Slipping your boss a roofie and harvesting their organs. Something taboo…

You get the picture. Your task is to come up with a character and a taboo – it might be an object, a word, a feeling, a place, a behaviour – anything at all, so long as it’s forbidden. (We’ll give you a few examples and prompts below if you get stuck.)

Now consider:

  • Why does your character want this forbidden thing so badly?
  • What are they prepared to do to get it?
  • What happens if they fail?
  • What happens if someone finds out?

Remember: the taboo/conflict can be as solid or abstract as you like – internal, external, or completely imaginary. Here are a couple of prompts to get you going:

keep out writing prompt

Forbidden Books: A list of books banned by governments:

forbidden books writing prompt

Women wearing shorts for the first time accused of causing a (probably staged) car accident:

taboo writing prompt(source: imgur)

Dining taboos from around the world

dining taboos writing prompt

Was there anywhere you were strictly forbidden from going as a child?

forbidden writing prompt

Find yourself 20-30 minutes to write, uninterrupted. Make a cup of tea. Turn OFF the wifi. Aaaand write.

Think about the whys, whats, whos and hows. Why is your chosen scenario/object off limits? What would happen if it was seen/opened/touched/stolen/used? Who decided it’s a taboo and what authority do they have? How would someone go about breaking the taboo and what would the consequences be?

Noodle around with your idea and see what happens. No pressure. If you begin to see the bare bones of a story emerging, great. If not, no problem. Tuck your notes away and try it again another day. And keep an eye out for forbidden things to give yourself some fresh ideas…

Oh, and don’t forget to share your chosen taboo with us on Twitter @writers_hq so we can see what you naughty, naughty little writers have got up to…

Happy heisting.

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