Thursday, July 9, 2009

Creative Writing Prompts: Ambiguous Stimuli

Posted by Brian McCabe,

Psychologists have, for a long time, used ambiguous stimuli ostensibly to tap into the unconscious mind. By "ambiguous stimuli," we mean something that makes an abstract picture that can be interpreted in many ways. The most famous example of this would be the Rorschach inkblot test. The inkblots do not make up any one picture, but the person "injects" his own creativity, personality, and whatever's the most present on the person's mind into the stimuli to come up with an interpretation of the picture.

See this Wikipedia article for a list of common projective tests.

You can use these same concepts for creative writing prompts. Take an ambiguous stimulus of your own making or observation and have the student(s) write a short story or prose about what they see and can imagine happening in the picture. This activity is really fun to do with a group of students who can share, in turn, what they saw and what they wrote.

Here are some ambiguous stimuli you could use for creative writing prompts:

- Make your own ink blots by putting a smudge of ink or paint on a piece of heavy paper and folding it once or a few times.
- Toss a handful of pebbles, coins, twigs, buttons, etc.
- The clouds -- or a snapshot of a specific cloud.
- Patterns in the sand
- Patterns in the carpeting
- Freckles / scars on your skin
- Random dots on a piece of paper
- Patterns in a television's static.
- Other

Have fun, but try not to over-analyze results, especially if you give instructions to be creative.

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