Cueing: Strategies to Prompt Ideas

Cueing: Strategies to Prompt IdeasPhoto by Kaleidico on Unsplash

In drama, an actor sometimes forgets a line so from offstage comes a cue. In writing, cues work in the same manner. Writers sometimes cannot remember what they know. Cues act as prompts to uncover buried information. This helps develop a topic with description and creates a bank of ideas for writing.

After writers select a topic, cueing strategies rompt them to expand beyond the obvious, explore sensory details and memories related to the topic. There are numerous techniques a writer can experiment with to add specifics to a narrative. Practicing these writing skills strengthens mind muscles and builds word banks to support writing. Some isolated practice allows skills to become inherent.

Sense cueing

A writer adds imagery to their narrative when they allude to the five senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. Sometimes a writer associates a sense with the topic that is not necessarily something that occurred. For example, if the topic is football, the player may not have eaten dirt or sweat but by using such terms to describe the event, the reader can associate the taste of dirt or sweat with this topic, thereby placing sensory details in the reader’s mind and empowering them to live vicariously through the writer’s words.

Other instances create vivid descriptions of a setting or character. This allows the place to come alive in the imagination. The reader can feel themselves transported to a new environment and become participates in the narrative. When characters come to life on the page, readers learn to empathize and understand different points of view as they connect emotionally with the character.

Maya Angelou masters the craft of creating a picture for the reader though her use of sensory imagery. In fact, often her descriptions allow readers to become a part of the action as they consume her words. Observe her talent in this except from chapter one of I Know Why the Cage Bird Sings.

The lamplight in the Store gave a soft make-believe feeling to our world which made me want to whisper and walk about on tiptoe. The odors of onions and oranges and kerosene had been mixing all night and wouldn’t be disturbed until the wooded slat was removed from the door and the early morning air forced its way in with the bodies of people who had walked miles to reach the pickup place.

“Sister, I’ll have two cans of sardines.”

“I’m gonna work so fast today I’m gonna make you look like you standing still.”

“Lemme have a hunk uh cheese and some sody crackers.”

“Just gimme a couple them fat peanut paddies.” That would be from a picker who was taking his lunch. The greasy brown paper sack was stuck behind the bib of his overalls. He’d use the candy as a snack before the noon sun called the workers to rest.

In those tender mornings the Store was full of laughing, joking, boasting and bragging. One man was going to pick two hundred pounds of cotton, and another three hundred. Even the children were promising to bring home fo’ bits and six bits.

I would never compare my writing to Ms. Angelou but all writers can follow her example by activating the five senses in the readers’ mind. When I wrote about a camping trip, a simple sense cue activity pulled up some memories that added value to the story.

Throughout this article, will be provided examples of different types of cueing. For each, the topic is camping. Notice how the responses differ depending on the cues used to prompt ideas. When a writer uses any form of cueing, they should consider the genre of their writing and the type of responses they wish to generate.


Hot embers glowing beneath ash, charcoaled marshmallows showing little white, sticky faces, wet clothes hanging on tree limbs, thick flowing blood, hair half bound in rubber band flying randomly, pale red and swollen bumps scratched and covered in scabs.


Hearty laughter continuous and uncontrolled, repressed and muffled sobbing, rustling limbs, buzzing, near silence but never complete silence, roar of engines, squeaking breaks, scrapping of missed gears, thud of flat tire.


Sore bottom that’s rubbed raw, tough as leather, irritating itching, sticky, hot relaxed, excitement, fear, anticipation, warmth, sharp and penetrating pain, cold water, hard ground, reminded me of the princess and the pea.


Dirty and gritty dust, overwhelming sticky sweetness, refreshing water quenching a parched mouth, sweet marshmallows, melted chocolate, crunchy graham crackers, oozing, burnt hotdogs, ash.


Fresh mountain cold air in the morning, intermittent pine scent, crispness, exhaust, smoky ashes, aroma of warm food, sweat, someone’s breath, wet dogs.

I also keep a journal with sensory words. It is ongoing and I see it as a activity that allows me to enrich my vocabulary. Some people collect trinkets; I collect words.

Image for postList from author’s journal

Alphabet cueing

Individuals learn differently. Some are left brain thinkers and some are right brain observers. Language is acquired in various manners. Some writers hear the phrase “use sensory imagery” and ideas freeze. Alphabet cueing produces a similar outcome but through a different approach.

To practice this strategy explore your topic by compiling vocabulary words from each letter of the alphabet. With the topic written at the top of a page, quickly use the letters to cue thoughts associated with the topic.


A anticipation, ashes, ants
B boat, bug spray, balloon fight
C campfire, cabin, candy, crash,
D deer, dominoes, dirt, dust
E engines, excitement, exhaust
F food, friends, family, fellowship
G games, grill, garter snakes
H hotdogs, hiking, hide-n-seek
I itching, indigestion, inner tube
J jack rabbits, Jolly Ranchers, jeans
K kindling, knapsack, kayak
L laughter, lawn chairs, life preserver
M motorcycles, movies, marshmallows
N noises, nuts, nighthawk
O outhouse, odors, ouch
P paddleboat, pain, pine scent
Q quiet time alone, quarry
R rafting, reading, relaxing
S swimming, songs, snowmobile, sleep
T tent, TV, tree fort,
U umbrella, unkempt
V volleyball, vanilla coke
W water-ski, walks, water
X x-rays at the emergency room
Y yelps, yellow wildflowers
Z zipper stuck on tent

Question cueing

Journalism teachers often begin with the 5 W’s: who, what, where, when, why. They teach that it is the writer’s responsibility to anticipate and answer the readers’ questions. As reporters, it becomes their obligation to provide complete and accurate information. The same is true for fiction and nonfiction. By addressing these basic questions, a writer can hook the reader. The story becomes more personal and believable when supported by details.

When cueing, a writer shouldn’t restrict their response to answer only one question. The more cues used to gather ideas the greater the amount of material available to develop the topic. When asking who questions, develop a list that will cue numerous responses.

  • Who is the main character?
  • Who are minor the characters?
  • Who is the protagonist?
  • Who enters unexpectedly?
  • Who controls the actions?
  • Who should have be there but wasn’t?
  • Who is unnecessary to the events?


Family (Kat, Randy, Kari, Brenda), Vicky, Tom, and the kids, Jay, Lisa, Dani, and Linda


Camping, fire, singing, roasting marshmallows, motorcycles, walks around the lake, eating stew and pineapple upside down cake, dominoes, reading, writing, laughter, s’mores


Fall of 2002, Labor Day Weekend, 3 days, end of summer, cool breeze, teenage children, late nights, sleeping late


Cascade, Idaho, Herrick Lake, Clear Creek Road, cabin, dirt road, forest, fire pit, tree fort, kitchen table, front porch, grandpa’s, hammock


Fellowship with friends, relax, laugh, sleep, family, excitement, adventure, tastes great, work to do, competition, support for others

Plot cueing

The final cueing strategy supports a writer create a story. Plot is the sequential series of events. It is the action of the story. It requires the parts of a plot line be completed as an outline for the actions. If the terms are unfamiliar definitions are provided below.

Plot definitions

  • Exposition: establishment of setting and introduction of the protagonist
  • Complication: the main problem/conflict for the protagonist
  • Rising Action: other conflicts caused by trying to solve the complication
  • Climax: the turning point; the “trigger” for solving or not solving the complication
  • Falling Action: the “clean-up” of minor conflicts
  • Resolution: the conclusion

The plot diagram has six parts as narrated in this model. For this example, the story The Three Little Pigs is used to demonstrate.


Three pigs are leaving their childhood home to begin adult lives of their own. They live in a forest with enough

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