Writing Prompts

Writing is a skill, and, like any skill, it needs to be practiced and honed.  Sometimes, however, "writer's block" strikes, and a writer is left staring at a blank page, wanting to perfect a skill but not knowing where to start.  Other times, as writers, we don't want to waste great ideas on practice.  In either case, writing prompts come to the rescue.  

Writing prompts create a situation, a beginning, intended to inspire but also to provide an opportunity to practice writing in general, or writing we wouldn't otherwise consider – different genres, different lengths, different perspectives, etc.  

So, this page includes some general writing prompts that I hope will take you on an adventure with your writing.  Share your results (or links to results) in the comments!

Working with a prompt:

Every prompt is a flint to be struck against the stone which is your writing.  The idea is to create fire.  Take, for example, the following prompt:

There is a man in a tree.  Get him down.

  • At first glance, a prompt like this may seem simple.  A very basic solution would be to write: "A man in a tree fell to the ground."  Technically, the conditions of the prompt have been fulfilled, but this doesn't make a very good story.  Since the idea is practice and not completing some assignment, the intent is to write something that's simply more interesting to read, and therefore more complex.  Certain questions should be considered and answered, such as:
    • Why is the man in the tree?
    • Depending on that answer, what would it take to get him down?
    • Who is this man? How old is he? What is he wearing? Is he in a relationship? etc.
      • Descriptions like this are necessary, though not all of them must be included.  Eventually, we develop a feel for which information will advance and help the story and which is superfluous. 
    • Where is this tree?
      • A forest? A street in a residential zone? Planet Zeplon?
  • The list above is by no means exhaustive, and every writing prompt can be taken into infinite directions, which is the point.  This is creative writing, after all!
  • You can also consider setting word limits for yourself – try writing the same prompt as micro fiction, short fiction, or even the first chapter of a novel.  See how your approach changes with each one.

    Try these prompts:

    1. A woman is eating soup when gravity stops working.
    2. A man meets the woman of his dreams the morning of his wedding.
    3. A scientist invents a time machine while working for a dictator. 
    4. A drunk man sits next to you in a bar.
    5. Pick a line from your favorite poem, and make it the first sentence of your story.
    6. Hemingway is widely credited with writing the short short: "For sale: Baby shoes.  Never worn."  Turn this into a ~1000 word story.
    7. A character wakes up after 5 years in a coma, with the ability to read minds. 
    8. Write one of these prompts from the perspective of a dog.
    9. Someone afraid of heights wakes up on the roof of a skyscraper.
    10. Two people stuck in the elevator of an office building discover they're actually siblings.