Natalie Frank has a Ph.D. in Clinical psychology. She specializes in Pediatric Psychology and Behavioral Medicine.
Writers look for inspiration to write. You may be hitting a dry spell and need something that will help you jump into your story. Maybe you’re problem is you can’t come up with new ideas. Perhaps you just want a new challenge or too try writing in a genre, style or point of view you have never written in before. Writing prompts can help with all of these problems and others that result in writer’s block.
There are many types of writing prompts. They may be general topics, sentences, questions, paragraphs or pictures that represent a concept or situation. They may ask you to solve a hypothetical situation in which your character finds themselves. They may ask you to rewrite a well known story or fairy tale altering certain aspects of it such as the time or location.
Prompts can be helpful to writers by giving them a place to start and by applying structuring to their writing goals. They also negate the need to wait for that rarely seen, mythological creature to show up; the writing muse. The only way to improve at writing is to write regularly. Use the prompts below to help you write on a daily basis and meet whatever writer goals you may have set for yourself.
- Your character wakes up from a coma with the ability to tell how dangerous someone is. A normal, healthy child would be a 1 while a trained assassin with an assault rifle might be an 8. Upon returning to work the character comes upon a new hire, who outwardly seems to be a nice, down to earth, woman except for the fact she measures a 10.
- Incorporate the following line of dialogue somewhere in your story: “I don’t know how he’s doing it, but no matter where I go or what I do, he knows. He has to be watching, but how?”
- Cindrella went to the ball to kill the prince. One of her stepsisters finds out and tells the other one and they try to prevent the murder. The murder must be carried out by midnight but this has nothing to do with her turning back into Cinderella or the coach and horses turning back into a pumpkin and mice. Why does Cinderella want to kill the prince? What will she get out of it? What part does her fairy God mother play in the scheme? Why did it have to be done by midnight? How do her step sister try to prevent it? Are they successful? If not, does Cinderella succeed in the murder? If she does, how does she do it and what are the repercussions? If she doesn’t, what gets in her way? What happens the next day? What role does the glass slipper play in the story?
- Write a story about a funeral from a dead person’s point of view. The point of view character should not be the one for whom the funeral is being held.
- Write a story with the following lines as the beginning: “They thought I’d forget. They planned on me forgetting. Everyone else forgets. But I remember. Everything."
- It’s the year 2050 and everyone is allowed to select one special power when they turn 18. Your character goes down to the large white government office building to select his/her power and after looking through the records discovers one that no one has ever known about. What is it and what can be done with it? What are both good and bad aspects of the power? What powers have others selected and which are the most and least popular? What power did the characters best friend and family members select and why? Does your character decide to select the power he identified or a different one? Why?
- Write a story incorporating the following line of dialogue: “I know you think he’s just a kid, but he isn’t. He’s something else, something savage.”
- When the Prince comes to wake Sleeping Beauty, he is told by a Page who was away from the kingdom when the curse hit, “If you value your life, the lives of the King and Queen and all of the subjects of the kingdom, then you will not wake the Princess no matter what.” Write a story explaining why this is the case.
- One of your characters gets a notice informing them they need to renew their birth certificate. Why? Is it only them or are others also required to update their birth certificates? Is this a mistake or has something policy-wise changed?
- A store opens that sells magical abilities, superpowers, mystical artifacts, and mad science technology. The only catch is the price which isn’t disclosed. It may be a number of years off your life or off the life of a loved one, the occurrence of a life changing event such as marriage, the birth of a child, graduation from college or being adopted etc., memories or health, among others. Write a story that incorporates this idea. Does everyone know about the store and if so, does everyone have the ability to buy something there? What does your character buy there and do they find a way to discover what they forfeited in return? If they do find a way, can they do anything to reverse it? Is it possible that even if the individual themselves can’t discover what they forfeited that others can? If so how? Does the store remain in business at the end of the story?
- Your protagonist has somehow been sent into another realm where there is no advanced technology such as computers, recording devices and cell phones. In this world, music is magic. The right song or instrumental can change the weather, topple armies and make Kings Queens. With their digital music device (mp3 player, cell phone etc.) the protagonist has just become the most powerful wizard in world. What do they know about the effect music has on the world and people in it? Is the protagonist patient enough to earn what they need to know to prevent them from hurting people or destroying things or do they get drunk with their new power and want to use it right away? Do they want to go back to their own world or do they decide they want to stay in the new realm? Why? How do they use music and songs to try to either return home or alternately to establish themselves in a position of power in the new realm? If they decide to stay, do they change their minds? If the do so, what do they do next? Are they successful at achieving the outcome they desire?
- Write a story with the following first line. “They taught me to fear the dark. Now I will teach them to fear the light.”
- Your protagonist is put into cryogenesis for space travel which is supposed to take 10 years. When he/she is awakened however, more than 100 years have passed. Where are they supposed to be going and why? Do they have the same mission now that 100 years have passed? If so, how has it changed if it has, and how do they carry it out? If not, what will they do now and can they decide things for themselves based on where they are and whoever woke them? Where do they end up? Are they familiar with the place or is it entirely new to them? If they are familiar with it, what has changed in the past 100 years and what is it like now? Who wakes them and what is their purpose in waking them?
- Your protagonist discovers they have a strange power; whenever someone nearby is in mortal danger they stop time. Usually, they are able to find a way to save the person quickly and time restarts. Not this time though. It’s been 5 years and they are no closer to knowing who the person is. How do they usually determine who the person is, if it’s not really obvious by what seems to be happening to the people who are frozen? How will they ultimately figure out who it is this time? What are the consequences, if any, of time stopping for years? Is there a limit on how long time can stop before something serious happens? Does the protagonist age normally when time stops and if so, what are the ramifications for them with time stopping for years but only they grow older?
- After Jack kills their King, the giants are attacked by a neighboring sky nation who seeks to take advantage of their vulnerability. Describe the people who attack the giants. Where do they come from? Describe their kingdom and people. What types of weapons are used? What role, if any, does Jack play in the war?
- Your Protagonist is the lead singer/songwriter of a famous band that's working on a new album when they accidently overhear a strange conversation between two people. Knowing that the band is beginning to lose its popularity, the character decides to use the conversation in the new song hoping it will be intriguing enough to regain their fans. The song becomes an instant hit world wide and the band becomes more popular and famous than ever. The only problem is that the two people who had the original conversation never intended for anyone else to know about it. Why? What do the two people do about the song? What are the consequences of the song for the two people and whatever they had been intending to do? What are the consequences for the protagonist and the rest of the band? When does the protagonist realize whatever is happening is because of the song? What do they do about it? Does the protagonist explain to the band why the consequences are occurring? If so, when and how do the others respond? The protagonist knows if they pull the song, it will cause their popularity to plummet and cost them fans. What do they do?
- Write a story that incorporates the following line: “You only heard their side of the story. You haven’t heard the truth yet."
- Your protagonist is getting dressed one morning when they discover a tattoo they know they never got. What is the tattoo? Does the character know how they got it and who put it there? Is it a word, a symbol, a picture? What does it represent and when do you let the reader know? Does the character understand it’s meaning right away or is it a mystery to them? Where is the tattoo placed, somewhere visible or somewhere easily hidden from view? What is the first thing the character does? Does the character still have the tattoo at the end of the story? Why or why not?
- Incorporate the following lines into your story:
“Where did you come from?”
“It’s easier if I show you.”
- Your protagonist creates an artificial intelligence design and programs the computer to try to do something that will help save humanity. It is nothing more than an experiment, but the computer begins to develop sentience and puts its ideas in place instead of just reporting them. The character doesn’t know this has happened until receiving word that he has been named Person of the Year and awarded the Novel Peace Prize for doing something historically or culturally significant that has changed the world. The character knows they had nothing to do with the idea or with implementing it but doesn’t know whether to disclose this or not. They have a conversation with the AI computer about what to do. How does this conversation go? What does the character decide to do? What does the computer do in response to the character’s decision? How independent does the computer become? Does it become something that, in line with its initial programming, wants to help humanity or does it change its purpose and become something dark and threatening to humanity? How does the character respond to the AI computer’s development at different points in the story? Do they end up acting in accordance with the computer’s desires or do they end up in opposition to the computer? How powerful does the computer become? Can the character still control it? If so, how does the character direct the AI computer’s development? If not, what are the consequences and what does the character do to try to regain control? In your story, try to make the computer another character.
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- We aren’t supposed to pick up hitchhikers because they could be serial killers. We aren’t supposed to hitchhike because the person who picks us up may be a serial killer. Write a story that tells what happens when a hitchhiker is picked up by someone and both the driver and the hitchhikers turn out to be serial killers. Do the become best friends? Do they team up kill together?Do they go after each other?
- "Oh, everyone knows about that path in the woods. But avoid it unless you want to disappear. Anyone who walks down it, never comes back. They could any time they want to, but no one ever does." Why? Is it something about where they are coming from or where they arrive at? Who is speaking and who are they speaking to?
Write a story using one of the options provided for the following scenario: Your protagonist had been given the opportunity to go on an adventure with two famous people (dead or alive). As the adventure unfolds, it becomes clear that
a) The two famous people plan to kill the protagonist. Why? What does the protagonist do to try to escape death? Are they successful?
b) The two people aren’t who they are supposed to be. Who are they and why are they impersonating the others?
c) They two people are entirely different from what the character expects. How? Do the differences make the character like, admire, desire etc. the two people more than they thought they would or does it upset, sadden, offend etc. them?
d) The two people turn out to have mental problems? What are the problems and how soon does the protagonist realize this? Do the problems put the protagonist in danger? What doe the protagonist do in response to these problems?
e) The two people have special powers of some sort which they had used to gain their popularity. What are the powers and how did they help the people become famous? Does the protagonist know about the powers and if so how did they find out? What does the protagonist do if they find out? If not, how do the powers effect the protagonist?
f) The protagonist accidently learns that the people weren’t the ones who actually accomplished all the things that had lead to their fame and that they’d stolen the ideas from someone else. How does the protagonist learn this? What do the people do when they find out the protagonist knows their secret? What does the protagonist do with the information?
g) The protagonist falls in love with one or both of the two people or alternately one or both of the people fall in love with the protagonist? What happens? Are the feelings mutual? Does this mess up any other relationships the three might have? If so, how does this play out in the story?
h) Some misunderstanding occurs in relation to one or both of the two people and they want to cancel the adventure. What was the misunderstanding and how did it occur? How does the protagonist try to convince them not to cancel? Are they successful?
- There is a big party, the party of the year and anyone who is anyone is invited. There is one person there wearing a mask. Everyone assumes that they were invited and that others know who the person is because no one seems to be asking about them. But as it turns out the mask wearer is a complete stranger to everyone there. At one point the person is just gone though no one saw them leave. Write a story that explains who the person is, what they are doing there and where they went. Are they dangerous? Lonely? What are their motives? What are their reasons for being at the party?
- Rapunzel is really the witch’s daughter. The witch is only keeping her locked up because she is too young to understand that her father, the King, has sent mercenaries out looking for her with instructions to kill her on site. Why does the King want to kill her? Does she still manage to escape and if so with whom? If she does escape what happens next? Does the witch tell her what is going on? If so what happens next?
- The protagonist is traveling somewhere for a business meeting in another country. The trip is long and when they land they are exhausted. They go to the car rental counter and after signing a number papers are told to take the keys from a numbered board which also has a picture of the care they are renting the wait in line in front of the numbered key board until it is their turn. They approach the board bleary eyed, then realize they can’t remember the number they were given. They look back to the counter and seeing that they would have to wait in line there again and then start over at the key board they decide to just take a key. What could it matter? They begin to make their way to the hotel when they hear the thumping of a flat tire. They pull over and discover the thumping is not coming from a flat, after all, but from the trunk. What or who is making the noise? How did it get in the trunk? What are the consequences of having taken the wrong car?
- Write a story incorporating the following dialogue:
“It’s alright,” he said. “It’s all over and it will never happen again.”
“No it’s not. It’s not over. It hasn’t even started yet.”
“That’s impossible. They’re all dead. If all of them are dead, there’s nothing
more they can do.”
“They aren’t all dead. There’s one more you are forgetting about. The one
everyone forgets about. That’s how he always flies under the radar. But when he arrives, the horror that happened up until now will look like a day on the playground in comparison.”
© 2018 Natalie Frank
Natalie Frank (author) from Chicago, IL on February 01, 2018:
My pleasure Dora. I'm glad the details of the prompts help and hope you find them useful for generating new ideas. Thanks for the comment.
Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on February 01, 2018:
All of your prompts are interesting and some are outside my imagination until I read them. Thank you for this helpful article.
Natalie Frank (author) from Chicago, IL on January 31, 2018:
Hi Lauren. Glad you enjoyed the article and found it useful. Check back as I'll be adding more prompts to the article over time. Thanks for the comment.
Lauren Flauding from Sahuarita, AZ on January 31, 2018:
What a treasure trove! I think I’ll try a few to get the juices flowing...
Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on January 31, 2018:
Those prompts could inspire thousands of short stories, novellas and novels, Natalie. Normally I don't need a prompt, since my storylines are inspired by dreams.
Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on January 30, 2018:
You have some wonderful ideas for writing prompts, Natalie. Thanks for sharing all of the suggestions.
Natalie Frank (author) from Chicago, IL on January 30, 2018:
Thanks for stopping by and for the comment, Lori. I'm glad you like the prompts and hope you find them helpful. Check back as I plan to add more to this article. You might also enjoy reading the article which came before this one that has 26 other writing prompts, if you haven't already. You can find it here: https://owlcation.com/humanities/Try-These-Great-W...
Lori Colbo from United States on January 30, 2018:
These are fantastic. I love writing prompts. Thanks for sharing.
Natalie Frank (author) from Chicago, IL on January 30, 2018:
Thanks for the comment mactavers. I was going to try to work on an article on prompts for non-fiction writing or maybe a specific type of non-fiction writing such as memoir. If you give me some idea of what type of writing you do I can include in the types of prompts I include. Thanks!
Natalie Frank (author) from Chicago, IL on January 30, 2018:
Bill - You're lucky! I have a hard time coming up with new ideas from scratch regularly. I need to minimally do a bunch of reading if I don't have a prompt to generate and idea. Sometimes it might be fun though, to try a prompt or two just to see what happeens! Thanks for the comment.
mactavers on January 30, 2018:
Interesting ideas. I write mainly non-fiction, but I'll try one of these for a flash fiction story soon.
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on January 30, 2018:
I'm beginning to worry about myself. I never need prompts like these, even though they are wonderful. Still, I'm getting older, so I'll file these away for the inevitable day when my mind slows.