27 Great Writing Prompts to Get Your Writing Back on Track

Updated on March 10, 2018
Natalie Frank profile image

Natalie Frank (Taye Carrol), a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology, publishes short stories, flash fiction, novellas & prose poetry.

Most people wait for the muse to turn up. That's terribly unreliable. I have to sit down and pursue the muse by attempting to work.

— Nick Cave, musician, singer-songwriter, author, screenwriter, composer and occasional film actor

Writers look for inspiration to write. You may be hitting a dry spell and need a springboard from which to jump into your story. Perhaps you are having trouble coming up with new ideas. Maybe you just want a new challenge. Writing prompts can help with these situations. Prompts take many forms. They may be sentences, paragraphs or pictures that present an idea or describe a situation. Prompts can be useful for writers by giving them a place to start and by structuring their writing goals. They also overturn the need to wait for that mythical rare creature to arrive; the writing muse.

Awaiting the Muse

As writers, we all have times when we need inspiration or motivation to get the writing juices flowing. Some of us wait until the muse visits until we dig in and write, under the mistaken impression that we have to possess inspiration to write anything worthwhile. Yet this can prevent you from being productive and unless you are one of the rare few, you will find that you are not writing far more than you are. That’s not to say your muse won’t show up, just that there’s no telling when they may grace you with their presence nor what state they will be in when they do.

The best saying about writing that I’ve heard to date consists of two words: Writers write. That’s it, plain and simple. If you want to be a writer, you need to stop passively waiting for inspiration to come out of nowhere and settle on you causing you hand to lift and touch pen to paper. Writing should be enjoyable if you are to spend your lifetime doing it, even if you are just going to do it as a hobby. But it is also hard work. Good writing doesn’t come fully formed from your mind whenever inspiration hits. More often, it is daily work where you write no matter what and you realize that not everything that you generate is going to be award winning material. But keeping your writing arm fully in shape means that when the inspiration does strike that you are ready to hit the ground running.

In order to do this, you need to find something that you want to write about. Writing anything that comes to mind may work for some. If you are like me however, writing about the dirty dishes in the sink or how hard it was for me to sleep the night before doesn’t feel like creating to me. This leaves me feeling frustrated which does not reinforce the writing process.

Several years ago I developed a bad case of writer’s block. I had been taking writing classes which had made such a difference in my life but then the person who had given them to me as a gift fell off the face of the earth. The sudden absence of what had been keeping me going, as well as the loss of a major relationship with no explanation made it impossible for me to write for several months. When I went back to it, I couldn’t seem to write anything worthwhile or even close to decent.

It has been a long road back but I think I’m making headway finally. I can credit the use of writing prompts for a large part of the rebound. Prompts are great devices to help you come out of a writing slump. They can also be used during daily writing exercises to help you maintain a writing schedule with discipline. And should your muse decide to make one of their rare appearances you can hand over your notebook filled with interesting, skillful writing and tell them, “Here, read this.”

The following prompts are a mixed bag. While each is intended to be seperate, if you see several that seem to speak to you and you want to combine them, do so. If you want to alter one of the prompts, then do that. These exercises are for you so use them in whatever way you find is the most effective for triggering ideas and creativity. It is my intention to add new prompts to this article whenever possible or to create additional articles with more prompts. Enjoy.

Don't Let the Lack of a Must Stop the Processs
Don't Let the Lack of a Must Stop the Processs

The Prompts

  • "Hello," said the voice on the phone. Your character thinks they recognize the voice but can’t place it. The voice continues. "I know this will come as a shock to you since you think I’m dead. I never expected things to go this far. I think you can help me. Actually, I think we can help each other." How? Write a story that follows these lines. What is the first thing your character on the other end says? Make it funny, scary, poignant – whatever you choose.
  • A character has been kidnapped and must tell someone where they are without letting the kidnapper know what they are doing. First, decide where you want the character to be in terms of location. Then have them communicate this to someone who can come save them based on what they see around them and the types of activities they are conducting.
  • Your villain tells you they are quitting because he feels you exercise too much control over them. You advertise for a new villain for your novel or story and conduct the interviews yourself. What does the new villain's resume say? What questions do you ask? What do you need to negotiate? What things do you want to get straight? How much control will they have in determining the plot? Write this scene as if it were a job interview. This will help you get to know your villain.
  • You've just arrived in New Orleans. You’re familiar with the city and are heading toward this great Bed and Breakfast when you see Police lights behind you. Certain you were going the speed limit, you pull over and are shocked when the officer approaches you with gun out. He yells, "Get out of your car with your hands up!" He cuff you and throw you in the back of the police cruiser. However, it is soon clear he isn’t taking you to the Police Station as he is headed into the bayou. What happens next?
  • Your favorite book character is kidnapped by movie characters. Why were they kidnapped? How does the book character interact with the movie characters? How does the character change the plot? Having never seen a movie before, what problems do they have? What do they have with them that could help them get home? They escape and return to the book followed by their kidnappers. What has changed since the book character was gone? Answer the same questions for the movie characters.
  • Complete the following: ”“I was a perfectly normal kid who knew the difference between real and pretend. Superheroes clearly fell under pretend. That worked just fine until [bizarre thing that happened to them]. It took a few days after I woke up to realize what I had become. That was when I learned that I could [bizarre power such as, transforming into a gelatinous form with a prehensile tongue, controlling Earth’s movement]. Create a story that shows how what seems to just be bizarre powers can be used for a purpose.
  • Your protagonist trades shadow’s with your antagonist’s without the antagonist’s knowledge. What does each shadow observe? In what ways can they affect the physical world and the person? What problems do they experience while shadowing the wrong person? Where do these shadows go at night when there’s no light? Do they come into contact with each other? How does each shadow effect change in the character they are shadowing? In the end, when the shadow revert to the right person, what is left behind? Write an outline or notes for a story or the whole story.
  • Write a story about someone who is stealing children’s shadows.
  • Write a story that uses the following sentence as your stories beginning. I accept no responsibility for this nor do I have to given my place in this world. Furthermore, I would do it all over again given the chance. If you want to punish someone get my surrogate whipping boy. It’s what he’s paid for.
  • Write a story explaining what happened in the following prompt. At my birthday party they’ll play the tape. I know it’s coming and though I feign humble embarrassment, I secretly long for everyone to watch me win. I’ve worked my whole life to reach this pinnacle, with everyone doubting me every step of the way. Even though word has gotten out, no one really seems to believe it. But they’ll have to now. Here it comes . . . Wait. What is that? Who is that? Where am I? Is this some kind of preview? Where’s the program they made? There’s some. Just open it and it will say what it’s supposed to give a rundown of what’s on the film before me. . . What. . . ? Where is . . . ? That's not what happened. . . I won! There was a crowd! Cheering! News coverage! They can’t just change reality . . .!”
  • She drives to the outskirts of town then beyond, not too fast so as not to have to confront the other one too soon. The banging had died down then stopped which worried her. But she finished the drive, then swung the car into a deserted tree filled oasis. It was hot enough for the air to have evaporated any normal fluid from person, place and thing. Her mouth dries out and she decides to get it over with sooner rather than narrow Carefully, she lifts her foot off the pedal and the car slows to a stop. Taking a deep breath she gets out, walks around to calm herself then goes back for a weapon, Now that she was armed with the biggest knife she had been able to find in her kitchen she felt safer. She slowly unlocked the trunk, preparing her self for what she’s see inside then carefully toed the lid up. Confused, she looked inside the cavity as the person there said, “Look, let me just explain . . .”Continue the story from here.
  • I admit I’m no better than you; school, activities, sports, all the same, like we’re a matched pair. But after what just happened it’s clear I’m not you. Right now that goes for a lot and it just might be the thing that saves my life. Continue the story.
  • Someone stops you on the street and tells you that you have to give them your belt (shoelaces, ear rings barrette, one glove etc.) it's very important because. . .
  • After a getting a flu shot, you develop some kind of strange ability which you can’t control (shooting electricity from your hands, telekinesis, teleportation etc.)

  • Write a story that reverses the story of The Little Mermaid. The main society are the merpeople below the ocean. The people on land are a secret, a rumor or legend the merpeople tell their kids. One of the people accidentally sees a merperson and falls in love with them. They make a deal with a magician (witch, warlock etc.) where they are given a tail for a specific period of time. What do they have to give or do in return? What are the rules? What happens when they break them? Do they decide to break them? Can they stay if they want? What are the consequences if they do? If they don't?
  • Write a piece from the perspective of the number 1 when it learns other numbers have been added starting with 2. What happens when 1 and 2 meet for the first time?
  • One of your characters normally rides the subway to the end of the line at which time the conductor announce, “This is the end of the red line. All passengers must exit the train. This train is out of service. Please exit the train.” As usual the character exits the train getting ready to transfer to another line, but today they notice something different. There are several people all dressed in dark colored professional suits staring straight ahead who do not get up. The character exits and the doors close, with the others still on the train. An attendant comes by and although they would normally bang on the door to alert any stray passengers still on the train that the needed to get off the attendant just walks by. The destination sign switches from out of service to the Kingdom of Brunuirenth, a place your character has never heard of. Continue the story from here. Does the character get back on or remain off? What do they learn about Brunuirenth? Why did this happen for the first time (as far as the character is concerned) that day? If the character gets back on how do the others react to them? If not, does the character run into the others or people like them again? Etc.
  • "There is rarely more than a week of days when the ice is thick enough to be able to cross without falling through. There’s no way to know if today is one of those days but we cannot wait any longer." Finish the story.
  • Write a piece from the perspective of the number 1 when it learns other numbers have been added starting with 2. What happens when 1 and 2 meet for the first time?
  • Your protagonist dies and ends up somewhere where a normal looking individuals says, “Welcome to hell. You are the seventh person to arrive here and have now become the last of the seven deadly sins. Last doesn’t mean the seventh only the last one not assigned. You will be going back to the world to carry out a mission.” Which sin did the character become? What are the other six people turned into deadly sins like? What does it mean they have become a sin - are they still in the form of people or do they become something else? Will they be forced to remain deadly sins for eternity or is there a way out such as serving for a certain period of time or succeeding in some assigned task? If others arrive in hell will they trade places with one of the people now serving as a deadly sin and if so what happens to the person now in that position? If this is the case and the seven currently serving as sins find out, do they do anything to try to get others to die and go to hell so they are freed from the job?
  • They’d waited for the baby’s arrival with anticipation and welcomed him with gifts and announcements. But then they noticed he was learning much too fast to be explained by normal development.
  • Write a story which begins, "They made sure that I learned to be afraid of the dark. They forgot to mention all that takes place in the light."
  • Your character goes to visit the city where they grew up and haven't been in several years. The airport feels different but it's nothing they can put your finger on and they chalk it up to not seeing it in a while. They get on the subway to make their way home. It feels a little different also but they dismiss it. The first several stops sound right but then the lights go off for about 10 seconds. When they come back on everything seems different. They look around and people's dress seems slightly off as if from a different era or place, maybe planet. There are ads for products the character has never heard of before. Write a story starting here. Where is your character? Why are they there? How did they get there? Do they stay or find a way back?
  • Write a story that begins with the following two sentences: "She walked into the rain without looking back. That was the last time anyone saw her."
  • Write a story that incorporates one or more of the following vampires:

A female vampire who is psyched about being nocturnal because she could never walk alone at night safely before. She spends lots of nights going into the worst neighborhoods in town. What does she end up doing there? What happens when she goes there?

A male vampire who just wants to invest in start ups and take decade long naps.

A female vampire who is among a group of other new vampires and she is the only one not having problems with the idea of drinking blood. She says, "When I was alive I tried every diet none to mankind, including the grapefruit and egg diet, the paleo diet, the beer and sausage diet and the bacteria diet. The blood diet can't be any weirder than those." What about being a vampire does she have a problem with? How do the others react to her?

A female vampire who had body image issues when alive who is thrilled to be a vampire because she never has to look in a mirror again - she has no reflection. How do her issue manifest as a vampire?

A twenty-something year old male vampire who, when he finds out about his new state of being, says, "Thank God, there's no longer a rush since I'll live forever." What does he mean by that?

  • Write a story where your protagonist has a list of names, numbers and colors and has no idea why. How did they get the list? Was it left for them? Did someone give it to them? How do they go about figuring out what the list means? What is the function of the list? A warning? Directions? A secret? Instructions?
  • Write a story where your protagonist gets a message from someone that they drastically misinterpret. What was the message? What did the character think it meant? What did the character do in response to the message? What did the message actually mean? What were the consequences of the character misinterpreting the message?
  • Write a story that incorporates the following dialogue:

"Well, I'm sorry but I'm not entirely sure you didn't want to be kidnapped. It's not like you put up a fight."

"You asked me to walk you to your car. How was I supposed to know you'd knock me out, tie me up and throw me in your trunk?"

"This is the calmest kidnapping I've ever been a part of."

"You've been part of a lot of them? How did I never know that about you?"

"Not that many. I can still count them on two hands without running out of fingers. As for you not knowing - you're a bit self absorbed if you want to know the truth."

© 2018 Natalie Frank


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    • Natalie Frank profile image

      Natalie Frank 6 weeks ago from Chicago, IL

      Hi Kathy. I'm glad you like the article and are enjoying the prompts. Check out the new prompts I have just added. Happy writing!

    • profile image

      KatWin 6 weeks ago

      Wonderful! Just wonderful. I’m sure I’ll be back again and again to this article and similar one you wrote. Thank you


    • Natalie Frank profile image

      Natalie Frank 6 weeks ago from Chicago, IL

      Thanks for the comment, Lauren. I've added another 7 prompts and have plans to either add more or if I feel that I have an abundance of them, will write another article. Thanks for asking. Be sure to stop by again.

    • profile image

      Lauren 7 weeks ago

      This is such a full article! I never thought about using prompts before since they seem kind of limiting or they set too many rules so that I can't come up with any ideas so specific. The case you make for using them convinced me. I love the part about the muse! I definitely wait around for my muse who seems to be coming less and less frequently. I guess I think that if I write when I'm not inspired it will be terrible or if I can publish it that it will be writing badly and not caring as long as it's published. I hope this makes some kind of sense. The prompts you give are perfect for me! I already have written two stories from two of them when I hadn't completed a single story in the past 9 days! Can you add prompts or write another one with different prompts please? At the rate I'm writing I will run out of the ones here in 9 days or so!

    • Natalie Frank profile image

      Natalie Frank 7 weeks ago from Chicago, IL

      Glad I could be helpful. Thanks for the comment.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 7 weeks ago from The Caribbean

      "You need to stop passively waiting for inspiration to come out of nowhere." I need to remember and act on this idea. Thanks for the prompts. Helpful!

    • Natalie Frank profile image

      Natalie Frank 7 weeks ago from Chicago, IL

      Glad you enjoyed it, Mary. Thanks for the comment.

    • Natalie Frank profile image

      Natalie Frank 7 weeks ago from Chicago, IL

      Hi Bill. Glad to be of help. I'll be updating this one pretty regularly I hope so please check back. Thanks for stopping by.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 7 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

      These are very interesting and creative writing prompts, Natalie. Thank you for sharing them

    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 8 weeks ago from Ohio

      Nice prompts. There are a couple I want to use. :)

    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 8 weeks ago from Brazil

      There are some interesting prompts here. My favorite is a book character being kidnapped by movie characters.

      Thanks for the suggestions.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 8 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      A nice resource, Natalie. If I'm ever in the need for a prompt, I'll refer to this. Thank you!

    • Natalie Frank profile image

      Natalie Frank 8 weeks ago from Chicago, IL

      Even if your Muse doesn't! I hope the prompt give you no end off inspiration and joy of writing. Are there other types of prompts that might be more helpful for you that o could add? Thanks for the comment.

    • Venkatachari M profile image

      Venkatachari M 8 weeks ago from Hyderabad, India

      Your writing prompts provided here are very fantastic and appealing to the mind. But, it needs much smartness to weave the stories. I may try one in some near future if my muse allows.