Wednesday February 21

Writing Prompts

on October 26th, 2016 by Fiction Editor Beth Hill

I originally began this page to help those participating in NaNo (the National Novel Writing Month). Yet any writer can use one or more of these prompts to jump-start a day’s writing.

Whether you’re diving into a specific scene or you simply want to rev up the writing muscles with an exercise, you’ll be able to find a helpful prompt to get you going.

Don’t think that you’re limited to the particulars of a given prompt. If a prompt gives you a fresh idea, run with it. These prompts are here to get you writing, not to force you into a certain exercise. The purpose of writing prompts is to spark ideas and to get the words flowing.

If you’re working on a NaNo project, you may find that there are too many options in this list. If having too many options is just as overwhelming as having none, consider writing each of the prompts on a separate piece of paper, dumping them all into a hat or bucket, and then choosing one at random. And limit yourself to the number you can pull out at any one writing session. For example, force yourself to follow the first prompt you choose. Or if you allow yourself two picks, give yourself the freedom to do either option. But if you allow yourself three picks and decline to follow both prompt 1 and prompt 2, tell yourself you must follow prompt 3—there’s no going back to 1 or 2.

Feel free to use the same prompt multiple times. Use them with the same character or a different character.

Not all prompts will be appropriate for all stories.


NaNo Prompts

•  Write the most dramatic scene you can think of:

the opening

a turning point

the inciting incident

the climax

a fight between characters

•  Finish the dramatic scene that you began another day

•  Write the first scene of dialogue between major characters, between:

hero and heroine

protagonist and antagonist

protagonist and his or her best friend

protagonist and mentor

•  Write a scene where one character gets to go wild with emotion and remember to push the emotion

•  Describe the setting for the opening scene or for the first scene where there’s a change in setting. Go overboard. You’ll have the opportunity to cut unnecessary details later, but if you let yourself write freely, you may make a few discoveries about your story world that you hadn’t anticipated.

•  Write a scene in which the main character’s (MC) mentor encourages him or her—this can be a one-one-one conversation or a memory or an imagined event that never happened

•  Write a scene in which the MC’s mentor censures or scolds the MC

•  Write a scene in which the MC’s best friend discourages the MC to get involved with the story problem

•  Write a scene in which the MC’s best friend encourages the MC to get involved (or to stay involved)

•  Write a scene in which the MC’s best friend betrays the MC:

write the betrayal scene as it would play out (featuring the friend)

write the scene where the MC discovers the betrayal

write the scene where the MC confronts the friend

write the scene where the friends make up

•  Write a scene where the story changes direction

•  Write a scene where the MC runs into a new problem, challenge, or roadblock

•  Write a scene where an ally bails on the MC

•  Write the first love/sex scene

•  Write the make-up love scene that takes place after a major fight

•  Write a major fight or argument between:


hero and heroine

protagonist and antagonist

•  Write an emotionally moving  scene between any two characters:

MC and family member

MC and friend or lover

MC and pet

•  Write the reaction of a character to a new or unusual setting

•  Write an action scene with little or no dialogue

•  Add dialogue to your all-action scene

•  Write a full scene

•  Write the hero and heroine declaring their love for the first time

•  Write detailed transitions between scenes, even between scenes that you haven’t yet written

•  Write a discovery moment:

the MC discovers the identity of the murderer

the MC discovers that he or she loves someone

the discovery (by MC, best friend, lover, or antagonist) of a major secret

•  Write the MC’s dark moment, when he or she loses hope

•  Write a scene in which the protagonist and antagonist discover that they have something in common

•  Write a scene in which a major character makes a big mistake

•  Write a scene in which a major character deals with the fallout of his or her big mistake

•  Write the introduction of a new character—try a variety of scenarios

•  Hurt or kill a major or beloved character:

write the scene that features the death or injury

write the reaction of the MC

write a scene that details the fallout of the injury or death

•  Write emotional or humorous dialogue between secondary characters

•  Write the beginning of a secondary plot

•  Write the ending of a secondary plot

•  Write the major scene of a secondary plot

•  Write the opening and ending hooks for scenes or chapters whether or not you know full details of the scenes

•  Write a scene with events embarrassing to the MC or antagonist

•  Write a scene with characters in motion

•  Write a scene featuring many characters (a party, a funeral, a wedding)

•  Write a scene with characters in a small space that restricts their motion

•  Write the scene in which the most surprising revelations are revealed or the most surprising events take place

•  Write a quiet scene as a follow-up to a loud or highly active scene

•  Write a dialogue scene in which subtext is exaggerated

•  Write the resolution

•  Write the epilogue if the book is part of a series and you want to set up the next book

•  Flesh out a scene you’ve already begun

•  Rewrite a scene from the viewpoint of a different character

•  Rewrite a scene with a different point of view. If you choose this option, don’t merely copy and paste text and then change pronouns—rewrite the scene from scratch. Consider word choices that change the narrative distance or a character’s understanding of events.

•  Write two full pages (or more) of a character’s thoughts regarding the most recent event you wrote

•  Write two full pages of a character ranting aloud about the most recent event you wrote

•  Write three to four pages of a character dealing with his fears. Give him a prompt—what made him suddenly think about his fears?

•  Write two or three pages of a character explaining why he can’t possibly follow a particular course of action—add responses of other characters as appropriate

•  Write two or three pages of a character explaining why he must follow a particular course of action—have him convince someone else why he must do what he plans to do


Suggestions for the mechanics

•  Write with abandon for a set period of time—try 5 minutes and then maybe 20

•  Skip to another scene if you get stuck for more than a few minutes

•  Write a scene by hand rather than typing it

•  Type a scene rather than writing by hand

•  Copy—type or write by hand—the last few paragraphs (half a page) of the scene you last worked on. This can help you get back into the groove.

•  Turn off automatic word count—don’t be distracted by the word count as you write

•  Do something physical—exercise, take a walk, weed the garden—if you get stuck

•  Work a crossword or Sudoku for 20 minutes

•  Read something else, fiction or nonfiction, for 20 or 30 minutes


Remember that these are writing prompts, not a lesson in how to write a novel. Use a prompt when you get stuck or don’t know where to begin writing on a particular day.

For the most part, it’s likely that you’ll follow your outline (whether that means a detailed 50-page outline or two or three pages of notes) or you’ll progress from beginning to end or you’ll write the scenes most important to the story and then connect those with additional scenes or transitions. But no matter your approach, don’t sit around stuck. Get yourself writing. Many creative breakthroughs are made simply by getting the words moving.

I wish you good writing.

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4 Responses to “Writing Prompts”

  1. Maribel says:

    Thanks for this great post.

    I’m not participating in NaNoWri because it doesn’t suit my needs, but I think it’s a wonderful event for writers.

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