Coming into my 25th year as a professional writer, I cannot count how many times I’ve been asked where I get my ideas.
For years, I used to steal a joke from the famously curmudgeonly legend Harlan Ellison. When asked that question, he would say that he subscribed to an idea service, which sent him 50 ideas a month. He’d choose his favorites and write the stories.
I used it for a while, but it turns out I’m less of a curmudgeon than good old Uncle Harlan.
Even though he and I both meant it as a joke, there’s a lot of power in writing prompts. You can use them for writing exercises to improve the skill of your writing. You can spin them off into fully realized ideas that stem from a common prompt. You can even write a whole book out of what you create from one good prompt.
To get your creative juices flowing, here are 101 writing prompts for you to use as you see fit.
101 Writing Prompts
- There’s a car. Who’s driving it? Why are they afraid?
- Write a paragraph of at least five sentences without repeating any words.
- Who saved the day when all seemed lost?
- Honey, we need to talk about _________________
- Write a paragraph about your main character’s worst enemy.
- I really should have listened to _________________
- Take a scene you love and change the protagonist’s profession.
- There’s a prophecy. What is it about? Why does it matter?
- What was your protagonist obsessed with as a child?
- I finally discovered that the key to _________________ was _________________!
- I guess there are worse places to run out of gas, but _________________
- Write about a character’s biggest hero.
- Run all you want. They’ll find you when _________________
- Write a scene about anything you want, then write it again 20% shorter.
- I know it’s weird, but I first knew I loved you when _________________
- Choose a character from fiction. What item do they always have in their pocket that nobody knows about?
- Take a scene you love and change the time by 100 years.
- I was doing so well in the interview until _________________
- Dear _________________, by the time you read this _________________
- I had 42 voicemails when I got out of the movie.
- The first punch felt like _________________
- Write about the most interesting job you can imagine.
- Write a scene where a smart person seems stupid.
- Write a scene where a stupid person seems smart.
- The moment he recognized her, _________________
- The hardest day of my life started with _________________
- It started out as a joke, but when the _________________ showed up, things got out of hand.
- What weird murder weapon almost stumped the detectives?
- Write a paragraph what ends with the same five words it starts with.
- I knew it would be okay when _________________
- What misunderstanding during first contact almost started a war?
- How old was your protagonist when they first doubted themselves?
- Discouraged and tired, they ended the search when _________________
- Write about a thing somebody told you that you never forgot.
- _________________ is beautiful this time of year.
- Using only one sentence, describe the most attractive person you know.
- While the children slept, their mother and father quietly _________________
- Write about a magical coloring book that makes completed pictures come true.
- Why were they still on the phone at four in the morning?
- He was perfect, except for _________________
- Dear _________________, things have been different since you left.
- It was a really, really nice hotel, but _________________
- Write about two high school rivals who have to cooperate.
- Write a scene with a person who has no charm.
- What might your protagonist blog about? Write a post from that blog.
- Their first kiss didn’t last long, but _________________
- What he said and what happened turned out to be very different after _________________
- When the light changed, so did _________________
- Write how a political opponent might have changed your mind.
- Write about a polyamorous relationship that isn’t about sex.
- On my planet, April showers don’t bring May flowers. They bring _________________
- I’m not going to sugarcoat it: _________________
- Write about a complex situation that came from a simple problem.
- His last words before I killed him were _________________
- My last words before I killed him were _________________
- When we cleaned out grandma’s attic, we found a photo that changed everything.
- Write a scene where somebody who never swears drops an “F-bomb”.
- Without warning, every object in the room _________________
- Turns out, being swallowed by another dimension wasn’t as bad as we’d expected.
- There was something decidedly odd about that violin.
- Only three things in the world make me happy: _________________
- I know two wrongs don’t make a right, but _________________
- Describe the stupidest reason you can think of for two lovers to fight.
- Haste may make waste, but _________________ makes _________________
- All is fair in love and _________________
- _________________? I really don’t like that guy. He’s _________________
- Rewrite a scene from your favorite TV show, inserting a character form a show you don’t like.
- Using only one sentence, describe a terrible smell.
- Her voice was wrong when she told me _________________
- Take the basics of a fairy tale and write it as a science fiction story.
- Take a scene from any book, and rewrite it from a different character’s perspective.
- It was weird for me to be so happy about _________________
- Write a sex scene using just ten words.
- Have a dirty-minded character struggle to keep a story clean.
- My very favorite food is _________________. It reminds me of _________________.
- What five elements would you use to describe a wedding?
- Your protagonist wakes up with a new tattoo. How did it get there?
- Write a paragraph three times, using three distinctly different voices.
- The king is _________________! Long live the king!
- Where did they hide the murder weapon?
- Invent a card game. Write a dialogue where one character teaches the game to another.
- When did it happen, and why was that too late?
- Write a scene where a song coming on the radio means a lot to what happens next.
- We didn’t mean to destroy the world, but _________________
- Who came that nobody expected?
- I was more nervous than usual because _________________
- Two people are on the same flight to someplace they’ve never been before. Why are they going?
- Write a scene where nobody speaks, but everybody communicates.
- Describe what you last ate in minute detail.
- What thing would make your protagonist visit a strange city?
- What news item would make them change their mind?
- When I got back, the place was empty. Completely empty.
- It was Thursday. Thursdays meant _________________
- Write a scene where a kitten or puppy isn’t adorable.
- Write about a peaceful person becoming violent.
- Write a dialogue where one person is clearly misunderstanding the other.
- Why did she change her mind at the last minute?
- As she would soon discover, her wedding dress should not have included _________________
- Why is the floor so sticky?
- Write a paragraph about a time you failed.
- Write a paragraph about why you love to write.
Make it 1,0001 Or More
Here’s a cool thing about even the most basic writing prompt. You can turn it into a literally infinite number of new prompts using the SCAMPER method.
SCAMPER is a brainstorming acronym standing for Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify, Put to other uses, Eliminate, Rearrange
Let’s see it in action using the first prompt from the list above: Write about two high school rivals who have to cooperate.
- Substitute: Write about two athletic rivals who have to cooperate.
- Combine: Take Their first kiss didn’t last long, and write a scene about those two high school rivals.
- Adapt: Write about two high school rivals who have to cooperate while in the military five years later.
- Magnify: Write about three high school rivals who have to cooperate.
- Put to Other Uses: Write about two high school rivals who must compete.
- Eliminate: Write about a college student who misses her high school rival.
- Rearrange: Write about an epic high school rivalry, from the point of view of the next year’s team.
Now you try with the second. See how it works? You now have more writing prompts than you could use in a lifetime.
I guess it’s time for you to start using them.
Image by Yerson Retamal.