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BookCoverPreview 2Writing prompts to help inspire your writing, break through writer’s block, or give you a place to start whenever you need a story idea.

There are 199 writing starters below and most of them contain several different prompts, making over 460 ideas to spark your creativity. Hope you enjoy them.

I’m currently working on a new book, Writing Fiction: A Hands-On Guide for Pre-Teens. If you would like to know when the book comes out, please fill out the following form. I promise that you will not be bombarded with spam emails, just the odd thing that I come across that you might find useful, a couple of sample chapters as I work through the project, and my newest writing prompts.

38 More Writing Prompts Added March 2, 2014 

1. Use one, some or all of the following words in a story, scene or poem:

Coffee, star, pen, match, envy
Park, window, fear, strand, frame

2. Try one of these sentences to begin a story.

a) Mud bubbled and spat.
b) Matt fell against the bars.
c) “Table for thirteen, please.”
d) Our call ended with a bang.
e) I loved flying.
f) Pat straightened another picture frame.

3. See what scenes these lines of dialogue suggest to you.

Do all dragons breathe fire?
Not all.
What about this one?

Why do you suppose we’re all here?
I only know what I’ve been told.
And what’s that?
Don’t ask questions.

The hard drive crashed.
I warned you.

It’s not like it is on TV is it?
Not much is, kid.

That’s not how you do that.
And you know better?
Show me.

4. Create a story to go with one of these titles: Peter Piper Picked Me, Left Over, Wheel of Misfortune, On the Shelf, Search and Rescue, Call Me Never, Book Room, Full Plate, Brush-Off, Keeping Casey.

5. Do you ever want to write down your dreams so you can remember them, or are they the kind of dreams that you want to forget as soon as possible? How does your character feel about his or her dreams? Describe a nightmare that your character might have. Think about what that nightmare says about your character and his or her past or present.

6. Use one, some or all of these words in a story or poem.

  • jar, paperweight, cloth, key, white, grip
  • flashlight, stone, shelf, mark, camera, run

7. See where these opening sentences lead your imagination.

  • Mrs. Winthrop was peeking out of her window again.
  • Inside the apartment, the air smelled of cigarettes–and death.
  • Ducan raised his hands and tossed a ball of light into the darkness.
  • The last person I expected to see here was Luke.
  • I always saw more clearly after dark.

8. Maybe these titles will suggest a story: For the Record, Time’s Key, Heart and Hope, The Long Climb, Circles, First Vision, Silver Stars

9. Write a description of your favourite place. How does it look? Smell? What do you eat there? Describe the tastes. What do you hear? What’s the pace of this place? Does it inspire activity or do you just kick back? When you look back at your writing, does the pace of your writing match the pace of the location? Are your sentences long, and slow-moving or are they short and full of energy and action?

10. Use one, some, or all of these words in a story or poem: blue, jar, post, mirror, glow. Or try these: door, sliver, label, dawn, clasp.

11. Here are some opening lines you might try.

  • Where’s Ralph?
  • Yesterday I would never have guessed that this could be true
  • The sword felt heavy in her hand.
  • Flight was second nature to him.
  • My best friend is a ghost.
  • My mother always said that it was better to ask for forgiveness than for permission

12. Maybe these lines of dialogue will inspire a scene:

  • We have to go.
  • But I like it here.
  • And I like staying alive.
  • Wilson has the answer.
  • Are you sure?
  • Yes. And I’m not the only one. That’s why we need to get him out of here now.

13. Here are some story titles you can play with–Playing Unsafe, Nightmare Island, The Goblin’s Revenge, River of Sighs, The Final Race, The Grove, Wendy’s Wish.

14. Start a story with

• a character eating slowly
• a character cheering
• a character pushing something

15. Try one of these opening sentences:

• Yellow leaves crackled underfoot.
• Ben pulled the brim of his hat further down over his eyes.
• The cave was dark, but at least it was dry.
• The last thing Helen needed now was a crying little brother.
• “Storm’s coming.”

16. See if these snatches of dialogue spark a scene or story.

“We need to find shelter.”
“Yes, I’d figured that out.”

“I can’t take another step.”
“I know. I’m tired, too.”
“You don’t understand. I really can’t take another step.”

“Whose car is that?”
“Hal’s, I think. Why?”
“I’ve seen it before.”
“Oh. Where?”
“I’m not sure you want to know.”

17. Think of a story that might go with one of these story titles:

Rider Wrong, In the Mirror, Homecoming, Tow Away Zone, Drive By, The Last Train.

18. Use one, some or all of these words to inspire a story or poem:

  • car, leaf, blue, and, glass, chain
  • plate, stick, chair, day, ring, wall

19. Try one of these opening sentences to start a story or novel:

  • I was beginning to wonder if driving a car was something I should be doing with a cranky Dalmatian in the back seat and a migraine pounding behind my eyes.
  • Some tunes bring back the wrong kind of memories.
  • I’d thought the carpet was clean until my face made close and painful contact.
  • At times like this, I knew better than to ask, “Why me?”
  • Was I the only one who had noticed that there’d been no squeal of brakes before the car hit the gate post?

20. Here are some titles that might suggest a story:  Blue Yesterday, The Ring Keeper, Last Wishes, Diary of a Dropout, The Ruby Secret, The Gold Claw

21. Can you picture the scene when you hear these lines of dialogue?

  • Did you hear about Henry?
  • No. What’s new?
  • He’s run away.
  • Please stop doing that.
  • Why?
  • It reminds me of someone.
  • Who?
  • Your brother.
  • I have to leave.
  • But, I need your help.
  • It’s a bit late to ask.

22. See if these random words suggest a story or poem:

  • knife, paper, ice, coat, silver, lake
  • clasp, frame, red, strike, notes, tin

23. What masks do your characters wear to hide their feelings in certain situations? Whom do they trust to see behind their masks?

24. What costumes did your characters want to wear on Hallowe’en when they were children? Did they want to be superheroes or bunnies or witches or pirates or ….? What was your favourite Hallowe’en costume? Why was it your favourite?

25. Use one, some, or all of these words in a story or poem:

  • holiday, red, flash, tin, tremor, find
  • salt, light, hand, turn, cover, water
  • bag, handle, glass, date, black, walk

26. What is your character’s favourite holiday movie? When and where was your character the first time he or she saw it? Who was your character with? Does the memory make your character happy or sad? Why?

27. See if you can imagine a story to go with one of these titles? Behind the Curtain, Red Mittens, The Centre Closes, Mr. Snow, Dead on Time, The Last Photograph

28. Imagine what might be happening before, during and after these lines of dialogue.

  • Where is it?
  • I left it at school.
  • Then you can’t come with us.
  • We’re done here
  • But we haven’t —
  • I said, we’re done.
  • Have you heard from Gregor?
  • No. We’ve not heard from him for five days?
  • Then, there’s no news of the battle either?
  • No.

29, See if some of these opening lines suggest a story.

  • “No. You unwrap your present first.”
  • I yanked out my earbuds. That noise had to be a scream.
  • Margot always ate her vegetables first.
  • The smell of smoke lingered long after the blaze had died.
  • I huddled in the stern as the sea slammed the little boat.
  • Why was her floor covered in broken glass?

30. Use one, some or all of these words in a story or poem.

  • table, clock, cold, blue, sharp, brush
  • dress, late, light, silver, touch, ring

31. Try one of these opening sentences.

  • Did he just wink at me?
  • Claire slid the ring off her finger.
  • I used to think Jack worried too much.
  • Never meet your best friend in a graveyard.
  • I wondered why she’d left the TV on so loud.
  • A siren wailed in the night.

32. Can you think of a story or poem for one of these titles?

Wrapping Paper, Diary of a Break-Up, Labour of Love, At the River’s Edge, Blue is for Boys, The Time Tree, Light’s Haven

33. Here are some snippets of dialogue. What scene can you create for the speakers?

  • Who is that girl?
  • That one?
  • Yes.
  • You must be the only one that doesn’t know.
  • I can’t believe he gave that to her.
  • I can’t believe she took it.
  • What happened to me?
  • What’s the last thing you remember?
  • Oh. Crap.

35. Try using one, some, or all of these words in a poem or story:

  • clock, chain, grip, moon, shade, lock
  • band, star, blue, fever, petal, lie

35. Here are some opening sentences to try:

  • “Carly hates me.”
  • Peter hid under the table.
  • The jewels sparkled in the sunlight.
  • Marcus pulled his cloak more tightly around his shoulders
  • “When was the last time you saw Henry Marsh?”
  • Margot closed the book she was reading and turned out the light.

36. See if you can come up with a story to go with one of these titles:

Night Among the Mad, Spineless. The Secret Three, The Journey Home, Walking on a Shroud, In the Mirror, The House by the River

37. Think of a memory that involves a piece of music: a popular song that you always sang along to, a lullaby, a TV show or movie theme, a melody that you or someone you knew played on an instrument, a song you sang on the way to camp, or in church. Describe the events, people, or emotions that you associate with that piece of music. Do the same exercise for the main character in your story.

38. What scene can you weave around these lines of dialogue?

  • How did you get here?
  • Magic.
  • No. Really, how did you get here?
  • I think I’d better explain.
  • I wish it would sop raining.
  • You want to get back on the road, don’t you?
  • Don’t you?
  • Here. Catch.
  • What is it? It’s really heavy.
  • That’s not all it is.

50 New Prompts!

1. See if these pairs of images inspire a story or poem: Blue pens and ice cream, flashlights and doorknobs, tea cups and sunglasses.

2. What was your character’s favourite childhood movie? Which movie scared him/her? (For me, it was when Pinocchio got swallowed by the whale.) From your character’s point of view, write his/her memoires of seeing these films.

3. Use one, some or all of these words in a story or poem: door, bottle, corner, light, smile, star.

4. Try one of these first lines to start a story:

The ring hit the empty garbage can with a clunk.

Why are you leaving?

I heard the bang and ran.

5. Can you think of a story for one of these titles?

Wings and Lace, Emerald Crown, Longing, Full Stop, Star Struck, Run, Hitching a Ride.

6. Can you work these lines of dialogue into a scene or a story?

“You missed!”

“I know.”

“But you never miss.”

7. What’s your favourite song or soundtrack? Explain why this music is special to you and why someone should listen to it.

8. See if these pairs of images suggest a story or poem: yellow lilies and rain, smoke and a mirror, lightning and a wing.

9. Try one of these opening sentences to begin a story or scene:

Snow. Again.

I missed the sign that read: Caution Wet Floor.

Loose gravel crunched beneath my feet.

I thought she looked familiar.

10. They say that our sense of smell is the most evocative of our senses. When I smell lavender I recall memories of my grandmother. When I smell fried onions, I think of the Canadian National Exhibition, and am swamped with images from many childhood trips there. What smells can trigger your memories? Where do those memories lead when you start to write them down?

11. Consider starting your story with one of these actions:

Someone running away

Someone or something getting lost

Someone being frightened

Someone or something falling.

12. Are you afraid of heights, spiders or crowds of people? What is your character afraid of?

13. Use one, some or all of these words in a story or poem: cup, bloom, note, cave, sign, red.

14. What does your character think and feel when she/he looks in the mirror?

15. Can you work these lines of dialogue into a scene or a story?

“It’s too dark. I can’t see.”

“We have to keep going.”

“YOU have to keep going.”

16. What was your character’s favourite childhood toy? What do these toys tell you about your character? Did your character learn any special skill while playing with these toys that might help him or her in your story?

17. See if these pairs of images inspire a story or poem: spoons and blue jeans, running shoes and a rainbow, tea cups and sunglasses.

18. Try one of these opening sentences:

I thought flying would be harder.

Jill disappeared on Wednesday.

I was sure I heard the sound of wings.

19. Who is your favourite modern author? Go back and reread just the first pages of his or her novels. Look closely at the techniques used to get and keep the reader’s attention. Look at your own first pages and see if you can incorporate any of those techniques to make the beginning of your story more appealing to readers.

20. Consider starting your story with one of these actions:

Someone climbing

Someone lighting a fire

Someone throwing something.

21. What is the one thing that your character doesn’t want anyone to find out about him or her?

22. Can you work these lines of dialogue into a scene or a story?

“I was told to bring you here.”

“Who told you?”

“You’ll find out soon.”

23. Use one, some or all of these words in a story or poem: pitcher, nail, bag, yellow, edge, chain

24. Is your character a good sailor or does s/he get motion sickness? Can either of these characteristics be used in your story? An ocean voyage? A ride on a roller coaster?

25. Try one of these opening sentences:

Eldor was a different kind of capital city.

Chains rattled.

It was my turn to dig.

26. Who is your reader? Take some time and describe your reader. How old? What interests? Favourite TV shows? Where does he or she read? What makes your reader put a book down? What makes him or her smile or feel sad? What makes him or her laugh? Make your reader as real as possible, and think of this reader when you sit down to write.

27. Here are some lines of dialogue for your story.

“It’s cold.”


“I’m freezing!”

“Keep moving.”

28. Try one of these opening lines:

The forest sighed.

There was only one way to find out if this would work.

They were wrong. Blood did not look like ketchup.

29. Use one, some or all of these words in a story or poem: fence, line, sharp, red, cord, leaf, window

30. What does your character do at the beach? Play a competitive game of beach volleyball? Laze in the sun? Read? Catch up on email? Swim? Avoid the crowds? What do his or her preferences tell you about your character that you might not have known before?

31. Write a scene that happens in a parking lot.

32. Brainstorm around the word “ice.” Take one or two of the ideas that you generate and see where your imagination takes you.

33. Use one, some or all of these words in a story or poem: screen, light, white, wave, sleek, torrent

34. Go for a walk and look closely at something that is smaller than you. See if you can think of words to describe it that use all five senses.

35. Try one of these opening lines:

Tires weren’t the only things that screeched when Marko turned the corner.

A graveyard?

Wishing stars can work.

36. Write a scene with an animal and a hill.

37. Here are some lines of dialogue for your story:

“Where are we?”

“I have no idea. But I do know one thing.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s not safe.”

38. Start a story with one of these actions:

Someone or something falling

Someone standing at attention

Someone shaking something

39. See if any of these pairs of images suggest a story or poem: a candle and a book, a loud noise and a tree, a whisper and a cave.

40. Try one of these titles for a story or poem: Wind Song, Castle Hill, Never Ever, The Last Game, First of the Few, Dragon’s Pride

41. Using your birthday month, or a friend’s, use the number of the month in a story. My birthday is in October, so I would need to use the number 10.

42. We expect scary things to happen in old, abandoned houses or in graveyards or in dark forests. Write a scary scene that happens in a place where the characters would expect to be safe and happy.

43. Use one, some or all of these words in a story or poem: holiday, window, fire, call, paper, carving.

44. Think about a major political or social issue/event that you’ve read about in the newspaper or heard about on TV. What would be your character’s opinion of that issue or event? How would your character behave if s/he were stuck in an elevator with someone with the opposite opinion?

45. What memory from the past does your character wish s/he could forget?

46. Write a scene with a photograph.

47. Start a story with one of these actions:

Someone tripping over something

Someone hearing something loud

Someone telling a secret

48. See if any of these pairs of images suggest a story or poem: a keyboard and a wish, wings and a sword, a door and a small animal, a box and a date.

49.  Try one of these titles for a story or poem: Fear Corner, Connections, The Cloak of Parmel, Winter Mystery, Silver’s Forest, Reflection.

50. Try these lines of dialogue in your story:

“What are you holding behind your back?”

“It’s a surprise.”

“Let me see.”

“Only if you promise not to tell.”

June 7th – New Writing Prompts

1. Use these song titles to inspire a story or poem: What’s New, New Sensation, New World in the Morning, All Those Years Ago, Year of the Cat, 2000 Light Years from Home, Last Year’s Man, Reelin’ in the Years.

2. Here are some opening lines you might try.

  • “I’d wish you a Happy New Year, but I have a feeling it would be a little inappropriate at a murder scene.”
  • Jasmine held the small shell, looking at it closely for a moment before putting it carefully in her pocket.
  • The icy rain clattered on the windows like an endless chorus line of rhythm-challenged tap dancers.
  • Winslow put down his pen and read the note one last time.
  • Eyes that green were definitely dangerous.
  • Mike’s Saloon was usually closed in the morning.

3. Use one, some, or all of these words in a story.

  • cheer, light, shadow, photograph, branch,      water
  • paper, glass, sand, flight, scent, mirror,      bloom

4. See if one of these titles sparks a story: Close By, Amanda’s Wish, Consolation Prize, Run It By, Close Quarters, Light the Way, Last Candle, Jewel Box Mystery, Footprints in Snow, Quinn’s Destiny.

5. Have you ever wished you could travel back in time in your own life? What event would you love to relive? What would you wish you could do over? How are you going to make this new year one that you want to live over again?

6. Write a piece using one, some or all of the following words: snow, windows, night, candle, branches, waiting.

7. Try one of these opening lines:

  • Jim glared out the window as fat flakes of snow filled in the sidewalk he’d just shoveled. “Mary!” he called. “What      did you say the temperature was in Las Vegas today?”
  • My boss was right. Sunday was the perfect day for a murder.
  • It was too damn quiet.
  • Outside the diner, a black pickup rolled to a stop.
  • Helen never looked good in red.

8. See if these lines of dialogue inspire a scene:

What’s that?

I don’t hear anything.

Shhh. Listen.

Oh. That’s not good.

How’d it go?

The captain was less than impressed.

But did he believe you?

Yes. We’re leaving in an hour.

What’s so interesting? You’ve been staring out that window for the past hour.

Bill’s late.

Wouldn’t he call if he were going to be late?

Yes, if he could.

Did you get what you wanted?


Then let’s get out of here.

9. Maybe one of these titles will work for you: Wet Roads and Stars, Miranda’s Memory, Black on Black, Gateway, Red Light, Washed in Dreams, Sundown and Sam, Wild Winds, Empty Pages

10.  Use one, some or all of these words in a story or poem.

a) milk, bulb, frame, grass, candle, brick. b) sack, nail cuff, page glass, leaf.

11.  Try one of these opening sentences.

  • The noise was enough to wake the dead–except in Bill’s case.
  • Rainbows? And ponies? All I needed was a unicorn and all hope would be gone.
  • Helen shivered in spite of being dressed warmly for a late October midnight.
  • Whoever said “silence is golden” hadn’t heard the scream that preceded it.
  • Erik reined in his horse and saluted. “I’ve seen them.”
  • Light. Finally.

12. Try these pieces of dialogue and see what happens.

  • Pitir pointed to the east. “Sandstorm, sir?”
  • I followed his gaze. “I think I would prefer it. The wind’s coming from the west.”
  • Did you see that?
  • No.
  • Good. Then I’ll pretend I didn’t see it either.
  • Stop.
  • Why?
  • The price is too high.
  • Pass me that will you?
  • I can’t.
  • Why?
  • It’s stuck.

13.  Here are some titles. What story or poem might go with them?

The Lion and the Lamb, By the Book, Table for Three, King’s Chance, In the Cards, Heart’s Winter, Counting Down, Clean Sweep.

14. Here are some things that are commemorated by their own day or week in March. Some were a suprise to me. Can you think of something that would be fun to celebrate in March? What kind of event would you host?

St. Patrick’s Day, Vernal Equinox, Easter, Passover, World Kidney Day, International Woman’s Day, National Frozen Food Month, National Peanut Month, National Bubble Week, National Crochet Week, National Pig Day, If pets had thumbs day, Be Nasty Day, Johnny Appleseed Day, Potato Chip Day, Chocolate Covered Raisin Day, Waffle Day, Something on a Stick Day and March 14 (3.14) is National Pi Day.

15. Use one, some, or all of these words in a story or poem.

a) robin, melody, fence, puddle, trunk, sigh

b) clip, branch, green, boot, window, call

c) meadow, snow, range, leaf, creep, sight, wonder

16. Here are some story/novel titles. Can you think of a story that might go with them?

Branching Out, Last to Die, Broken Glass, Heart’s Journey, Runner Smith, The Dread, Mystery on the Grand, Time’s Window, I Wish I May.

17. See if you can start a story with one of these sentences. Maybe one could work as the end of a story, too.

a) That’s blood.

b) Soon I’ll never have to answer that phone again.

c) I thought you two had already met.

d) I specialized in white lies.

e) Chris! Get that thing out of the way right now!

18. Here are a couple of exchanges of dialogue that might inspire you.

  • I’m tired.
  • You’re just saying that because you’re bored.
  • Okay. I’m bored and tired.
  • I thought he was supposed to be here by now.
  • Cut him some slack, will you?
  • And he’s earned that how?
  • What’s in your hand.
  • It’s mine. I found it.
  • Let me see.

Dec 2, 2012    20 More Prompts for You!

Write about someone who takes shelter. Consider umbrellas, bus shelters, doorways, under a table, in a foxhole, in someone’s arms, in a church, in a cave …

Your character pulls up beside a pickup truck at an intersection. Something in the bed of the truck is covered with a tarpaulin. It moves. There is no wind blowing.

Write a diary entry that your character would have written about an important event in his or her childhood. Use your character’s child voice to write the diary entry. If your character is already a child, have them write about the same event looking back as an adult.

Use one, some or all of the following words in a story or poem: rainbow, pressure, bottle, grain, heart

Martha Grimes writes a series of mystery novels in which the titles are taken from the names of British pubs. What stories could you write featuring typical fast food restaurants? Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Star Struck at Starbucks, Mayhem at McDonald’s, Wendy’s Wishes, Danger at Dominos.

Using your character’s name, find a word or phrase for each letter in his or her name that relates to or describes your character, for example:

L – lazy

I – intelligent

N – never apologizes

D – drives too fast

A – aggravating

Keep going until you find out something new about your character.

Do you have a lucky number? Do you believe that good or bad things come in threes? Are you extra cautious on Friday the 13th? Do you play a special set of numbers on the lottery? What does your belief in the power of certain numbers say about you? Answer the same questions about your character.

Agatha Christie wrote 66 mystery novels and 14 short story collections. See what stories or poems her titles will inspire you to write. Remember book titles can’t be copyrighted.

The Pale Horse, The Secret Adversary, The Unexpected Guest, Nemesis, The Underdog, Towards Zero, Evil Under the Sun.

Think of a place where something small could be hidden. What does your character find when he or she opens a book? A locket? A great aunt’s handbag? A father’s wallet? An unlabeled CD/DVD case?

Do you or does someone close to you have a bad habit that affects everyday life? How would life change if the habit was overcome? What steps would need to be taken? What would cause a decision to make a change? Now think about these questions from your character’s point of view. Does your character or someone close to him or her need to change a habit?

Try one of the following sentences to start a story.

a)     Randy counted the money again. His hands wouldn’t stop shaking.

b)    I’d kill for a cigarette.

c)     She heard the DVD whirr into place and waited. She’d never been sent a message from a dead man before.

d)    “Did you know Peter?”

e)     I didn’t know that dragons were short sighted.

Do you belong to any groups or organizations that meet regularly? What drew you to this group of people? What place do they have in your life that can’t be filled by other people or family? Does your character belong to a group that fulfills something special for him or her? Think of some “what ifs” for this part of his/her life. What if someone were cheating the group or using the group to cover an illegal purpose?

Use one, some or all of the following words in a  story or poem: handle, screen, leaf, cringe, strand

Freewrite around the word “ice” and see where it leads. Some thoughts: ice-cream, cold as ice, center ice, thin ice, iced tea, ice in her veins

What’s your usual pace? Rushed? Taking it easy? Calmly on time for everything? Barely make it on time? Always late? How do you feel about your usual pace? Do you wish you could change or do you say to yourself, that if your friends don’t like it—too bad! What’s your character’s pace? How does it work for or against him or her with regards to job, family, friends, and personal satisfaction?

What do you hate about being too hot? Too cold? How does your character feel when exposed to these extremes?

Use one, some or all of the following words in a story or poem: rope, key, petal, echo, lace

What skill or talent are you very glad that you have? Why? What skill or talent do you wish you had? Why? Answer those questions for your character.

Freewrite around the word “green.” Some thoughts: green around the gills, green with envy, greenhouse, green light, evergreen, forest green, lime.

Try one of the following sentences to start a story:

a)     He turned his face away from the sun.

b)    Thunder. Finally she could breathe.

c)     Next time he’d choose the second door.

d)    Today had to be better than yesterday. For starters, it was nearly noon and she hadn’t found anything dead yet.

e)     Opera tickets! What on earth was she going to do with opera tickets?

Here are 20 more prompts!

1. What’s your favorite natural sound? Wind shaking poplar leaves? Ocean surf? Thunderstorms? One bird’s song? Describe the place that the sound reminds you of. What other senses do you recall? Do you remember a special smell, taste, touch or sight association with this place?

2. What does your character need to have the best start to his or her day? Eight hours sleep? Two cups of coffee? Skipping morning altogether? Music? All news radio? What happens when his or her favorite morning routine goes wrong?

3. Free write around one, some or all of the following words: toy, cup, tremble, weight, park

4. Use these bare bones of dialogue to create a scene between two people. Add setting, character, action and emotion to fill in the gaps.

I’m so glad you made it.

How many people did you tell?


I was followed. I’m asking you again. How many people did you tell?

Just Terry. Just one.

One too many.

5. Begin a story or a poem with one of the following titles: Just a Dollar, Death Takes a Credit Card, Love Factually, Gone with the Sinned, Band, Snap Shot.

6. In Stuart Kaminsky’s Toby Peters mysteries, Toby has recurring nightmares that feature Bozo the clown. Write about your recurring dream or create one for your character.

7. If your character lives in the present, what photo or image does your character have on his or her desktop or cell phone screen? Why is this image important? If your characters live in another time, what photos would they keep in a wallet or on a bedside table, or what poster would they have on their bedroom walls?

8. What does your character consider a luxury? A day at the spa? Box tickets for a game? Feeling safe? A snow day home from school? One more day? What obstacles keep your character from enjoying this luxury?

9. Freewrite around one, some or all of the following words: watch, car, bowl, sidewalk, apple

10. Have you ever wanted to get in your car or on a bus or train and just keep going? What is pulling you from where you are? What do you want to leave behind, if only for a while? What do you hope is ahead of you?

11. Use a song title as a title for your next story or poem. Consider Over the Rainbow, Unforgettable, No More Mr. Nice Guy, Taking a Chance on Love, Invincible.

12. Get away from the keyboard and write with pencil/pen and paper. This is the way you first started to create. The connections are still there. If you already write in longhand, change your paper, use colored pens, or change your location.

13. Think of a story that might go with one of these possible opening sentences:

  • Mondays never go well.
  • How can someone get lost twice in one day?
  • Is that a threat?
  • I definitely didn’t like the way those lights were flickering?
  • So young.

14. Use these bare bones of dialogue to create a scene between two people. Add setting, character, action, emotion to fill in the gaps.

The sun’s almost down.

Won’t be long now.

Why do we have to wait until it’s dark?

Ask him when he gets here.

Are you ready?

Are you?

15. Free write around one, some or all of the following: running, wondering, hiding, challenging, threatening

16. What makes your character impatient or angry? How does he or she deal with anger? Does your character keep it bottled up to explode later over something insignificant? Let it all out right at the moment and then move on? Never really get angry? Count to 10? React with fists or words? What does it take to get a strong reaction from your character?

17. What story might precede one of these closing lines? Maybe they could be used as opening lines, too.

  • I had nothing left but thanks.
  • Sunsets will never be the same again.
  • Kisses are just the beginning.
  • Yup. Typical Michael (or name of your choice).
  • Home.

18. Do holiday festivals make you happy or do they bring back sad memories or do they do both? How do you deal with your holiday feelings? How do holidays affect your character?

19. Think about makes you laugh. Do you have a favorite comedian or TV show or movie? What makes the person or program so funny? What kind of humor appeals to you? Witty repartee? Slapstick? Farce? What makes your character laugh? One of the key rules of humor is, “Pain is funny.” Do you think it’s true? Why or why not?

20. Free write around one of the following:

  • My life as an aunt/uncle
  • The worst mess I ever had to clean up
  • Why I love …
  • If you want to annoy me, just …

Here are 22 more prompts.

1.What makes your character stop and savor the moment? The taste of rich dark chocolate? A baby’s smile? What special memory or feeling is evoked? How can this change of pace enhance your story and let the reader know your character better?

2. Think of something that your character wasted in the past—money, time, a relationship, someone’s trust. How does that event color what your character is doing today and how does it influence your character’s choices?

3. Think of things white. Choose one word to free write around and fill your white page with words: snow, teeth, clouds, wedding gowns, peonies and magnolias, paper, smoke, grubs ….

4. Free write around one, all, or some of the following words: ice, gift, map, moon, lamp.

5. Think of veins. Think of them flowing with healthy blood, tracing delicate patterns in leaves, leaving cruel blue patterns on an old woman’s legs, holding a rich deposit of gold, mutilated by drug use, taking in life-saving medication. Choose one vein of thought and write what you imagine

6. If you only had one window to look out of for the next six months, what would you want to see on the other side? Describe the view. How would it change? Why did you choose this particular view? Do the same exercise for your character? What did you learn?

7.  Ask your character the ten Bernard Pivot questions that James Lipton asks his guests on the Actor’s Studio. For fun, ask yourself, too!

  • What is your favorite word?
  • What is your least favorite word?
  • What turns you on?
  • What turns you off?
  • What is your favorite curse word?
  • What sound or noise do you love?
  • What sound or noise do you hate?
  • What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
  • What profession would you not like to do?
  • If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

8. Are you a lark? Describe your prefect morning. Are you an owl? Describe your perfect night?

9.  What is your character’s greatest fear? If your character doesn’t have one, create one and make sure that he has to face that fear at a critical time in your story.  Think Indiana Jones and the snakes.

10. What is the one ‘good-bye’ that you said to a living person that you regret saying?  Whom has your character left or had had leave her life that she wishes she’d never parted from?

11. Describe the best kiss you ever gave or received–or both.

12. Does your character prefer to be alone or with a lot of people? What benefits does your character derive from being in his favorite situation? How does he cope when he must experience the opposite? Think of placing your character in his least favorite setting and add another level of conflict to whatever else is happening in the scene.

13. Have you ever felt that you should have been born in a different decade? What draws you to this time? Write about what you would do on a typical day in your other decade.

14. Use these bare bones lines of dialogue to create a scene between two people. Add setting, character’s thoughts and actions to fill in the gaps.

Are you ready?


You’re sure?


You’re not saying much.

There’s no need.

You don’t have to come.

I do. And you know it.

15. Choose one sentence from the opening paragraph of the novel you are currently reading and use it to begin your story. Here’s mine from The Tribune’s Curse by John Maddox Roberts: “If you are extremely happy, the gods have it in for you.”

16. What food do you hate? Consider serving your character her most despised meal in a situation where she feels she actually has to eat it.

17. Free write around one, some, or all of the following words: ring, storm, table, train, blue

18. What place have you always wanted to visit? What attracts you to this place? What do you wish you could experience there?

19. What’s your favorite film? What special quality does this film have that sets it apart from the rest? How can you add that special quality to your current writing project?

20. Many mystery novelists hook readers with their expertise in a certain skill: gourmet cooking, knitting, quilting, showing dogs. Do you have or know about a special skill that could add an extra dimension to your character?

21. Get your creativity in gear with a dialogue challenge. Here are 6 lines of dialogue shared between two characters. Who are they? Where are they? What’s the problem? Write the scene that you imagine.

  • What are you doing?
  • What does it look like I’m doing?
  • Sorry. Forget it.
  • What do you want.
  • The book. It’s on my list.
  • Help yourself, Bill.

22. Here are another 6 lines. Have fun!

  • You’re late. I thought you weren’t going to make it.
  • I nearly didn’t.
  • Do you have it with you?
  • Yes.
  • Good.
  • Can we go now?

Another 15 Writing Starters

  1. If your main character could choose to play a character in a play or movie, which characters would he or she choose?
  2. Scour magazines and newspapers for interesting faces. Give them new names, professions and histories and see if they want to come and play in your story.
  3. Brainstorm around the following words: drink, call, space, ladder, jam.
  4. Write a story for children. Start with “once upon a time” or “long ago in a land far away.” Enjoy a magic place where anything can happen.
  5. Several works share the title, “A Stitch in Time” derived from the saying: A stitch in time saves nine. What titles and stories can you create from other proverbs or sayings? Try one of these: What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Once bitten, twice shy. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Jack of all trades, master of none.
  6. Write a first paragraph in which your characters comes into physical contact with someone or something.
  7. Think about secrets. Make sure your character has some and imagine the kind of person he or she would trust with those secrets. How could that other person gain that trust? Why might that person betray that trust and tell the secret to someone else?
  8. If you have an antique or flea market nearby, look for old postcards and read the messages on the back. Here’s one I found. What story can you imagine lies behind the message? “I suppose you are still in Plaster Rock.  Heard that Frank 1st has left you.  I guess he must be a wanderer.”
  9. Brainstorm around the words: flame, table, cover, mask, hollow.
  10. Send  your characters on an adventure to a “land far, far away.”  Look through some old issues of National Geographic and imagine how your character would cope in a yurt, or in a market in Marrakesh or in a tent on the side of a mountain?
  11. Head to your local bookstore or library with a friend and your writing journal. Take 2 envelopes and lots of small pieces of paper. For 5 minutes wander the shelves and write random novel titles on the small pieces of paper and put them in your envelopes. At the end of 5 minutes, exchange envelopes. Dip in and pull out a title and brainstorm a story that would go with those words. Maybe you could use the words as a line of dialogue to begin your story or in the opening sentence. Keep playing until one story starts to claim your full attention. Start writing.
  12. Begin your story with your character in motion—driving, running, flying, riding. What is your character running from? What is your character running to?
  13. You’re walking home with a friend after dark.  When you look at her, her eyes reflect light like a cat’s.
  14. Your character loses a backpack/ purse/briefcase containing one thing that his or her future depends upon.
  15. Free write around one or all of the following words: box, watch, garden, window, ship

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.”  Mark Twain. 

11 More Writing Starters

  1. Play with the word “needle.” How many different needles can you visualize? Put one or two of them in your character’s hands or just out of reach and see what happens—someone away from home for the first time sewing on a button, fearing a dentist’s needle, needles clacking while heads roll… Or have your character needled or needle someone else.
  2. “I never start a novel until I’m satisfied with the title.”  Ed McBain.  Work on your title until it’s right.  It’s the cup you are working to fill.
  3. Look at your favourite CD cover.  Hide everything but one square inch.  What do you see?
  4. Write an opening sentence in which something or someone falls.  What happens when they get up–or don’t!
  5. Turn off everything and try writing in silence or change your background sounds.  Try jazz, blues, Benedictine monks, Mozart.
  6. “When you are telling the story you are meant to tell, you are actually going to feel the truth of it, and in feeling that truth, your spirit is going to soar.  When you are telling that story the way it needs to be told…you are going to feel that, too.”  Elizabeth George. 
  7. Think of the skills you have: putting up a tent, downhill skiing, solving crosswords, cooking. Add these skills and interests to your characters or make learning them essential for your main character’s survival.
  8.  Think of the places that you know well: a neighbourhood, a city, a school, a cruise ship, a gym, a museum, a summer camp. Now imagine them as places where your characters can fall in love or be shocked or frightened. They can be places where a murder takes place or where people reveal secrets.
  9. Decide what frightens your characters or grosses them out. Make sure this appears in your story somewhere (think Indiana Jones and the snakes).
  10. What does your character value the most? Is it an object like a ring or a photograph? Or is it a reputation for honesty or an influential position or the chance to find true love? How can you put what your character values most at serious risk in your story?
  11. Elmore Leonard said, “I once named a character Frank Matisse, but he acted older than his age; and for some reason he wouldn’t talk as much as I wanted him to.  I changed his name to Jack Delany and couldn’t shut him up.”  Try renaming one of your characters and see what happens.

“Nighttime is really the best time to work.  All the ideas are there to be yours because everyone else is asleep.”  Jessamyn West. 

5 More!

  1. Find a place where you can do some serious people-watching. Pick three strangers and, one by one, imagine them saying good-bye. Decide what they are saying good-bye to–their homeland, their family, a lover, a job, a threat. What has happened to bring them to this moment? What lies ahead of them? Is the good-bye the beginning of their story or the end?
  2. Draw a map. It could be of a country, a city, an island, a kingdom, a space station. Add lots of details and place names. Now send your characters on a journey through the imaginary world you have just created, making sure that they get into lots of trouble along the way.
  3. Start with the sound of sirens. How does that sound affect you? What do you imagine has happened? Where has it happened? Who is affected?
  4. Have your character find or receive something small enough to be held in two hands. Now create a story around that small thing that turns your character’s life upside down. Think of Bilbo and a ring, Arthur and a sword, Snow White and an apple.
  5. Free write using one or all of the following words: sage, match, corner, light, border.


For writers in search of a plot, a sure-fire plot plan exists in the steps of the hero’s journey. Documented by scholars such as Joseph Campbell, this pattern has been worked into stories across cultures and millennia and is now a Hollywood favourite.

Two great books on the subject and how the pattern applies to writing today are: The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler and The Key: How to Write Damn Good Fiction Using the Power of Myth by James N. Frey. Check their sites for a detailed version of the journey structure. For a leaner version and a look at how it has been used in a couple of films you might know, see below. Have fun with your heroes and their NaNoWriMo journey!

Hero’s Journey Star Wars The Princess Diaries
The hero has an ‘unusual’ birth. Luke doesn’t know the true story of his father and mother Mia doesn’t know that she is a princess.
The hero is called to action and at first refuses. Luke says ‘no’ to going with Obi Wan because he has to help with the harvest. Initially, she refuses to go into ‘princess training’ with her grandmother.
The hero is shown the way or given a special power by a helper. Obi Wan tells Luke about the Force and teaches him how to use it. Queen Clarisse gives Mia a letter from her father and a diary. Her father’s letter gives Mia the guidance she needs later in the story.
The hero travels from the familiar world to the ‘adventure’ world. Luke travels from safe planet life to the Death Star. Mia travels from her home to the embassy to learn how to be a princess.
The hero is tested Luke saves the Princess and the Death Star plans. Luke must go on without Obi Wan Mia has to get through her first formal dinner. She also has to deal with mean classmates and the press.
The hero has a helper in the adventure world. Han Solo helps Luke get away from the Death Star and shoots Darth Vader out of the way so Luke can blow up the Death Star. Mia is helped by Joe.
The hero faces a final battle Luke uses the Force to blow up the Death Star Mia accepts the crown and makes a speech.
The hero returns. Luke returns to the rebel base and is reunited with his friends. Mia is reunited with her friends at the ball.
The hero brings a benefit to his/her people. Luke’s knowledge of the force will allow him to eventually defeat the Empire and redeem his father from evil. When Mia becomes princess, she stops the wrong people from taking over the kingdom. She will do her job well.

 TAGS: writing prompts, creative writing prompts for teens, creative writing prompts, story starters for teens, writing ideas for teens

36 responses

  1. last time, i joined a writing contests on the internet and i won a small price for writing a nice piece of writing ~”:

  2. […] I’ve been creating writing prompts for The Writer subscriber’s website since July and have enjoyed reading the various responses to them. They’re such fun to write, that I thought I’d create some just for this post. Hope they give you a creative boost into the new year. For more prompts, check out https://wrightingwords.wordpress.com/writing-starters/ […]

  3. […] added 20 new writing prompts at https://wrightingwords.wordpress.com/writing-starters/. Enjoy! Rate this: Share this:StumbleUponDiggRedditTwitterMoreFacebookEmailPrintLike this:LikeBe […]

  4. That’s one boat load of writing prompts. I like the Elmore Leonard quote, changing their name can make the world of difference to how they communicate in my head.

    1. Elmore Leonard is just brilliant–period. I love his 10 Rules for Writers http://www.nytimes.com/2001/07/16/arts/writers-writing-easy-adverbs-exclamation-points-especially-hooptedoodle.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm It was published over 10 years ago, but the advice is timeless.

  5. […] while back, Heather Writer posted a whole list of exercises on her site Writing Fiction: A Hands-On Guide for Teens. I like a lot of what’s there, but […]

    1. Thanks for the plug! I love the piece that you created from your memories of Turkey. I’m a big fan of historical fiction. Good luck with all your writing endeavours

  6. This is extremely helpful! I’ve been wanting to practice my writing skills for awhile but have always felt discouraged, I can’t wait to try this out!

    P.S. I especially like the one ”bare bones”, it’s unique and helpful.

    1. Glad you liked the writing starters, Elysia. I love creating the ‘bare bones’ prompts. I always see the characters very clearly, though, quite frankly, I’m not sure what they’re going to get up to after the few lines I have them speak. I wish you all the best with your writing!

  7. Thanks so much! It helped!

    1. Glad that you found something to write about. Good luck with your writing!

  8. Hello! I simply want to give a huge thumbs up for
    the nice data you’ve got right here on this post. I can be coming back
    to your weblog for extra soon.

    1. Between Bing translator and my husband, who lived in Mexico City when he was a kid, I had a look at your Playing with Words site. 🙂 Thanks for dropping by and hope you come back to visit again. Hasta luego!

  9. Thanks for this! We have used a lot of these for school this year and they have definitely got the non-writers in the family thinking! (My writing prompts were getting dull)

    1. Hi Samantha. Thanks so much for dropping by. I’m glad your writers are enjoying the prompts. they’re fun to write. Hope you have a great weekend ahead!

  10. I love this! I love to write and I’m pretty young for that, this will help me tremendously!

    1. Hi Loretta! Glad you like the website. Good luck with your writing!

  11. This is just what I need!!! Thanks a bunch!

    1. Glad you dropped by! There should be some new prompts up on the blog tomorrow. (I’m still writing them.) Good luck with your writing!

  12. August Something | Reply

    Dang these are a lot of writing promts! I write constently so this is a huge help. I liked the promts you wrote about the beginning of the book, like “They were all wrong. Blood didn’t look like ketchup at all” that was one of my favorites. So thanks a bunch! I’m thirteen. 🙂

    1. Glad you like the writing prompts! I add new writing prompts on my blog the first day of every month. Make sure you check those out, too. Have fun with your writing!

  13. Thanks so much!!!!!!!!!! i sometimes dont no how to start a story and this is a huge help! 🙂

    1. So glad that you like the writing prompts. Good luck with your writing!

  14. Thanks a lot — your prompts have kept me from accomplishing anything at all today! Okay, I’m kidding, mostly; what happened is that a couple of them have embedded themselves into my thoughts, and I’ve found myself drifting back to them in the middle of other tasks, taking twice as long to finish. And that’s a problem I’ll take any day of the week!!! Thanks for the inspiration!

    1. I’m really glad you enjoyed the writing prompts. They’re a lot of fun to invent in the first place. I always wonder what kind of stories they lead to. Good luck with your writing!

  15. omg!This really helped alot!! 😉

  16. the one about the cemetery just helped me get an idea for my creative writing class’ short story assignment. thanks a million! 🙂

    1. Glad you found a prompt that worked for you. Hope you have fun writing the story!

  17. I’ve taken on the writing prompts as a year’s challenge! I’ll pick 365 of the 460 possibilites and write each day on one! Thanks so much for helping me find my creativity again! (:

    1. That’s a great idea, Kayla! You will definitely have a creative year.

  18. Wow, these are great! I especially love the bare-bones dialogue and opening sentences. A couple of my favorites were “They were wrong. Blood really didn’t look like ketchup at all.” and “Never meet your friend in a graveyard.”. Do you have any personal favorites?

    1. I love to read mysteries, so my favourite prompts are the ones that, I hope, will lead someone to write one. At workshops, the dialogue ones are big favourites. Glad you’re enjoying them, and good luck with your writing!

  19. Great! #22 inspired.me for a new poem! The one with the knife. If you want, you can check it out on Wattpad.com my name is LolaJenkins and my pic is a girls face with weird hair and a dramatic face…. I only have 4 works, so it should be easy to find!

    1. So great to hear that you wrote a poem from one of my prompts! I tried to find it on Wattpad. I found two poems by someone with your name, but the pictures didn’t match the one you describe. One poem was about a water bottle and the other poem was called “Leave Me.” In any case, I’m glad that you’re writing (don’t stop!), and I’m glad you sent me to Wattpad. I’ve never visited the site before!

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