January 15, 2020
Ever had an assignment for a short creative story handed to you and blanked, as the paper before you filled you with dread? Sometimes it can be hard to figure out what to write and when, especially when the assignment is vague, or you just don’t know what to do.
If that’s you, no need to be ashamed, you’ve come to the right place! Almost everyone has been there at some point, and short prompts can be a good way to break that writer’s block. These prompts are sorted into five categories and have several examples for each, so go with whatever fits your mood. Happy writing!
- Dialogue prompts.
These are my go-to for basic creative writing assignments. If it’s done right, a few lines of dialogue can set up or completely change a whole story. These prompts range from light and silly, to heavily dramatic and everything in between. No need to be an expert dialogue writer, just picture the characters in your head and think through what they might be doing. Battle scene? Try setting them in a blood-soaked battlefield. Cheesy pickup line? Maybe explore why character A has resorted to such dramatic means to get a date. Life-changing piece of news? Think about what the person will have to do next. You don’t even need to include the original dialogue in your story, just do whatever gets those creative juices flowing!
A few examples include:
- “You’re such a complete disaster,” groans the villain, scooping the unconscious hero off the sidewalk. “Like holy hell, how does anyone let you out of their sight? Stop picking fights with people you aren’t ready for.”
- “Fix me up with six cups of coffee and we’re good to go!” they said with a grin. Character B just shook their head. “We need to talk about your life choices.”
- “I’m not a lot of people’s favorite person…”
- “Are you a carbon fossil? Because I’d love to da-”
They cut him off. “Don’t finish that.”
- “Ya know, earlier today I was just remarking how strange it is that you chose to name your cat after a demon. Maybe I was onto something.”
Locked in a battle against a massive beast, Character B screamed in frustration, “Yeah OKAY I got it, alright?? I was just trying to feed it, not summon this!”
- Narrative type prompts.
These types of prompts thrust you right into an opening line of a story, and give you a place to jump off of. Do your best to think of a story around the ideas that you’ve been given and have fun with it.
Examples of narrative prompts:
- The pie came out of the oven horrifically misshapen, but that might’ve been because of the green liquid oozing out of the crust.
- The day the sun rose in the west and set in the east, it took awfully long time before anyone noticed.
- As the giant marshmallow rolled down the hill, it was anyone’s guess where it would end up.
- Cries of joy echoed all throughout the small town, but nobody could find a single child.
- The day was always going to be a bad day, because any day no single sock has a match and it rains at the bus stop is a bad day.
- Genre prompts.
Some people find they love to write the same kind of story over and over again. Maybe you’re partial to aliens, maybe it’s cowboys, or maybe you’re a sucker for a good romance. Whichever you pick, filling in a genre makes it easy to fill in a lot of other story parts. For example, if I open with a sword wielding elf, I’m going to have a very different type of story than if I open with bodies in a graveyard coming to life.
That said, one of the hardest parts of genre stories is writing in a way that adheres to the key components, yet also manages to be different from the hundreds of other stories, and avoids being too cliche. Do your best to make sure your characters are more than just the story you put them in, and be careful that Chad at the coffee shop has more to him than incredibly good looks.
Examples from reedsy.com
- Write a science fiction story where all human behavior can be predicted — until your character does something the algorithm did not expect.
- Write a romance where your character falls in love with the last person they expected to.
- Write a ghost story where there’s more going on than it first appears.
- Write a story about someone who finds a magical portal in their home.
- Write a thriller about someone who witnesses a murder… except there’s no evidence that a murder took place.
- Prompts from real life.
Okay so, as we discussed under the theme section, you might find your life incredibly boring. But in fictional stories, you have the option to stretch certain elements of your life into entirely different tales. Prompts that come from real life events will focus on things you might not normally have thought about, but can lead to exciting new stories.
- Write a story based around the last text message you sent.
- You wake up to find yourself reliving your favorite childhood memory, but if you change anything about the moment, there will be consequences.
- A character decided to attempt to create your favorite food, except they suck at it.
- Write a story where the main character is your best friend, but with one big difference.
- Write a story from the point of view of a pet you know.
- Assignment prompts.
The easiest of all prompts, the prompt that gives you exactly what you’re going to write, but it’s still your job to make the story unique and different. These prompts should give you a sense of background story so picture the scene happening and try to play with it in your head. Reedsy is a website with a whole bunch of these kinds of prompts, so if you find you’re partial to starters that give you the outline, I recommend checking out that website.
Examples from Reedsy.com
- Write about two characters who each want to change the same thing, but resolve to go about it in very different ways.
- Write about someone who doesn’t remember their past — and doesn’t want to.
- Write a story where the power goes out on a spaceship or submarine.
- Write about someone hosting a cookie exchange as a cover to hide the true reason for inviting one of their guests.
- Write about two people who know they’ve made a mistake, and one of them wants to tell the truth but the other wants to lie about it.
Hope you found at least one kind of prompt that worked for you. Good luck!