25 ideas to get you writing
What do you do when you have the time and the inclination to write but you are out of ideas?
As a writer you will usually have stories that you are working on or a bigger project such as a novel underway. Sometimes, however, you have the time and the inclination to write something new, but you are out of ideas. This is when using a prompt is helpful. A prompt is simply an idea that gets you to put that first word down on paper or typed onto your screen. It's a launching point and quite often as you write you'll drift away or discard the original concept to go somewhere else entirely.
You can generate a list of prompts for yourself. I often do this and when I'm stuck I'll reach for old lists and see if something jumps out at me. Just jot down ideas as they occur to you. You may find it useful to number each item and to title your list. Titles may refer to a common theme such as 'Christmas/New Year', the month of generation 'New list for February 2022', or even be named after a competition or magazine that you want to write for.
If you are struggling to write your own prompts here is a list of 25 random ideas - some of which I've used myself - others I'll no doubt come back to one rainy day. It's a personal list. I don't pretend to be a teacher, or a wildly successful writer, but I have been writing for many years and do know what it is like to be faced with that blank page.
Wilkie's 25 prompts.
1. Write a story that is inspired by the random combination of a color and an animal. An easy way to generate this is to write down six colors and six animals and then throw two dice. You can be literal and write about an animal with that strange color, or your combination could be a logo, the name of a restaurant, a code word or whatever you like.
2. Write a story about a family break up and how that affects one family member as told from their point of view.
3. Set a story on another world. You could have humans investigating an unknown planet, or have settlers encounter strange problems. If you are deeply imaginative, don't have any humans at all but base your story on an alien life-form. How does such a creature think and feel?
4. Write a story backwards. Start with the end and move in stages back to the beginning. Don't plan the story but start with a dramatic conclusion. Then go back to what happened just before that. Finally jump further back to an hour or day beforehand. Try to make this final section illuminate why the opening (concluding) section occurred.
5. Write a descriptive piece about a personal object. You can consider who made it, where it was sold, why it was bought, or why it it is important to you. Is there a story in there?
6. Look at the strangers you see around you, or think of a stranger that you have seen recently. Do they have a character trait that makes them interesting to you? What's their backstory? Invent a story that revolves around a crisis in their life. Tell it from their point of view.
7. Use a visual prompt. If, like me, you take a lot of photographs, look through some of your more quirky shots, or even some of your rejects. Do any of these suggest a story idea? I've included a few of my photographs in this article. Feel free to use one of those as a springboard.
8. Write about a misunderstanding.
9. Begin by taking a song you know well and pretend you are in the process of writing, composing or recording it. You can be factual if you like. Then edit it to make it completely fictional, obscuring or replacing all the original song elements. Remember that copyright rules will mean that quoting lyrics, even a phrase, is something you want to avoid. Unless of course you have deep pockets of cash.
10. Choose a character whose occupation is generally viewed as unpleasant. What is it like to do that job? Do they get used to it? What made them take it in the first place? And what about their potential partners? How do they feel? Could you write a love story around this occupation?
11. Write a story in the third person about a character who is gender neutral. Use they/them in place of he/him or she/her. Have them interact with other characters. Try to write from their point of view.
12. Go back to a pivotal point in your past and have a character, based on someone very like you were then, take a different path. There are times in life where chance meetings, picking up a newspaper and reading a job vacancy, even missing a bus (think of Sliding Doors) can have a profound affect on our futures. Spring forward from that simple action and see where the story goes.
13. Write a piece that begins at midnight. It doesn't necessarily have to be a crime or ghost story. Night however should be a strong element in what happens.
14. Set a story in a public place - a library, a doctor's waiting room, a bus station, a church. We all have learned ways of behaving in these situations but what happens when someone acts strangely?
15. Write about a person on a solo journey who is forced to take a sudden detour. How does your character react to this change of plan?
16. Write a story that is set in a place of confinement but from two opposing positions. How does it feel to be the person confined? What about the person keeping the other in confinement? How do they feel? Your place of confinement could be a prison or a dungeon. Or it could be a hospital bed, a care home. It could even be a relationship.
17. Write a story in the form of a series of newspaper or website articles. Each new item should take the story further on. Quotes can be used but remember people may not be telling the truth. You should also consider that reporters, editors and columnists will have point of view on any story they present even where they are attempting to be neutral.
18. Write a piece about politics. Set it in a debating chamber or government space where things get out of hand. Consider making it humorous but try to avoid partisan politics.
19. Write a story based on a random word. Use a word generator or just flip open a big book and go for the first or last word on a page. You can also subscribe to daily services about words, and use one of those as a story prompt.
20. Write about three people who don't know each other but are thrown into an increasingly alarming situation. How do they work together to resolve it? Or does one abandon the other two? Three way situations are tricky, so if you struggle, try just two people, or even four.
21. Choose an historical event and write a story describing it from the point of view of a minor unknown character. Don't do too much research on this before the first draft. Just imagine what it was like to be involved in such an event. Try to bring the story alive for the reader. If it goes well, read up on the event. Are there details you want to add or "correct"? Could the historical account be mistaken?
22. Write a three part synopsis of a complete story and then write the three parts over subsequent days. Whenever I do this, I start with a simple idea and quickly expand it to three paragraphs each detailing a different scene. I then write the scenes over the next few days. Once done, I put the pieces together. Do they work? Should I drop one section or add another?
23. Write a story about a windfall.
24. Write a piece that begins with one of the senses other than sight. The tolling of a bell or the singing of a bird. The taste of blood. The smell of new books. The feel of something rough. Use this sensation to jump into your narrative.
25. Write a story about something that is splitting or breaking. This could involve a natural phenomenon such as a flood or forest fire, a political divide such as happens in war or following a public vote, or a schism in a church or bowling team. How does the split affect the characters in your story?
I hope you find something useful in the above list. Let me know what you think on twitter (@werewegian1). Happy writing!
About the author
Writer of strange little tales living in Glasgow, Scotland. A former IT professional who loves literary fiction, poetry, Eurovision, art-house film, post-crossing, and comics. Walks daily with his camera when he can. @werewegian1 on Twitter