Creative writing prompts are the missing link all writers need…whether you’re writing for fun or looking to write an amazing novel and live full time off your fiction writing like students in our Fundamentals of Fiction program.
Picture this: your imagination is a match…and you need to light it.
There are a number of different methods of setting a match ablaze to come up with story ideas. You can swipe it on the ground, against a rough surface, use your own nail, or even light it with another match that’s already burning.
But the best (and easiest) way? Striking it against the matchbox it came in. That’s what it’s for, after all.
This list is the matchbox with which you can strike your match. We have over 400 original writing prompts you can use across several different genres.
*click to jump to your genre
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200+ Fiction Writing Prompts In the Most Profitable Genres
Come up with your NEXT great book idea with over 200 unique writing prompts spanning 8 different genres. Use for a story, scene, character inspo, and more!
Creative Writing Prompts are Your Matchbox
All you need is one writing prompt to light your imaginative fire and you can burn through a book idea, formulating the plot and all with just a single prompt. You can even write a powerful short story with a small prompt!
And that’s exactly what we’re here to help you with, whether you’re writing as a hobby or looking to publish a novel that’s destined to be included on every bibliophile’s gift wish list.
Real writers know that you can easily come up with bits and fragments of a story but the overarching plot can be tricky to drum up.
You know what you want to write about: life’s happenings, a tragedy in your life, a deep memoir, magic, advanced science, realistic contemporary stories, but you just can’t figure out how to go from the genre and character development to a writing a novel.
200+ Creative Writing Prompts for Fiction Book Ideas
If you’re ready to take the plunge and finally start writing a book like you’ve always talked about, we can help you get started.
Something to keep in mind is that creative writing is largely driven by tone, style, characters, and your plot.
These are 100% original, never-before-seen creative writing prompts you won’t find anywhere else.
But if you’re ready to start right now, here are a few to set the creative wheel of your imagination in motion so you can find your writing style and master your craft.
Fantasy Writing Prompts
Fantasy is all about magic, creatures, and abilities. The possibilities with a fantasy world are nearly endless.
You can literally make up anything you want. This is why fantasy is my preferred genre to write in.
Here are 30 original fantasy writing prompts:
- Write about a characer who has a dream they got a certain magical power or gift…only to discover later that day that they DO now actually have it.
- Write about a fantasy creature who has searched the universe for its special bond: your main character.
- Write about a species of magical people who can conjure fire, control it, and thrive in it. Unfortunately, they’re world is headed toward an ice age…which could mean their extinction if they don’t learn to make peace with their water-weilding nemesis.
- Write a story where magic is abundant, everywhere, and used as currency. Your main character…lacks any magical powers—or maybe just the obvious ones.
- Write about a portal to another world, that is exactly like this one, except magic has been allowed to flourish instead of having been killed off thousands of years ago. Your main character ends up there by accident…and can’t go home.
- Write about a character who researches untouched societies as a living. While deep in the jungle on an assignment, they accidentally allow themselves to be seen by someone from the society, a big no-no. What that person is capable of is beyond the world your character knew existed.
- Write about a character whose world is dying. The actual earth is sick and killing all the plants and probably life as they know it.
- Write about a kingdom overrun by magical beasts who spit a toxin that makes you forget everything…from forever. Your main character wakes up on the ground in the middle of nowhere, not knowing a thing about themselves. They wander to the nearest town, where everybody seems to completely despise them.
- Your character and their brother have always been best friends. They know practically everything about each other. Until they catch him do something they never thought possible.
- Write a book about an ancient society where your character hears a voice within their own mind. Shunned by their village, they spend their life as a near-slave, waiting on others, doing the hardest work, and granted little freedom. Well, they did, anyway, until they uncovered who the voice belonged to.
- Your character boards a ship to sail across to a newly discovered land. What they find when they get there are undiscovered species – both animal and humanoid.
- Non-magic people are outlawed. Your character has no magic and their older sibling has been ensuring nobody knows since your character was born. One missed moment might ruin everything.
- Write about a character who needs a miracle, and they meet one too! Who knew miracles were actually beings and not just something that happens? Your character makes a bad first impression when their miracle shows up to help them out.
- Write a story about how all types of magic exists in your character’s world. While drinking liquid happiness (magic drink) from a local tavern, they’re hit with a vision that overpowered every drop of happiness consumed. They’ve never had visions before, either.
- Your character has always believed magic exists. They just didn’t know how close it really was.
- Write a book about how after an accident that killed your character’s father, they uncover secrets they can’t even understand. Then their father’s friend shows up out of nowhere and explains all of it.
- Write about how your character teaches children magic. When one kid proves to be way more than expected, they have to help them understand exactly what they can do – and stop them from doing something that could be dangerous.
- Write a story about your character and while awaiting test results in the hospital, they encounter an…odd person who teaches them about a world beyond their own – and better than their own.
- Write about a character who embarks on a quest to locate a special type of rock that lights fires almost instantly – something their settlement needs. What they didn’t expect to find, however, was a mermaid-like species living in the cave that houses most of that rock.
- Write a fantasy story about a character who wakes up every day feeling the same thing: that something in their life is just…missing. When they realize their frequent nightmares are actually memories, it all becomes clear.
- Emotions can be controlled. Thoughts can be stolen. In the world your character lives in, holding on to your own sanity is the difference between destruction and thriving. They must learn to push out anyone who tries to alter their perception of reality.
- Write about your character, who gets caught in the middle of an ancient feud between two families as a result of one of their failures. In order to make things right, they have to dive head first into a world they’d rather not know even existed.
- Your character is short on food, shelter, and even patience. When they (literally) run into someone from their past, their reality starts to make sense. If only that person could undo what’s been done to them.
- Magic is the currency. Your character is a rare breed who was born without it. When they find themselves in a dangerous challenge to prove their worth to the settlement, magic would’ve come in handy.
- Write a book about a character who can teleport – but only to places they’ve been before. Their dream? To backpack across each of your world’s countries in order to acquire the most locations. The only thing stopping them is a past that’s sprinting to catch up to them.
- Your character’s country is the best…until a new ruler steals the throne by force…of magic. The most shocking part? Nobody from that country knows magic exists…and everybody with magic didn’t know those without it exist.
- Write about a character who wants to do everything on their “bucket list.” But when they’re kidnapped and shipped off to the unknown, there’s only one thing left on their list: survive. It just so happens the place they end up stuck is one of dreams.
- Your character hears a language they’ve never heard uttered before that day…yet they understood every single word. Turns out, they’re not really from where they think.
- Your character is a compulsive liar, unable to stop themselves from spinning tales that make them the envy of everyone around them. Then they wake up one day to discover that their lies have all come true…
- Write about a character who goes looking for magic out of curiosity. They find more than magic in their family history.
How to Write Fantasy Stories
Fantasy is a wildly popular genre. There are countless fantasy worlds out there and that means you really have to focus on being unique within your world.
Here are a few ideas to do these writing prompts justice when writing your fantasy novel:
- Create 100% unique cultures
- Avoid these worldbuilding mistakes
- Develop slang for your world based on what’s popular/trending/makes sense with the time it takes place
- Do not use common phrases like “train of thought” if trains don’t exist in your world
- Use unique names
- Don’t forget about diversity!
- Opt for an unexpected and different journey and outcome (many fantasy novels follow a similar formula)
- Write what you want to read!
- Schedule your writing time and follow your deadlines if you really want to finish
Sci-Fi Writing Prompts
Here are 30 Sci-Fi Creative Writing Prompts:
- Write about a character who wakes up in a space pod alone…next to a ship so massive it’s actually carrying a planet beneath it. Your character has no memory from before they wake.
- Write a story about a character who lives in a world where every single person’s DNA is carefully genetically designed for something to help the community. Your main character despises what they were created for. This has never happened before.
- Write about how your character lives on a planet other than Earth. In fact, they don’t even know Earth exists. Well, they didn’t until some sort of advanced, technical probe crash-landed in their settlement, exposing the fact that they’re not alone. Now they have to decide what’s best for their settlement.
- Write a book about how the world used to be plagued with war and famine and inhumanity. But after years and years of developing a technical system that is the center of and controls everything, it’s almost completely peaceful. Your character is the engineer keeping the system running and when they uncover how it works, they contemplate abandoning everything they know.
- Write about the newest advancement in virtual reality that adds a physical sense. Now your characters can even hook up with people through your phone, all while staying at home. But when a glitch alters the mechanisms, what was once pleasure becomes pain and the user gets trapped in a VR state.
- Write a story about how others have been keeping your character alive for over 300 years because of a secret they know. When someone new finally learns the truth, reality becomes…confusing. Now, with only a short adulthood left to live, your character must ensure nobody else learns of this secret. But…well, news spreads fast.
- Write about how they didn’t mean to, but in an attempt to build a time traveling machine, your character actually discovered alternate universes – and then accidentally trapped themselves there. Oh, and this alternate universe hasn’t discovered electricity yet.
- Write a story about a character who lives in an ancient society. When a shiny, unnatural looking contraption touches down and creatures emerge, everything they once knew changes.
- Write about how the only reason your character is alive is because of a test device implanted around their heart. It wasn’t supposed to work and now, they’re not only healed, but they’re also changing. Just what exactly was that device made out of?
- Write about a character who wakes up in a dark, hot room dressed in hardly anything. Their memory is foggy but clearing up, and they have some sort of technical device securing their hands together. They stumble over to a tiny window that gives them a clear view of a world far below them.
- Write about your character’s sister who is discovered dead and the cause of death ruled an overdose. Your character knows better. She was the only person in the family who never had an issue with drugs. In fact, she was developing a cure for cancer in the most advanced research center in the world. Your character finds that…suspicious.
- Write a story about how computers are outlawed. Having access to technology is punishable by life in prison. Your character runs an underground cyber center that gets crashed by local law enforcement. But during interrogation, they get hired instead of prosecuted…because something unworldly has touched down.
- Write about a character who accidentally created a virtual reality software that taps into the user’s psyche and creates their ultimate dream reality. They were on track to become a billionaire until some users became addicted and unable to free themselves from its hold.
- Write a story about how the world your character currently lives on is nearing its breaking point. While the rest of the world rushes to evacuate everyone to a space pod with a destination of a livable planet, your character remains behind bars, left to die with the rest of the world’s prisoners. The kicker? They’re wrongfully convicted.
- Write about how disease is finally eradicated. Cancer is nothing more than an old nightmare. Your character spent years working his way into a lab dedicated to making sure it stays that way. Their secret? They’re a hardcore believer in natural selection. He decides to take Darwinism into his own hands.
- Write a book about a city that’s the first to implement an entirely technological government. It’s under strict surveillance from the outside in order to determine if this is the future of your country…and the world. Your character stumbles into trouble when they discover that technology isn’t in charge at all – a group of people they’ve never seen or heard of are.
- Write about hot time altering is possible, but fatally illegal. In this world, characters can bend, pause, rewind, and even fast forward time…but at the risk of their lives. Your character, in a midst of panic, accidentally alters time…by going 300 years into the past.
- Write a story about how the outdoors is plagued with radioactive particles created by a new technology once thought to eradicate airborne diseases. People are confined to the indoors unless they use a special, very expensive suit. Citizens who can’t afford them are driven mad by confinement. Your character wants to find a way for everyone to have a suit – no matter what law enforcement says.
- Write about a character who invents airborne particles with the intent to eradicate diseases. Unfortunately, they become radioactive, toxic, and severely deadly to anyone who breathes in even a tiny amount.
- Scientists have created a man-made atmosphere around the planet of Mars in order to make it completely livable. Your character is one of the lucky few who are chosen to be among the first to inhabit the planet. What they don’t know is that there is no atmosphere…and others already inhabit it.
- Write about your character who lives in a world where the outdoors is plagued with natural disasters daily. Venturing outside is dangerous and rarely done. When they’re forced to leave their home to rush to the aid of someone struggling outside, they learn that those “natural” disasters are completely fabricated. Their new life mission is to find out why.
- Write a story about how in your character’s world, identity is implanted into your forearm at birth. It’s scannable and contains any information someone would ever need to know, including age, overall health, risk for diseases, and more. Your character, having spent their life in a type of foster care, applies for a job only to realize that now, at the age of 18, their identity is showing two different sets of information.
- Your character’s job is to lead the mission of colonizing new planets – even if there’s life present. When the truth of how they manage to find habitable planets surfaces, a new recruit shows them just how wrong it really is. Your characters new goal? To stop it.
- Write about how oceanic cities have been built for the rich. They float atop the ocean, traveling hundreds of miles a day, all while its citizens go about their everyday life. Unfortunately, your character discovers a superstorm developing below the ocean’s surface, something that has never happened before – something they are wildly unprepared for.
- Your character develops a new device you implant in your ear that reads the minds of those they focus on. After light testing, they accidentally discover that the local baker has a massive, dangerous, potentially even deadly secret.
- Write about how in the distant future, magic is discovered as being real…at least for the humanoid creatures inhabiting an Earth-like planet. Your main character is among the few chosen to venture to the planet and study them. They just never expected to discover the source of the magic like they did in the process.
- Write a story about how oxygen levels on Earth have been plummeting for centuries. Now, with the population dwindling due to suffocation and disease, your main character has to find a way off the dying planet without attracting too much attention from the Keeps, also known as the highly deadly enforcement force tasked with making sure only certain individuals leave.
- Write a story about how centuries ago, a solar flare damaged the Earth’s atmosphere in the opposite way expected; it actually made it stronger. But now the sun’s rays have difficulty penetrating it and the world is slowly growing colder. Your character is among the many determined to find a way to fix it.
- Happiness is an illusion, as are every other emotion. In your futuristic society, humans are bred in a lab without them as a means of creating equality. The only problem is that your main character was born the natural way…with every emotion intact. If this is discovered, they’ll have to fend for their life.
- Write about how your main character was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Tasked with delivering something seemingly unimportant, they witness something they shouldn’t have and are pulled into a world of secrecy, dangerous weapon manufacturing, and a virtual war the public is blind to.
How to Write Science Fiction
This genre is another very popular one, and for good reason. You can imagine a realistic, yet very different future than what we currently have.
Here are a few guidelines when creating your science fiction world from these writing prompts:
- Decide if the story will take place in this world or a completely unique one
- Create realistic advanced technology that your characters would actually use
- Avoid modern-day slang unless the story takes place here
- Create your own slang. A great example of this is in Jenna Moreci’s sci-fi novel, EVE: The Awakening pictured below)
“Dynamic” is the slang the author created in this instance. It fits with the sci-fi world and further creates a sense of realism and it pulls the reader deeper into the world.
Save This Resource NOW for Quick Reference Later…
200+ Fiction Writing Prompts In the Most Profitable Genres
Come up with your NEXT great book idea with over 200 unique writing prompts spanning 8 different genres. Use for a story, scene, character inspo, and more!
Dystopian Writing Prompts
As this genre gains more and more popularity, you may find yourself wondering what a certain post-apocalyptic world might look like.
Why not write about it?
Here are 30 dystopian creative writing prompts:
- Write about a character who finds an odd-looking egg in the forest. When they take it home, they never could have predicted what was inside it.
- Write a story about how natural farming doesn’t exist anymore. Due to climate change, all food has to be manufactured in bulk and distributed. There is no flavor and is the same every day. Your character, who has spent their entire life in this world, takes a trip to the mountains far away from their home. There, they discover real plants, and on them, berries.
- Write about nature extremists taking over the government, stopping at nothing to ensure all man-made harm on the planet is eradicated. Your character ends up in their clutches, forced to do their bidding.
- Write a story about how, due to climate change, wildfires have engulfed the large majority of living land. Your character is one of many attempting to board a ship set for a new in-ocean settlement. The problem? That settlement doesn’t actually exist.
- Write about how after a devastating illness that rocked only the wildlife population over 200 years ago, a scientist created a virus that strengthens animal’s immune systems with the purpose of creating balance and stabilizing the wildlife population once again. The problem is that it worked too well and the wildlife has exceeded (and reduced) the world’s population
- Write a book about how after a devastating storm that encompassed the entire world, the population has thinned significantly and your character, who lost all of their family but their youngest sibling, has to go up against the new “government” with a group of allies as they attempt to gain control over the living population of the world – in the worst way.
- Write about how over the course of a few hundred years, cases of depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses caused the death and destruction of generations. Then an airborne substance was created to balance all levels of each person so they’re created 100% equal in every way. Turns out, your character is immune to the substance.
- Write about how the third World War is done and over with for many years now. It was the downfall of the world’s economic system. Now your main character must navigate a world where governments no longer exist, money is useless, and survival is the only objective. Oh, and they have a debilitating medical condition to look after, too
- Write a story about how two thousand years after a massive wave of a fatal illness swept over the entire world, your character navigates a life of poverty and hardship, struggling to feed their very young twin siblings and alcoholic father. That is, until a new form of choosing a leader is proposed. Now they can finally compete to rule over their settlement.
- Write about how books have nearly been abolished. Your country is separated into three main regions with a dangerous “neutral” zone in the center. With a rumor of a way out located in the midst of the neutral zone, your main character must venture through two other regions to get there.
- Write a book about a character who is fortunate to have been born into a powerful family after the downfall of the world. They have everything they would ever hope to have…except for a clue as to what happens outside their very large, protective walls. Once they find out, they can’t help but need to change it.
- Write about a single tower that powers what’s left of the country’s population. When an outsider tampers with its mechanisms, the tower breaks down, leaving your main character and everyone else struggling to survive.
- Write about how the birthrate has dropped significantly. So much so that children are now worth millions. Your main character, a very poor woman, just found out she’s pregnant – and won’t be able to hide it for long. Kidnapping and worse await her if anyone finds out that she can reproduce, and will soon have a child up for “grabs.” In order to save herself – and her child – she must confess her pregnancy to the father, a very wealthy man in politics.
- Write a story about a character who ventures away from the only town they’ve ever known, despite warnings and many attempts to make them stay. What they find is emptiness…for miles and miles and miles.
- Write a story about a hidden temple is the only thing standing in the way of your character becoming the next ruler of a post-apocalyptic, off-the-grid society. When a newcomer ventures into their land, their chance of finding the temple becomes dangerous…maybe even impossible.
- Write a book about how they really thought they were helping by creating a single drug with the power to eradicate diseases, illnesses, and even cancer. What they didn’t anticipate was the massive super virus 100% resistant to the drug. Your main character seems to be the only one who can’t catch it…that they know of.
- Write about how society has collapsed over hundreds of years, not with war or a single event like they always thought would happen. Your main character discovers a voice message from 700 years prior detailing the downfall’s construction. The 300 years it took to destroy society was completely planned. But why?
- Since the manmade radioactive superstorm that destroyed most of life as they knew it, extreme measures have been taken to document every move of every person. Your main character scans a chip when they eat, sleep, travel, and even when they have sex. When offered a way out, your main character takes it without question…which might be their biggest mistake.
- Write a story about how the government was taken over by the rich nearly 50 years ago. Your main character was lucky enough to be born into the wealthiest family. What they never thought of, though, was the fact that one day, the could be kidnapped and used as leverage.
- Write about a character who, after witnessing horrors of rising crime and drug rates, ran away at the age of 12 to live on their own in a secluded wooded area. Now, after 10 years of solitude, people start filing into their neck of the woods covered in wounds, tattered clothing, and bruises.
- Write about a super tsunami that’s demolished the eastern portion of the United States. But contrary to what was expected, the water is actually creeping inland, not back out to sea. Your main character’s home is a victim of the ocean.
- Write a story about how electricity is scarce…and very expensive. Your main character walks home one night to discover a brand-new electric car sitting idle in behind a forest tree line. They follow its tire tracks to find a massive house lit up and blasting music. A stranger waves at them to come in.
- Write a book about how at the height of your character’s career – and life as a whole – an attack destroys their city, kills their spouse, and forces them into poverty…and maybe even war. With new laws, new standards, and new rulers in place, their life obtains a whole new purpose.
- Write a story about how a little boy is running toward your main character, a look of absolute joy lighting up their face. Then they freeze, their joy turning to anger, rage. Your character cocks their head, confused, and then the truth hits them. He must be one of the Ruin Children, born from the people affected by the Great Tragedy.
- Write about a trial being the only way your character can ever hope to rise above their current abysmal ranking. Your world’s current society is one bred for advancement. Anyone who can’t meet the standards is done for. Your character needs a near miracle to pass their trial.
- Due to an error made by someone in the distant future when time traveling, the world’s societal (and time) structure has collapsed. Each day may produce a completely different reality than the one before. Survival isn’t guaranteed and strangers could have been your best friend – or more – only yesterday.
- Your character’s world is what happens when an experimental chemical compound intended to sustain plant life is pumped into the atmosphere. Now trees have overgrown, plants are squeezing into homes, and the Earth’s oxygen levels are (if you can believe it) too high.
- Tagged, chipped, and shuffled into line. That’s your character’s everyday reality. They’re herded like cattle…to be used in the same way as cattle. Then a single guard takes pity on your character and offers them a way out.
- Write a story about a main character who’s read all about the warning signs of a solar flare and the flipping of the Earth’s magnetic field. They’ve scoured through studies and research papers depicting what would happen. Since both occurred within the same year over a century ago, they’re stuck to live in the aftermath.
- Peace. The world is ruled by one person dedicated to keeping the peace. There’s been no war or poverty or famine in centuries. Your main character is newly employed to be the ruler’s personal assistant. When they discover how the world is kept at peace, their life changes forever.
How to write Dystopian books
Dystopian novels are one of the biggest trends sweeping the literary world. With books like The Handmaid’s Tale stirring more post-apocalyptic stories, it’s easy to get stuck in the same mindset as many other dystopian novelists.
Here are a few things to keep in mind if you want to write dystopian using these writing prompts:
- Think way outside of the box
- Use literary elements from your story’s past to form their present
- Paint a very clear picture of everyday life for your character from the very first page
- Get creative with the laws, culture, and customs
- Don’t just “go with the flow”: The Handmaid’s Tale is so popular largely due to the fact that it’s unique. Not many people would have thought of a world that was overrun by a religion – and that’s what makes it so tantalizing; it’s unexpected.
Contemporary Writing Prompts
Some people don’t necessarily want to escape from this world. In fact, they just want to escape from their own life for a little bit but prefer to read something realistic, something they can relate to.
Contemporary writing is all about forming connections with readers.
Here are 28 contemporary writing prompts:
- Write about a character who’s done everything they’re told. They just graduated high school and are off to a very good college to get their degree in something reliable. But when they get there, they realize there’s a whole world of opportunity they never knew existed. Now they have to maintain the façade of going to college even though they decided to pursue a different endeavor.
- Write a story involving a character who answers the door to nothing but an intricate envelope on the ground; an invitation. After attending the secret underground event, they become a part of the biggest activist group out there…and nobody even knows who they are.
- Write about how, while on a hike with friends, your main character discovers a small tower buried beneath the ground. After some digging, they realize it’s filled with scrolls they can hardly make out. What they contain will change your character’s view of life forever.
- Write a book about how a character has been living a very sheltered, very dangerous life. After the death of their overbearing father, they’re thrust into the real world – only to realize just how different their life really is from those around them.
- Write a book about how your main character gets called out of school/work by someone they don’t know for something they are clueless about. But for some reason, the person addressing them thinks they already know everything about it.
- Write a story about how, as an artist, your main character has it well. But when everything they’ve worked for is burned in a tragic fire, they have to start all over with nothing to their name and a roommate determined to hold them back.
- Write about how life for your main character has never been easy. After venturing in and out of foster homes, they’re finally an adult and on their own. When their birth mother reaches out to reconnect, they never could’ve predicted what’s kept her away for so long. Now your character has to decide between getting involved with their real mother or cutting ties forever.
- Write about how death is a natural part of life. Your main character has been feared it or been affected by it. But when their best friend goes missing and their body shows up in front of their house, your character makes it their mission to find out who’s responsible – even if it means breaking the law…a lot of laws.
- Write a story about a character who’s in an accident that leaves them blind. When they meet a stranger who shows them how to enjoy life again, everything seems to be perfect. Until tragedy strikes that stranger.
- A strange person approaches your character claiming to be their long-lost parent. But your character isn’t adopted…so they think. Now they have to make sense of a new reality and an identity that’s shocking.
- Write about how a half-eaten apple flies through the air and smacks your character on the head. There’s nobody around and no way for anyone to hide. Then it happens again the next day. They do some digging and discover the source…a small child with rags for clothes and hollow cheeks.
- Your character’s identity is stolen, racking up thousands of dollars in debt. They were just fired, and to top it all off, their long-term significant other just broke up with them for their friend. And they said your twenties would be the best years of your life.
- Your character was adopted from foster care when she was 5. Their memories of their time in that foster home are almost non-existent. All they can remember is feeling scared and a distinct song that gets stuck in their head from time to time. As they’re walking to class one day, they hear that familiar song in the distance.
- Write a story about how your character woke up in a stranger’s home with a gaping, painful wound on their leg. They have no idea where they are, how they go there, or who the strange man in the corner of the room watching them is.
- Write about how your character had been studying their whole life. With everyone in their family having gone to an ivy league school, your main character feels the pressure to get in and get A’s. They even stoop to low levels to do so.
- Your character embarks on a mission to prove that the key to happiness is doing whatever they want, whenever they want. But that mentality quickly lands them in serious trouble with drugs, new “friends,” and decisions they can’t undo.
- Write a story about a dimly lit street at 3 am. Your character strolls by like they have many nights before after a long shift at the bar. A building they’ve never noticed before flashing an “OPEN” sign catches their attention. Once inside, the direction of their entire life changes.
- Write about how nothing has ever really been difficult for your main character. They’ve been able to coast through life, get a good job, make good friends, and are happy. Then a social worker shows up at their door with a six-year-old child – the same child that was adopted six years prior. Turns out, raising a six-year-old is very, very difficult.
- Your main character has worked their entire life to make their dreams of curing cancer a reality. But when it seems like a cure is within reach, a suspicious fire burns all of their research…or so it seemed.
- Write about a character who survived an accident that killed one of their siblings. When they thought life couldn’t get any harder, a scary diagnosis rocks their already unstable boat. Dealing with grief, your family blaming you for a sibling’s death, and a debilitating disease isn’t easy. Thank goodness they make a new friend.
- Write about purple glasses. Black hair. Polka dot shoes. Your main character has seen this person on the subway every day for two years. When they notice their absence for a week straight, they decide to find out who they are. Turns out, your character shouldn’t have gone snooping.
- Your character lines up at the bank very early in the morning, dreading another day of mind-numbing work ahead at their corporate job. A gentleman in a grey suit with white hair greets them and engages in some small talk. Then, out of nowhere, he hands your character a gun, takes a few steps back, and fires a couple of rounds into the ceiling.
- Write about how fire is your main character’s solace – their addiction. Their home is littered with candles, a lighter is never more than a foot from them, and bonfires are a nightly occurrence. Addiction of any kind can be a very dangerous thing.
- Write a story about how your character sees balloons – hundreds of them – floating toward the sky from miles away. They go to investigate the cause and end up really regretting that decision. They get pulled into something that could change their life forever.
- It’s been two years since your character has actually had a steady job. After growing increasingly desperate, they answer an ad for a personal assistant position. They just didn’t expect it to be for a major drug cartel leader.
- Hospitals have never been your character’s favorite. They think they smell…weird. Unnatural. But they work there now and will have to get used to it. They throw on their white coat and enter the building. Ugh. The psychiatric ward always smells the worst; like wet stone and rotting wood mixed with subpar antiseptics.
- Your main character starts to hear voices shortly after experiencing a trauma. Now they’re in therapy, fighting with their own mind in order to sort out what really happened that day and why they can’t stop hearing another voice.
- Write about how children are the future. They have the power to right our wrongs and start anew. Your main character befriends an orphaned child and learns more from them than they realized was possible.
How to Write in the Contemporary genre
I personally believe contemporary can be one of the hardest genres to write because you have the least wiggle room when it comes to creativity.
Everything has to be realistic in today’s society.
Here are a few tips to remember for writing contemporary from the very talented author of Little Birds and Writing Youtuber, Hannah Lee Kidder:
- “Realistic dialogue is important. All the characters should sound different from one another, their vernacular should make sense for their background, and the writer should read it out loud.”
- “Tiny details are hella dope in descriptions. It should be so specific and vivid that when the reader finishes the story, they feel like they’ve lost a bit of reality.”
- “Imagining characters complexly is also important. Work on understanding real people. If you understand people and why they do what they do, you can understand characters and what they do”
- Create a conflict many can relate to or sympathize with
- Spend a lot of time on the character arc as many contemporary novels are primarily character-driven
Contemporary Writing Exercise From Hannah Lee Kidder: Sit in public and pick a random person, then write a completely made up story about them.
Romance Writing Prompts
Here are 30 romance writing prompts:
- Write about how your character has gone through life believing that love is a choice. Their decision? To never get involved because love can only lead to pain and hardship. But after an argument with a stranger, their view of love, and life itself, is changed.
- Write a story about how marriage is just what happens when you’ve been with someone forever. For your main character, that seems obvious. But when they’re months away from their wedding and an old friend barges into their life unannounced, a wedding seems like the furthest thing from their desires.
- Write about a character who is up for a big promotion within their company. They’ve put everything on hold for it – including their love life. But when an outsider is hired instead, they lose it, focusing all their energy on bringing this newcomer down. They just didn’t think about the fact that they might end up likingthem.
- Write a book about how a character and their significant other have been together since childhood. After a war between their people rips them away from each other, they’ll have to fight, manipulate, and fool in order to get each other back.
- Write about how a package is mailed to your main character. It’s filled with what seems like hundreds of letters all to a single person. Memories and confessions of love are penned within those letters. Your main character feels drawn to the person on the other end and sets out to find them – and the letter’s true destination.
- Write a story about how arranged marriages are the standard. In fact, nobody marries for love. Love doesn’t even exist in your character’s world. But when they’re drawn to someone who’s already spoken for, they start to question everything they know about love.
- Write about how your main character lives in a society of slavery. If you’re not born in a certain family, you’re shipped off and sold. When your character is sold for the 8th time in their short 20 years, then end up at one of the top houses – and become a personal servant to the next leader of their settlement. Soon, they’re enthralled in a romance that could get them both killed…because he’s already promised to another…a very dangerous other.
- Write a story about how cheating is wrong. Your character’s society puts emphasis on loyalty above anything else. In fact, cheating and betrayal of any kind in any relationship are punishable by life in prison (and even death in extreme cases). So why does something that’s been illegal for as long as they can remember feel so right when your character meets someone new? Avoiding jail just became the most difficult part of your character’s life.
- Write about how your character started going blind at the age of six. Fifteen years later, they meet someone who makes their life better in ways they couldn’t have imagined. Then they realize that they’ve actually met that person before.
- Your main character has seen the same person at the bus stop every day for what seems like over a year. They also bump into them frequently at coffee shops, grocery stores, and even restaurants. Finally, they decide to introduce themselves to the person who Fate seems to be pushing their way.
- It had been 10 years since your character last saw their biggest crush. How they both ended up in the same city away from their hometowns makes no sense to them. It’s got to be more than a coincidence, right?
- A waft of something flowery washes over your main character as they jog down the street. They turn and follow the scent to someone dancing in the middle of the street to no music while reading a book.
- Write a book. about how your character runs away from their tribe in the dead of night. After an injury leaves them exposed, an unlikely ally of a rivaling clan saves their life.
- Reading minds might seem like an advantage in the dating world. But when your character can hear every single thought someone has about them, it quickly reduces their chances at finding love.
- Write a. story about how a treehouse in the deep woods is your character’s favorite place to relax. But when they get interrupted by the weird kid at school, they have to set some ground rules for its use. Sharing a treehouse with the weirdo might just be the best thing they’ve ever done.
- Write about how it’s rare to find true love as a child. Your main character did – and they grew up to marry their childhood sweetheart. But after an unexpected death, your character is forced to live without their true love. Oh…and they have a one-year-old to take care of on top of it.
- Write a book about how your character waited two weeks for their date to call. What seemed like a perfect evening must’ve not been all that great for them. Then their date’s sibling called…to tell them they had died. But they did leave a few notes with your character’s name on them before it happened.
- Her brother’s friends are off limits. Her dad’s friends are off limits. She knows those rules. But when a new coworker of her dad’s enters the picture, she’ll have to find a way around her father’s rules.
- Write a story about how many memories of love and loss come to your character’s mind when they’re invited to an all-adult summer camp. They decide to go for it and spend 6 weeks in paradise with complete strangers.
- Write a romance story about how you don’t know unconditional love until you’ve ever felt it at your core. And once you do, you can never settle for anything less ever again.
- “Marry your best friend,” they said. “It’ll be fun,” they said. But when your best friend turns out to be the complete opposite of how you thought, a relationship can get tricky. Your character is on the lookout for a new best friend.
- Write a romance about how your character is basically a “starving artist,” an art student just barely getting by. Their roommate, another art student and your character’s crush, opens a gallery featuring breathtaking paintings of your character. It’s everything your character could want…and then they meet the person who pays thousands for their portrait. Now their roommate is hardly on their mind.
- In an ancient world, your character is getting ready for a life partner ceremony. Their partner – someone they’ve known their whole life – is already chosen and it’s time to secure the bond. But when someone your character has never met before steps up to challenge your supposed-to-be life partner, they’re forced to be with a stranger.
- Write about how two old bicycles are embedded in a tree – grown into it from years of being chained to it. Upon further inspection, your character finds a bottle in one of the baskets and in that bottle, a letter. They attempt to return the letter to its owner to find someone else entirely.
- Write a story about how in order to marry in your character’s society, suitors have to fight a person’s entire family for their hand. On the same day your character challenges their love’s family of 8, someone else challenges theirs – a family of only 3.
- “All’s fair in love and war.” Does this still ring true when your character is fighting a war for love? Some say they’ll move mountains to get to the love of their life. Others will move kingdoms.
- Write a romance about how falling in love is dangerous – especially for your character, who must stay focused if they want to rule someday. But when their mother’s friend brings her daughter to their palace, their entire focus changes. If only she would notice your character.
- Write about what happens when your very particular character meets the least likely person to ever be a good match for them.
- Falling in love is never easy. It’s even more difficult, however, when you find out the person you’re head over heels for is a torturer. And worse…they enjoy it.
- Write about a character who decides to take a vacation for themselves to a secluded little town in order to figure out what to do with their life after college. Little did they know that this small town could house so much of what they’re really looking for in life – including a hottie with a less-than-favorable reputation.
How to Write Romance
Even though romance is an extremely popular genre doesn’t mean you can be lazy when it comes to the actual romance and creative writing prompts isn’t always enough to help you develop a full-blown romance.
People read romance to be invested, to feel something real.
Consider these additional tips when writing romance:
- NEVER romanticize abuse as “love” (AKA, a jealous boyfriend should never be praised for “loving your character more” because this is harmful to readers)
- Create real chemistry by giving your characters qualities that would actually foster a connection
- Avoid “insta-love” by giving your characters time to bond and get to know each other
- Look out for serious romance cliches and overused plot lines like love triangles, forbidden romances (these can be great if done uniquely!), and crazy exes
- Continuously up the stakes whenever the reader gets comfortable with the relationship
Horror and Thriller Writing Prompts
Because being terrified is entertaining to some people, horror and thriller books exist and are quite popular!
The great thing about this genre is that you can get really creative and really dark.
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Here are 30 horror and thriller writing prompts:
- Write a book about how your main character is home alone, just like most nights. This time, however, a new neighbor pays them a visit. And it wasn’t for the last time.
- Write a story about how eight murders have taken place in your character’s town in the past 8 weeks. Once a week, on the same day, at the same time. When your character gets abducted after being out past the town’s new curfew, they have only 48 hours to discover why this is happening and how to get free…all while being tortured by the murderer.
- Write a horror story about how it’s a day of celebration in your character’s hometown! A 100-year-old time capsule is about to be opened, so of course, they go, just like most of the town. When a deceased human hand with a sinister note attached to it is the only thing in the capsule, questions start to buzz. The first being, who is the person who wrote the note? Oddly enough, the note is written in your main character’s handwriting…with their signature…dated 82 years before they were even born.
- Write about how your main character suffers from a condition that gives them periodic blackouts for seemingly no reason. The only thing they can seem to remember from before each blackout is a bike. A red bike with a white basket and muddy tires. One day, they see that very bike leaning up against their house but this time, they don’t blackout.
- Write a thriller about how odd and unexplainable events are said to happen in a certain seaside town. Your main character takes it upon themselves to visit in an effort to see just how accurate the sightings are. What they find is beyond anything they imagined. But now they can’t seem to escape the town.
- Write a story about how your main character and a couple of friends take a boat trip to a tiny, vacant, off-limits island for a night of celebration. When the sun goes down, they realize just how occupied the island actually is…and there’s a reason it’s off-limits.
- Write a book about a character who’s in therapy because whenever they close their eyes at night, they see (very vividly) someone’s tragic death. Some say it’s just their twisted imagination, their new therapist thinks it is something much, much different…and dangerous.
- Write a story about how your main character gets into an accident. While they make a seemingly full recovery, something has just been off inside their head since the crash. When they wake up next to a mutilated body in an unrecognizable place, they start to worry.
- A new town, a new job, a new life. Your character moved away to start over and become someone they’ve always wanted to be. The problem? They just can’t seem to stop killing people.
- The lure of a mysterious person will never get old. Their dark hat, sly smirk, and inquisitive eyes pull your main character in…until they can’t get out.
- Write about a dare. That’s how it all started, like all those horror movies your main character loves. They venture into that basement from the outside with confidence…only to discover two kids and a decaying body chained up. Now they have to make sure they don’t get caught. The hidden camera on the basement stairs doesn’t help with that.
- Write a horror about how your character gets a new job in a restaurant as a waiter. The tight-knit family running the place welcomes them with open arms…and then invites them to take part in what really happens when they close at night.
- Your character’s significant other has always talked in their sleep; it’s nothing new. But when their voice changes and their words take a dark turn, your character can’t help but do some digging into why that is…and they don’t like what they find.
- Your character thinks they must be the last person left on Earth. After a devastating disease swept over the entire world, they wander aimlessly. Then they come across a town that seems unchanged, inhabiting seemingly normal people. They learn that’s far from the truth.
- Write about how after wandering into a brand-new book store, your character thoroughly enjoys the last few books they’ve read. When they go to buy another, the owner recommends a very specific book. They start reading only to realize it’s about that very town, 50 years earlier, about a book shop owner who preys on customers.
- Your character is walking home midday when they hear an usual sound coming from an ordinary house in the suburbs. They soon forget about it for the rest of the day. Then, when they’re falling asleep, they hear that same sound outside their window.
- A boot, a broken glass bottle, and a scuba diving mask show up on your character’s front lawn after a city-wide festival. Thinking nothing of it, they toss them in the garbage…only for them to reappear the next morning.
- Write a story involving a character who officially meets the person they’ve been bumping into all over town. After hitting it off, they go out on a date that ends very poorly for one of them.
- Write about how the painting that’s been in your character’s home for over 50 years starts screaming.
- They said not to visit the museum at night. They said strange things might happen. Your character never imagined just how much they should’ve listened.
- Your character’s best friend just got back from some intense rehab. They seem better than ever…until your character discovers their method of staying clean; a new addiction has taken its place.
- Write a thriller novel about how your character wakes up to a door slamming. They rush to their toddler’s room only for them to be missing. A single gardening glove is in their place on the bed.
- Your character’s mom is caught sneaking into their house in the middle of the night…a trail of mud patterning the floor in the shape of her heels. She’s in a trance and won’t answer to her name.
- Write about how your character gets up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night and is alarmed to see their dad standing in the hallway. After shaking it off, they ask him what he’s doing. Without a word, his eyes start to bleed.
- Write a book about a character who’s known the neighbor across the street for years. But after witnessing them limping into their home, covered in something dark at 4 am, your character has questions. Getting close to them might be the only way to find out their secret.
- Write about how all the pictures of your character and their sister go missing from their home…one by one.
- Your character wakes up one morning and all the candles in their house are lit. They haven’t lit them for weeks.
- Witnessing someone’s descent into madness is something your character never thought they’d experience. It soon becomes increasingly clear that they might not witness it in its entirety.
- Write about how the school gym is filled. It’s a day of celebration. Your main character graduates today and when it’s their time to take the stage, a scream is released from someone in the stands.
- Write a horror book about how there have been attacks in your character’s town as of late. Instead of physical injury or even death…the victims are injected with heroin over and over and over until they’re completely addicted. Then they’re released.
How to Write Horror and Thriller Genre
Scaring people so much so that they sweat while simply reading is a difficult task. You really have to focus on the structure of your writing in order to create that reaction.
Here are a few tips for writing horror and thriller genre:
- Building anticipation will be your #1 focus
- Readers need to feel surprised and scared so dig deep and get twisted
- Plot twists are a must; never let your characters or readers see what’s coming
- Continuously up the stakes
- Focus on building deep sympathy for your character from the very beginning. This will make the stakes seem even higher and increase tension, just as Stephen King does in his infamous novel, IT, pictured below.
Mystery Writing Prompts
Human curiosity is what makes this genre so incredibly popular. We always want to figure out what happened. Mystery books are natural page-turners because we just aren’t satisfied until we find out what happened.
But that can be difficult to create from nothing.
Here are 30 mystery writing prompts:
- Write a mystery about how your character is 16 and just learned they were the last person to see their crush the night they were murdered. But when they come forward with these details, they become the new main suspect. They’re determined to solve their crushes murder or risk going to jail for something they didn’t do.
- Write a story about how recently, there’s been a number of abandoned cars scattered throughout the city. Nobody knows where they’re coming from and there’s not a single personal item in them. That is, until one is discovered with a freshly removed human scalp on the dashboard.
- Write about how for the past month, your character has received a number of disturbing and detailed drawings in their mailbox. After chalking it up to immature kid stunts, they try to forget about it. But when the drawings come to life in brutal, horrific ways, they’re the only person who knows of the drawings and therefore, knows what one will come next.
- Write about a character who gets a DNA test for fun – just to see where they really come from. After becoming obsessed with one little detail, they soon discover a number of their ancestors from all over the world were once located in a single, unpopulated place; a gathering of sorts.
- Write a mystery about how your character’s spouse nearly falls through the door, beaten nearly to requiring hospitalization. When an unknown but distinct brand marking is discovered between their shoulder blades, your character has to find out who they are and why they did it.
- Write about a single member of each noble family who has been murdered every week for the past two months. Your character is of a very noble household and can barely sleep each night. So they decide to find out who is responsible.
- Write a story about a character whose religion has a talisman as old as the religion itself. After it goes missing, all fingers point to the chief’s oldest child of 19 years, engaged to the healer’s oldest child. But they never could’ve done it. They were (romantically involved) with your main character when the theft occurred.
- Write about how your main character wakes up every morning feeling as though they didn’t get more than a couple of hours of sleep. After sleep studies, medications, and trying everything available, nothing seems to work. They decide to videotape a night of sleep to determine if maybe they’re sleepwalking. Turns out, they are. Except they seem completely conscious. In fact, in the video, they approach the camera, smirk, and walk away with a wave before disappearing for nearly the entire night.
- Write about how your main character is a key witness for a murder case. Video footage of them at the scene during the murder shows that clearly. The only problem? They can’t remember anything from that night.
- Write a story about a character living in an average sized town. As of late, a very large number of people have been going missing. They leave no trace. There’s nothing connecting them. It’s as if they all vanish in the middle of the day.
- Two years after your character’s significant other goes missing, presumed dead, they start getting messages that could only be from them.
- Your character is going about their normal day when suddenly, a low sound blares outside and doesn’t stop. For weeks. Nobody knows what’s causing it.
- During a follow-up set of interviews, your character conducts around a certain mob member, long thought to have put an end to that very mob, they find out that the mob member has been lying – for 30 years…about everything.
- Write about how, to make some extra money, your character puts their spare room on Airbnb. The first few people seem fine and the extra income is great. Then someone comes to stay for a week and very…odd events keep taking place in that room.
- Your character is a professional photographer. When processing images from a recent event, they notice a single person on the outskirts of every photo…and it’s not a coincidence.
- Your character opens an old sketchbook to try their hand at it again after years of being too busy with their corporate job. When they open it, their half-finished pieces are completed…and it wasn’t their doing.
- All the plants in and around houses in your character’s town are dying even though all other foliage is left untouched. It started happening after the last meteor shower.
- In your character’s world, crime is nonexistent. Everyone lives in harmony with each other. That’s why the murdered child found in the street sets the town into complete and utter chaos.
- Write a mystery about how when the Internet was first invented, warnings of sharing your personal information were everywhere. Now your character knows why. Cyber information is being used to frame innocents in extreme crime cases.
- Write a book about how a crack in the window was all the thief needed to secure the right position that allowed them access to the town’s most famous piece of history. Your character is the one who was supposed to keep it safe.
- Your character’s people believe a certain boulder is sacred. It’s the heart of their civilization and religion. One day the town wakes to find it pulverized, reduced to nothing but dust and sand.
- Write about how there’s a house at a dead end that’s not abandoned, but hardly anyone has even caught sight of who lives there. Your character decides to pay them a visit and discovers why nobody has seen them.
- Your character is introduced to someone that seems perfect for them. After digging into their past, a string of crimes has followed them but your character can’t necessarily prove it was them. So they decide to ask about them.
- Someone left their bag on the bus. Your character, being the good person they naturally are, grabs it and rushes after the person. They never turn around and your character is left with a bag full disturbing ransom notes.
- All the statues in your character’s entire town go missing. They were carefully removed from building, monuments, and schools. Nobody knows how or where they are now.
- Write about how your character moves to a new town with hopes of finally settling into real adult life. But they soon realize that nobody remembers who they are day after day, despite making very clear and memorable introductions.
- The leaves on all the trees have turned black but refuse to fall off the branches. It’s the middle of spring.
- A number of dead bodies are uncovered when your character decides to participate in the upkeep of the city’s public garden. No wonder the food has been so great – it’s been freshly fertilized.
- Write a story about how your character wakes up to a little girl’s screams outside. They rush to her but she’s not hurt. She just has no idea who she is, where she’s from, or how she got there.
- Write about how your character receives a number of letters in the mail to a name they don’t recognize. After weeks of letters piling up, they finally decide to read one. The first letter contains nothing more than a set of coordinates…so do the rest.
How to Write Mystery
Mystery is a very difficult genre to write. You have to ensure that you don’t give away too much information so the readers don’t figure it out.
These are some of our tips for writing a mystery novel:
- Make readers thinkthey know what will happen by planting false foreshadowing along with real hints
- Make the antagonist verylikable
- Juxtapose tense scenes with mellow ones to increase tension
- Keep the story moving forward always
Reddit Writing Prompts
Reddit is home to many different things—including writing prompts that you’d never find anywhere else.
Oftentimes, people go ahead and create threads expanding on a writing prompts they read.
Here Are 15 of the Best Reddit Writing Prompts:
#1 – “You have a machine that tells you the effect of an action you are thinking about making, but you can only activate/use it once.”
#2 – “Well…you never asked.”
#3 – And to top it all off, they give you a medal for it.
#4 – Every Christmas, Santa delivers gifts to the children who have been ‘nice’. But there’s a lesser known brother Santa who every five years takes gifts away from children who have been ‘naughty’ even once. You just don’t know when…
#5 – You are casually walking down a deserted road when you fall into an open manhole.
#6 – You weren’t sure which was real.
#7 – People thought society would be better if we killed the worst 1% every year. Today is the hundredth anniversary, and the notion of the “worst” is getting really tricky.
#8 – Absolutely everything that makes you uncomfortable is beneficial for you. Weakened viruses train your immune system, small muscle tears make you stronger…and small bullets make you more resistant to larger bullets. Turns out, the government is awfully interested in your unusual ability.
#9 – Before you, the villain holds your sidekick and love interest over a cliff, taunting you to choose one to save. You take one (1) second to think about it. You then shoot them both, to the shock and horror of your archenemisis.
#10 – You’re a man/woman happily married with kids but in severe financial difficulty. A genie gives you the chance to irreversibly rewind time back to the date of your tenth birthday and you accept, hoping to make your current life better with the knowledge you have…
#11 – Every time you die, you are reincarnated into a new body. Unfortunately, the first few times, you failed to act as a normal child after being reborn. You are now a known factor for world powers, crazy nutjobs, major religions, and people who would give anything for the immortality you possess.
#12 –You have a name in your contacts that isn’t in any language you know, you delete it but the next day the number appears again. And that’s when life becomes a little weirder.
#13 – You get to heaven only to find that the judgement is entirely based on how many promises you’ve broken.
#14 – Before you became apprentice, nobody told you learning a new spell is the easiest part of your studies. The real challenge is learning to survive the diverse and alien consequences of casting a spell.
#15 – A war-thirsty species is finally defeated after rampaging through the galaxy for decades, and their remains are exiled to a far away and dangerous planet. Everyone panics when, millennia later, Humanity comes out of that planet asking where is everybody.
Non-Fiction Writing Prompts
I bet I know you.
You’re the type of person who has dreamed of writing a book for however many years, only held back by the lack of ideas – or good ideas, rather.
Or maybe you’re the type who has tons of ideas but aren’t sure if they’re worth pursuing.
It’s hard. I get it. A book is a big commitment and one you might actually want to go through with. But without having a clear idea of what to write about, that dream can seem too far out of reach.
But I’m telling you, it’s not.
In fact, using writing prompts can help you free your mind from its current constraints so you can explore ideas you might not have otherwise thought of yourself – in addition to a number of other benefits.
It’s one thing to use a writing prompt, it’s another to ensure that idea is actually a good one.
If you’re writing a nonfiction book, we have great ideas for you to focus on.
While reading these, note which ones cause you to pause and think – if only for a moment longer than the rest.
Those are the ideas to ponder and create a mind map for.
Here are a few writing prompts for a number of different broader categories that have proven to be prosperous.
Writing Prompts about Morals and Values
This is one of the top book ideas right now. Writing about your personal beliefs, how you came to them, and how they steer your life is something almost everyone can relate to.
And in a time where morality is being questioned time and time again by the media, it’s the best time to write on this topic.
Here are 25 Writing Prompts about Morals and Values:
- Write about a time when you were wrong and didn’t realize it for maybe years.
- Consider morals and how one discovers what truly matters to them.
- Portray the biggest value in your life.
- Dissect the biggest problems in the world and how it impacts us every day.
- Write about hidden problems in the world nobody is paying attention to.
- Consider a time your morals were compromised and how it affected your life.
- Write about a time your values were challenged and you had to face it.
- Compare and the difference between a value and a moral.
- Weigh societal values that actually negatively impact our lives.
- Write about morals that have inadvertently negative impacts.
- Spotlight an inner struggle between what’s morally right and what feels right.
- Write about how to find what you value in life.
- Write about what life would look life if morals were not in place.
- Present ideas of values affecting your morals in life.
- Expose popular moral dilemmas in the world.
- Write about how morals and values differ within different cultures and regions.
- Conflict arising from out a time when you had to debate morals and values.
- Write about your idea of the best combination of morals and values.
- Conflict you once endured because of mismatched morals.
- Overcome doubting your morals and beliefs.
- Write about how morals and values shape happiness in life.
- The importance of matching morals and values in relationships.
- Write about how to share your morals with others.
- Open discussion on ways in which one can develop new morals and values.
- Write about how our morals and values change as we grow up.
Tips for Expanding on these Morals and Values:
- Be honest but don’t force your ideas on someone else
- Use research and facts to back up your statements
- Give real-life accounts of your experiences
- Avoid adopting a “know-it-all” voice
Writing Prompts about Health and Wellness
This is another book topic that has seen a rise in sales and engagement over the past few years. Society is starting to focus on health and well-being more so than many other important life ventures and now is the time to write about it!
Here are 25 Health and Wellness Writing Prompts:
- Your struggle with an addiction of some kind and how you overcame it.
- Write a book about your journey to become healthy.
- What being healthy inside and out means to you.
- How others can overcome unhealthy habits.
- Create a book about the importance of mental health and wellness.
- Write about how to form healthy habits.
- How to find the best exercise type for your needs.
- A book about the idea of self-care and what it means to you.
- How to find health through personal reflection.
- Write about the technicalities of being “healthy.”
- The different ways in which someone can find health and wellness.
- How others can affect your health.
- Write about the impact of mental health on your physical health.
- A specific form of exercise you’ve grown to love and why.
- What it means to have overall life wellness.
- The impact of who you surround yourself with on your mental health.
- How learning can impact your health.
- Dietary needs and how they affect your mental health.
- Write about how to break unhealthy habits that drag you down.
- How negativity can greatly impact your health.
- Write about your ideal health and wellness system for long-term success.
- A time when you had to overcome super unhealthy ways.
- What you’ve learned about yourself through pursuing wellness.
- How professional athletes approach health and wellness.
- Societal standards of health and wellness.
Tips for Expanding on Health and Wellness Writing Prompts:
- Always use facts and research with something as sensitive as health
- Talk about what has worked for you personally and why
- Feature advice from experts in the field
- Include actionable steps others can learn from
Writing Prompts about Love and Relationships
This can be a tricky topic to write about because love is different for everyone.
Each relationship has different needs and trying to tell someone what their relationship needs can often cause issues if it’s not actually what their specific relationship can benefit from.
That being said, keeping your message broad enough to impact a lot of people while also hitting specific key points can make it easier.
Here are 25 Relationships and Love Writing Prompts:
- Tell a story about how you see love.
- Write about what’s most important in a relationship.
- How to enjoy your relationship in every phase of life.
- Your idea of a successful relationship.
- What it really takes to have a successful relationship.
- Write about how your friendships play a part in your relationships.
- How self-doubt can affect your search for love.
- Write about how to love someone else in a way they need.
- How to find what you truly enjoy in a life partner.
- Becoming open-minded in your pursuit of love.
- The importance of loving yourself before loving someone else.
- Your journey to find love and what it’s meant for you.
- Write about a time you thought you found love but were very wrong.
- How finding love has changed the way you care for others.
- How to develop healthy and nurturing relationships.
- Friendships and how they play a role in your happiness.
- Creating relationships that lift you up and not drag you down.
- Write about what it means to truly love unconditionally.
- How intimacy can help your self-esteem.
- Ways in which you can improve your sex life.
- Write about ways in which you can improve your romantic relationship.
- Ways in which you can improve your platonic relationships.
- Loving yourself and what that fully means.
- Building strong relationship foundations in a family.
- Write about how to communicate in relationships.
Tips for Expanding on Relationship and Love Writing Prompts:
- Never assume every single person loves and wants love the same way
- Tell personal, real-life stories to build relatability
- Keep your advice open-ended and always encourage communication
Writing Prompts about Childhood and Family
We all had a childhood and we all have a family – even if we’ve decided to adopt friends to be a part of our family.
That means everyone can relate to being a child and having a family.
That being said, it’s hard to decide on which direction you can take when writing about your childhood or family.
Here are 25 Writing Prompts About Childhood and Family:
- Write to your parents about all they’ve taught you about life, love, and happiness.
- Family about what they mean to you.
- Parenthood and how it’s changed you.
- Your parents and what they taught you.
- What your parents didn’t teach you and how it affected your life.
- Write about how not having parents impacted your life.
- Your childhood and how it shaped you.
- Write about what the definition of family truly means to you.
- Finding family in the least expected places.
- Discovering who you are within your family.
- The lessons you didn’t realize you learned as a child.
- How your childhood friends affected your adult life.
- Whether or not your family can truly impact who you are as an adult.
- How to have healthy communication in your family.
- Trials and tribulations of a blended family.
- Your journey as an adopted child.
- Write about whether or not emotional closeness with family affects your life.
- Your vision as a child and whether or not you lived up to it.
- Write about childhood pains that have followed you into adulthood.
- How to let go of a crappy childhood to find happiness as an adult.
- How your family doesn’t define you.
- Write about letting go of toxic family members to find happiness.
- How you’d change your childhood if given the chance.
- The journey of parenting and what it’s taught you about yourself.
- Write about how to make your own family when you can’t rely on your own.
Tips for Expanding on Childhood and Family Writing Prompts:
- Family can be a sensitive subject so avoid hard “facts” about “all” families
- Make sure to include details about differences
- Tell stories others can easily relate to at the beginning
Writing Prompts about Happiness
Happiness is very subjective. We all have very different ideas about what true happiness is and how it comes about.
What you have to remember, though, is that everybody wants to be happy.
Here are 26 Writing Prompts about Happiness:
- Write about the idea of wants versus needs in life.
- Work and finding happiness in your career.
- Not being happy in your career and how to conquer it.
- Write about finding success in your career.
- Finding success in every aspect of your life.
- Building a successful love life, family life, and career.
- Write about balancing a career and family life.
- Being open-minded in life.
- Write about what rewards you can reap from being kind.
- What you can gain from being open-minded in every aspect of life.
- Goals in life and how to accomplish them.
- What living a happy life is defined as according to you.
- Write about a time you had very little happiness and how you found it again.
- The ups and downs of life and how to get through them.
- What truly contributes to happiness in life.
- Write about the true measures of happiness in life.
- How success ties into happiness and how to define them separately.
- The difference between how you view happiness now versus when you were a kid.
- The biggest life lessons one can learn through finding happiness.
- What people should focus on instead of happiness in life.
- The difference between self-fulfillment and happiness.
- The biggest problem in today’s society revolving around happiness.
- The idea of NOT looking for happiness in order to find it.
- How self-reflection can increase happiness.
- What you expected happiness to be versus how it truly is.
- How to include the people in your life when finding happiness.
Tips for expanding on these writing prompts:
- Remember that your happiness is not what makes everyone else happy
- Focus on helping others find what makes them happy
- Talk about times you were unhappy frequently to drive the point home
Writing Prompts about Self-Esteem and Confidence
No matter who you are, you’ll experience moments of self-doubt and a lack of confidence.
Yes, even Beyonce has felt down about herself occasionally (though probably not often!).
The point is, writing about a lack of self-esteem and how to gain it is something everyone has experienced and therefore, everyone can relate to.
Here are 25 writing Prompts about Confidence:
- Write about accepting who you truly are and how it can change your life.
- How to ignore societal expectations when they clash with who you are.
- How to change your overall outlook to be more positive.
- What it’s like to go from disliking yourself to truly loving yourself.
- Write about what it truly means to have complete confidence in yourself.
- How to conquer inner demons in order to love yourself.
- Your journey to accepting your flaws and seeing them as strengths.
- Daily habits that will lead to overall confidence.
- How bettering your health can increase the way you view yourself.
- Write about how physical appearance actually has little to do with confidence.
- How journaling can relieve negative thoughts about yourself.
- Write about your journey with therapy and the quest to gain confidence.
- Alternative methods one can use to gain confidence.
- How using certain essential oils daily can help with your mood and self-esteem.
- Write about the internal effects of a negative opinion of yourself.
- Create a workbook dedicated to making someone feel positive about themselves.
- The negative impact toxic friends/family have on your self-esteem.
- How toxic relationships can alter your self-esteem for the worse.
- Write about how to overcome a learned toxic thought-process when thinking about yourself.
- How to introduce self-love into your life.
- The difference your life can have if you have self-confidence.
- Struggling with self-esteem and how it can affect relationships.
- How to know if you actually do love yourself or not.
- Write about how to use your passions to increase your confidence.
- How to help someone else learn to how themselves.
Tips for Expanding on these Writing Prompts:
- Be honest, real, and raw when writing about your experiences
- Offer different solutions even if they didn’t work for you personally
- Interview a psychology expert in order to further the book’s credibility
Faith-Based Writing Prompts
Faith is a very personal journey for people. Whether you’ve been a lifelong believer or have recently stumbled into something that has changed your life, others have been there.
And they’ll want to read about it.
Here are 25 writing prompts about faith:
- Write about your faith and how you discovered its meaning.
- How your faith changed your life.
- How you learned to love yourself through your faith.
- Your journey from not having any faith to where you are now.
- A message to anybody who doesn’t think they have something to believe in.
- Write a book to the person who helped you discover your faith.
- How your faith shapes your family.
- Write about overcoming questioning your faith.
- Unexpected realities of having strong faith.
- How your faith can steer your career and life.
- How much others can gain from pursuing faith.
- Your own struggles with faith and how you maneuvered them.
- Juggling faith, family, friends, and love.
- Write about how school impacted your faith negatively or positively.
- Common struggles with faith and how to overcome them.
- Write a memoir about your life’s journey to accepting faith.
- Write about being part of a family with split faith
- Friends or family not understanding your faith.
- How there’s more to life than JUST your faith and how to avoid blinding yourself to it.
- Different faiths and how to separate differences.
- What faith means to you and how you express it daily.
- How-to guide for finding something to believe in.
- Write a guide for how to discover what’s truly meaningful to you with your faith.
- How faith can give you a whole new family and a sense of belonging.
- The differences in your life since believing in something bigger than you.
Tips for expanding on faith-based writing prompts:
- This is a great time to be open and specific about your beliefs
- Avoid shaming others in an attempt to get your message across
- Tell deeply personal stories so others can relate
Writing Prompts about Personal Journeys
Everyone has a personal journey. No matter what you’ve been through, there is a lesson hidden within it.
You can use these writing prompts to not only discover more about yourself, but perhaps light the way for others to see and understand as well.
Here are 25 writing prompts about personal journey:
- Write about a moment in your life that changed the way you saw the world.
- Don’t censor yourself and write about what you believe the meaning of life is.
- Biggest struggle you’ve faced in life.
- Your journey to finding yourself and all you’ve learned.
- Life lessons you believe everyone should learn.
- How you got to where you are in life and where you’ll go from here.
- A tragedy you, unfortunately, lived through and how it has shaped you.
- An internal struggle of yours and how you were able to solve it.
- Your pet/s and what they mean to you.
- How you were able to accomplish so much by a young age.
- Your life and what lessons you learned that others should know.
- What you’ve gained from networking throughout your life.
- Your top life values and how they contribute to happiness and success.
- Learning to live with something difficult or painful every day.
- Write a memoir about your unique life.
- A story to your younger self about life, love, and happiness.
- Write about conflict in your life and how you managed to get through it.
- Your life’s expectations versus its reality.
- Art and how it can show you a lot about yourself.
- A time when you thought all was lost.
- Looking for the light in life instead of succumbing to darkness.
- Your journey to understand what it means to truly be alive.
- Write about how to conquer toxic desires.
- Your journey through sports and how they shaped you.
- Write about your journey to write and publish a book 🙂
Tips for expanding on personal journey writing prompts:
- Don’t censor yourself
- Talk to a therapist or psychologist to better understand your own journey
- Bring your real-life experiences into play
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Bella Rose Pope is the Content Marketing Specialist here at Self-Publishing School. While she's not whipping up content here, she's creating her own life (and teaching others how to) over at Own Your Ordinary, hanging out with her dog, and eating something with cheese! Give her a follow: Twitter | Instagram | Facebook | Youtube
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Vintage WD: 36 Plot Nots: Plot Clichés to Avoid
By Donald Westlake
This morning I received a story in the mail, a story that contained some of the most vivid, incisive, and clever writing I have read in a long, long time. But the story was the oldie about the man who murders his wife, drags her body into the darkened living room, the lights go on and a million relatives stand around shouting, “Surprise! Happy Birthday!” The writing was wonderful, but the story wasn’t bought.
As Executive Editor of Mystery Digest and former Assistant Editor at a literary agency, I have spent too many hours a day reading and rejecting well-written stories because they are afflicted with Plot Formula, the “Tired blood” that kills an otherwise competent writer.
Definitions, please. A plot is a planned series of connected events, building through conflict to a crisis and ending in a satisfactory conclusion. A formula is a particular plot which has become stale through over-use.
My 5C Plot Plan
My own working definition of plot is what I call “5C.” First, a character. Anybody at all, from Hemingway’s old man to Salinger’s teenager. Second, conflict. Something for that character to get upset about, and for the reader to get upset about through the character. Third, complications. If the story runs too smoothly, without any trouble for the character, the reader isn’t going to get awfully interested in what’s going on. Fourth, climax. The opposing forces in conflict are brought together. Like the fissionable material in an H-bomb and there’s an explosion. Fifth, conclusion. The result of the explosion is known, the conflict is over, the character has either won or lost, and there are no questions left unanswered.
5C: Character. Conflict. Complications. Climax. Conclusion.
No matter what the definition, the essential ingredients are always the same, and the result is always plot, not formula. It wasn’t formula when Homer used it in The Odyssey, and it still wasn’t formula when Pasternak used it in Doctor Zhivago.
How to Tell the Trite From the New
A lot of writers, when told they are writing stale, cliché-filled, trite formula, cry, “How can I tell the new from the old” How am I supposed to read every copy of every magazine that was ever published?”
Something like that, yes. The writer should certainly read everything he can possibly find in his own field. It has always been my belief that no writer should expect to write a story for a particular magazine until he knows that magazine just as well as the editor does. And constant reading in your field will soon give you a pretty clear idea of what has already been done.
But here’s a head start: a list of story ideas to stay away from, and its purpose is to help you decide for yourself whether your rejection slips have been the result of poor writing or poor plotting. Included are twelve stale formula ideas from each of three fields, mystery, science fiction, and slick.
The Mystery Field
1. John Smith is sitting in his living room, reading the paper or watching television, and one, two, three, or four hoodlums, who are being hunted by the police, break into the house intending to lie low there until the neighborhood quiets down.
2. John Smith is sitting by the windows, and he watches Joe Doakes murder Jane Plain. The phone is out of order. John is bedridden, confined to a wheel chair, 10 years old, or too drunk to move. The murderer is coming to get rid of the witness.
3. John Smith comes home from his job at the gas station, is greeted by his pregnant wife, and sits down to read the paper or watch television. The doorbell rings, and it’s John Doakes, who used to be John’s cell-mate at the state pen. He wants John to come in with him on a big job, or else he will either expose John as a parole jumper or will murder John’s wife.
4. John Smith is sitting in his office and a man from Why-Do-It-Yourself, Inc., comes in and offers to murder his nagging wife for him.
5. John Smith, private eye, walked into his best friend’s apartment to find the friend dead and Lieutenant Joe Doakes from Homicide standing there with a notebook in his hand. “If I get the killer first,” says John, “there won’t be much left for the law.”
6. John Smith, private eye, is sitting in his office when a total stranger staggers in, says, “The green jade – cough, cough,” and drops dead with a kris in his back.
7. John Smith wakes up with a hangover in his head and a smoking gun in his hand. Joe Doakes is lying on the floor, shot to death.
8. John Smith is sitting in the park, feeding the other squirrels, when a beautiful girl runs up, kisses him, and whispers, “Pretend you know me.”
9. John Smith, private eye, is sitting at his desk, when Marshall Bigelow, thimble tycoon, trundles in waving thousand-dollar bills and shouting, “My daughter has disappeared!”
10. John Smith, hen-pecked husband, fortyish, short and stout, meet and mild, has decided to murder his battle-axe, demanding, shrewish, and nagging wife, and he has this plan, see, which is foolproof. Only it isn’t.
11. Johnnie Smith, 16, decides to break with the neighborhood gang, the Golden Dragons, because Becky Thatcher, 15, was to be proud of him.
12. Fourteen people, one of them named Fitz-Warren, are all weekend guests at the mansion of cranky old John Smith. Suddenly, a scream pierces the plot, and the whole entourage runs into the study, to find cranky old John Smith dead at his desk, a kris in his back.
The Science Fiction Field
1. At the end of the story, we learn that the hero and heroine are Adam and Eve.
2. At the end of the story, we learn that the solar system is really just an atom in a much larger Universe, with the planets being electrons revolving around the nucleus of the sun.
3. Johnnie Smith, age 10, is lonely, because he’s different from the other kids. He can lift things with his mind.
4. John Smith stumbles into town with a wild story about Martians who are taking over the bodies of human beings. At the end of the story, it turns out that everybody in town is a Martian.
5. Eight million miles from Earth, a crewman discovers a beautiful girl stowaway on the spaceship. Captain John Smith, old and gruffy, says, “Eight men and one woman, on a six-month voyage to Sirius. There’ll be trouble.”
6. A Frank Buck type from Alpha Centauri comes to Earth to get a male and female of every type of Earth animal, for the big zoo on Alpha Centauri. At the end of the story, he takes the hero and heroine along for the zoo, too, and it’s a good place for them.
7. It is the year 3000 A.D., and the Time Tourists are receiving their final instructions in the lounge of Time Travel, inc. “Remember,” says the guide, “do not try to bring back any souvenirs with you.”
8. It is a Navy outpost at the South Pole. John Smith, one of the eight scientists at the outpost, rushes in from the outer cold and shouts, “Something is happening to him. He’s growing younger!”
9. John Smith, having invented a time machine, decides to go back in time and kill his grandfather, just to see what will happen.
10. In the world of 2500 A.D., crime is impossible, because the police are telepathic.
11. John Smith and the green-tentacled Alien stood facing one another, both alone, both unarmed. The fate of the Galaxy was dependent upon the outcome of the struggle between these two individuals.
The Slick Field
1. Jane Smith hears from a gossipy friend that her husband, John, was seen lunching with that new French secretary. During a so-called “business” trip, John and the secretary were seen together at the Stork Club. There is lipstick on John’s handkerchief, and it isn’t Jane’s lipstick. Of course, at the end of the story it turns our to have been an innocent mistake.
2. Jane Smith is a steno at the Lumbago Corporation. She wears horn-rim glasses and tweed suits, and she has her hair in a bun at the back of her head. Gwendolyn Gloria, another steno, is blonde, voluptuous, and a man-chaser. Jane falls in love with the new vice-president, but Gwendolyn says, “That new VP, Doakes, looks like my kind of guy.”
2A. Jane Smith is a student nurse, a mousy type, and she falls in love with Joe Doakes, a handsome intern. But Gwendolyn Gloria, another student nurse, a voluptuous, blonde man-chaser, says, “That new intern, Doakes, looks like my kind of guy.”
2B. Jane Smith falls in love with the new minister, Reverend Doakes, who really wants to be a missionary in Pago-Pago. But Jane’s voluptuous, blonde, man-chasing sister, Gwendolyn, plans on marrying Reverend Doakes and going with him to the Riverhurst Church, where the country club sets hang out on Sunday mornings.
3. Joe Doakes, who works nights, is kept awake during the day by someone in the next apartment playing long-hair music on the piano. Joe stomps over and hammers on the door, shouting, “Quit that racket!” The door opens, and it’s a beautiful girl with red hair and a terrible temper. She tells him off, and at the end of the story, for no known reason, they get married.
4. Joe Doakes is driving along, minding his own business, when some clown drives right into him. He gets out of his car, stomps over and shouts, “Why don’t you watch where you’re going?” The driver turns out to be a beautiful girl who is just as feminine and helpless and cuddly as can be, and at the end of the story they get married.
5. Jane Smith is married to a career man in the Army. She hates the rank-pulling and back-biting of the other wives on the base. She is lonely and irritable and doesn’t fit in with military life, and it is affecting her marriage.
6. Any story told in an exchange of letters.
7. Jane Smith is married to a rising young executive. She doesn’t get along with the other executives’ wives, and in particular she hates the boss’s wife. Her attitude is ruining her marriage, and her husband’s chances for success.
8. John Smith devotes all of his attention and energy to business. He plans to get ahead, to be a big success, and he claims that he is doing it all for his family. But the family (one wife, two children) rarely see him, and in a scene full of pathos and saccharine, John Smith realizes that what his family needs is not so much a new car as a real husband and father.
9. It is Jane Smith’s 35th birthday, and she suddenly feels old. But her husband, John, convinces her that in his eyes she is young and lovely as ever. And besides, they have two children who look, talk and think exactly like the tykes on television, and who could ask for anything more?
10. Johnnie Smith is twelve years old today, and he’s been hinting for weeks that what he wants for his birthday is a brand new bicycle. But nobody even says, “Happy Birthday,” to him and he is sure that everybody just forgot it was his birthday. He mopes around all day, miserable and unhappy, but at eventide out come the relations, the birthday cake, and the bicycle. (A real-life child would have killed himself by noon, but that’s neither here nor there.)
11. Jane Smith is fifteen, plain, and wears braces on her teeth. Her older sister, Gwendolyn, always has millions of dates, and Jane is jealous. She pulls a bit of trickery, and winds up almost forcing one of Gwendolyn’s boyfriends into taking her out instead of Gwendolyn. At the end of the story, she learns that she must be patient. Some day the braces will come off, and she, too, will be popular.
12. Joe Doakes, a traveling salesman for a paper clip company, gets involved in some pretty unbelievable adventures in a small town in the Midwest. The other participants are a local belle and a salesman for a rival paper clip company.
Why Are These Taboo?
This is by no means a complete list, but it should give you the general idea. I have tried, in this listing, to give a cross-section of the stale ideas which are still being rejected every working day of every week in editorial offices throughout the country. If what you really want out of writing is enough rejection slips to paper the den, included above are 36 stories guaranteed to bring you rejects enough to paper the whole house. But if what you want out of writing is to see your stories in print, and see them there regularly, the preceding list is a good reminder of the kind of thing to stay away from.
The Old Switcheroo
One last word. No matter what any editor says, no cliché is ever really dead, and no doubt practically all of the ideas I mentioned above will find their way into print again sometime in the future. But not in the way I have described them.
This brings us to that last standby of the writer desperate for story ideas, the variation, the old switcheroo. If you can take one of the 36 clichés listed above, and give it a brand new twist, so it doesn’t look like the same story any more, you may have a sale on your hands. If you search hard enough in the magazines on the stands today, you’ll find one or more of these variations currently in print.
Actually, it’s much the same as the old two-men-on-a-desert-island cartoon. Every cartoon editor in the business will tell you he’s sick of those two men on that desert island, but there are still variations on the gag being bought and published every day in the week. But for the new cartoonist, a desert island is a good place to stay away from.
Amy Jones is the Editor-in-Chief for Writer’s Digest and was previously the managing content director for WD Books. Prior to joining the WD team, Amy was the managing editor for North Light Books and IMPACT Books, where she met lots of talented artists who helped her find her artistic side and encouraged her to buy far more art supplies than she should have. Like most WD staffers, Amy is a voracious reader and has a particular interest in literary fiction, historical fiction, and page-turning mysteries. When she’s not reading, Amy can be found daydreaming about Italy or volunteering at the Ohio Alleycat Resource, her local no-kill cat shelter. Find Amy on Twitter @AmyMJones_5.
Top 100 Short Story Ideas
Do you want to write but just need a great story idea? Or perhaps you have too many ideas and can’t choose the best one? Well, good news. We’ve got you covered.
Below are one hundred short story ideas for all your favorite genres. You can use them as writing prompts for writing contests, for stories to publish in literary magazines, or just for fun!
Use these 100 story ideas to get writing now.
If you’re in a hurry, here’s my 10 best story ideas in brief, or scroll down for the full version.
Top 10 Story Ideas
- Tell the story of a scar.
- A group of children discover a dead body.
- A young prodigy becomes orphaned.
- A middle-aged woman discovers a ghost.
- A woman who is deeply in love is crushed when her fiancé breaks up with her.
- A talented young man’s deepest fear is holding his life back.
- A poor young boy or girl comes into an unexpected fortune.
- A shy, young woman unexpectedly bumps into her soulmate.
- A long journey is interrupted by a disaster.
- A young couple run into the path of a psychopath.
How to Write a Short Story
Before we get to the 100 story ideas, let’s talk about how to write a great short story.
- First, read short stories. If you’ve never read a short story, you’re going to have a hard time writing one. Where do you find great short stories? There are a lot of places, but check out our list of 46 Literary Magazines we’ve curated over here.
- Write your story in a single sitting. Write the first draft of your story in as short a time as possible, and if you’re writing a short story, try to write it in one sitting. Trust me, this works. Everyone hates being interrupted when they’re telling a story. Use that to your advantage and don’t stop writing until you’ve finished telling your story.
- Read your draft. Read your story through once, without changing anything. This will give you a sense of what work it needs going forward.
- Write a premise. After reading your first draft, get your head around the main idea behind your story by summarize your story in a one sentence premise. Your premise should contain three things: a character, a goal, and a situation. Not sure how to actually do that? Here’s a full premise writing guide.
- Write, edit, write, and edit. Good writing is rewriting. Use your second draft to fill in the plot holes and cut out the extraneous scenes and characters you discovered when you read the first draft in step #2. Then, polish up your final draft on the next round of edits.
- Submit! Real writers don’t keep their writing all to themselves. They share it. Submit your story to a literary magazine, enter it into a writing contest, or even share it with a small group of friends. And if it gets rejected, don’t feel bad. You’ll be in good company.
Want to know more? Learn more about how to write a great short story here.
Our 100 Best Short Story Ideas
Ready to get writing? Here are our 100 best short story ideas to kickstart your writing. Enjoy!
10 Best General Short Story Ideas
Our first batch of story ideas are for any kind of story, whether a spy thriller or a memoir of your personal life. Here are the best story ideas:
- Tell the story of a scar, whether a physical scar or emotional one. To be a writer, said Stephen King, “The only requirement is the ability to remember every scar.”
- A group of children discover a dead body. Good writers don’t turn away from death, which is, after all, the universal human experience. Instead, they look it directly into its dark face and describe what they see on the page.
- A young prodigy becomes orphaned. Orphans are uniquely vulnerable, and as such, they have the most potential for growth.
- A middle-aged woman discovers a ghost. What do Edgar Allen Poe, Ron Weasley, King Saul from the Bible, Odysseus, and Ebenezer Scrooge have in common? They all encountered ghosts!
- A woman who is deeply in love is crushed when her fiancé breaks up with her. “In life every ending is just a new beginning,” says Dakota Fanning’s character in Uptown Girls.
- A talented young man’s deepest fear is holding his life back. Your character’s biggest fear is your story’s secret weapon. Don’t run from it, write about it.
- A poor young boy or girl comes into an unexpected fortune. Not all fortunes are good. Sometimes discovering a fortune will destroy your life.
- A shy, young woman unexpectedly bumps into her soulmate (literally bumps into him). In film, this is called the “meet cute,” when the hero bumps into the heroine in the hallway, knocking her books to the floor, and forcing them into conversation.
- A long journey is interrupted by a disaster. Who hasn’t been longing to get to a destination only to be delayed by something unexpected? This is the plot of Gravity, The Odyssey, and even Lord of the Rings.
- A young couple run into the path of a psychopath. Monsters, whether people who do monstrous things or scaly beasts or a monster of a natural disaster, reveal what’s really inside a person. Let your character fall into the path of a monster and see how they handle themselves.
Now that you have an idea, learn exactly what to do with it. Check out my new book The Write Structure which helps writers take their ideas and write books readers love. Click to check out The Write Structure here.
More Short Story Ideas Based on Genre
Need more ideas? Here are ideas based on whichever literary genre you write:
10 Thriller Story Ideas
A thriller is any story that “thrills” the reader—i.e., gets adrenaline pumping, the heart racing, and the emotions piqued.
Thrillers come in all shapes and forms, dipping freely into other genres. In other words, expect the unexpected!
Click for thriller short story ideas.
20 Mystery Story Ideas
Enjoy a good whodunit? Then you’ll love these.
My favorite: “Ever heard the phrase, ‘It is not who fired the shot but who paid for the bullet?’ This is a philosophy Tomoe Gozen lives by. Brave and clever, Tomoe follows clues until she learns who ordered the murder: Emperor Antoku himself. But why would the emperor of Japan want to kill a lowly soldier?”
Click for the mystery short story ideas.
20 Romance Story Ideas
Hint: When it comes to romance, a sense of humor is always a good idea. Have fun! Here’s one of my favorites from this list: “She’s a cop. He’s the owner of a jewelry store.
A sudden rash of break-ins brings her to his store over and over and over again, until it becomes obvious that he might be tripping the alarm on purpose—just to see her.
That’s illegal—but she’s kind of falling for him, too. Write the moment she realizes she has to do something about this crazy illicit courtship.”
Click for the romance short story ideas.
20 Sci-Fi Story Ideas
From the minimum-wage-earning, ancient-artifact-hunting time traveller to the space-exploring, sentient dinosaurs, these sci-fi story ideas will get you set loose your inner nerd.
Click for the short story ideas.
20 Fantasy Story Ideas
Bored teenaged wizards throwing a graduation celebration.
Uncomfortable wedding preparation between magic wielding family members and those more on the Muggle side of things.
A fairy prince who decides to abandon his responsibilities to become a street musician.
Just try to not have fun writing (or even just reading!) these fantasy story ideas.
Click for the fantasy short story ideas.
What Makes Stories Stand Out
Stories, more than any other artistic expression, have the power to make people care. Stories have the ability to change people’s lives.
But to write a great story, a life-changing story, don’t just write about what your characters did, said, and saw. Ask yourself, “Where do I fit in to this story? What is my personal connection to this story?”
Robert Frost said this:
No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader. Robert Frost
If you can connect your story to the story you’re writing, you will not only be more motivatedto finish your story, you might just be able to change the lives of your readers.
Next Step: Write Your Best Story
No matter how good your idea, writing a story or a book can be a long difficult process. How do you create an outline, come up with a great plot, and then actually finish it?
My new book The Write Structure will help. You’ll learn how to take your idea and structure a strong plot around it. Then you’ll be guided through the exact process I’ve used to write dozens of short stories and over fifteen books.
You can learn more aboutThe Write Structure and get your copy here.
Have a great short story idea? We’d love to hear it. Share it in the comments!
Choose one of these ideas and write a short story in one sitting (aim for 1,000 words or less!). When you’re finished, share your story in the comments section (or our latest writing contest) for feedback from the community. And if you share, please be sure to comment on a few stories by other writers.
Joe Bunting is an author and the leader of The Write Practice community. He is also the author of the new book Crowdsourcing Paris, a real life adventure story set in France. It was a #1 New Release on Amazon. You can follow him on Instagram (@jhbunting).
So, you want to write a short story — and not just a mildly entertaining short story but one your readers can’t put down until they’ve finished it. You want a story that gets reactions like “Wow!” and “How did you do that?” and “Do you have more like this?”
What writer doesn’t want that kind of reaction, right?
And since short stories are short, you have less time to wait for your readers’ reactions — but you also have less time to grab their attention.
That’s why a great topic is worth its weight in gold when it comes to writing these little gems.
Even with the challenges inherent to short story writing, you’ll most likely finish a short story in far less time than you would a novel.
So, you’ll get to explore more story topics in less time than if you were writing longer works.
But how do you generate short story ideas that are worth the time you’ll invest in crafting a short story your readers will love?
If you’ve been writing for long enough, you already know good story ideas are everywhere, and you might even have some in mind as you read this. But which of those ideas should be on your short list for story writing projects?
And if you don’t have any great ideas at the moment, where do you get some?
Short Story Idea Generator (how to generate story ideas)
When it comes to generating new story ideas, you can take more than one approach. You might try these three:
Short Story Writing Exercises
Think of your school days when your English teacher assigned an essay or invited you to write a paragraph in answer to a question. Maybe all you had to do was write one complete sentence. Or maybe your teacher wanted a haiku — or a rhyming couplet.
School isn’t the only place for writing exercises, though. If you’ve ever joined a creative writing group, your leader may have encouraged you to spend some time each day freewriting or writing a character sketch.
The purpose of writing exercises is to practice writing — or to practice a specific kind of writing (voice journaling, essays, persuasive ad copy, song lyrics, etc.).
So, whether it’s NaNoWriMo, Twitter’s #VSS (Very Short Story) challenge, or writing sprints, the more time you invest in these exercises, and the more you open yourself up to constructive criticism, the more quickly your writing will improve.
Generating Story Ideas with the Short Story Formula
The most effective writing prompts and writing exercises make use of themes with a history of captivating and inspiring others. Because of this, either one might lead you to a story idea that you can hardly wait to explore.
Take one (or more) of those popular themes and combine them with a context that is both unique and relatable, and you have the formula for a compelling story idea.
Story writing ideas are generally more fully developed than writing prompts. It’s not unusual, for example, to begin with a writing prompt, develop it into a story idea, and then write the actual story.
And don’t beat yourself up if the first idea that comes to mind is a cliché. You’re human, and familiar ideas are the easiest to think of. Nothing wrong with that. The first idea is like a first draft, in that it gives you something to start with.
And don’t be afraid to mix it up — literally. Take one idea, mix it up with another, and play with it for a while. Who knows how you might juice up your story idea without even trying?
Timeless Themes and Emotional Impact
The best fiction story ideas make use of timeless themes. You’ll find one or more of the ten themes that follow in most stories that have been written, read, and shared over the centuries.
- The End of a Relationship
- Rags to Riches
- Scars / Wounds
- Ghosts / the Paranormal
- Deepest Fears
- A Soulmate Encounter
- A Journey Interrupted
- Monsters (human or otherwise)
The story idea itself — in its simplest form — doesn’t have to be original, and in fact, it shouldn’t be. But the way you embody and develop that idea should surprise your readers and evoke an emotional response in them.
It’s that emotional impact that makes your story not only worth finishing but memorable.
Short story ideas will look different from novel ideas, though — mainly because short stories have to make a big impact with fewer words. And because of this, the most powerful short stories have what James Scott Bell describes as the “one shattering moment.”
In his book, How to Write Short Stories and Use Them to Further Your Writing Career, Bell describes that moment as “something that happens to a character, an emotional blast which they cannot ignore. It changes them, in a large or a subtle way — in a way that cannot be ignored.”
Any one of the popular themes listed above could you give your main character a shattering moment that would change that character’s life or perspective.
Take a look at the following creative story ideas, many of which combine two or more of the popular themes listed, and feel free to modify any of them to create your next unputdownable short story.
35 Short Story Ideas
1. Your character’s loved one has died, and he learns while going through that loved one’s belongings that the latter had a terrible secret that unnervingly correlates to your character’s deepest fear.
The rest of the story explores your character’s reaction to this discovery and how it affects his/her relationships and decision-making.
2. Your character has married the man she saw as her “soulmate.” During their honeymoon, he shows her his list of goals for their first five years together, and they have their first real argument over one of those goals — which requires something of her that she never agreed to.
She has a sudden memory of their first date and of the moment when she first decided he was the one, but she sees it now from his perspective, and it changes everything.
3. Your orphaned character inherits a house and moves in to find that it’s already occupied — by the spirits of the character’s long-deceased parents, who aren’t at all like the people other relatives have described.
4. Your character is having trouble getting past his anger over the wounds inflicted by those who raised him and by those with whom he had one failed relationship after the next.
After losing his job, he goes on a journey to change the direction of his life, but that journey is interrupted by the death of one of his parents — the one who hurt him the most.
5. Your character is widely regarded as a monster and doesn’t deny or hide from that designation.
When his closest confidante gets fed up with him, tells him off, and leaves the company they founded together, your character finds himself disoriented by grief and does something different.
6. Your character is content with her life but suddenly inherits a large sum of money and a palatial estate on the east coast.
She sees the inheritance as proof that the Law of Attraction works, and she invites family and a few close friends to move with her and share the wealth. On the first night of their stay, someone dies.
7. Your character’s snake-loving neighbor has just been found in the belly of her pet boa constrictor (who she swore was a better “snuggler” than her ex).
The ex shows up and is angry when he finds out that your neighbor left the house and everything in it to your character. He threatens to ruin her life if she doesn’t turn the house over to him.
8. Your character meets his/her soulmate on a flight that almost doesn’t make it to its destination; both of them respond to emergencies on the plane (one as a cop and the other as a doctor).
Once at the airport, your character learns that this soulmate is already in a relationship with a well-known philanthropist. But your character notices something odd and calls the philanthropist out.
9. Your character’s best friend just announced the end of a relationship, and your character is surprised to find this friend in a celebratory state of mind (rather than heartbroken).
Your character then finds out the disturbing reason for the friend’s manic behavior.
10. One of your character’s siblings is getting married, and during wedding preparations, your character learns something she was never meant to know. This discovery changes her relationships with everyone.
11. The happy couple living next door to your character has died in a horrific accident, and when the parents show up for the funeral, you find out why the couple always changed the subject whenever you asked them about their families.
12. Your character starts receiving messages from someone who knows his/her deepest fears and intends to exploit them.
At the same time, your character is discovering a latent ability that relates to those fears but might also help him overcome them. Or they might change him into something the messenger never saw coming.
13. Your character meets a soulmate at a community grief counseling group meeting and learns that this soulmate also attends AA meetings (like your mc) — though with a different group and with a friend who doesn’t particularly like your main character.
The surprising reason comes out when your character goes on a first date with this soulmate. The soulmate’s friend swears he/she knows your mc from a different reality — which he/she visits in dreams.
14. Your character breaks free of a painful relationship and embarks on a journey to discover what she’s capable of. After volunteering at a nursing home — reading to vision-impaired residents and writing letters for them — she agrees to personally deliver one of those letters to the resident’s estranged son.
15. After avoiding close relationships because of deep scars from his childhood, your main character learns something about one of his parents that changes everything for him. He then has an opportunity to take a step off his accustomed path.
16. Your character has been married for 19 years before her spouse — after a weekend that reminds her of when they met and why she married him — hands her divorce papers.
17. Your character is making a list of reasons to break up with her boyfriend of two years when the latter comes home early and tells her he’s won the lottery jackpot.
18. Your character is a locally famous writer whose hero story ideas come from his freewheeling lifestyle and insatiable curiosity about others.
One day, out of boredom, he offers a homeless man $100 to propose to the first woman he takes a fancy to, while he watches from a safe distance. The proposal goes terrifyingly wrong.
19. Your character has just lost a child by miscarriage, and when she comes home, her married life has changed. Her husband, who was always the more talkative of the two, spends their time together quietly grieving in his own way.
Your character, on the other hand, becomes more outgoing and starts spending more time (and money) on her appearance.
20. Your young adult character finds himself suddenly orphaned when his parents die in a plane crash. The funeral is the beginning of a dramatic shift in his perspective and in the choices he makes.
He breaks off a relationship with a woman his parents adored, he quits the lucrative job that he hates, and he leaves the country.
21. Your character has just learned that his spouse has been cheating on him, and he confronts her when she gets home that night.
She reveals that what he saw as proof of her infidelity was something completely innocent — but that she’s already decided to make a permanent and dramatic end to their marriage.
22. The only child of your character is diagnosed with a fatal illness, and your character doesn’t know how to deal with the worry and dread that now consumes her.
Her doctor suggests one anti-anxiety med after another, and her husband and his family urge her to try one — for her husband’s and her son’s sakes. She goes into a fugue state with the experimental drug she tries, and she wakes up to the consequences.
23. Your character’s new glasses — created as a free gift from an old friend with unusual connections — reveal more than the physical objects in his field of vision.
After looking at a coworker and seeing the latter’s death just hours before it happens, he goes to replace the glasses with a plain pair from a local chain. Then he catches his full-length reflection in a window.
24. Your character wakes up alone in an unfamiliar place and is told by everyone he encounters that the life he thought he’d lived for the past six years — with a wife and three kids and with the job that barely paid the bills — must have been a dream.
He’s actually stunningly wealthy, treated with respect by everyone he meets, and desired by more than one woman. So, why is there a picture of him with his nonexistent family on his desk?
25. A year ago, your character met someone who offered her the power to transform the interior of her home to anything she wants — in exchange for a DNA sample from her only child, who is a gifted storyteller.
During the year after she accepted the offer, her home becomes everything she wants it to be, but her son stops telling stories, and one day she finds out why.
26. Your character makes drastic changes to his diet and adopts new habits that alienate him from his usual circle of friends but lead him to a new one.
He then wins a large sum of money from a scratch ticket that an estranged friend (a compulsive gambler) slipped under his door.
27. Your character has returned from a successful quest to find his home empty, with no sign of his loved ones other than a note left on the refrigerator.
Not only does he now have no one with whom to share his victory, but what he learns calls that very victory into question.
28. Your character has spent eleven years living with the consequences of a vow she has taken. When she forges a new friendship with a counselor, she learns something about herself that scares her and makes her avoid the counselor, for his own sake.
Keenly aware of her own vulnerability, she brands herself to ward off unwelcome attention.
29. Your character, after 15 years of living in a house chosen mainly to fit her spouse’s preferences, sees an ad for an apartment in town that represents the life she gave up to make her husband happy.
After hearing him complain about his life and their house for one too many times, she goes to look at this apartment and finds it has almost everything she wants. The apartment manager, a well-dressed woman close to her own age, hears your character’s last name and appears shaken by it.
30. Your character splurges on a new rug for her living room floor — the kind of rug she’s coveted for years — and her S.O. criticizes it and later “accidentally” spills his drink on it.
The final straw is his suggestion that she wait ‘til it dries and return it to the store for a refund or exchange it for something more practical.
31. Your character has recently broken free from a cult that had drawn him in when he was vulnerable from a family tragedy. His new support system — a group of other cult survivors — is having varying degrees of difficulty re-entering society and repairing damaged relationships.
Your character meets with them one evening at their accustomed café table and confronts a server whose off-handed comment provokes him. What begins as a calm request for respectful treatment escalates as other members of the group chime in and the server’s manager gets involved.
32. Your character has joined a church and finds herself under the tutelage of a church member who leans toward the traditionalist end of the spectrum and who regards her as the daughter he never had.
When he decides to renounce the church’s leadership and join an extreme traditionalist group, she backs away from him — after explaining to him why she won’t do the same. His behavior toward her changes and she makes a change of her own.
33. Your character is so desperate for money that he does something he never would have done otherwise. He doesn’t get caught, but he doesn’t get away with it, either. Consumed by guilt, he undergoes a penance of his choosing, which spirals out of control.
34. Your character walks into a tourist shop and buys a homemade “tonic” freshly mixed by the owner, after tasting and enjoying an innocuous sample in the same flavor. The tonic changes him in a way he can’t ignore or undo.
35. Your character inherits an old music shop with a secret back room where his uncle kept a few instruments that can make even someone like him — who has never played an instrument — a virtuoso in seconds. He takes the piano to his apartment and learns why his uncle (in a letter he’d written before his death) had warned him not to — and why his uncle kept the door to that secret room locked.
69 Short Story Writing Prompts
With writing prompts, you get a launching pad of sorts: a question, an idea, a provocative quote, or something that inspires a reaction — specifically a written one. Maybe that reaction is an argument, or maybe it’s an impassioned defense of an idea.
Whatever it is, the purpose here is to take that prompt and use it to generate a written response in one form or another. The aim of writing prompts for short stories is to get you started on a new short story.
The prompt could be as simple as a word or as detailed as a character sketch or an elevator pitch. It could even be a picture or a song. It could be an observation you make while (discreetly) people-watching.
We’ve create 69 short story writing prompts that flesh out an idea more thoroughly, giving you a good headstart for your story.
1. You get a new job, and your new boss approaches you on the first day with an invitation to the “After Hours Club.” He tells you it’s no big deal if you decline, but you get a strong impression that it would be.
2. One day, on the way home from work, your new car takes over and drives you to a remote area, stopping beside other cars in a clearing underneath a new moon. You wake up underneath a full moon and drive yourself home. But much has changed in your absence — and so have you.
3. You bake pies for a local bakery, and when a celebrity comes to town and tastes your locally famous turtle pie, he invites you to go on tour with him — to a movie set somewhere in Europe — to be his personal pie maker. You say yes.
4. You buy a single rose from a street vendor, and it lasts a week, then two weeks, then three, and then a full month. Only then does someone point out to you that previously healthy people in the neighborhood have been falling ill and dying at an abnormal rate.
5. It’s time for your 10-year-old daughter to make her First Confession, but when her turn comes to go into the confessional, she panics and won’t be persuaded to go in.
6. You’re stranded in a small village down a winding road from Burgos (Spain) on a Sunday. A stranger comes by on a motorcycle and goes to fetch a taxi for you. You’re waiting at the bus station when he tells you he knows you’re meant to replace his recently deceased wife.
7. The bartender brings you your first Irish coffee in what looks like a candy dish. Halfway through, you notice the whole cafe seems to be floating, and since you can’t put the rest into a to-go cup (alas), you pay your tab and head out. You think you’re doing fine until your key doesn’t work in the front door of your apartment building. Someone else kindly lets you in, and you recognize him as the bartender from that cafe.
8. You’re exploring an old Spanish town, and you realize someone is following you. You turn and find an old woman who asks if you’ll help her find her hotel. You help her, and she invites you in, telling you she has a son who shares your interest in all things Tolkien. You’re not in a hurry to get back to your hotel room, so you go up with her.
9. Your fingers don’t respond to you the way they used to, and you’ve been having other difficulties. You go see your doctor, and they run some tests to check for neurological diseases but don’t find anything. They think it’s probably stress-related. Your life has been stressful lately, and it doesn’t help that your new roommate has been acting strangely toward you.
10. You wake up with your heart racing, but you don’t remember why. You almost never remember your dreams but often wake up covered in sweat with your heart pounding. You’re tired of having to shower every morning and feeling sick for the rest of the day, so you decide to undergo hypnosis, hoping to find out what’s going on.
11. Your neighbors have been up to some strange shenanigans lately, and their lights are on well into the wee hours of the morning. You’d like to know why, but every neighbor you’ve talked to who have gone over there to ask about it has, later on, told you that nothing suspicious is going on and that those neighbors are “very spiritual, and so, so nice!”
12. The street lamps that light up your cul de sac have gone dark, and you’re outside waiting for your spouse to get home when something large and dark brushes past you, almost knocking you off balance. Then a man appears and asks, “Have you seen my cat?”
13. Someone has broken into your house while you were away and has taken all the religious articles out of it — every statue, every picture, and every holy water bottle. The thief left everything else alone.
14. You move into an apartment that used to be a hoarder’s paradise, and your manager gives you permission to paint the walls a different color and add some new flooring. You get to work removing the kitchen’s linoleum floor and find something you never expected.
15. You joined a wine delivery service, and the delivery person is every bit as charming as the labels on the posh wine he brings to you each week. When you lose your job and cancel the service, the wine keeps coming.
16. You buy a pound of gourmet coffee beans at a local food festival, and as you’re sipping the first cup from the first pot you’ve brewed, you have a vision, which feels as real as though it were actually happening to you. When the vision ends, you’re still in your kitchen, holding your cup. You take another sip.
17. You’re about ready to gather up all the ceramic village pieces that have been cluttering up your living room and toss them in the trash bin, but your spouse, who knows you hate them, insists you should try selling them on eBay, instead. That’s when the fight starts.
18. You buy a new pair of Bluetooth earbuds that are supposed to enhance your listening experience. You plug them in and use them while watching a movie, and suddenly, you’re there on the scene, about to get flattened (or eaten) by a dinosaur.
19. You need a new toilet, and someone shows up at the door (as though sent by heaven) to sell you a toilet that will flush down ANYTHING. Oddly enough, it doesn’t even need to be hooked up to your septic system. “All you have to do is remove and empty the dust tray at the base every evening, reinsert it for the next day’s flushes, and voila!”
20. You buy a new keyboard, and after typing a few sentences of a new story, it starts typing on its own, and you watch in surprise as it types out a new short story. You submit it to a contest you’ve never won and win first prize. You start thinking you’ll never have trouble paying the rent again! Then you accidentally spill wine on the keyboard, and even stranger things start happening.
Related: The Perfect Writing Software For Your Writing Style
21. Your famous stew recipe has won an award. You go to collect it (a cash prize), and meet the next runner-up, who believes she should have won the first prize instead with her three-bean salad. She warns you not to spend the money, because she will prove you won unfairly. You go home and find a bowl of three-bean salad and a note.
22. You suggest at the breakfast table one morning that you might actually have too many books, and your SO seizes upon this and offers to help you thin out your collection. After breaking up with him, you cull a few volumes for donation and run into the author of one of them.
23. Your first issue of Real Simple magazine has finally arrived, but something has come with it — something you can’t see but that makes your life anything but simpler.
24. A girl scout comes to the door selling cookies, and you tell her you already bought some from her at the table outside your grocery store, and you’ve spent enough for the year. Suddenly, all the food in your house (including the canned food) becomes moldy or rotten. And every bit of food that passes your threshold becomes inedible.
25. You buy a new whiteboard to help you keep track of your writing assignments, but you wake up one morning, and new items have somehow been added to your list. And the new titles have a sinister edge to them. You live alone.
26. You buy a new poster that looks exactly like the TARDIS door, and you put it up on your bedroom wall. One night, right at midnight (you’re up working at your computer), the door opens and you walk through it.
27. You buy a CD with music that’s supposed to help you write more creatively and also lose weight more easily. You start playing it during your writing time, and sure enough, the words flow without effort, and you love what you’ve written. You also start losing ten pounds a week, and soon you can’t afford to lose another ten, but you’ve come to depend on that music CD.
28. You’re a carpenter who has joined a construction team to build a new development of 3,000+ square foot houses. All is going well until someone on the team discovers something buried in the lot for the third house. The foreman removes it and tells everyone to get back to work, but you have a bad feeling. And you’re right to have it.
29. Your boss announces they’re having a potluck and you’re all expected to show up and bring something. He also tells you it has to be homemade. You tell him you can’t cook, but he tells you, “Well, learn, then!” Strangely enough, you do, and you create an entree that has everyone’s mouth-watering when you open the lid at the potluck. But your boss is conspicuously absent.
30. You wake up in the middle of the night and rush to the bathroom, where you empty your stomach of everything you ate that day. Something else comes out, and it’s moving.
31. You stop at a coffee shop while making stops to apply for a new job, and the barista tells you the new bed and breakfast is looking for someone to handle their advertising. You apply, are accepted, and agree to start immediately. But the owner, who openly admires your bicycle, offers you a room at the B&B, so you’ll be more accessible.
32. You have way too much time on your hands since your latest project has earned you enough to more than double your previous year’s salary, and you’re taking a sabbatical. You see an ad for an opportunity to spend a month at a castle in Wales, with full room and board and a bicycle for exploring the countryside. You call the agent and book a flight.
33. One night, as you’re coming back from the bathroom, you see a bright light and follow it to see that your front window is wide open and bugs are swarming in and out. You rush to close it but then you see the view from it — which is not your usual view of the front yard. You see something you want to investigate.
34. Sometimes, people stare when you pull out an index card and start scribbling furiously onto it, but you don’t care. Then someone accuses you of writing something about him and, pulling out a gun, demands you hand the card over to him.
35. You’re starting a new job, and one of your co-workers tells you it’s up to the new guy to keep the coffee pot full for his first week. While you’re brewing the latest refill, muttering to yourself about how little you’re getting done that day, one of your co-workers starts choking and accuses you of trying to poison her.
36. Your home-brewed ale is the talk of the neighborhood, but your next-door neighbor frequently buys up your newest batch. You start imposing limits. He then starts telling other neighbors that your secret is adding pee from your pet guinea pigs, “But it’s cool, because urine is sterile. And that guinea pig pee really adds something!”
37. You inherit a lighthouse from your deceased uncle — along with the small living quarters attached to it. You move right in, looking forward to the solitude. But whenever you’re up at the top scanning the surface of the ocean, you see things that can’t possibly be there. And one of them sees you — and comes to visit.
38. You stop at the local nursery and pick up a new houseplant — a tiny, adorable succulent. The cashier looks nervous as she rings you up. “That plant isn’t normal. If you want to pick another one, I would totally understand.” She’s nodding with wide eyes as she says this, clearly hoping you’ll agree.
39. You live in a studio apartment. Your boss comes to bring you soup when you call in sick and sees the quilt on your bed, which you won at a raffle. “That’s the quilt my mom made!” she says. “She told me someone stole it.”
40. You take your kids trick-or-treating, and you go to your boss’s neighborhood (your boss suggested it). Most houses gave out full-sized candy bars, but one gave out treasure maps, and your kids want to find their treasures before you leave the neighborhood.
41. Someone offers you a chance to win a million dollars just by visiting his website and typing in your address. “I don’t need your checking account info. It’s not safe to give that to just anyone. I’ll just mail the check to you,”he writes.
42. You wonder what it would be like to be a famous actor, and someone, out of the blue, invites you to perform in his movie as an extra — “and, who knows, maybe something more… prominent.”
43. You get a call from the principal’s office that your daughter has been involved in a bullying incident. Someone was bullying her, and she punched him. There were witnesses, and the principal reminds you of their zero-tolerance policy for physical violence…
44. You get a call from the principal’s office that your son has been acting out toward his classmates (who, according to what he’s told you, have been behaving aggressively toward him) and had brought a weapon to school to protect himself. They’ve confiscated the weapon (a paring knife) and have called the police.
45. Your kid has an IEP, and the Special Ed staff at the school always sound so caring and professional at the meetings you attend with them. But your son tells you they behave very differently toward him. The principal assures you that she knows the staff would never do what your son has accused them of doing. She suggests your son may be lying.
46. Your young daughter notices that one of your trees is “sick,” and she goes to visit the tree, talks to it, leans against it, and tells it to please get better. It responds by growing stronger and larger, spreading its branches out and downward to create a sort of cave for your daughter to rest in when she wants to be alone. It becomes her haven.
47. You wake up one morning and start loading your excess possessions into boxes and bags and hauling it off to Goodwill to donate it. That’s when you find the tiny cameras hidden in the bathroom, and bugs hidden in every room.
48. Your favorite coffee mug has broken, and you’re in mourning. The mug you just bought as your “second” just doesn’t feel the same in your hand, but it surprises you by magically refilling your drink with every sip — and keeping it hot for you.
49. The moth on your ceiling doesn’t bother you — much. But every time you look, it’s there. And you wonder why it never leaves. When you finally get a step ladder to get a closer look at it, you can hardly believe what you’re seeing.
50. Your neighbors on the home office side of your house have never been friendly, but one day, the wife comes over with a pie and tells you she made it herself and that she’s tired of being cooped up in the house with no one but her husband to talk to. You look over and see the outline of her husband in an upstairs window.
51. Tired of getting hair in your face, you take an electric hair-trimmer and run it all over your head with the one-inch attachment. You look at the results with satisfaction.
52. Your spouse, who has never done or said a romantic thing since your honeymoon, suddenly comes home with an expensive bouquet and a travel brochure for a place you’ve always wanted to visit. Later on, someone delivers the car you’ve always wanted, and your husband unconvincingly feigns surprise. You ask him if he won the lottery, but he shakes his head and says, “This is way better. You’ll see.”
53. You’re out in your backyard and stumble over something, which turns out to be a small brick half-buried in the grass. You see initials etched into the brick, along with a crudely-shaped heart. You wonder what — or whom — might be buried beneath. Soon, you find other markers like it, and you wonder how you failed to notice them before.
54. Your neighbor invites you over to her house, and you see that every wall has a cross painted on it with crude, hurried strokes. You ask why, and she nervously clears her throat and says, “This place needs them.”
55. You watch an infomercial and order a new face cream, hoping it will restore a youthful look to your face. It does more than that.
56. Your teenage son gets a job and, on his first day, he encounters a rude customer. Unaccustomed to responding with calmness and diplomacy, he lashes out at the customer and gets himself fired. Instead of calling home for a ride, though, he takes a walk through town and runs into the same customer holding up a cardboard sign.
57. You put your headphones on when you start on your writing project, and, at some point, an unfamiliar voice interrupts your playlist to tell you he likes what you’ve written so far. And he thinks you’d get along great.
58. Your spouse starts trying different paint samples on walls all over the house, and you don’t like any of the colors; they’re either too bright or too dark. One day, you paint patches of a pale green-gray that you like next to his acid-bright or dark color patches, and he tells you it’s boring, and that he’s painting the house his way.
59. Someone keeps writing fortune-cookie phrases on your new whiteboard at work, and it’s irritating you. You ask around, and no one knows who keeps writing the messages. Then, one of the predictions comes true.
60. You look out the window while you’re working and you see one neighbor attacking his spouse, knocking her down and then kicking her. You call 9-1-1, but later on, the wife comes over and says, “I know it was you who called. And you’ve made everything worse!”
61. Every time you look outside and see the wind in the trees, you take a deep breath and feel calmer. When the air is still, you feel as though the whole world is holding its breath and that something bad is about to happen. So, when it’s calm outside, you picture wind in the trees and take a deep breath.
62. You see movement in the corner of your eye and whenever you look, you see a huge, black dog in the neighbor’s yard, running back and forth. This time, though, he runs into your yard and starts barking at your front door.
63. Your eight-year-old son gets up and immediately goes for his Kindle Fire to play Minecraft. You’ve found some educational apps you want him to try, so you’ve installed them on his Kindle. He comes to you a few minutes later and says, “This app is telling me to do things I’m not supposed to do.”
64. You try a new recipe for a potluck, hoping it will wow your boss and coworkers, but it turns out terrible, and you end up rushing to a restaurant for something to bring before arriving (late) to find out everyone has already eaten the entree you were most looking forward to trying. When the cops show up later to ask why everyone is violently ill except you, you tell them everything you know.
65. You take your teenage son to his orientation for a new job, and when you come back to pick him up an hour later, you find out no one has seen him — though you saw him walk in the door before you drove off.
66. You’re living in a world where everyone is born with a birthmark that matches that of their soulmate. But you are born without one.
67. You and your best friend are in a terrible car accident, and you both die. Your friend, however, has a very different account of what he saw on the other side.
68. You’re born with the ability to mentally manipulate DNA. You started with plants and moved on to your pets, who now have unique abilities. For the past few years, you’ve been hacking your own DNA.
69. You were raised in the deep South where manners and feigned politeness were a thin veneer covering your family’s questionable history and lingering dysfunction.
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Did you find these short story ideas and prompts useful?
I hope your mind is buzzing with an idea you can’t wait to start playing with. Keep this article handy, so you can return to it when you’re looking for a new short story idea. You don’t have to follow any of them verbatim; take one and change the details however you like to make the idea your own.
Just don’t forget the “one shattering moment” for your character — and the importance of making an emotional impact on your reader. You make this impact as much with dialogue as with description and the structure of your story. Make it all count.
And when it comes time to edit, cut everything that dampens the impact of your story. Your readers will love you for it!
If you found value from this list of short story prompts, please share it and encourage others to pass it on to support and inspire as many fellow writers out there as possible. Why not even invite them to share their new short stories with you after they’ve written them?
And may your creative energy and goodwill infuse everything else you do today.
Story non ideas cliche
Are you ready to write a short story, but not sure where to start? Get some new ideas today with these diverse and engaging short story ideas.
Though I’ve broken them up into subcategories, don’t feel limited by the headings. Feel free to add some romance to a supernatural story, or frame a family tale in a historical or dystopian setting.
The key to using these short story ideas is an open, flexible mind. Use these prompts as springboards, and then follow your inspiration.
The first half of these short story ideas are general categories — Humor, Family, Power, Plot Twist — while the second half offers story ideas in specific genres — Fantasy, Horror, Dystopian, Crime, Sci-Fi, Romance.
- Substitute teachers are sick of not being taken seriously, so they form a secret society: Subperior.
- Tell the tall tale of a high-fashion penguin who goes shopping for a tuxedo and gets into the modeling industry. Make as many crossovers between fashion and bird life as possible.
- An Elvis impersonator books a concert that is so good, people believe the real Elvis has come back to life. Next thing he knows, he is the leader of a superstitious Elvis cult.
- After a religious cult takes over the government, caffeine is outlawed. Tell the story of a brave and coffee-loving family who opens a #CaffeineSpeakeasy.
- Everyone confuses Fabio the Frog for a toad because of his warts. Explore the struggle.
2 Characters or Less
- Tammy has been in solitary confinement for 2 years and hasn’t experienced any human contact, not even letters, at least until she starts receiving mysterious notes under her door.
- Tired of working as a corporate robot, Gerald uses all of his sick days to spend a week alone hiking in the Appalachian Mountains. Everything seems fine until a blizzard hits.
- A shy web designer thinks he has found the man of his dreams online. It turns out he is being catfished by the member of a competing company who is probing him for information.
- Brenna and James work for two neighboring fast food companies and always take their lunch breaks on the sidewalk bench at the same time. Are they brave enough to pursue something more from this newfound friendship?
- A traveling make-up artist named Brenda and a purse-sized dog go on a cross-country trip to a funeral that Brenda does not want to attend. Tell the story from both Brenda’s and the dog’s point of view.
- Homeschooled Adam has just finished high school and is planning to start college close to his town when suddenly, an attack on his isolated hometown means he is drafted into the army. Even though he is away from the first time and terrified, he doesn’t just survive — he becomes a key strategist thanks to his scientific insight.
- Traveling nature photographer Lindsay happens upon a group of indigenous people who may have found the cure to cancer in a rare, local plant.
- Portuguese foreign exchange student Gabriela’s host parents aren’t as innocent as they seem. Before she knows it, these undercover mob members kidnap her as part of an international conspiracy theory. Halfway across the world and alone, how can she escape and uncover the truth?
- An American actor is cast as the star of a movie about a multi-lingual travel agent. Instead of buying Rosetta Stone, he packs his bags and decides to travel to four different countries across the world, but he doesn’t expect to fall in love with his guide.
- A boy steals a jet packet that can help him fly, and he gets adopted by a flock of birds as they migrate south for winter. Show how his relationship with them evolves until hunters try to kill the birds and shuttle him back home.
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- When 14-year-old Oliver learns that he is the only adopted child of his eight-person family, he feels betrayed and runs away to find his birth parents. However, after 2 months alone on the road, he runs out of money and still has not succeeded. Does he keep looking or go home?
- An unlikely friendship between the 6-year-old sons of feuding parents leads to an unexpected and tense reunion at a playdate. Is this the beginning of a reconciliation, or is it just added fuel to the fire?
- Two childhood friends stopped talking after a high school feud, until they find themselves on the same international flight five years later. What conversations unfold over the next 12 hours, and do they keep in touch, or go their separate ways forever?
- A set of 12-year-old identical twins have gotten away with switching places in class since one is good at math and the other is good at English. They switch outfits at lunch and come back to each other’s desk to find their very strict and observant mom is the substitute teacher.
- When Ali, a Muslim man, falls in love with Rachel, a Jewish girl, both of their families are appalled. What do their families do to keep them apart?
- Federal investigations into an ongoing murder investigation discover that a dangerous coalition of police officers were behind the crime.
- A famous gymnast is under fire for using performance-enhancing steroids. It turns out that she’s the one who leaked the story to detract attention from the fact that she is a drug lord selling a highly addictive and eventually deadly new substance.
- A young television actor is hailed as one of the best of his time. While reporters call him “method” for only interviewing in character, it’s because he doesn’t have an identity outside of his famous characters, three of whom he switches between due to Dissociative Identity Disorder.
- Jenna is backstage at graduation about to make her valedictorian speech when she hears a gunshot in the crowd. Write an account of the next 10 minutes from her perspective.
- An elderly couple keeps all of their money at home between the pages of their books. They’re ready to gather it all and start looking for a retirement home when a fire burns down their house and their cash.
- After only a year in office, Governor Li finds himself tempted by a corrupt organization who wants him to sabotage a public transportation project in exchange for funding his entire reelection.
- Principal Watkins wants to take the promotion to district director, but she knows the new principal will slash all of the arts programs. How does she decide between the promotion that will help her send her kids to college and saving the arts programs she loves so much?
- When General Adams finds that the opposing army will surrender if she hands herself over, does she prioritize her own safety, or sacrifice herself, even if it means torture?
- A successful lawyer knows that his client is guilty of murder, but he can easily lie and win the case, which is getting significant media coverage and would surely guarantee that he would be made a partner at his firm.
- Yvonne has worked hard to build her successful real estate company, and she loves her work. But when a competing realtor starts stealing all of her clients, she has to fight back in unusual ways to keep her business alive.
- On his 16th birthday, Christopher miraculously survives a head-on car crash without a scratch. A week later when he scrapes his knee playing basketball, it heals within minutes. Where did this power come from, and what can he do with it?
- The Elite Education Society, or EES, is giving out pills to gifted students that give them the power to stay awake for 48 hours and record everything they see, hear, and feel in their minds as if in a notebook. But little do they know, the side effects that appear two weeks later will cause a disaster.
- 63-year-old Emerald is the only member of her family without a superpower. However, when the local police force who relies on superhero power fails to catch a murderer, her down-to-earth perspective ends up being the key to solving the crime.
- After his concussion, Jamal Winston finds he has no control over recurring and vivid dream of his accident. However, while awake, he is able to project images in his mind into the room and change the world around him. Too bad the doctors think it is all in his head, and continuously sedate him. Can he fight the power of a medically induced coma?
- What happens when technology gives animals the power to speak?
- Rachel, a successful defense attorney who was just made a partner at her firm, is working on one of the biggest murder cases in Boston’s history. When she realizes she’s developing feelings for the prosecutor, it’s too late to back out. What’s more important: stay true to her work values, or take a chance at love?
- Jordan’s just a lonely college guy swiping through Tinder when he finds his favorite actress, Geena Davis, has liked him back. But when they meet up, he realizes they have no connection. Rather, it’s her assistant who catches his eye.
- When Alexandra and Amber’s yearlong secret relationship is discovered, they’re expelled from their all-girls high school and forced to attend separate public schools. How to they keep their love alive under the watchful eyes of their judgmental community?
- Two painters have been married for 5 years. How does their relationship change when one of them suddenly goes blind?
- This short love story between an asexual boy and girl will contain three distinct scenes: a cute meeting, a first date, and the first time the two say “I love you.” The challenge is to build romantic tension without any sexual tension whatsoever.
- When the long-running secret order of magicians is discovered, it’s time to fight. But what’s stronger: ancient magic, or advanced, current technology?
- The Pineshore National Forest is home to more than just evergreen trees. It is a haven for werewolves, and though they only come out at night, the fleas that cling to their skin crawl into the lake and transmit the werewolf virus through the town’s water supply — the only people it doesn’t affect are those under 14.
- Vampires and Robots that run on human blood fight over the limited human blood supply in an epic war of the supernatural versus the machines.
- A seemingly ordinary horse is visited by a mystical presence that promises to make her a unicorn, but she must face the dangers of escaping her stable if she wants access to this new and mysterious world.
- A spaceship that can surpass the speed of light allows some humans to escape our solar system with its dying sun. How will humanity decide who gets to be a passenger?
- A special computer virus is engineered by a rogue Apple employee to control human desires and impulses.
- A pet store with an overflow of cats sells them at a very low price. However, what seemed to be normal kittens were actually the offspring of an alien that can body jump from human host to human host, causing each of their hosts to commit suicide after 24 hours.
- A live TV special about the White House has a microphone malfunction that ends up broadcasting a top-secret meeting about an impending alien invasion to the whole nation.
- Scientists develop a new brain scanning device that can read thoughts. Who should have access to this technology? Before they have time to decide, someone has hacked into their computer system and stolen it.
- It’s Halloween, and ghost hunting teenagers wander into an infamous haunted house near a local graveyard, only to find that it’s not ghosts they need to fear, but a poisonous gas that warps their memories and puts them at the hands of the delusional and twisted man who lives upstairs.
- When a disease similar to chicken pox breaks out in a local preschool, it leads to a quarantine. Though it seems harmless at first, it turns out that its symptoms include violent outbreaks that cause the children to break loose and terrorize the town.
- What seems like an ordinary meditation seminar turns out to be the recruiting ground for an extremist cult that hypnotizes members to commit acts of violence. No one is immune, except Margaret Bradshaw.
- Nothing can wake Keith up from his night terrors, which cause him to attack anyone who comes near him, as he cannot distinguish those he loves from the villains he sees in his head.
- JJ has to scuba dive 300 feet down through a genetically modified shark breeding ground in order to rescue his girlfriend in a broken submersible, but a horrifying surprise awaits him in the depths.
- After he discovers another man’s clothes tucked in the back of his girlfriend’s closet, Brad plans a fishing trip to get her far away for the weekend and teach her a lesson.
- The Smithsonian Slasher has caused panic throughout DC. With a new victim every other day within 500 feet of one of the museums, he must have a motive and a method, but how are the police to find him when he has destroyed all of the cameras and keeps escaping?
- A shoplifting dare turns into a case of mistaken identity, and next thing she knows, college junior Amanda is on trial for murder.
- Officer Turner is three years sober and dedicated to getting his life back on track. That is, until he is called to the scene of what he thought was a theft, but turns out to be a high-profile drug bust. Can he suppress his urges around the mountains of cocaine, especially since he is in charge of collecting evidence?
- What happens when a set of identical twin men commit countless murders that they plan together, but continuously use each other as an alibi?
- In 2150, Aliya becomes pregnant with twins and, in an overpopulated country with an authoritarian government, has to make a choice of which one to keep and which to kill when they are born. Instead, she sets out to escape across the border with her husband.
- When NASA scientist Jose discovers that there is an impending alien attack that is sure to destroy Earth within the month, he becomes the reluctant leader of an uprising and the coordinator of an international planet evacuation.
- When California breaks off of North America and declares independence, it sparks the second US Civil War.
- It turns out the iPhone 26 has been hacked and can be remotely detonated. Key political leaders across the globe are assassinated on the same morning, and the world descends into chaos.
- 20-pound dachshund Kevin stands out among his border collie siblings and is bullied for being different. He is set out to prove that not only can he herd sheep, but befriend them as equals.
- 8-year-old Tanner has been working hard all year to keep his grades up so that he can participate in the annual Teacher-For-A-Day extravaganza.
- What happens when a normal girl discovers a teleportation device in the park across from her house that only she knows how to use?
- An elementary-aged child has a unique talent for understanding animals, so much so that they end up helping out trainers, veterinarians, and wildlife researchers. Work in some animal facts!
- It’s 1955. After Rosa Parks is arrested for sitting in the white section of the bus, a group of Civil Rights Activists of all races come together to start a nonprofit bus business.
- Write a first-person narrative of an Ancient Roman Colosseum showdown between a criminal and a lion.
- World War II is brewing, and Brian wants nothing more than to fight for the Allies, but to do so, he’ll have to make sure no one finds out that he was assigned female at birth.
- Who was Abraham Lincoln without his famous top hat? Write an account of its transformations through the years, paralleling its life with that of the 16th US President.
- It’s love at first sight for a lucky young couple as soon as the Berlin Wall crashes to the ground, but in the days that follow, their parents aren’t so excited.
I hope these short story ideas have generated some good stories for you! Leave a note in the comments if a particular short story writing prompt worked well for you.
Victoria Fombelle is a freelance writer, stand-up comedian, and clinical mental health counseling student living and working in Chicago.
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Clichéd story plots weaken an otherwise good story, a story where characters and settings are vivid. To tell a story that feels original and inventive, it’s key to learn plot clichés to avoid. Yet many original stories do use common tropes. The key is to make famous story types and scenarios your own:
1: Know common plot clichés within your genre
In story plots, clichés are frustrating because they’ve been hollowed out of their dramatic impact through overuse. Dragons that go on rampages overpopulate fantasy worlds. Women in distress who need men to save them overpopulate romance novels.
Here are a few more common plot clichés:
- The chosen one: A character has been selected for a task but there’s no backstory or explanation why only this person in particular is capable
- It was all a dream: Strange things happen but turn out to be dreams (often solving plot complications a little too conveniently for the author)
- Representative of another culture gives clueless protagonist profound wisdom: Another example of a common plot cliché, especially in books from earlier times that either romanticized indigenous people or portrayed them as savages (this example courtesy of Strange Horizons)
In each of these examples, there is either a cop-out or an overused trope (a ‘trope’ is a literary device that occurs across multiple novels by various authors).
In the first example, there is nothing to explain what is so special about ‘the chosen one’. J.K. Rowling avoids the cliché of ‘the chosen one’ in Harry Potter by giving Harry a past link to the villain that explains exactly why it is he in particular who must fulfill the challenge.
In the ‘it was all a dream’ plot, there is always a risk of a cop-out. The revelation that characters have been dreaming can seem too trite or tidy an explanation for bizarre or puzzling events.
The third example is a plot point rather than an entire story idea. But it tells something valuable about being original: It’s better (for creative as well as political reasons) not to simply repeat received, dominant ideas. Stereotypes are the footmen of unoriginal stories and dangerous politics. The ‘exotic’ foreigner (or indigenous other) is likely to be just as full of flaws and folly as a protagonist. [Writing believable characters is key – get our comprehensive guide, including handy exercises, here.]
So how do you write original story plots? One approach is to combine familiar elements into something new:
2. Combine the familiar to make something original
The dragon that terrorizes a town is a fantasy cliché. Another cliché, like the dream explanation mentioned above, is where everything turns out to be imaginary.
What happens if you combine these two ideas, however? Then things start to get interesting.
If, for example, an inhabitant of the dragon-struck town in the above example investigates the lair, perhaps they could find clues suggesting there is no dragon at all. The dragon could turn out to be a metaphor for a self-created terror striking fear into the town from within.
Suzanne Collins, author of The Hunger Games, said the idea for her series emerged while she was channel-surfing. She saw footage of people competing for a prize on one channel, and people fighting in a real war on another. The two combined in her mind’s eye. This resulted in her story of a society where there are compulsory fights to the death between young people.
Take the same approach to combining different plot ideas. See what creative energy you can unleash when you combine different scenarios or tropes and give them your own unique spin.
3. Know the 7 basic story plots and avoid their most unoriginal tendencies
In The Seven Basic Plots by Christopher Booker, published in 2004, Booker defines the seven basic plot types. Summarized, they are:
- Overcoming the monster: Hero overcomes monster/bad guy
- Rags to riches: The main character rises to success
- The important quest: Character (or group) goes on a crucial mission
- Homeward bound: Adventurer travels, has life-changing experiences and returns
- Comedy: Chaos and confusion give way to resolution
- Tragedy: Characters pay the cost of having flaws
- Rebirth: Character emerges transformed from a process of self-discovery
Each of these plot types has its own pitfalls to avoid if you want your story plots to be original.
In a quest story, a hero might typically have a trusty sidekick who shows surprising bravery (like Samwise Gamgee in The Lord of the Rings).
In a rags to riches story, the heroine might get everything she’s ever dreamed of: The home, the handsome prince, the happiness.
Think of how you can make these story types less clichéd. In a story where a hero faces a villain, for example, you could show the ‘bad guy’ in the hero and humanity in the villain. (J.K. Rowling does this with Tom Riddle’s backstory, his path to villainy, in her Harry Potter series.)
In a ‘rags to riches’ story, a resolution that is bittersweet will surprise readers who expected a tidy but predictable wrap-up.
A path from plot point A to C via B can feel unoriginal and predictable. So how do you take common story plots and make them your own?
Gather great ideas for your plot
Work through easy, structured prompts to outline your story in easy steps.START
4. Vary a familiar plot with unexpected subplots
Take the common ‘chosen young man is destined to encounter a great evil’ plot type. This would be boring if the progression to the final conflict felt very linear. This is where subplots help you craft familiar source material into something more personal and compelling.
In J.K. Rowling’s YA fantasy series, for example, Harry is on a path to a final conflict, and is a ‘chosen one’. Yet Rowling’s setting – a school for witchcraft and wizardry – allows for all kinds of subplots and smaller story arcs and tensions. The daily life of school, complete with conflicts between teachers and students and budding romance, makes the story zigzag towards its end and avoid overemphasizing the more clichéd elements of the plot (such as a central villain seeking immortality).
5. Be guided by original novels within your genre
One of the big traps for aspiring writers who want to be original is confusing genre clichés with genre necessities.
Your fantasy world doesn’t necessarily need to have warring kingdoms (though this can be given your own unique take). Your romance novel doesn’t have to star the wealthy millionaire who sweeps broke, plain Jane off her feet.
To be more original in your own writing, do some digging to find out what novels in your genre are considered particularly original. Read a few and ask yourself:
- What familiar genre elements (e.g. warring kingdoms or a suave, eligible millionaire) does this book use?
- How does the book make these elements feel less clichéd? What complications/surprises/differences make it stand out from other books that follow similar plot lines?
Think about what your readers’ expectations for your particular plot type might be and actively plan how you will surprise them:
6. Thwart the reader’s expectations and preconceptions
Story plots are original when:
- The story belongs to a specific genre (e.g. romance) but doesn’t follow all our expectations (e.g. the lovers don’t end up together in the end)
- The expectations set up by certain tropes (e.g. Chosen boy has important quest) aren’t fulfilled exactly the way we expect (the goal of the boy’s quest changes with a major plot development, for example)
Plan how you will subvert or alter standard details of your genre (be it the trusty sidekick or the devious villain).
7. Don’t try too hard – ‘unlikely’ is not a synonym for ‘original’
Even though originality makes a story memorable, repetition is one of the satisfying elements of storytelling. A story that contains familiar elements lets us place it within a specific context and heritage.
Focus on how you can harness familiar story ideas to your own ends, rather than make your story absurd simply for the sake of originality. The truth ultimately is that fiction is most original when you express your personal, unique combination of perspective, passion and interests in your writing.
Find and finesse the central idea for your story now using the Now Novel idea finder.
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10 Tips to Avoid Clichés in Writing
It’s not enough to love our story ideas. We need to weigh their suitability as subjects for fiction, and then figure out how to go about making use of them. This means steering clear of cliché and its sappy cousin—melodrama. Here are 10 tips to help you do just that.
(Note: This article is about cliched themes, not phrases. If you want to learn about cliche phrases that all writers should avoid, check out these cliche examples).
Avoid Stolen or Borrowed Tales
A writer’s job is to write stories—not to steal or borrow them and, with a coat of fresh paint, pawn them off as original.
That should be obvious, but it’s not always completely clear. Our own private thoughts, dreams, intuitions, and fantasies are inevitably colored by what psychiatrist Carl Jung called the collective unconscious—the vast, reservoir-like body of shared human experiences and of myths, symbols, and legends.
Most sensational subjects have been treated to death. Result: a minefield of clichés. And, as novelist Martin Amis tells us, good writing is a “war against cliché.” The story’s problems might be partially redeemed by crisp dialogue, vivid descriptions, and an impeccable edgy style—but the plain fact is, they shouldn’t be solved. Steer clear of tired plots and you, your characters and your readers will avoid all kinds of heartache.
Resist The Lure of the Sensational
For beginning and experienced writers alike, the temptation to choose intrinsically dramatic subjects is hard to resist. Drug deals and busts gone wrong, kidnapping, abortion, car crashes, murder, madness, rape, war—with such sensational raw material to work with, how can writers go wrong?
They can and they do.
A writer who chooses to set his story in a mental hospital, for instance, may bumble into a minefield of clichés. He will need to avoid all the stereotypes of loony-bin lore coined by Ken Kesey in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and recycled in a myriad of TV shows and books.
Not that you can’t set a story on a mental ward, or that you can’t tell stories about mental patients and the abuses they suffer at the hands of their keepers. But if you do so, you need to realize what you’re up against.
And what you’re up against is cliché.
Turn a Stereotype on its Head
Every milieu has its clichés, its stock characters, and stereotypes. A common stereotype is that of the starving artist. Just once, I’d like to read about a talented, hard-working painter, supplementing his small income from gallery sales through teaching, grants, and fellowships. This, after all, is the reality for many professional fine artists.
Even poor Vincent van Gogh, that most depraved and deprived of artists, fails to live up to the image. The letters he wrote to his brother Theo and others show how sane this “madman” was. True, he often went hungry, and he suffered from incapacitating seizures. But the cartoon of the foaming madman does him no justice.
The real problem with clichés is that they deprive us of genuine details, which, though less sensational, are both more convincing and more interesting. A deeper look into the life of any artist will reveal facts that have it over all clichés.
The truth is the best weapon we have for authenticity and against cliché: Whether it’s the literal truth or the truth of imagination doesn’t matter.
Tell the Story Only You Can Tell
When we produce stories that are derivative, we’re not being honest with ourselves. We’re borrowing someone else’s aesthetics and selling them as our own.
(12 Cliches All Writers Should Avoid)
In choosing intrinsically sensational subjects, writers think they’re getting a free—or a cheap—ride. But as with most things in life, you tend to get what you pay for.
The best way to avoid cliché is to practice sincerity. If we’ve come by sensational material honestly, through our own personal experience or imagination, we may rightly claim it as our own. Otherwise, we’d best steer clear. Our stories should be stories that only we can tell, as only we can tell them.
Keep it Real by Taking it Slow
My favorite exercise is to ask my students to write two pieces, one at a time, each about a minute long. Piece 1 should rivet the reader; Piece 2 should bore the reader stiff. Each student reads both pieces out loud.
Whenever I’ve done this experiment, in almost every instance the result is the same: The “riveting” piece bores, while the “boring” piece holds interest. There are several reasons for this. In their effort to grip us, beginning writers tend to rush: They equate their own adrenaline with that of the reader. Conversely, when trying to bore, the same writers take their time; they don’t hesitate to lavish 250 words on the subject of a wall of white paint drying. And—to their consternation—the result mesmerizes. At any rate, it holds our attention.
But far worse than rushing, in trying to interest us, most writers abandon sincerity and, with it, authenticity. They choose sensational subjects on the basis of little personal knowledge and no genuine emotional investment. They do so on the assumption that their own stories aren’t interesting enough, that what they have to offer isn’t suitably “sensational.” In fact, every human is in some way unique, and this in itself makes us each “sensational” in our own ways.
In pretending to be anyone other than themselves, writers sacrifice the very thing we most crave from them: authenticity.
Deliver Your Story From Circumstantial Cliché
As the moth is attracted to flame, less-than-vigilant writers are attracted to the bright light of intrinsically dramatic situations, where the drama is preassembled, ready to use—convenient.
We’re drawn to clichés because they’re convenient. And convenience for writers—convenient plots, convenient characters, convenient coincidences, convenient settings or situations or strings of words—almost always spells doom.
(Done to Death: How to Avoid Horror Genre Clichés)
A writer sets her story in an abortion clinic. What are the expectations raised by such a setting? To the extent that the common expectations raised by this setting are met head-on, the story fails. It descends into cliché and denies the reader an authentic experience.
What will the author do to rescue that drama from our expectations, from cliché? Steer clear of such territory to give us a story that reawakens our senses to a subject that has in and of itself become a cliché.
Elevate the Ordinary
F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “All good writing is swimming underwater and holding your breath.”
Either your chosen subject plunges you into the imagination’s deeper waters, or your story will probably drift into one of two shallow waterways:
- The autobiographical estuary, in which you write strictly about characters and events from your own life; or
- The brackish bay of stereotype and cliché.
The way to rescue this and other clichés may lie in exploring those parts of the story that don’t belong firmly to the cliché. By investing our characters with concerns and struggles that point away from the hackneyed and sensational and toward the earthier dramas of “ordinary” existence, by taking the most trite elements of our stories out of the foreground and putting them in the background, we begin to lift them out of cliché.
Rescue Gratuitous Scenes From Melodramatic Action
Overly convenient subjects are prone not only to cliché but also to melodrama.
We call a story or a scene melodramatic when its protagonists are too obviously heroes or victims and its antagonists are obviously villains. Another acid test for melodrama is the tendency to resort to violence, either emotional (catatonic seizures, gasps, screams, floods of tears, verbal confrontations) or physical (fisticuffs—or worse, depending on the caliber of melodrama and available firearms).
(How to Write a Character Who Is Single: 4 Clichés and Tropes to Avoid When Writing Single Characters)
Gratuitous violence is synonymous with melodrama. So is the gratuitous gesture, as when a character who has just come into a fortune tosses fistfuls of greenbacks like confetti into the air—a cliché that probably has never once happened in real life. (When it does happen, I want to be there.)
Any over-the-top action results in melodrama. A male lover, freshly dumped by his girl, throws himself into the nearest river. Melodrama. Or, being told by the same girl that she loves him, he boards a crowded subway and kisses everyone in sight, including a blind man and the conductor. Melodrama. The specific circumstances might explain such behavior (and casting a young Jimmy Stewart would help). But the likelihood is slim.
Fight Overly Convenient Plot Points With Authenticity
Melodrama is to authentic drama what “crab sticks” are to the real thing: an inferior substitute.
When people punch each other in stories, suspect imitation. In real life, people seldom use their fists. It’s dangerous and illegal. A solid fist to the bridge of a nose could result in death and appropriate charges.
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Sometimes the mere piling on of sensational events results in melodrama. Another result of cramming too much drama into too few pages is a paucity of authenticating detail, the sort of small, precise, carefully chosen, and calibrated descriptions that help suspend a reader’s disbelief and make it possible for her to enjoy a story no matter how unlikely or outrageous.
By slowing down and taking the time and trouble to imbue our stories with authentic, rich, specific moments and details, we achieve real drama and avoid its floozy cousins, sentimentality, and melodrama.
Curb Melodrama with Substance
In real life, people do throw water in their spouses’ faces, and shout accusations at each other; they even commit murder out of passion or for vengeance. Such things can happen in your fiction, too. But when violent confrontations become the story, when they are the rule and not the exception, then violence usurps drama.
The result is melodrama, what soap operas are made of. And soap operas are not dramatic; they are intrinsically nondramatic since their perpetuity depends on nothing ever being resolved. The characters never change.
In soap operas, we get wish fulfillment and negative fantasy in place of real resolutions. When a relationship is “dramatized,” nearly all of the dialogue is head-on and histrionic, vomiting up plot and backstory. Accusations and apologies are served up along with great gobs of personal history.
A more dramatic, less histrionic approach would convey the status quo between characters up front, through exposition, leaving subsequent scenes free to explore behavior and character. We read the story to see how these characters will cope (or not) with each other under specific circumstances (e.g., they have to pick a coffin for their mother’s funeral). When authors explode drama rather than describe it, their material deteriorates into soap opera and blows up in everyone’s face. Avoid the temptation to do so, and your fiction will be more powerful for it.
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