When I realized that answering writing prompts was a large part of my first ever creative writing class in high school, I was nervous. I did not like prompts.
Imagine my surprise when the first prompt we had to write to led me to write almost 4 pages in about 20 minutes (maybe 800 words in my handwriting).
So what was this magical epiphany that I seemingly needed a class to discover?
Different prompts work for different people.
It seems silly, and intuitive, but I had just never found a type of prompt that I enjoyed answering.
Here are a few of the different kinds of prompts I have discovered and some examples”
First Line Prompts.
You are given an opening line, sometimes a full sentence and sometimes a fragment. You decide how to complete the story.
I really love these because you can go in any direction with most lines, making the story happy, sad, a horror story, a love story. It all depends on how you imagine that line making sense.
Ex: “It wasn’t until I got to the train station that I realized…”
“French is a beautiful language, and the cursing is very creative.”
You are given a setting, maybe some descriptions to work from.
Not my favorite prompts, but really workable. These are especially good for practicing building description writing skills and exploring world building in small moments.
Ex: Write about a city with white skyscrapers and all the cars are pink.
Write about a cabin in the woods where the nearest town is 12 miles away.
Like Setting Prompts, these give a description to work with, but for a character.
Try to find creative ways to put the traits into a story or scene.
Ex: A hiker with only one boot and a water bottle on the side of the road.
A teenage girl with purple hair and black finger nails attending an opera in Italy.
Take a story you already know and give it a new spin.
This one can be really fun, but I find it kind of hit and miss. Sometimes I really resonate with an idea, and others I cannot think of a single thing to write.
Ex: Reimagine the last movie you saw as another genre. Romance becomes horror, family becomes adult, comedy becomes a psychological thriller with an unreliable narrator and an obligatory death of the family pet.
Reimagine Cinderella if Cinderella had an affair with her step-sister and Prince Charming was blackmailing her into marriage.
These prompts give you a few plot points to follow and you can connect the dots to make it work for you.
Honestly, these are my least favorite prompts. I just don’t tend to like the way it is set up, but I know others who really enjoy the exercise for warm-up writing and such.
Ex: A man meets with a lawyer to discuss divorcing his dead wife, whose will stated that they were to remain married. This is complicated by the fact that the will is magically binding.
A young girl wakes to discover that she is on an alien spaceship and her dog is an alien in disguise sent to save her for the sake of the future.
These are ‘remember when’ type prompts that you write from your personal experiences.
I dislike these because they try to be vague so anyone can use them, but I just can’t think of anything when faced with these. I know they help some, so I’ve included them here.
Ex: Remember the first time you went somewhere alone. What were you feeling?
Write about learning to swim.
The last area of prompts I want to discuss is what I call Challenge Prompts. These prompts are things like
“Set a timer for 2 minutes. When it goes off, change the gender of the main character. Repeat as desired.”
“Write random words on pieces of scrap paper. Every minute, pull out a new word and incorporate it into your story.”
“Write a five page, grammatically correct sentence.” (I got that last one in college and really enjoyed exploring the punctuation necessary to make a sentence that long.)
These are not so much about story as they are about changing how you think about writing. Explore how you write and really challenge yourself to grow as a writer.
There are so many more that I could include here, but I just want to mention one more here. Honestly, I’ve found that searching for ‘writing prompts’ can produce overwhelming results, but appending a word like ‘character’ or ‘setting’ or ‘first line’ can really help you find what you want.
What kinds of prompts work for you? Any memorable prompts stick out in your mind?