If you’ve spent enough time writing, you’ve probably run into writer’s block – a period of time when you’re not sure what to do next. One of the best things to do in that case is to write something down – anything – and then go back and fix it later once your creative juices are flowing again.
I have a collection of 100 prompts to help you get started or keep going. Half are prompts to help you start a new story, and half are for your current work in progress. (Some could be used for either.) Most of the prompts are general, but some are specific to a genre or situation. I use the generic pronoun “he”, but most of these prompts should work for characters in most demographics. Feel free to share more prompts in the comments below!
For a New Story
- Take something you wrote a long time ago and re-write it using the writing skills and knowledge you’ve gained since then.
- Make a list of your favorite fictional characters. Find some similar points in their stories and use that to guide your own.
- A series of crimes start following your protagonist around. They’re different sorts of crimes in different locations, but they’re frequent, and he didn’t do any of them.
- Use the “Hero’s Journey” template (made popular by Joseph Campbell).
- Create a new kind of monster.
- Your protagonist starts to see the same person over and over, including in unlikely or faraway places. Is it sinister? Is it fate? Is it something else?
- Tell a story from the perspective of an animal, plant, or inanimate object.
- Your protagonist is not supposed to exist.
- Interview an older relative (or more than one). Use some of his experiences as a basis for a fictional story.
- Send an underprepared character on a journey.
- A character has a change of fortune (for better or worse). How does that change him?
- A character is searching for long-lost treasure. What does he have that others before him didn’t have?
- Find an interesting real-life story in a history book. Write a fictional story with a similar premise, but different characters and setting.
- Something very large suddenly vanishes.
- Something strange is affecting your protagonist’s town/country/etc., and he’s the only one who seems to notice.
- A species is headed towards extinction.
- Your protagonist starts hearing voices in his head.
- Two groups of people are in an ancient feud, and now they need to work together. What changed?
- Everyone in the world needs a certain thing to live (air, water, a piece of technology, etc.), but it’s owned and sold to the public by one person or group. The price starts to rise.
- Someone sets out to right a wrong done by a family member.
- Your character has the ability to control people around him (magically or with regular influence). How does he use this for good and bad?
- Your protagonist is losing his memory. What caused it? How is he dealing with it? What about the people around him? Can it be stopped or prevented? Will it happen to other people?
- Someone decides to work on one or more items on his bucket list. What made him decide to act? How does it go wrong or right?
- A character is physically transformed. What does he become?
- Your character tells a big lie, but it suddenly becomes true.
- A character finds a large egg in the forest and takes it home to hatch it. What pops out?
- A government is run entirely by technology and not by human decisions.
- The story begins with your protagonist’s wedding.
- Someone doesn’t age. It’s not because of his race (elf, vampire, etc.). How did this happen? Is it because of something he did or something that was done to him?
- The world outside manmade structures is unlivable. Your protagonist needs to venture out there to save himself or someone else.
- Your protagonist accidentally created a flawed system (like a corrupt corporation or dystopian society). If he tried to change the system now, people would turn on him and ruin him. How does he try to help others while preventing his own downfall? Or has he stopped caring about his own fate?
- What’s an important lesson you’ve learned, that you wish more people would know? Write a story around that idea without stating it directly.
- Something in a time capsule starts trouble. Does it come from (literally) long-buried information, a dangerous object, or something else?
- Someone hears a strange sound as he’s out for the day (at school, at work, shopping, etc.). Then he hears it outside his house.
- An ordinary-looking building is a portal to another world. What determines who can see or use it? Why does your protagonist walk through?
- An innocent activity or hobby becomes an obsession, which becomes harmful.
- What job did you want as a child? Write about someone in that profession, with all it’s pros and cons.
- What’s the worst job you can think of? Show it with its pros and cons.
- Your character visits somewhere he’s always wanted to go. There’s something very important that’s been left out of all of the guide books.
- Create a mashup story. Take some plot points from one story you like and set it in a different genre. Take a character that you like from another story and change some part of that character’s demographics (for instance, make the character older or from another culture).
- At the start of the story, your protagonist gets an unsigned love letter.
- Your protagonist is planning an escape (from home, jail, etc.) and is forced to team up with someone he doesn’t like or trust.
- Something ancient is lost or destroyed.
- Write a story based on a nursery rhyme.
- Someone is doing strange things in his sleep.
- After a disaster, the protagonist thinks that he might be the last person left on Earth. Is he right or wrong?
- Small things start to go missing, one at a time, from your protagonist’s home, work, or school.
- Someone stays after hours in a place that seems innocent but isn’t.
- Two people meet and become fast friends, only to later realize that they were childhood enemies (or vice versa).
- Messages start turning up from someone who’s supposed to be dead.
For a Work in Progress
- Write a scene from a character’s backstory. You may or may not use it in your actual work, but it might keep you in that world and reveal something about your character that can help you move forward.
- A character’s deeply-held belief is challenged or shaken.
- What’s the worst thing that could happen to your main character? Do that.
- Reveal a major secret. (You can go back in editing to drop some clues and foreshadowing.)
- A natural disaster hits your setting. How do people react when they’re scared? Who steps up to help, and who takes advantage of the crisis?
- Find two characters who haven’t spent much time together. Develop their relationship.
- Two characters are mistaken for one another.
- Someone wants to atone for a past mistake/crime/etc.
- Your character did something wrong before. Now he’s trying to prevent someone else from doing the same thing.
- Someone betrays your protagonist, in a large or small way. Why did he do it? What are the repercussions?
- Everything suddenly goes dark.
- Something scary turns out to be good or helpful.
- A surprise invitation arrives, possibly from an unknown source.
- Trap two characters who hate each other in a small space with few resources.
- There are two identical or nearly identical people or things. Your protagonist needs to figure out which, if either, is real.
- A character (your protagonist or otherwise) pretends to have a skill that he doesn’t. People rely on him, and it goes badly.
- Someone has been dealing with anxiety or depression and is starting to reach his breaking point. (You can add relevant information to previous scenes as needed.)
- The protagonist must break his personal moral code.
- Important information or evidence is destroyed before it can be read or used.
- Your protagonist cobbles together a disguise to spy on someone else.
- Someone loses his home.
- Someone throws something away, and it re-appears the next day. This keeps happening.
- Someone is accused of something he didn’t do.
- A sheltered character must face one or more unpleasant realities of life.
- Your protagonist is desperate to solve his problems and makes a deal with the wrong person for help.
- A character loses one of his senses or body parts.
- Your protagonist must choose between saving two people or groups of people. There is no third option where he can save them both.
- A secret message appears.
- There’s a major accident. The person or group responsible refuses to be held accountable.
- Someone sees something he shouldn’t have.
- Two characters disagree about what’s important in a relationship (either romantic or platonic).
- A character wakes up somewhere strange with no idea how he got there.
- A character finally stands up to someone who’s making him miserable.
- Listen to conversations that people are having around you. See if you can work some of that dialog or those situations into your story.
- If your story has been very dialog-heavy, add some more detailed descriptions, or vice versa.
- Someone is dealing with survivor’s guilt.
- Someone is punished or suffers for doing something good.
- Something that your character relied on for comfort (like a home, a familiar object, or a hobby) turns on him or becomes tainted in some way.
- A character starts learning a difficult skill that can help him reach his goals.
- Something valuable or important breaks.
- Incorporate one of your hobbies or areas of interest.
- Your characters take time for a celebration.
- Your protagonist meets someone who is his polar opposite. If you already have one of those in the cast, double down so that they overwhelm him.
- One character tries to help another, and they both realize too late that he’s underqualified.
- Repetition. A character deals with the same thing being repeated over and over.
- Someone who’s been missing suddenly turns up.
- Something old is hidden inside something new.
- Your protagonist starts to feel constantly itchy (or another sensation or emotion) and doesn’t know why.
- Someone is forced to break a promise for good reasons, but there are still consequences.
- Tell a story within your story.