Creative writing prompts are powerful tools that aid you to become a consistent writer. It’s easy to get inspired once, maybe twice about a project or story that means something to you. But if and when that light dims, or you finally finish that project, what’s next? Writer’s block isn’t much of an avenue. Excuses are for amateurs because professional writers write. Writing prompts and writing exercises, give you the momentum to keep going when the mind slows down, or if you’re anything like me, when doubt sets in.
Creative Writing Prompts
Character prompts work for every genre
I’m going to start with some creative writing prompts that are universal across all writing mediums and all genres. These will be character driven exercises.
Why start with character?
Genre isn’t the seed of a good story, nor are high concepts.
High concept stories can be insightful, mind-bending, and just straight up entertaining, but they are not what makes a compelling narrative.
If you’re not sure who your characters are, or what it is they want, your story may fall apart some time in Act 2, halfway through the novel, or during the first 5 pages of your short. The point is, you may lose the point if your characters are unclear, because in any great story, character suggests plot.
Have you ever tried to write a screenplay, only to find your having a hard time “fitting in” certain details you wanted to have or saying to yourself that you just haven’t “figured it out” yet. When character intention is clear, the story unfolds.
And these upcoming character prompts can be applied to any genre you feel most comfortable writing, which is the best part about them.
But don’t worry, in later sections, I’ll make sure to separate fantasy writing prompts from horror or romance writing prompts for those that just need an extra boost for the genre specific piece they’re writing.
Character Driven Exercises and Prompts
Character writing exercises
For all of these, try not to think too much. You can edit later. These responses should be purely intuitive. Give perfectionism a rest, and allow yourself to enter the world of your story, even if you’re not sure exactly what is looks like.
So let’s start with some direct questions to ask your character. Try these with every character, antagonists too. But let’s start answering as your protagonist:
- What food would you take to a deserted island, and why?
- Your house is burning. What three things do you save? Why?
- Your job?
- If you could have had a different job, what would you have picked? Why?
- What are you scared of losing?
- First vivid memory of childhood?
- When was the first time you were embarrassed? What happened?
- Is there something you’re hiding from the world? What is it?
- What do you like about yourself? What do you hate about yourself?
- What do you want out of life?
Creating something from nothing isn’t easy. But there’s help!
Embrace your new world, and finish the next set of sentences as your protagonist:
- My last thought before I fall asleep is…
- I believe the reason I was put on this planet is to…
- What breaks my heart is…
- What makes me happy is…
- Worst thing anyone has ever said to me was…
- Nicest thing someone has ever said to me was…
- Most romantic thing anyone has ever done for me, or I, them was…
- My attitude toward god is…
- The person who understands me no matter what is…
- My greatest achievement has been...
Knowing the flavor jam your character prefers, what kinds of flowers they like, or who their favorite band is, may or may not yield any helpful information. But fine, I get it.
Here are some prompts to get the useless information people love to write about. Maybe they actually are relevant and will help your story:
- Zip up or pull over hoodies
- Flannels or silk pajamas...birthday suit?
- Chocolate cake, ice cream, or salty chips
- Hair color, eye color, your other physical attributes?
- What book are you reading?
Now for you as the writer. Answer as yourself:
- Why this story? What is it about this story that makes you want to write it?
- Are you scared to write about something? Why?
- What do you want to express through your story?
- Why should this be a screenplay and not a novel, short story, or take some other form?
- Did you pick the right protagonist to properly express what it is what you want to show?
- Mess around with loglines to distill what your character really wants. Learn to write loglines if you’re unfamiliar.
- What do you think your characters might need?
**Take your characters to a party**
This is one of my favorite exercises because it can lead anywhere. Now that you have some more info about who these people are, throw them in the same room. See what happens.
Who gets along? Who doesn’t?
There can be dialogue, but there doesn’t have to be.
What kind of party is it? Why are they there?
Try these out with no intentions that it will lead to a finished product. Just have fun with it to see what else you can discover.
Dialogue Writing Prompts
Try just dialogue prompts
Dialogue exercises are great because they help you understand your characters more. But they also provide a kind of creative spark for story ideas. Now while you’re actually writing them, it’s not good to let your story idea control the conversation. In fact, I wouldn’t think about story at all while you’re writing them. But later, when you go back to take a look at them, you might find some hidden gems that spark more ideas.
Here are a list of dialogue prompts. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know who the characters are yet, or which character a certain line would be good for. Try not to think about how this could fit into your already existing story, or what scene this should belong in, just write:
- “Why didn’t you answer before? I called you three times. Now you’re pretending like nothing happened.”
- “I just have a lot of friends so…”
- “You hate coffee?”
- “It just doesn’t seem normal.”
- “I’ve developed a kind of aversion to it. I don’t know, it made sense at the time.”
- “Have you ever seen it in person?”
- “It’s not that I love her…”
- “How much do you need?”
- “I don’t know! Don’t yell at me. I just found it on the street.”
- “How do I know if you’re lying?”
- “It would be easier if you’d just apologize.”
- “It’s not much of a cause, really. Just a bunch of grown children who weren’t accepted anywhere else.”
- “Why won’t this thing work?”
- “I’m trying, I’m really actually trying.”
- “It’s been weird without him.”
- “It’s not that I’m against it…”
- “I hear something, can you come over?”
- “I guess it’s...art?
- “Where did you go for 3 hours?”
- “What’s wrong with your face?”
You can use these at the party, brainstorming a fantasy novel, rom-com script, or even just to work out that writing muscle.
Though actions sometimes speak a little louder than words...
**Now try writing a scene with NO dialogue. Only action.**
This is helpful if you already know a bit about your characters.
What do they want, what’s stopping them from getting it?
Fantasy writing prompts
Fantasy prompts are weird. Not because they’re other worldly and actually strange, but because these prompts are usually plot ideas, which shifts us away from character a bit. But of course these can be equally as interesting.
So feel free to write your heart out and go off into some weird dimension with space warlocks, or flying dogs, but just remember to come back to character eventually. In fact, everything above, could of course be used in a fantasy script, novel, or short story. But again, plot ideas and premises, can really get the mind moving.
Let’s jump in:
- In this town, if enough people start to believe something, it quickly becomes true. Except to you.
- An animal has turned into a person.
- An archaeologist is led to a dig in a major city. And what she finds changes the course of her life.
- An archaeologist finds a fossil of something that couldn’t have ever existed.
- A land has been praised with only sunlight. Nighttime no longer exists.
- It’s the 1980s. You’re driving from St. Louis to California. You pull off the road to purchase a map. But the map you bought is a bit misleading. You end up in a city that doesn’t exist.
- You sit down at a coffee shop at the window. Across the street you see a claymation couple walking down the street. No one else seems to notice, except for one man waiting for the bus. You both make eye contact.
- You wake up in a world where you can purchase emotions.
- You’re a child with no fear. You meet a dragon in the woods.
- Every single leader, politician, or otherwise “high-up” government official dies.
More Creative Writing Exercises
Romance writing prompts
Of course, the character writing prompts and dialogue prompts can work especially well for romance stories. But I want to give a few more options for what to consider when writing a love story.
And these prompts in of themselves, have been used forever. But the way to avoid cliches is in your specificity of character and uniqueness in story. The more specific you get, the more unique, and yet, universal your story will be.
- A couple is vying for the same job opening.
- Two people in an arranged marriage eventually fall in love.
- A student graduates and he and his former teacher run into each other at a bar. It goes a little too well.
- A doctor is falling in love with her recent fling. They decide to get serious and shortly after he is accused of murder.
- A tourist travels to another country and falls in love with a local.
- A toxic relationship kills a romance and pushes the protagonist away. The main character leaves and gets involved with someone new. But now she can’t stop treating them as her ex treated her.
- Two friends who know everything about each other start dating. Was this a bad idea?
- Two people in love can never make it work.
- Opposing politicians hide their romance.
- A psychic and a scientist meet on a blind date.
- You wake up in a world where you’re a serial killer
- Freelancers accept job offers online. They begin to disappear. One woman survives, but ends up somewhere she can’t seem to come back from.
- A grown man discovers he wasn’t adopted, he was kidnapped. He goes abroad to find his real family but his trip turns into a horror show.
- Mass shooters take over a city.
- A doll equipped with artificial intelligence takes over one family’s home.
- A group of senior citizens at a nursing home get bored and try to connect to their loved ones through a Ouiji board. Unfortunately, they connect to something else.
- A group of friends go to an Escape Room party but only a few make it out.
- A restaurateur slowly poisons his customers over several years, maintaining a seemingly normal life.
- A medium begins to get attacked by those she’s connecting to. Can she escape?
- A couple begins to have the same nightmares that escalate quickly.
Prompts to Die For
Horror writing prompts
Okay, now for the creepy stuff.
Can you blend any of these with the fantasy prompts?
Be as creative with the prompts as you are in your writing.
Give yourself all the freedom you want, because once you start writing, you’ll have to make decisions.
“The real importance of reading is that it creates an ease and intimacy with the process of writing… Constant reading will pull you into a place where you can write eagerly and without self-consciousness. It also offers you a constantly growing knowledge of what has been done and what hasn’t, what is trite and what is fresh, what works and what just lies there dying (or dead) on the page. The more you read, the less apt you are to make a fool of yourself with your pen or word processor.” — Stephen King
Daily Writing Practice
A good prompt can be anything. A line of dialogue, a character’s strongest desire, an object, a new kind of world, a seemingly stupid question. It doesn’t matter. Something will bode well with your imagination and it’ll just click. And depending on your story, characters, or even time in your life, different exercises may feel more natural.
Allow yourself the time and space for this brainstorm work.
Inspiration can come from anywhere, and it often comes fast. So even if you aren’t stuck on the treacherous writer’s block, train yourself to catch it when it comes, so stagnancy and complacency don’t become habitual. You may reap some pretty incredible short-term rewards, but you’ll also be laying a foundation for a potentially, fruitful and consistent career.
Brainstorm Short Film Ideas
So after you’ve worked with some of the above prompts, you may have that hunger. It’s time to start writing! What will you write? Maybe you already know. But considering writing a short film might be a good next step. Short films are great mediums because the turnaround time is much shorter than a feature. And finishing projects, especially early on, creates momentum. So let’s brainstorm some short film ideas!