[Writing Prompt] Inciting Incident

There’s a difference between the first thing that happnes in your story and the thing that becomes the inciting incident.


The Prompt

Write a story in which your main character is going along doing whatever it is he/she does. Very quickly, someone else walks into the scene. This person imparts news of great importance to the character (someone is dead/has been fired/is coming/has escaped/something).

NOW write the inciting incident: Continue reading “[Writing Prompt] Inciting Incident”

[Writing Prompt] The Locked Room

Today you’ll write a story that starts with a set of characters, a location and a problem, all devised by me.

Door Knob Reflection

The Prompt

The Setting: Four blank walls and two doors, both currently locked.

The Characters: Don, a man in his fifties; Sooz, a young woman; Dante, a teenage boy; Charlie, a character of gender, age and appearance that you specify.

The Problem: There are thunderous booms coming from outside the room and the characters must decide what to do next.


  • You can set this story anywhere and at any time.
  • The room may be any size. It can be inside, outside, on a space ship, on a cruise ship, underground, in a forest, whatever you like.
  • You decide on the characters’ personalities. Remember, personality conflicts provide drama.
  • To make your characters more rounded, give us a hint of what they don’t want us to see about themselves.
  • You can reveal the source of the noises or not. It’s up to you.
  • You can give us a nice, neat ending, or leave the situation unresolved. Just make sure something is resolved during the story.


[Writing Prompt] The Little Old Lady

Today we’re concentrating on a character: in particular the kind of person who would have been known to me, when I was a child, as “a little old lady”.

CL Society 208: Old lady shopping

The Prompt

Write a story featuring a little old lady


  • Remember, in the days before hair dye and facial peels and gym memberships and HRT—in the days of hard physical labor from dawn to dusk—being a ‘little old lady’ could start at any age from your mid-forties! Those days were NOT that long ago…
  • Feel free to use your little old lady to play to type (cast her as a fairytale witch or a helpless old woman) or against type (have her, I don’t know, swimming from Florida to Cuba without a shark cage…).
  • The interesting part of this story is going to be perhaps less about how this character changes, and more about how our perception/expectations as readers are changed during the story.


Back To School

OK, so I know it’s not back to school time everywhere (or for everyone), but we’ve all had that clean slate, back to school feeling: starting a new project that is all promise and no disappointment yet; sharpening your new pencils; buying new notebooks; making timetables.

The Prompt

Write a Back To School Story


  • This doesn’t have to be a traditional ‘back to school’. Use this prompt to write any ‘fresh start’ kind of story
  • “Back To School” doesn’t always bring a sense of optimism.
  • Go beyond the obvious ideas. Dig deep. Try to write something with a rounded character or distinctive voice, or with a twist.


[Writing Prompt] Journeys

steam train
photo by K. J. Duffy

I’m reading an autobiography written in the 1830s — when steam travel was the new big thing. The author (a mother of small children) just gave a vivid and opinionated account of a trip she took from Philadelphia to Baltimore. With very few words she conjoured the layout of the carriages and the hot, smoky atmosphere inside — heated as it was by a coal-fired, iron stove in the middle of the carriage (no health and safety, clean air regulations in the 1830s!). She told an amusing story of an encounter with a fellow passenger, while she was at it. I feel like I was ON the train with her.

The Prompt

Tell The Story Of A Journey

Use any transportation technology you can dream up, but include details to allow us to see, feel and perhaps even choke on the atmosphere.

Don’t forget to make something happen, and then resolve it (or leave it unresolved).

Give us a character we can root for (or against).

[Writing Prompt] Holiday Stories

This week sees both Independence Day in the US and Canada Day in the north of the continent.

The Prompt

Write a holiday-themed story


It doesn’t have to be related to this week’s holidays. If fact you might want to start planning ahead for autumnal and winter holidays, especially if you’re interested in releasing those stories this year.

Did you know that magazines, online publications and anthologies are starved for date-appropriate stories?

And think about it, these stories are evergreen: release them yourself and talk them up every year on the same date. Or how about putting together a collection of date themed stories and releasing them as themed anthology of your own writing?

We’ve all lived through holidays – from the ones that give you a day off school, to the ones that come replete with custom and tradition and obligation and anticipation. Use your own experiences to bring the story (and its details) alive for the reader, but don’t forget to include a vivid character with a strong desire for…something.

[Writing Prompt] Perseverance


This is the first weekly prompt since the end of StoryADay 2013. Congrats to all those who took part. If you finished even one story you’ll know something about this week’s prompt:

The Prompt

Write a story with “Perseverance” as the theme


You can write a fast-paced romp in which your protagonist perseveres against ridiculous, comic odds,

You can write a deep and thoughtful piece that reflects on the role of perseverance in a good or bad situation

You get to decide if your hero succeeds or fails and whether or not their perseverance (or lack thereof) helped. (Tip: Don’t be afraid to do the opposite  of what readers might  expect. Perseverance might *cause* things to fall apart…)


The 7DayStory

P.S. Did you sign up to take part in the 7DayStory Challenge? It’s a challenge I’m running with Gabriela Pereira from DIYMFA.com. It takes you through the process of writing, revising and releasing a story in 7Days (a luxurious pace, around these parts!). Check it out: 7DayStory.com


P.P.S. If you don’t want these emails to pop into your inbox every week, but would like to be able to save them for later, why not let your email software filter them so that they drop straight into an archived folder? Here’s how to do it in Gmail.

[Writing Prompt] Guest Prompt from Cat Lumb

Today we have a guest prompt from aspiring-to-be-published writer and StoryADay participant, Cat Lumb. Thanks, Cat!

The Prompt

Your character wants to find the source of a strange noise they can hear. Tell the story of how they find out what that sound is…
Cat Lumb started her blog in 2011 as means to be accountable for her writing dreams. She is currently editing one of her two first draft novels and writing short stories.
Check out her blog: www.nowrittenwords.wordpress.com or link with her on Twitter @Cat_Lumb
You can read all of Cat’s Story a Day in May stories through her blog at: http://nowrittenwords.wordpress.com/a-story-a-day-2013/

[Writing Prompt] Guest Prompt from Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Today’s prompt is from writer, illustrator and all-round good egg Debbie Ridpath Ohi, who shares one of her Daily Doodles with us today to help inspire a story. Thanks, Debbie!

The Prompt

It Wasn’t Me!
Cartoon dog looking guilty

Tips from Julie

  • Use the words or picture in any way that seems right to you
  • If you’re not an animal person, you don’t have to use the dog.
  • If your’e not an animal person, you should consider using the dog anyway. (Hey, this is about stretching yourself, right?)

Debbie Ridpath Ohi (http://DebbieOhi.com) writes and illustrates books for young people in Toronto, Canada. She is the illustrator of I’M BORED by Michael Ian Black, published by Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, chosen by The New York Times as a Notable Children’s Book. Debbie has current and upcoming book projects with Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins and Random House. More info about Debbie and her projects: http://debbieohi.com. Her blog for writers/illustrators:http://inkygirl.com. Twitter: @inkyelbows.

[Writing Prompt] Guest Prompt from Gregory Frost

Continuing our Guest Prompt week, today’s prompt comes from novelist and teacher Gregory Frost. Thanks, Greg!

The Prompt

Unusual Ways of Seeing

Imagine a person with a very idiosyncratic way of seeing the world (for example, a low-end drug dealer who’s perpetually paranoid because he’s sure everyone wants to steal his stuð; or an accountant for whom everything is numerical and anally precise)—anyone who, because of mental challenges, profession, or self-medicated state, negotiates the world in a distinctly peculiar, complicated, or unhinged way.

For this prompt, have your character witness a traumatic event that does not directly involve him or her (a traffic accident, a robbery, an explosion, etc.).

Narrate the event from this character’s first-person POV, incorporating the idiosyncrasies of this invented personality.

If you need examples from literature, look at George Saunders’ “Tenth of December” which includes both the portrait of a deteriorating mentality and the interiority of a child’s imaginings, or Jonathan Nolan’s “Memento Mori,” or Donald Barthelme’s “Game.”


  • The narrative should be focused upon the observed event, whatever it is.
  • The background/ biographical elements of this individual should be limited, which is to say implied rather than presented outright in the core of things. You know who they are. Get that across to us without resorting to our narrator saying something like “I’m a junkie.”
  • The details presented about the event–especially how they’re presented–should suggest everything about our narrator.


Gregory Frost’s YA-crossover SHADOWBRIDGE duology (Shadowbridge & Lord Tophet) from Del Rey (Random House) was a finalist for the 2009 James Tiptree Award and named one of the year’s four best fantasy novels by the American Library Association.  His Nebula-nominated science fiction novel, THE PURE COLD LIGHT is now available in ebook formats from Book View Cafe (as is his first novel, LYREC)

 For more:
Facebook: gregory.frost1

[Writing Prompt] Guest Prompt from James Scott Bell

Today’s prompt is from best-selling novelist and popular writing teacher James Scott Bell. Thanks, Jim

The Prompt from JSB

Write about your antagonist’s life at the age of sixteen. What were the events that shaped this character back then, and still haunt today?

James Scott Bell is a best-selling author of books for writers and thrillers like Deceived, Try Dying, Watch Your Back, and One More Lie (International Thriller Writers Award finalist).  He writes frequently for Writer’s Digest magazine and blogs every Sunday at The Kill Zone. You can find some of his books for authors here.

Tips from Julie

  • Choose the antagonist/villain of a previous story.
  • Or choose the antagonist of a work-in-progress or the novel you’ve been planning to write but can’t get a handle on.
  • Remember that an antagonist isn’t necessarily the villain — just the character that gets in the way of your hero’s dream


[Writing Prompt] Copycat Story

Today’s prompt is adapted from one of the most popular segments of the Warm Up Writing Course that I run here as an online course (and a home-study version).

The Prompt

Write A Copycat Story, based on one of your favorite short stories by another writer


  • Take a story by a writer you really, really admire — preferably a short short story that won’t take for ever to reproduce. Analyze it in minute detail: from word choice to sentence length. Now, choose a different setting and different characters with different dreams from that of the originals, and write a copycat story, following the exact structure and tone of the original.
  • During the Renaissance — the great flowering of European art and culture during the 16th and 17th centuries — great artists and artisans enrolled apprentices to train with them. The apprentices learned the principles of their craft not by creating their own unique works but by painstakingly copying the works and style of their masters. Why shouldn’t we try the same thing?
  • Don’t attempt to get any of our trainee copycat work published. That’s a plagiarism scandal just waiting to erupt!.


(If you want more details about this, and examples to follow, try the Warm Up Writing Course (home study version), the work-at-your-own pace version of the popular online course I run periodically here at the site.)



[Writing Prompt] Let’s Get Started!

Welcome to StoryADay May 2013!!

Well done you, for deciding to take on this challenge. Check out the community and all the support you can find in there. But first, let’s get started!

The Prompt

Write A 100 Word Story (“Drabble”)

I’m starting the challenge with a Drabble because although a 100 word story will probably take longer than you expect, it’s still going to take a manageable amount of time.

Many people who sign up for StoryADay are looking for a creativity boost. Plunging into a 3,000 word story on the first day is a bit intimidating.


To make a drabble work,

  • Choose one or two characters
  • Take one single moment/action/choice and show us how it unfolds
  • Give us one or two vibrant details in as few words as possible
  • Show us (hint) how this moment/action/choice is more significant than the characters probably realize in the moment

[Write On Wednesday] At The Gym

The Write On Wednesday story prompts are designed to prompt quickly-written stories that you can share in the comments. It’s a warm-up exercise, to loosen up your creativity muscles. Come back every Wednesday to see a new prompt or subscribe.


It’s that time of year again. Everyone’s made their New Year Resolutions and they’re all hitting the gym. I admit it. I’m one of them.

As I looked around my Zumba class last night I was struck by what a great setting it would be for a story. All those people from all different walks of life, all with their own stories and their own reasons for being there. And guess what? That’s your prompt today!

The Prompt

Write A Story Based Around A Set Of Characters From A Gym (Class)


  • You could write the story from one observer’s perspective, or hop from head to head, following each participant’s thoughts.
  • Remember the story must have a shape, so inject some tension (someone is worried about something; someone wants someone else to notice them, someone desperately wants no-one to notice them…)
  • If you don’t have much time, limit this to a single perspective and keep the word count short. Ask yourself what your character wants, before you put pen to paper, then run through the scene in your head. Don’t start writing until you know what happened in the hour before the class (or the first half of the class). Leave all that off the page, and just jump in when something interesting’s about to happen.

The Rules:

You should use the prompt in your story (however tenuous the connection).

You must write the story in one 24 hr period – the faster the better.

Post the story in the comments — if you’re brave enough.

Find something nice to say about someone else’s story and leave a comment. Everybody needs a little support!

Optional Extras:

Share this challenge on Twitter or Facebook

Some tweets/updates you might use:

Don’t miss my short story: TEXT #WriteOnWed #storyaday http://wp.me/LINK
This week’s #WriteOnWed short story prompt is TEXT! #storyaday http://wp.me/LINK
Come and write with us! #WriteOnWed #storyaday LINK
See my story – and write your own, today: TEXT at #WriteOnWed #storyaday LINK

If you would like to be the Guest Prompter, click here.

[Writing Prompt] Write A Compelling Opening

Want to bore your readers and ensure they never get past your first paragraph? Write your opening as it were stage directions: describe a character or a room or the light or the hills…


It’s a familiar trap and we do it for a good reason — we’re trying to create an atmosphere or paint a picture in the reader’s head. The problem, from a reader’s perspective, is that we haven’t given them a reason to care about the pretty picture we’re painting.

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve seen to combat this problem is to start your scene as close to the action as possible (and by ‘action’ I mean ‘conflict’, and by ‘conflict’ I mean ‘the thing that’s going to torment/delight your character and therefore your reader, until the story is finished.)

How Quentin Tarantino Slapped Me in The Face

Color-coded Criminals by
Buy this as a t-shirt at Threadless.com

Reservoir Dogs is a deeply unpleasant, unsettling movie, but when I went to see it in the theaters I came out stunned, not just by the gore, but also by the masterful storytelling. And it started right from the opening.

The opening scene takes place in a diner. No, there’s no ‘action’ in the scene but the conversation sets up all the characters (including a discussion about tipping). The meal is over, we’re entering the scene at the last possible minute, right before the interesting stuff happens and the characters reveal themselves. We feel that the characters existed, knew things, had lives, before we started to observe them.

Immediately after the credits, we jump to the interior of a car where, clearly, something has gone wrong. Mr Orange has been shot and Mr White and he are racing away from somewhere. Granted, Reservoir Dogs ‘cheats’ a little because the rest of the movie is told in flashbacks, but for our purposes, this scene illustrates my point. This scene could have started with the crime going wrong. It could have started with Mr Orange injured and being dragged to the car. But it doesn’t. They’re in the car. He’s sure he’s dying. Mr White appears to be helping him (quite tenderly, for a foul-mouthed criminal…). Horrifying as the scene is, you are fascinated. It’s hard to resist finding out what is going on.

And all because we walk in to the story when the action has already started. This is something we, as writers, need to do in our stories.

The Prompt

Write a heist story, but start it as late in the action as you possibly can.


You don’t have to go all Reservoir Dogs. You can write a gentle, comedy ‘heist’ where no-one is really in peril (a little old lady trying to make off with a pie from one of those rotating cases in a diner, armed only with a crochet hook…)

Try not to use ‘flashbacks’. Instead, start the scene when it’s getting interesting (when the crook is confronted? When the pursuit is in full flight?)

Make sure your readers know, early on, what’s at stake, and gradually unfold the reasons for your main character’s actions as the story goes on.

You can make the criminal sympathetic by giving them a good reason for attempting robbery, or you can make someone else the hero.

Keep putting obstacles in your protagonist’s way.

The Rules:

1. You should use the prompt in your story.

2. You must write the story in one 24 hr period – the faster the better.

3. Post the story in the comments — if you’re brave enough.

4. Find something nice to say about someone else’s story and leave a comment. Everybody needs a little support!

Optional Extras:

Share this challenge on Twitter or Facebook

Some tweets/updates you might use:

This week’s #WriteOnWed short story prompt is about openings #storyaday http://storyaday.org/wow-openings

Come and write with us! #WriteOnWed #storyaday http://storyaday.org/wow-openings

See my story – and write your own, today: openings! #WriteOnWed #storyaday http://storyaday.org/wow-openings

Don’t miss my heist story #WriteOnWed #storyaday http://storyaday.org/wow-openings