Promptfest 2010: 50 More Writing Prompts from WD, bestseller Dianna Love, Steve Almond and others

Promptfest 2010 continues.

Here, for the pleasure of your pen, are 50 more days of writing prompts. This bout features offerings from the likes of the WD magazine staff, and authors such as Dianna Love, Steve Almond and Kelly L. Stone.

On Friday we’ll break out the special 100th prompt for a shot at winning a prize and getting your response featured in Writer’s Digest magazine. And, of course, we’ll twirl some digital noisemakers. And gobble up some digital cake.

(Image: Simon Howden)

Feel free to take the following prompts home or post your response to
any of them (500 words or fewer, funny, sad or stirring) in the Comments
section below. By posting, you’ll be automatically entered in our
occasional around-the-office swag drawings. If you’re having trouble
with the captcha code sticking, e-mail your story to me at, with “Promptly” in the subject line, and I’ll
make sure it gets up.


Your Ultimate Quote

Write a conversation in which you utter what will be your—or your character’s—most memorable quote. The one that will be repeated for some time—for better or worse.


Your Story No. 21

Seven people board a small boat for a tour of the islands, but when the boat returns to the dock, only six people remain on board. —From The Writer’s Book of Matches by the staff of fresh boiled peanuts: a literary journal


A Novel Speech, Derailed

You’re supposed to be giving a speech, but your mind seizes. You look up at the massive crowd, frantic, and start reciting the contents of an alarming letter you received last week, instead.  


Strange Happenings in the RV

The RV is full. The gas is low. From the expressway, nobody has any clue what’s inside. But that may change soon.


Worst Tweet Ever?

Write a scene about the fallout from one of the worst Tweets ever. Or, simply draft a few of the worst Tweets ever.  


The Tapping (courtesy of WD’s Scott Francis)

You are awakened in the middle of the night by a strange tapping noise coming from your attic. You decide to investigate, and after moving a few old boxes, you find what appears to be a telegraph receiver hidden in a small hole in the wall.


Something To Cry About/The Siren

(Literary Roadshow prompt, from from Jim Carroll’s Fear of Dreaming; write a story inspired by or including the following:)

“There, now you really have something to cry about!” 

He looks back over at me after a moment of silence, and we begin laughing again. I throw my arms around him and lay my head to his shoulders, continuing to laugh until my tears fall down the lapel of his suit.


When the traffic is still, I lower my hands and pass through. 
I arrive before the siren, through the Post Office doors … 
yet the siren has been broken, some jealous women explain, and I am far too late.


Old Habits Die Hard

You decide to give up an old habit—in exchange for something that was originally promised to you years ago.


Fiction to Fact

Take the last piece of fiction you wrote, and imagine that it actually happened—and found its way to the news. Now, write a piece centered around the reactions of a character watching a recap of the story on television.


Breaking Down

A tire blows out as you’re in the car with someone on the verge of his or her own breakdown. Stuck in a small town, you’re about to do something you haven’t done in years.


Prompts, courtesy of bestselling author Dianna Love

Below are five opening lines for a scene. The first three are in third person, the fourth is in first person and the fifth can be either one. You can change the point of view from third to first or first to third. There are no names, so you pick the characters. Write the first scene that comes to mind. Don’t worry about being correct on anything—just write and have fun.  

He opened his eyes and slowly took in his surroundings, searching for one thing that looked familiar. 

If she didn’t make the last ridge before the portal closed in the next 15 seconds, she’d end up losing her bounty and getting blood on her new solar boots.  

He appreciated having a choice, but generally he was given at least one option that allowed for a chance to walk away alive even if he had to sacrifice dignity.  

My mouth fell open in shock at the gangly man carrying a cardboard box, not believing he would dare to enter my real estate office again.   

A palomino horse trotted into the yard sans rider, daisies braided into the mane and a sword hanging from a leather loop on the saddle. 



Take your latest dream, no matter what, and work it into a scene in a story you’re currently writing or editing.


Your Story Contest No. 22

Suffering from a mid-life crisis, a 50-year-old businessman quits his job and goes on a quest to “get the band back together.”
 —From The Writer’s Book of Matches by the staff of fresh boiled peanuts: a literary journal


Crafting a Cliché 

Write the most cliché story you can, working as many unbearably overdone elements into the scene as possible.


Vacation From Vacation 

With your cell phone and souvenirs in hand, your torn map falls to the ground. 
“He wasn’t even supposed to be here,” you mutter. 
And just like that, you need a vacation from your vacation.


The Agreement (courtesy of WD Editor Jessica Strawser)

You consider the stranger’s odd request and decide to agree. What do you have to lose? And just like that, you’re not alone on your adventure.


Rising Sun (courtesy of Jessica Strawser)

A man in a business suit, briefcase handcuffed to his wrist, stands on a quiet beach watching the sunrise.


Expertise (courtesy of Jessica Strawser)

As quickly as you can—without over-thinking it—make a list of five things you’re an “expert” in. (It could be microbiology, it could be blogging, it could be finding a way to rationalize buying a $4 cup of coffee a day, or it could be talking your wife into letting you watch “just five more minutes” of the game.) Choose one and use it as the inspiration for a story—fiction or nonfiction, funny or serious—in 500 words or fewer.



“Why did you cut it all off?”

She stares out the window.



Self-Help Surprise

A self-help guru makes you an offer you can’t refuse, no matter how much you’d like to.



You try to snap a discrete photo—but it just doesn’t work out that way.


Writing prompt, courtesy of author Kelly L. Stone

Scan your surroundings quickly and list the first three items that catch your eye; they might be the dining room table, the giant oak outside the window, and the discarded tennis shoes by the back door. Write a story incorporating those three items. 


13 Hours

“Only 13 hours?!”


“It’s not possible.”

The dog barks, the child coughs.

“It’s what you’re going to have to do.”



It’s been days. 
You’re dehydrated and wild-eyed. 
And now this.

You traveled all this way for this?


The Wedding

You attempt to cut the cake, but the knife slides into something else. 
The crowd looks on, and forks start clinking against glasses.


“You did what?!”

You take the manuscript, cross out his name, and wr
ite your own. 
“I’ve earned it,” you say.



The sun is setting in dramatic hues of pink and tangerine, but nobody is watching it—they’re all staring at him, instead.


Be Detestable (courtesy of author Steve Almond)

“Look at a recent story and write the whole thing from the point of view of the most detestable character. That’s what I do when I’m stuck.”


Thanksgiving Delight (courtesy of WD’s Brian A. Klems)

Write about the greatest Thanksgiving meal you’ve ever eaten, describing it down to the final piece of pie. Make your readers not only experience it, but crave your meal.


The Artifact

Your boat rocks back and forth, and you peer over the edge, catching a glimpse of something you thought was gone forever.


No Thanksgiving

It’s a holiday and you have to work. Someone throws a few coins your way, you look up, and decide to put them to work for you.


The Cab Ride/Tan Lines

“This cab ride isn’t over.”

“But it is?”

Nearby, a man treads water and the full moon rises.


Bonus prompt to make up for the Thanksgiving tech blackout]:

Their tan lines spelled out an unexpected—and unparalleled—message.


Leap of Faith

“Please don’t. This isn’t going to work. I’m not qualified at all for this.”

“Sure you are.”

She doesn’t believe you, so with the crowd looking on, you prove your point.


Your Story No. 23

Something bizarre occurs at the table next to a couple on their first date.
 —From The Writer’s Book of Matches by the staff of fresh boiled peanuts: a literary journal


Lowering the Ears

It started out as a haircut, but something happened.


Strangers on a Train

You’re on a train and for some reason have missed your stop—which, as you soon discover with the stranger sitting next to you, is a blessing in disguise.


Steal From the Real


Take a newspaper and flip through the stories. Jot down two sourced quotes verbatim from different sections—say, one from a news story, and one from a human interest piece—and incorporate them into a story of your own. Make one quote the first line, and the other the final line. 

Does toying with the real and connecting the dots between the passages force your fiction into unexpected corridors?


Taming the Title

Write a vignette from one of these titles:

Apocalypse Forgotten

The Dragon is Not Real
The Sky Is Lying


Gift That Made You Gag

Revisit a scene from your past and write about a gift you once received that shocked you—for better or worse.



“… in this drink?”

He shrugs. “There are always more ingredients than you’d ever guess.”
I stare into its depths as it reflects candlelight.


Holiday Prompt Special 

“This was a holiday tradition.”

He glances around, wipes his boot on a rug. “After what happened this year, it’s not any more.”

Something comes down your chimney, but it’s not exactly Santa. In your bed, you stir as you hear footsteps. 

Write an unexpected literary fiction vignette about a character from a “classic” holiday film—say, perhaps, a lost moment in the life of Cousin Eddie from Christmas Vacation? The trials and tribulations of one Yukon Cornelius (as featured in the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer claymation special)? A story titled “Ralphie’s Revenge”?


Nonfiction: Recall the first time you saw a familiar holiday figure (Santa, et. al). Knowing nothing about this character, and seeing it objectively as a first-timer, what was your reaction? How have your early impressions changed?



It’s Dec. 31, and you’re scrambling to make a resolution come true that you made last year. The sun is setting, and it’s time for action.


The Power of Suggestion

Ask a friend for a number between 100 and 2,000, and without any further explanation, ask her to say the first word that comes to mind. Write a story of the given number of words exactly, and make the random word the title as well as the final utterance in your story. A possible first sentence: “Do you trust me?”


Your Story No. 24 

Parents look on in horror as a magician’s trick goes horribly awry during a child’s birthday party. —From The Writer’s Book of Matches by the staff of fresh boiled peanuts: a literary journal


Raising the Alarm

Yet again, you draw a breath, mumble an apology, and pull the fire alarm at the shopping mall.


Trapped in the Ice

Your car breaks down in the midst of a blizzard—and a critical cell phone call. Trudging through the snow, you discover something frozen in ice that will prove to be invaluable in the moments ahead.


Cellular Apologies 

A stranger asks to borrow your cell phone. You agree. She turns away and talks on it for a moment, then faces you once more. 
“I’m sorry,” she says, eyes red. “I’m so sorry.” 
Then, she runs away.


Fight Club

Take the last fight or disagreement you were involved in—be it a fistfight, a verbal battle with a spouse, a passive-aggressive note campaign with a neighbor—and incorporate it into a scene with a different resolution.


Your 15 Minutes

You’re watching a daytime talk show. A familiar face walks onto the stage, you drop what you’re holding and she utters your name on national television.


The Broadcast Boon

You’ve never done it before, but this time you call in to the radio station. You win something you didn’t anticipate—or want.

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9 thoughts on “Promptfest 2010: 50 More Writing Prompts from WD, bestseller Dianna Love, Steve Almond and others

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  4. Nathan Honoré

    The Sky is Lying

    Every time I look up at the sky and stare I feel like a cliché. Do other people raise their peepers to the heavens and look into nothing? I really doubt it. Characters in movies do this, not people. That is a line that has been blurred over the past half-century or so. The power of the cinema has seeped its way into our lives. Of course, this isn’t our fault. It is human nature to read or see someone else and immediately desire to be that person. We pick up on traits that are the epitome of what we strive to be. For instance, when most people see Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, they immediately wish to do as many drugs as possible in hopes of having a trip as spectacular as those had by Hunter S. Thompson. The actions that our favorite cinematic characters portray have become what we perceive as normal. But they’re not.

    Walking in the rain has become one of my favorite activities. John Denver would call me crazy as he enjoyed sunshine on his shoulders. That made him happy. It is has long been established that a bright (bright), bright sunshiny day is the “perfect day.” There are a number of logos that agree with that sentiment including, but not limited to Sunny Delight and Raisin Bran. I really dislike super sunny days. It becomes too bright, like someone is following me with a spotlight. Perhaps I’m part vampire. There is another cultural cliché that goes the opposite direction of the sun. Walking and enjoying rain supposedly makes one darker, mysterious, intelligent, and thoughtful. I’m not entirely sure how this came to be, but I don’t fully agree with it. Singing in the rain didn’t exactly catch on though.
    These clichés are essentially lies, lies that we have created for ourselves to appear certain ways to other people. Oddly enough, the aforementioned actions are usually done without an audience. So, the only way that others would know that you participate in those activities is for you to tell them, which is even more self-indulgent. We lie to ourselves and the sky is a surprising source of these lies. The sky is lying, but we don’t care.

  5. Martha W

    Zac – glad to hear all’s fine in WD land… Can’t wait for Friday! WooHoo! The big ONE-OH-OH!!

    Mark – I love this version of the story. I like Annie…


    He opened his eyes and slowly took in his surroundings, searching for one thing that looked familiar. Just one to jog his memory. The scene that greeted him sent chills racing down his spine.

    Faux wood panels lined the tiny room, lights glowed low in lamps anchored to the side tables. Only two feet separated the edge of the bed from the walls. The burgundy comforter covering the mattress matched exactly the curtains hanging at the porthole.

    Dan almost convinced himself he was wrong until he caught sight of the photograph next to the door. Green eyes alight with mischief and enough dirt to make his own sandbox, a sandy-haired little boy stared out at him with a smile wide enough to show off the two missing teeth.

    Of all places, why here? Why now?

    He swung his feet over the edge of the bed just as the door burst open.

    That same little boy raced in the room. And straight through him.

    "Mommy-" The imp stopped on a dime, stared around the room, focused on where Dan stood. Slowly he picked up the life jacket from the floor and backed out the door, leaving it ajar.

    From the upper deck, a woman’s voice wrapped around Dan’s heart and squeezed. "Danny? Where are you, sweetie?"

    The boy stood still as a statue in the hallway. "Coming." He kept his back to the wall and climbed the steep stairs with the sure-footed steps of many days on the boat.

    "Hurry, you’re going to miss the fireworks."

    Small steps quickened, the strange experience forgotten.

    Dan wanted to chase after him, wanted to tell that five year-old version of himself to hug her tight.

    He knew what would happen next. The explosion. The fire.

    His mother’s face, bloodied, filled with pain as she pushed him into the too small life raft. His mother’s face, relaxed, no longer filled with pain as the water swirled her long blonde hair to conceal her descent into the frigid water.

    Dan clenched his eyes tight, held back the tears. What was the point of this nightmare? When would he wake up?

    The explosion deafened him, the light bridging the dream world with the real world blinded him to everything. He bent double, crippled by the pain as his soul ripped apart. Pressing his face to the floor, Dan gave into the grief.

    The low growl reached his ears just as it vibrated his skin. "What is wrong with you?"

    Dan clutched his hands, expecting carpet but getting sand. He jerked to his feet, spun in a circle, tried to find his bearing. "What the hell?"

    He swallowed hard as he faced the last being he thought he’d ever meet.

    Lear, god of the sea, stood with his arms crossed, waiting.

    His white-blonde hair flowed down his back, and sharp, crystal blue eyes saw more than Dan cared to admit existed. The hard line of Lear’s mouth curled into a smile. "Ah, finally you and I meet, Daniel."

  6. Mark James

    Hey Zac. . . good to have you back in promptland. . . but I think the Robot God is mad that you were gone . . .

    The Tapping

    I’d been hearing the tapping for going on five minutes. I waited, listened, then I knew for sure. I had a visitor.

    I slid out from between my sheets, felt the cool wooden floor under my bare feet. The tapping was coming from my attic.

    Out in the hallway, it was louder. At the end of the hall, I went up the attic steps two at a time, burst through the door. “What are you doing here?”

    Annie wouldn’t look at me. “Visiting.”

    “You should be in school.”

    She looked up at me, slitted her eyes. “You sound like the Director.”

    “How do you know what he sounds like? Doesn’t look to me like you listen that much.”

    She spun in a small circle, arms flung out. “I listen enough. Rules. That’s all there is at school. Rules.”

    I caught her, tapped the side of her head, like I was feeling around for something.

    “What are you doing?”

    “Looking for the hole where all the rules fell out.”

    She laughed and I guessed I would have done about anything to hear that high sweet sound. I grabbed her, rolled around the dusty floor with her, and tickled her till she turned all red and started sneezing. Then we were quiet for a while.

    “Don’t you want to see what I brought?” Annie said.

    “Is it gonna explode like last time?”

    Boxes where I’d packed away her dolls and their houses were already floating away from a corner.

    “Annie, you’re not supposed to – -”

    “I know,” she said. Her voice was tight with concentration. “But they’re heavy.

    When she’d cleared a space, she pulled me over into the corner, showed me what was in the hole in the wall. “I made it.”

    It was a kid’s dream of a Morse code receiver. The tapper was a swirl lollipop, and the platform where it tapped was a thick chocolate bar layered with pink sprinkles.

    “How’d you make that tap?” I said.

    “It’s part of my homework.” She looked at the machine. It didn’t move, but I heard that tapping again. “We have to make a bridge with someone’s mind, then send them the taps.”

    Behind her, a teddy bear was poking out of a box. I focused on it, pulled it out and floated it over to her. “You did good, kiddo,” I said.

    She grabbed the bear out of the air. “You still have Mr. Baxter.” The way she held him reminded me that for all her talent, my sister was still a little girl.

    I didn’t know if I’d done right with her. After mom and dad died, the school was the only place I knew where she’d be safe, and get to be with other kids like her.


    “Yes,” she said. “I like it there and – – ” She broke off, pressed a hand over her mouth. “Sorry. It’s the bridge. I’m out of your mind now.”

    The tapping stopped. She yawned. I knew that even for a kid like Annie, two hundred and some miles was a long trip. I picked her up, the way I used to, and carried her downstairs. “How about you sleep in my room tonight?”

    But her eyes were already drifting closed, so I just laid her down, smoothed the hair back from her face, and watched her sleep.


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