25 Prompts to Fire Up Your Creativity this Weekend

By my count, Promptly will be hitting its 100th prompt anniversary next Friday (give or take a few days that featured multiple prompts). In addition to celebratory digital cake, in the posts leading up to our double-golden anniversary prompt, I’ll be featuring 25 writing prompts a day, in the order in which they appeared here.

Here’s Day 1 of Promptfest 2010. Next week we’ll feature a special prompt with a giveaway and a shot at getting your name and response in Writer’s Digest magazine. Keep an eye out!

(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 writersdigest@fwmedia.com, with “Promptly” in the subject line, and I’ll make sure it gets up.

The Kickoff

??The phone rings and a low voice groans—“Why me?”
?You hang up. Twenty minutes later, it rings again.
“You made a mistake.”
?The dial tone throbs as the phone hangs from its cord, limp.


The Doctor is In?

(Literary Roadshow prompt, from Albert Camus’ The Plague; write a story inspired by or including the following—)??

“He was going to make them right with a couple of pills or an injection, and people took him by the arm on his way to the sickroom. Flattering, but dangerous.”

Now, he takes your arm. Who is this doctor? Reveal him in scene.  


The Damaging Dispute? ?

Write an argument—the worst dispute your character has ever been in, at least in his or her opinion—without using a single exclamation point or all-caps word. It’s an exercise in discipline: Keep the fire contained, brimming at the surface but never boiling over. And make sure you mention a pair of pliers and a spectator.


?Photogenic Stranger? ?

You develop a roll of film, an old roll from about 10 years ago, and sit down to sift through the photos. As you do, you stop and analyze a figure lurking in the background of a vacation photo. You drop the pictures, aghast, and gasp for air.


Surprise Attack; New Pet? ?

Something unexpected attacks you. Now, you have to decide whether or not to keep it as a pet.?


The Terrible Decision? ?

Choose a moment from yesterday or today, an otherwise normal moment when you could have done something extreme, something terrible, if you had just done one small thing different. Do it in scene.  ?


Next Time, Chew? ?

At dinner, you choke. Something flashes before your eyes, only it’s not exactly your life.?


??Here’s to the Lion?
(Literary Roadshow prompt, from Ernest Hemingway’s short story “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber”; write a story inspired by or including the following—) ??

“Here’s to the lion,” he said. “I can’t ever thank you for what you did.” ?Margaret, his wife, looked away from him and back to Wilson.?
“Let’s not talk about the lion,” she said. ?Wilson looked over at her without smiling and now she smiled at him.?


That Wicked Old Scent? ?

“It smells like something has died in the walls,” she said.
“Well, do something about it.”
?“I always do.”
?He remembered what happened last time, and the sun sagged low.?


Wherever You May Write ? ?

Write a scene that takes place wherever you write. Take an object [or two] that is always present at your desk, and make it a key element of your scene.?


Redefining Love?

?In a scene, define love.?


Like a Virgin?
(Slightly out of context without the lead-in from the original blog post, but, still—) ?

Do something you’ve never done before, and use the experience in scene.


That Strange Day? ?

It’s been raining for weeks and a single thought has been stuck in your mind: It plays itself over and over, and you can’t stop pondering what happened on that strange day—the day it started raining.?


Things We Lost in the Flood? ?

Your home floods. You race to save one item, but at the last minute, change your mind.?


Behind the Curtain? ?
A fortune-teller rubs her glass orb and grabs your hand. She closes her eyes. She raises her head toward the sky and mumbles. Then, she bursts out laughing.?


The Ultimate Secret?
(Literary Roadshow prompt, from George Orwell’s 1984; write a story inspired by or including the following—)

No answer.
?“Julia, are you awake?”?
No answer. She was asleep. He shut the book, put it carefully on the floor, lay down, and pulled the coverlet over both of them.? He had still, he reflected, not learned the ultimate secret. He understood how; he did not understand why.?


Rejecting the Rejection
? ?

You’ve had it. You can’t take it any more. You decide to reject a rejection letter.  ?


In Your Father’s Shoes? ?

You put on your father’s shoes, take a deep breath, say a quick prayer, and walk outside. His hat never quite fit right, but still, you wear it.?


(Literary Roadshow prompt, from Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle; write a story inspired by or including the following—)

??“What a cynic!” I gasped. I looked up from the note and gazed around … “Is he here somewhere?”
?“I do not see him,” said Mona mildly. She wasn’t depressed or angry. In fact, she seemed to verge on laughter. “He always said he would never take his own advice, because he knew it was worthless.”?


Life in the Booth? ?

Write a scene about this man—perhaps a pivotal moment in his life—in the dunking booth, or elsewhere.


?Tragically, Hero? ?

Write the story of how your hero came to be missing a tooth.?


Morals and Movies? ?

You have just purchased tickets for a movie, and someone approaches you, tears in his eyes and something gripped in his palm, and asks a question—one that leaves you speechless.?


Selling Out/Buying In? ?

You have done what you swore you would never do: You have written a book solely to pay the bills. Now, write the back-cover promo copy.?


A Decision, a Laugh, a Howl?

It’s a holiday, and you make a decision that makes something go very awry—or, very right—depending on how you look at it. Meanwhile, it’s cold but it’s supposed to be hot
, someone is laughing and a dog is howling.  ?


A Game of Confession
? ?

Old friends have gathered, and are passing the time with a card game.
?“Ante up,” you say.
?“I have a confession,” your former roommate replies.?
Everyone widens their eyes, but then lowers their heads.? They know something you don’t.?

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12 thoughts on “25 Prompts to Fire Up Your Creativity this Weekend

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  2. Zac

    Ha! I love you serial hijackers. And the pieces above. All is well in promptland. Every magazine production cycle, the editor of WD and I take turns disappearing at home with a "binder" — basically, a printed-out copy of the magazine that we individually copyedit. I went home Monday… and forgot my magic bag of prompts, and was thus unable to post the next 25. So today I’m about to hit back with a barrage of 50. Be on guard!

  3. Martha W

    Serial Hijacker #2 reporting in … finally.

    Mark – I bet he went for the power supply.


    "Ante up." Tara tossed a short stack of chips on the table.

    "Yeah, okay." Mari peeked at two queens, called her.

    Cindy folded. "I have a confession."

    Celia ducked her head, tossed her cards in. "Oh, brother."

    Mari swept her gaze around the group, her stomach dropped to the floor at the bowed heads. The game was forgotten. "Well, fess up."

    "I slept with Arik."

    The room fell silent, the only noise came from the lake outside where waves crested on the sand. Mari stared at her. "What?"

    "Just before he left for the Army." Cindy raised her face, swallowed hard, swiped at the tears rolling down her cheeks. "Mari, there was something wrong with him. He-"

    "He what?" Mari’s voice was strangled, hoarse.

    "He started out so sweet, but somewhere along the way, he turned… mean. Said that I should tell you so you’d know what betrayal felt like." Liquid eyes begged for forgiveness. "What did he mean?"

    "That was a long time ago. I don’t know." Mari willed Tara and Celia to look at her. Neither did.

    Tara sighed, long, deep. "He must have thought Mari had found someone else."

    "He was so angry." Cindy spoke but more to herself, her eyes focused on something, someone else.

    Celia raised her head at the distant tone. "Cindy?"

    "His skin was rough, not smooth like I dreamed it would be. I wanted him, even when he was yours." Her brows cinched together, the trembling visible only in the slight shake of her hair. "He looked so full of hate, Mari. For you."

    Mari shoved her chair back, bridged the gap between them to grasp her face. "Why are you telling me now, and not then?"

    "He was here. Last night."

    Mari thumbed away more tears from Cindy’s pale skin, her own falling unnoticed. "What did he say?"

    "He was disappointed that I hadn’t followed direction. But he’d give me another chance, if only I’d tell you." Cindy’s eyes finally met hers, tears gone, cold bottomless blue. "You’ll die before this is over."

    Mari dropped her hands, palms stinging. She shook her head. He couldn’t have known. "That may be, but," Mari leaned down to stare her in the eye. "When he visits next, tell him I said last time was a walk in the park compared to what will happen now."

    Cindy nodded, scrubbed her face with both hands, then stared at the girls gathered around her. "What’s wrong?"

    Tara slid her drink over. "Nothing. You were a little out of it for a minute. Wanna go lie down?"

    Cindy stood, weaved once. "Yeah, I think I will."

    Celia wrapped her arm around her waist. "You can stay in the guest room."

    Mari slammed the sill down on the single open window, latched the lock. Watched the two disappear down the hall. "Why him?"

    "Only you know." The ethereal voice came from nowhere, yet everywhere.

    "Then we’re in a lot of trouble. Because I have no idea."

  4. Mark James

    Zac. . . hope everything’s okay. We umm. . . well. . hijacked your blog again. Our working name is ‘Serial Hijackers R Us’ . . .

    Things We Lost In The Flood

    “No. I’m not calling Father Tom and confessing my sins.”

    From the corner of my eye I saw Betty. She was spinning across the TV screen, heading right for the coast.

    “Come on. Don’t bring Mom into this. Do I make you go confess every time it snows like – -”

    The power went out.

    “Nothing’s wrong, Dad.” I felt for the candles I’d left on the kitchen table, pulled my lighter from my pocket. “Look, I’ll call you in a couple hours, okay?”

    I pushed ‘End’ on my cell phone, slid it in my pocket, and lit the pillar candles on the table.

    The wind shook the windows over the sink. The whole house shuddered like it was all the walls could do to stay standing. Then the rain came.

    The good thing about life in Fort Lauderdale is the beach is always five minutes away. The bad thing is the whole freaking state of Florida is only about a hundred feet over sea level.

    I was a on a barrier island. Had to cross a bridge to get to the mainland. But I didn’t think I’d make it ahead of the storm.

    Listening to the wind howl down the street outside my door, I thought of my grandma, and how she’d wind her strap around her hand. “Come here, boy,” she used to say. “I got a lesson I’m gonna learn you.”

    Seemed like Betty was gonna learn us all a lesson tonight.

    Living near the beach like I do, you get to know the sound of waves. Big ones. Little ones. Gets so after a while, you can tell a storm’s out at sea just by how the waves kick up.

    Standing there in candlelight in my kitchen, I heard something I never thought I’d hear. Down the street, where I knew the ocean had to be churning like a cook pot in Hell, I heard the mother of all waves crash down on the sand. Then I heard water rushing down cobblestones outside my door. Another big one crashed down. More water. Wind slammed the windows.

    My cell phone rang.

    If I didn’t answer, he’d just keep calling. “Yeah, Dad?”

    I got moving, squeezing the phone between my ear and my shoulder. I dug through my closet, pulled out the bag for my laptop. It was my living. No stories, no house after the storm. “Weather guy says it’s real close, huh?”

    My laptop slipped through my sweaty fingers. I caught it against my hip and jammed it into the bag. “Yeah. It’s windy.” I zipped the bag shut.

    Water seeped in under my front door.

    I went up the steps backwards, watching the water come in. I followed it all the way to the far wall, where the power supply for my laptop was still plugged in.

    “Dad? Let me call you back, okay?”

    Trying to get anything delivered after a hurricane was a nightmare. I raced down the steps.

    He was still talking. “What Bible?”

    Then I saw it. The Bible Mom had sent me from the hospital. The one she wrote in, “You fought as hard as you could, son. Don’t you know God’s the biggest bully in the schoolyard?”

    The Bible was on the lowest shelf on the TV stand. Across the living room, my lap top power supply was about to float.

    I slogged across my carpet and rescued it right before a mini wave crested and washed over the space where it had been.

    Yeah. I knew alright. The biggest bully.

  5. Martha W

    Zac – Wow. 100 prompts already? That rocks.

    Mark – Worth the foul up. Loved it.

    Dorraine – You are a gem. Great story. Nice to see you back.


    THE DAMAGING DISPUTE (Okay, no pliers but he spectated for a moment…)


    Mari sensed him even without the foul stench telling her of the demon hidden in the shadows.

    "With open heart and open mind; Gateway Sea to me entwine." Her soft, flowing nightshirt swayed around her, wrapped around her bare legs. "My will be done with harm to none; Three times three, so mote it be."

    As waves rushed the shore, she called to him, beckoned for him to come forward. Mari kept her back to the Elder tree concealing him, allowed him to believe he had the advantage.

    Her heart pounded, fear knotted her belly. Never in thirty years had she felt this way. Never had the fate of those she loved been so completely in her hands.

    The moment he moved out of the darkness, she felt it.

    Mari turned to be sure. The shock of seeing her old flame rocked her to the core. "Arik."

    He inclined his head once. Blond hair much like her own fell over his eyes, concealing the black orbs that had stolen the green of his youth. "Hello lover."

    The cold steel behind the words doused her, brought her focus. "Did you come to wish me well?"

    He moved toward her then circled left, forced her to turn with him. "Why would I do that? The last time we saw each other, you were banishing me to Hell."

    "So. All is not forgiven then." Mari kept her tone casual, relaxed.

    He rolled his neck, flexed his biceps. "I’d say not. But you can repay me, lover."

    "Hhm. How is that?"

    "Step aside. Let me have what is yours."

    Adrenaline surged in her blood. Never. "Sweetheart, we have history but even you couldn’t make me cross that bridge."

    The grin that crept onto his face curled his lips in a vicious snarl. "I hoped you’d say that." He leapt at her, murder clear in the depths of his eyes.

    She stood calm, watched as he hit the protective circle she had erected. "Did you believe me to be defenseless?"

    Arik picked himself off the ground, wiped the fetid blood oozing from his nose. "You are a coward to hide behind your family’s magick."

    Mari tried to see reason, knew he provoked her as only he could.

    "Your mother was right. You are nothing," he said.

    The lake behind him swelled without warning, sucked back from the shore. The rogue wave crashed over the beach, over her, buried her in its depths.

    Arik raced along the sand toward where she had disappeared, determined to complete his mission. To claim the title of Asmodai’s right hand.

    Too late, he realized the water moved at her command.

    The wave rushed forward again, swamped him, pulled him under. As water closed over his face he saw her sad, emerald eyes inches from his.

    “Why did he send you?”

    "Because I am your greatest weakness."

    Emerald turned Jade, sharp, cutting. "Not anymore."

    Without a breath to sustain him, the tide ripped him to the deepest trench of Lake Huron.

  6. Mark James

    Zac, congratulations on 100 Prompts, and thanks for the Prompt Buffet … this is great

    That Wicked Old Scent

    “It smells like something has died in the walls,” she said.

    “Well, do something about it.”

“I always do.”

    He remembered what happened last time, and the sun sagged low. “Wait, maybe you should let me take care of it this time.”

    He saw the look on her face and braced himself. “This isn’t Jerusalem or Germany or Iran,” she said. “I can handle it.”

    “I’m not saying you can’t. I’m only suggesting that perhaps you should rest your wings a little, brother.” Too late, Raphael realized his slip.

    “Why do I have to be a woman in this incarnation?” Michael reached behind him, but his small hand brushed only the neck of his faded cotton t-shirt. “Look at this. Not even my sword.”

    Raphael paced to the far side of the saloon, grazed his fingers over the bar. “You know how He gets when you start an unscheduled war.”

    Michael kicked at a chair, but at only a little over five feet tall, and barely weighing in at a hundred and ten pounds, he only managed to kick it against a table. “That war would have happened without me. All I did was speed things up.”

    Raphael raised my eyebrows. “Quite. He’s big on schedules. He dictated a whole Book about it.”

    “And nobody knows what it means. When’s the moon gonna turn blood red?”

    “All things in their own time bro—Michael.”

    He banged his small fist against a wall. “You sound just like Him.”

    A body fell through the roof. Then another one. Then two more.

    “Already?” Michael said.

    Raphael was on the move. “Take the child. I’ll heal the others.” He pulled a man’s body out of the wreckage of the ruined roof.

    Michael bent over the little girl. “Now I’m healing kids. If you and Him saw some sense, I could of got the guy who did this before he did it.”

    Raphael had already healed three men. They were leaving the through the doors of the saloon. “The only power you have left is to heal. And you know the conditions of your return to immortality.”

    “Yeah, don’t remind me. The more I heal, the faster I go back.” He ran his fingers over the little girl’s face. “Hey, Rafe. Come over here.”

    Raphael was by his side in an instant. “What is it?”

    “She’s got scars all over her face. What gives?”

    “It’s a war,” Raphael said patiently. “You unleash great pain each time you swing your sword.”

    “Not on little kids,” Michael said. “That’s not right.”

    “War is a beast. It consumes the innocent alongside the sinner, the repentant alongside the unforgiven.”

    Michael brushed his newly slender hands gently over the girl’s wounds.

    She opened her eyes, smiled at him. “You’re an angel,” she said.

    Michael sprang back. “You can see me?”

    She ran over to him, rested her small hands on his legs and raised her beautiful brown eyes to him. “Thank you. Mommy would be very sad if I left her all alone.”

    She ran out the swinging doors of Last Chance Saloon into a bright white light.

    Michael looked at his brother. “Don’t even.”

    Raphael smiled, looked upward, waited for the next rain of bodies from his brother’s latest work.

  7. Kim Kennedy

    He was going to make them right with a couple of pills or an injection, and people took him by the arm on his way to the sickroom. Flattering, but dangerous. Then he took my arm. His grip was like iron, preventing movement of any kind, and I shuddered involuntarily, though I did not know why. What was it about him that made me this nervous?

    “Hold still,” he said, as a syringe appeared from somewhere.

    “What are you doing? I am not sick.” He neither answered nor relaxed his grip. Terror seized me, and my heart sank as I realized that this man—the person from whom I had traveled so far to learn—thought that I was one of his patients. That, or he meant to do me some harm. Alarmed, I made a futile attempt to struggle, then the grip tightened again and the needle pierced my flesh. The panic released with his grip, and I felt large tears flood my eyes. Humiliated, I turned away, waiting for whatever effects the potion would have on me.

    “Miss?” I felt the same fierce grip on my shoulder, and then felt myself turned around. Steering me to a chair, he seated me in his makeshift office, closing the door against the curious eyes of the natives, and seating himself on the desktop facing me. Unable to look at him, I lowered my head. He reached around and raised my chin until our eyes met. “What is it? Did I hurt you?” he asked, as he handed me his handkerchief and released me. I tried, but I just could not find the words to answer him. Wiping my eyes, I simply shook my head and looked at him, willing him to let me go and find a place to be alone for awhile.

    For a few moments we sat, still and silent as cold stone statues, watching one another carefully, each taking the other’s measure. Finally, he spoke again. “This is not the first impression I meant to give you,” he said quietly, “though it was necessary, I’m afraid. No one works for me here without the proper vaccinations. The risk is just too great. I brought you here and it is my duty to keep you safe. My apologies if I hurt you.”
    I have no words to describe the truth I knew in that instant, that this experience would be like none I had ever had before. Life in my new world might be a bit unpredictable, but at least it wouldn’t be boring. Anticipation and relief filled me in equal measure.

    “No, I was only startled, not hurt. I am fine now.” I owed him some explanation.

    “I’m glad to hear that,” he said, eyes twinkling, “because we have thirteen more of those to go, some for as long as a week. We’ll take care of the full medical later. Right now, we need to finish the rest of them because we have patients to see. Ready?”

    Kim Kennedy

  8. Dorraine

    Zac, so hard to choose!

    Behind the Curtain

    Fortune telling was crap. I didn’t want to be at this paint chipped cottage beside the 110 freeway, across the bridge. My friend Alice dragged me. Next door was Pete’s Parrot Shop, green iridescent birds squawking and pruning in cages on the front porch. Now that intrigued me.

    Alice rang the doorbell while I stood wringing my hands. “Calm it,” she said. “This will be a riot.”

    A tall woman with brambly brown hair and eyes big as shooter marbles opened the creaky door, eyeing us suspiciously. Her silky sleeveless dress was white, a calico cat head tatted on her upper right arm. I wanted to bolt.

    “I’m Mavis Lemon. Come in, Come in.”

    We stood in her cluttered, dark living room illuminated by tapers, smelling of patchouli. Underneath that was mildew and cat odor, although the only feline I spotted was on her arm.

    “Introductions, introductions,” she insisted.

    My tongue felt thick but I managed to squeak out, “I’m Ann and this is Alice.”

    Her eyes grew. She snickered behind her hand. “Oh, double A’s.” Standing straighter, she arched bushy eyebrows. “One of you has physic abilities.”

    Mavis then walked to the mantle and stroked a shiny silver urn. “Oh, my dear Earlie burly. Seems like the rascal never left. You know,” she went on, her back still to us. “The dead are not really dead.”

    Alice elbowed me and grinned. I wanted to strangle her.

    “You,” Mavis said, turning and pointing her crooked index finger at me. “You’re first. Follow me, sister.”

    I looked warily at Alice who shrugged her shoulders.

    Following Mavis down the long, tight hallway, we came to a tiny sparse room. A sparkling crystal ball on a round wooden table and two blue folding chairs, that’s it. The lighting was muted, ball swirling and vibrating with color as though it lived and breathed. I sat and Mavis zinged the black curtain shut. My knees were knocking.

    Mavis Lemon then sat across from me, staring me down, iris’s swelling to near double. “You ooze physic ability. Ooze it, sister. Don’t squander the gift, hear me?”

    “Um, that’s very nice of you to say.” Idiot, I sounded like a moron but the last thing I wanted was to piss off a physic. My plan- to live long and loud.

    She grinned and took my right hand, hers icy and calloused. “Oh, I can’t wait to see what the ball predicts for you. Now calm down, sister. Breath deep… ah, ah, ah.”

    Gawking at the ceiling, she put her free hand on the crystal ball and rubbed it as though spit-shining. Mumbo jumbo flew from her throat, a creaky, sad lament next, as though she was keening. My hand was vibrating in hers and I gripped the table with my other, hoping to keep me out of the freaky world she’d entered.

    Suddenly, she went quiet. Snapping her head down, she let go of my hand and thwacked the table. “Bah…hahahahahahah.”

    I bit my lower lip, the tinny taste of blood on my tongue. This woman was a true weirdo.

    Mavis stopped laughing and made a big circle with her hands. “A huge talking parrot, that’s what I saw. Name is Jingle. He said, ‘Ann, Ann, I’m your parrot. You’ll buy me today, I swear it.’”

    “Does that make any sense to you?”

    Wilted, I perked up. Maybe there was something to this physic crap after all.


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