Generating good, usable ideas can be difficult for any writer, new or established. While John Steinbeck may have been exempt (he famously compared ideas to rabbits, saying “You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.”), we are not all on Steinbeck’s level. To those of you who can come up with something new and interesting at will, I commend you. For the rest of us, here are 31 prompts for the month of August.
Interpret these in whatever way works best for you. Do each one, or two per week, or five per month, or any number that feels productive for you. If you’d like to, share your links or short-short stories in the comments.
1. You have two characters. One is trying to convince the other that he is telling the truth, but the second character knows the first character is lying. How does this scene play out?
2. Write a short story in which a pill is an object of importance.
3. Tell a story using only letters your characters have written to each other.
4. Use these words: spider, lump, magazine, bread box, asbestos.
5. Sylvia Plath once write that “everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it.” Use your outgoing guts to tell a difficult story.
6. A local woman has just had her first baby. She is on the news because her baby is __________. Fill in the blank and then tell this story.
7. Your first line is: “In this town, everyone is named after an object.”
8. You’ve inherited enough money to retire. What do you do now?
9. A group of friends are walking down the street. They see something unexpected.
10. Your new neighbor introduces himself as La Bamba Flambeau. He is a mild-mannered, middle-aged man.
11. Fill in the blanks to create a piece of dialogue; then, use the dialogue in a short story: “If it weren’t for _________, I would never have _________.”
12. Your character wakes up very late. He thinks it is Monday, but it is only Sunday.
13. Write an optimistic character who is placed in a hopeless, unfixable situation.
14. Two characters discuss their hobbies. Neither is comfortable being friends afterward.
15. Use these words: frenetic, business card, notepad, bagel, walrus.
16. It is 10 years in the future. Write a scene about your character’s everyday life.
17. A poet is in his car when he realizes the lyrics of the song on the radio match the piece he wrote last night.
18. Winston Churchill said “History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.” Write a kind history for a no good, very bad character.
19. A spaceship has landed safely in the Pacific Ocean and the beings that step out look exactly like all humans… except for one disturbing difference.
20. 100 years ago, medical science eradicated all virulent disease. What is the world like now?
21. In this scene, a phone call derails a quiet dinner at home.
22. You’re a contestant on Jeopardy! Write the scene in which you win the game. Include the topic, answer and question.
23. Write a short story in which a painting is an object of importance.
24. Your theme: Nothing is free.
25. Your character must mail something today, but the universe is conspiring against his success.
26. Use these words: tin, monkey wrench, banner, water damage, award.
27. Your character did something embarrassing in college that her family does not know about. What happens when her teenage daughter finds out years later? When her husband finds out? When the local gossip hears about it?
28. A character is caught stealing. a) Make your reader feel sorry for the thief. b) Make your reader angry at the victim.
29. “This is not what I ordered. It’s moving.”
30. Today is someone’s birthday, but you forgot until just now. This person is very important to you.
31. Write a survival story.
Adrienne Crezo is the managing editor of Writer’s Digest magazine. Follow her on Twitter at @a_crezo.