Write a story where nothing takes place outside of one small room. You can describe the interior of the room, but refrain from describing anything outside of it. Take note of how this restriction forces you to rely on certain techniques of storytelling.
The Time Is Now
The Time Is Now offers a weekly writing prompt (we’ll post a poetry prompt on Tuesdays, a fiction prompt on Wednesdays, and a creative nonfiction prompt on Thursdays) to help you stay committed to your writing practice throughout the year. We also offer a selection of books on writing—both the newly published and the classics—that we recommend you check out for inspiration, plus advice and insight on the writing process from the authors profiled in Poets & Writers Magazine. And don’t miss Writers Recommend, which includes books, art, music, writing prompts, films—anything and everything—that has inspired other authors in their writing.
Pick an overlooked, everyday object—a scarf, a carton of strawberries, a snow globe—and write eight different scenes or vignettes in which that object appears centrally. Have each scene take place in a different location and have the characters interact with the object in various ways.
Write a piece of flash fiction or a short story that starts with an advice column. Use the advice column to introduce the story's protagonist, the central drama, or the back story of the characters. Alternatively, read through advice columns such as the Rumpus's Dear Sugar and Salon's Since You Asked and create a story based on the problem posed by one advice-seeker.
Write a story that begins like this: On the morning Bill Somers shot his dog, I was...
Think about a conflict you had with someone in the past that left you feeling especially wronged or misunderstood. Write a story from the other person's perspective, fictionalizing the details of that person's character. Create the story behind why this person did what they did or said what they said.
Aimee Phan, author of The Reeducation of Cherry Truong, wrote in Writers Recommend, "I don’t intentionally scrapbook for inspiration, but that always ends up happening. I will see a graphic or image, or hear a song on the radio, and start to collect them for characters whose perspectives I am about to inhabit." Adopt Phan's practice as your own this week. Collect images, songs, magazine articles, matchbooks, etc., and begin to image how these items inform the perspective of a character you want to write about. After a week of collecting, write a character sketch.
Conjure someone you haven't seen or talked to in over ten years. Imagine you receive a phone call from this person today. Why are they calling? What do they want? Write a story about it.
The website Brain Pickings posted a video version of Kurt Vonnegut's eight tips for how to write a great short story. Choose a draft of one of your unfinished stories and apply Vonnegut's advice during the revision process.
Look through your desk or visit a thrift store or drugstore to find a selection of postcards. Write short missives to yourself in the voice of an imagined character, sending a dozen or so cards to your home address. Allow your reaction to receiving the postcards and the messages themselves, inspire the beginnings of a story.
Record the slogans you see on billboards and in other advertising as you go about your daily routine—Prescription Drug Misuse Is a Growing Trend; Forever Engagements; Truth & Honesty: That's the Manfredi Way! Choose one from the list you've gathered and use it as the opening line for a story.
Choose an article from a magazine that profiles a person, such as a celebrity, a political figure, or a professional athlete. Using one of the settings in the article and a fictionalized version of the person as the main character, write a story in which it is revealed that the main character's greatest strength is also his or her greatest failing.
Fill in the generalities with details and use the following to begin a scene for a story: CHARACTER NAME sits at his/her desk in his/her office above Guiliani's Pizza on STREET NAME in CITY NAME. He/she leans down and removes his/her shoes, placing them neatly by the bookcase, then picks up the phone.
Write a story in which a character lives alone in a desolate environment—the woods, the desert, the mountains. Describe your character going about the day, and use that action as a backdrop for revealing the reason why he or she has chosen to retreat from the world. Then, have another character enter the scene, describing how he or she arrives. What happens next?
Take a working draft of one of your stories and reorder the structure—write it from the end to the beginning, use flashbacks to rearrange the timeline, or tell the story using some other kind of organizational principle, such as using short sections with subtitles.
Think about a time or incident from your past when you just barely averted disaster. Write a story about it, but change the circumstances so that the disaster actually happens.
Find a blank notebook, and for one week fill it with whatever strikes you—images, photographs, cut-out excerpts from articles or books, notes on matchbooks, maps, drawings, and your own writing. At the end of the week, use this material as inspiration for a story.
Read the headlines in today's newspaper. Choose one that you find compelling, and without reading the accompanying article, write a story based on the headline.
Deconstruct a short story that you find particularly powerful. First, identify the point-of-view and the characters. Then outline the plot. Finally, make a chart with two columns: In the first column, describe what happens in each paragraph of the story; in the second column, analyze why it happens, how it serves the larger story. Apply what you learn as you revise a story-in-the-works or begin a new one.
Write a scene for a story, using third-person narration, that opens with your main character having just done something despicable. Despite what he or she has done, find a way in writing the rest of the scene to make your character sympathetic without letting him or her off the hook.
Choose a story that you've finished or a story by another author and use the last line of it to begin a new story, using the same characters and/or introducing new ones.
In honor of Robert Walser's Microscripts, write a story (in as small as print as possible) on previously used paper, allowing whatever use the paper previously served (letter from a family member, etc) be the inspiration for the new story.
Ruminate on the past year, remembering both your achievements and your failures. Write a story about one of your failures or regrets from the perspective of someone other than yourself. Consider rewriting the past, to transform this incident into an achievement by changing the facts around it or by changing the way your protagonist perceives it.
Choose a place from your childhood—the house your grew up in, your grandparents' home, or another place you visited often—and draw a map of it, with as much detail as possible. Let the map ignite your memory about what happened in this place and who was there. Write a scene for a story based on a fictionalized account of one of your memories, using this place as the setting and your map as source of description.
Write a story that opens with your main character doing something that is completely antithetical to his or her personality. Let the story be about how this character came to do what he or she did.
Write a story structured around a series of vignettes based on the descriptions of imagined photographs. For an example, read Heidi Julavits's "Marry the One Who Gets There First: Outtakes From the Sheidegger-Krupnik Wedding Album," included in The Best American Short Stories, 1999 (Houghton Mifflin, 1999).