toys for writers to play with: my favorite writing prompts

First, congrats to Annie, winner of my EWTF paperback proof contest this week!!! I have a book to send you!!! 😀

RandomStuff program displaying a winner

I love random things. I love it when I can throw together a few wildly different traits, and come up with something original and wonderful that I never would have thought to put together otherwise.

When I was a girl, I used to play this “date” game with a deck of cards. (Yes, folks, I was always destined to grow up to write romantic-comedies.) I think there’s a real game out there, Dream Date, or something. But I made up my own. And as my sense of humor would have it, there were just as many crazy or ridiculous scenarios as there were “dreamy” ones. Your date is wearing… an army combat uniform (yum!), or… a clown suit. Your date has… a really fast car… or no teeth. I’d make up a series of questions, and list 13 options for each one. Then I’d draw the cards to see what I got. The combinations would turn out hilarious, crazy sometimes, and other times, really appropriate.

I think in a way, I’m still playing that game with my writing sometimes. Randomizing things is kind of a way of simulating the randomness and surprise of our real lives.


Today I want to talk about a really fun little program that I’ve been using for many years! What you see there in the screencap above is a program called RandomStuff. It’s actually a program someone made with playing Sims in mind, but let me tell you, I use this thing for everything!

How it works is this: you have a text file, and the program. In your text file, you list a series of questions and answers. You can even weight the rolls so that some answers come up more often than others. When you open the text file in the RandomStuff program, it will roll random answers for you!

It’s especially useful for writing when you want to mix things up a bit. You can take a look at a couple of my own random files to see how this works. (Character Traits, Character Health Roll, or Random Character Roll < -- these are text files.) In the program, it looks kind of like this (using my Random Character Roll as an example):

This program is fun because you can completely customize it yourself. You add exactly the questions and answers you need. But it also means coming up with your own lists. Of course, when you’re in need of a creativity boost, it can seem daunting to come up with your own prompts. But what I do is collect them as I go. Any time I read a book, or watch a movie, or speak with an odd person, I’m collecting character traits and story events to add to my list. So it’s not something you have to come up with all at once.

And of course, you’re welcome to use any of my files as a starting point if you want. Many of my blog-fiction writing friends share and swap ideas for our random files.

Internet prompt generators:

There are also all sorts of random prompt generators all over the internet. These can range from character creation, to story ideas, or almost anything, really. If you’re interested in trying out some ready-made prompts, here are some of my favorites:

Writing Prompt Generators
Almost Totally Random Writing Exercise Generators
Creative Writing Prompts
The Grab Bag

Random bit of trivia:

Did you know that one of my most dear books-in-progress first grew from a writing prompt? It was a single sentence, and I can’t remember how it went exactly anymore, but the task was to write a story about someone being left something strange in a will. That’s how my story Paper Birds was first born!

And of course, many of you know that my favorite writing prompt generator is my Sims game. I can’t even count the multitudes of story ideas I’ve gotten from my silly little pixel people! 😉

Also keep in mind, writing prompts don’t need to be used only at the beginning of a story! I use them throughout the writing process any time I need to break myself out of a box. If I have a scene that needs to be spiced up, or a conflict that needs punched up a notch, or a character falling flat.

How many of you guys use creativity prompts in your work? Do you have any of your own tricks to share?