I read a statistic on the number of people in America who make it a goal to publish a novel. While I don’t remember the exact number, I do recall that it was a surprisingly large one, and that the follow up was the much smaller percentage of people who actually achieve that goal. Most of the time, the best way to improve your writing is simply to write (which is part of why I have so many different projects I’m working on).
If you’re part of that group that wants to publish a novel, and the novel you’re hoping to write is fiction, then maybe these prompts will give you a place to start practicing. Feel free to post your work in the comments below.
Writing Prompt (202102.12):
Consider something apparently simple, like a ballpoint pen, and the technological complexity actually behind it. Incorporate that into your world-building considerations.
Writing Prompt (202101.18):
Take Aristotle’s crystalline sphere concept of the universe as literal truth. Now, what happened if and when one of those spheres shatters?
Writing Prompt (202012.31):
Create a magic system based on music in which the music itself can generate physical effects.
Writing Prompt (202012.23):
Write a story from the perspective of a stationary object, building, or other inanimate entity. (This was inspired in part by the Peanuts storyline involving a talking school building, and by the philosophical Theory of Forms.)
Writing Prompt (202012.09):
Incorporate near- or far-sightedness into one of your side characters.
Writing Prompt (202011.25):
Wheels are wonderfully efficient, but Earth-creatures haven’t really evolved wheels. Take this idea, and incorporate it into a story.
Writing Prompt (202011.23):
Write a story set in a unique ecosystem (say, underwater, which is something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time), and really follow through on all of that ecosystem’s implications.
Writing Prompt (202011.16):
Empathy is a very important tool in a writer’s toolkit, since we must fully understand and internalize how our characters feel and think. Many in recent years have argued it is also an essential tool for fields like leadership, and it is these days construed as an overwhelmingly positive thing. Write a story that reverses that idea – that is, make empathy a negative trait.
Writing Prompt (202011.11):
Write about a world in which everyone is given a personalized, adaptable, virtual assistant at birth.
Writing Prompt (202011.11):
Take a historical event, and invert it.
Writing Prompt (202011.05):
Write a story (or part of a story) from an unusual perspective, like that of an ant. This can be an adventure that this perspective is directly experiencing, or they could be observing something else happening (the latter was a favorite tool of Tolkien’s).
Writing Prompt (202010.27):
A planet is being ruled by a coalition of beings hailing from “everywhere and nowhere.”
Writing Prompt (202010.05):
Ceramics are considered an up-and-coming material with a great deal of promise for all kinds of applications that we normally think of as being the province of metals: engines, blades, even some electronics. Write a world in which ceramics have been mastered for such a purpose. (Note: this prompt evolved from an idea I had for a story involving a ceramic sword)
Writing Prompt (202009.21):
Seers and prophets can catch glimpses of the future, but it often affects a cost on them. What would it be like to be a seer when the future looks particularly grim?
Writing Prompt (202009.15):
Write about a fantasy-style civilization from a science-fiction-style perspective.
Writing Prompt (202008.14):
Write about a society in which there is a definite, maximum age that everyone knows – for instance, barring any complications, everyone knows they will live to be exactly 100 years old. How would this affect their religion? Their culture? Their medical practices? This prompt is mostly about exploring a “what if.”
Writing Prompt (202008.06):
Computer programmers are master wizards, and computers are their magic wands/staffs/amulets. Write.
Writing Prompt (202007.18):
Take inspiration from the practices of ancient Mesolithic and agricultural societies (Stone Age timeframe). Write about lives in this time period, rather than the more traditional Middle Ages approach.
Writing Prompt (202007.06):
Make a story out of something that usually doesn’t get noticed (for instance, how a common household item is created, processed, packaged, and sold – that was the source of this idea).
Writing Prompt (202006.26):
Take a common turn of phrase, and give it a different meaning in the context of your world. For instance: “wit’s end” in our society means frustration, but it could just as easily mean that you’ve solved something – the ending point of the application of your wit. Then write a short scene that incorporates the phrase and its alternate meaning.
Writing Prompt (202006.19):
Magic system idea: your character can hear the voices of people related to her. They could be from the past, the present, or the future. They might be able to see only what the character sees, or they could be able to have a broader perspective. There are a lot of directions you could take this one.
Writing Prompt (202006.05):
Certain things shape how a civilization develops. Come up with a fairly banal detail about the people in your story, and use it to influence larger trends in the world, like architecture.
Writing Prompt: (202005.14):
Write about a fantasy-level society that has access to some kind of advanced technology that they know how to use, but not how it works. For example, some kind of teleportation device. This is a riff on the Arthur C Clark quote “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
Writing Prompt (202004.29):
Routines help people cope with difficult situations, and makes many things about life more approachable. Most genre fiction involves a significant break from whatever a “usual” routine is for the characters. Write about a reversal of this: someone who has never had a routine before has to establish one.
Writing Prompt (202004.14):
Write about a psychiatrist who, in order to help her/his patients, has to become them for a day.
Writing Prompt (202004.03):
It’s easy to write dystopian or apocalypse fiction (writing good dystopian fiction is another matter, of course). Try to write a truly utopian world.
Writing Prompt (202003.20):
Someone from a very niche field is called into prominence by a major event or potential crisis.
Writing Prompt (202003.10):
Astronauts returning from space, and scientists returning from Antarctica, have often lost their immunity to common diseases and pathogens. Write about a deep space mission that develops its own microbiome during transit, and then the consequences of their return to Earth.
Writing Prompt (202003.05):
Write about a complex system that sweeps the people for whom it didn’t work under the rug.
Writing Prompt (202002.24):
You were in cryostasis on an interstellar voyage, halfway between your home planet and your destination, when the computer wakes you up. None of the other passengers have been brought out of stasis, and the computer doesn’t say why it woke you.
Writing Prompt (202002.12):
I heard recently that a college had a “Center for Advanced Hindsight.” Now, I think it’s a psychological thing, but as soon as I heard that, I thought: time travel story. So write a story about the Center for Advanced Hindsight doing time travel.
Writing Prompt (202002.07):
Someone accesses the world atomic clock (the master clock used as a reference for all other time keeping), and changes the time.
Writing Prompt (202002.03):
Good magic systems require sacrifice. For this one, in order for the practitioner to become really good at something, they must become commensurately bad at something else.
Writing Prompt (202001.28):
Everyone has to eat, yet you don’t really see a lot of food in most genre fiction. For this prompt, do all of the exposition for a new culture through some kind of a meal.
Writing Prompt (202001.23):
Write a story that is entirely introspective. In other words, the whole story is told exclusively through a single character’s thoughts, without any additional description or exposition external to that.
Writing Prompt (202001.16):
Telepathy. Who has it? How do they control it? What are its limits? Can it be blocked? How does it work?
Writing Prompt (202001.10):
People with the ability to control what others think invade a population with no experience with the ability.
Writing Prompt (201912.10):
A Carrington-class event disrupts all electricity-based technology in the western hemisphere.
Writing Prompt (201912.06):
Every doorway you walk through takes you to a very slightly different universe.
Writing Prompt (201911.17):
It’s easy to forget about the little, practical matters to which characters must pay attention, especially in fantasy settings. For instance, adventurers will likely need to carry food and water with them, unless they want to spend most of their time hunting and foraging. Write about a creative way to address some of these “necessities of life” problems.
Writing Prompt (201911.07):
Write about a very practical person surrounded by dreamers.
Writing Prompt (201910.27):
Your main character is obsessed with being in control of everything. Having anyone in a position of power over him/her is simply intolerable.
Writing Prompt (201910.18):
Writing Prompt (201910.16):
Take a very scientific concept, and write it in terms of a fantasy world. Then, take a fantasy world concept, like a magic system, and write it into the terms of a science fiction universe.
Writing Prompt (201910.06):
Write about “magic” that is so normal in the context of the world that it doesn’t seem magical at all. Then, write about the same magic in a world where it is marvelously unique and mind-boggling.
Writing Prompt (201910.01):
In fantasy, we’re often faced with an overwhelming number of harvest festivals, solstice celebrations, and other, seasonal holidays. Science fiction often forgoes holidays all together. Write about a celebration/holiday that is unique to your world.
Writing Prompt (201909.22):
Your main character is walking along an empty road, alone. Tell a story about where he or she is coming from, why he or she is there, and where he or she is going.
Writing Prompt (201909.20):
Two law enforcement vehicles take off apparently spontaneously in a setting where they are very out of context.