A Writing Prompt for the Braindead

writing prompt for the braindead

I may even be an expert on this topic…

Talked to any teachers lately? I have, and I can tell you that they are simultaneously seriously overworked and seriously excited as the school year comes to a close. In honor of that hair’s edge of consciousness, here is a writing prompt for the braindead.

Designing a writing prompt for the braindead is like setting up a marathon for the seriously dehydrated and exhausted…

If you’re still trying to write even when lack of brain power is making it hard, way to go! That’s dedication, and that’s what you need to become a writer! Mad props!

On the other hand, it ain’t gonna be easy. You’re operating a supercomputer with too little electricity. Underwater.

That’s why this writing exercise is a little different from the usual prompts. It’s intended to minimize the use of brainpower and maximize the end result. Here’s how it works:

  1. Look at your book shelf or movie collection. Or both.
  2. Pick 3 of your favorites. They could be similar or not. Or pick 3 at random. It really doesn’t matter.
  3. Write a brief plot outline for each. If you do it on the same piece of paper (landscape perhaps), then they’re easy to compare. And analysis is generally easier than creativity for a tired brain. If you’re really tired, make the outlines extra general (Boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl, and boy gets girl back. The end.)
  4. Pick one character from each. The main character from Movie 1, the sidekick from a book, and a love interest from Movie 2. However you want to do it.
  5. Make a new plot outline based on the 3 given. Mix and match based on the characters you chose.
  6. Write the story.

Step 6 is optional braindead-wise. You can always leave it for when you’re more conscious. Even if you do the first few steps, however, you’re still using your brain to explore plots and characterization.

And you might get an interesting story out of it. You’d be surprised. If you rename the characters and tweak them a little, once you start writing, the story can develop a life of its own. With a little editing (after the first draft’s done), you may not even be able to tell what stories you pulled from.

Plus, the first 5 steps have pretty minimal requirements brainpower-wise. With visual cues (the books and/or movies you look at), the memory area should be able to dredge up some details to pick and analyze. It’s like ordering out instead of cooking – sometimes, you’re tired enough it makes sense. You get to eat without expending too much more energy. And, of course, that’s the main idea behind a writing prompt for braindead people (metaphorically speaking).

Will it work? I don’t know. You tell me.


A Spring Writing Prompt in 3 Acts

spring writing prompt for spring daisyWell, 3 parts. It’s not a play or theatrical piece (or cohesive whole), so “acts” may be a bit of hyperbole. But don’t worry – it’s definitely a spring writing prompt for exercising different skills.

3 Takes on a Writing Prompt for Spring

Technically, these are 3 different writing exercises that relate to the idea of Spring. After much debate, I finally decided to put them in order from most obvious to least obvious (probably), and the difficultly level runs fairly parallel to that, as well.


I say this is pretty obvious because it’s the natural response, especially since Spring is all about growing things (mostly, anyway). And when we’re trying to use something as inspiration, a straightforward artistic approach is to write from that object or creature’s perspective. Especially in poetry.

Here’s the down-and-dirty method:

  1. Pick a part of Spring. A seed, a flower, a caterpillar, a sunny day, a rainstorm, etc.
  2. Make that thing or creature your main character. You can name it or not, but as a main character, it needs to have a perspective, motivation, and personality.
  3. Tell that character’s story of Spring. What does Spring mean to that character?

If you want to vary this one and take it to the next level, try to expand on what stories you tell from that perspective. You could even do a sort of Canterbury Tales of Spring from all different points of view.


Now, let’s go one shade deeper. Instead of transforming an aspect of Spring into a character, take an action or characteristic of Spring and use it as a metaphor or theme. Think extended metaphor or allegory.

  1. Pick an action or characteristic of Spring. A seed fighting through its prison and bursting forth from the soil. Weeds and flowers struggling against each other for light and nutrients. And so on.
  2. Express that action in broad, figurative terms. Think big idea.
  3. Apply the big idea to an unrelated situation. People moving to a city, a child at school, a war, aliens, etc.
  4. Use the big idea to direct the plot. Plotting with post-its can be handy for this to make sure you stick to your big-idea arc. At least for the main points (like a framework).

This one can be as hard or as easy as you choose based on how close the metaphor is to the actual plot. Just remember that the further apart they are, the less likely the readers will get it (They might still enjoy it, but they may not realize it was a metaphor for a flower bud wilting in a vase.).


I’d call this one the advanced writing prompt simply because many people feel uncomfortable with mood and have less experience trying to write specifically to create atmosphere or reader reactions. It can be a challenge, and imagery and other literary devices go a long way in making it work.

This mood exercise is pretty straightforward, and if you read the 2 writing prompts above, the first step should feel vaguely familiar – a variation on a theme, if you will.

  1. Pick a scene or moment that epitomizes Spring. Something that makes you think of Spring or reminds you of it.
  2. Describe the energy or feeling of that scene.
  3. Pick another scene. It could be totally unrelated like a bustling city street, a sterile field, or a battle in space. Some people find writing mood easier with a lot of action, and others prefer the opposite. Pick one, and if you don’t like it, try the other.
  4. Write the scene you chose in step 3 using the feeling described in step 2. Try to give that scene the mood of Spring even if it doesn’t fit – or “shouldn’t” fit but actually does.

This one’s a little bit like the free verse writing prompt in that it may take several attempts before you get the affect you want. That’s fine. In fact, that’s good. Write more!

And there you have it. 3 writing prompts for Spring. So… ready for Summer yet? 😉

Cultural Traditions + Technology = Interesting Trends: A Writing Prompt for Worldbuilding

writing prompt for worldbuilding woman hijab cultural traditions + technology = interesting trendsI live in an area where there’s a good amount of cultural diversity, so when I go out, I see people from many different ethnic backgrounds, nationalities, religions, etc. Maybe because I grew up outside a small town where such diversity wasn’t (isn’t) common, or maybe because I’m a writer (and tend to notice different details than many people), but I’ve started noticing interesting side effects when cultural traditions meet and merge with technology. Simply put, cultural traditions + technology = interesting trends.

Here’s an example:

Cultural Tradition: Women wearing hijab or other cultural head-dresses that cover their entire heads except for their faces

Technology: Cellular phones, especially smart phones

Interesting Trends: Using the hijab to hold their cell phones, thereby giving them free use of their hands with no extra technology or effort

Is it just me, or is that a brilliant idea? You’re wearing it already, so why not make it useful? It’s a logical response. And common! I’ve seen a variety of women in different parts of the city doing the same thing. It’s an interesting trend that has resulted from the overlap of a cultural tradition and technology.

So (you know what I’m going to ask), how can we use that in our writing?

A Writing Prompt for Worldbuilding with Traditions & Technology

Since you know all about the importance of traditions in worldbuilding, being a clever writer, you’ve already been brainstorming traditions for your world. Now, it’s time to apply the technology – and not only ways to complicate the plot with technology.

Here’s one method of attack for this, but, remember the formula: cultural traditions + technology = interesting trends.

  1. Brainstorm cultural traditions. It could be clothing, behaviors, rules, etc. The more options and the bigger variety, the better.
  2. Brainstorm technology. Don’t forget: technology doesn’t have to mean computer or electronics-related. Sailing ships are a level of technology. Swords, plows, cotton gins, and long bows are all different examples of technology. Heck, a stone was once advanced technology! So don’t limit yourself.
  3. Compare your lists and brainstorm ways they could intermingle. Is there a way to make the tradition an advantage for using the technology? Or vice versa? Does the current fashion in your world work really well for carrying / cleaning / concealing / climbing something?
  4. Adjust as needed. You might need to modify the tradition or technology to make them work better together, but looking at them together can give you ideas for how they can build on each other.

That’s not saying it’ll be easy, and it may not be as clearcut as the example I gave. Still, if the exercise makes the different pieces of your worldbuilding interact more, that makes them more realistic (good enough for me).

It can also…

  • add character quirks (Who said that everyone has to use this combination? It could be something only one person figured out – or maybe only one person sees it, and it becomes a trend.)
  • make your world more unique (Build it, and readers will come. Build it, interweave the parts in new and interesting ways, and they’ll come in droves – and rave about it to their friends. [That’s how fandoms are born.])
  • send your plot in less predictable directions (If your plot is driven by something that is more unique, it will be more unique in turn. If the plot ends up boring or clichéd even with this, then, check what’s driving your plot. Odds are, you went off course somewhere.)

So, say that you don’t manage to think of a clearly symbiotic relationship where the technology utilizes a tradition (although it could be as simple as a handy place to put your glasses). Try it in reverse (usually much easier). If nothing else, see how the two could work together.

What do you have to lose?

Poetry Writing Prompt for Free Verse

Plank Page Pen Cup ready for Poetry Writing Prompt for Free Verse

Have tea. Will write.

This poetry writing prompt for free verse is really a tactic for overcoming free verse writing block. It’s particularly handy for people who are writing poetry on a schedule for the first time (the ones used to writing poetry only if the muse takes them), for those new to poetry and trying to dip their toes into free verse, and for any time when your brain just doesn’t want to write poetry.

Free Verse Writing Prompt

It’s pretty simple. All it really takes is a topic and some imagery. Here’s how it works:

  1. Pick a topic. What scene, moment, activity, career, person, etc. do you want to write about?
  2. Write a sentence or 2 describing it. Pick out the core traits or features you want to emphasize. This is still in the brainstorming section – it’s not necessarily a poem yet.
  3. List metaphors, similes, or other imagery that capture that impression, the essence of the subject. You’re looking for a more abstract, less literal way to describe one or more of the traits listed in step 2. Something that captures the idea or feeling of that trait but is also open to interpretation – it could mean something else.
  4. Take your favorite metaphor and write the first few lines of your poem.
  5. Keep going and try to match the mood/ambience of the first lines. If you get stuck, take the idea you’re working on and go back to step 2.
  6. Repeat as needed. Until it feels finished – you’ve painted enough of a picture to capture the motion, the moment.

Then, let it go. You’re finished.

Well, you probably need to pick a title, and after a while, that ends up the hardest part. Should I be literal and pick a name that summarizes the poem? Should I pick something that relates to the poem but that most people won’t get how it relates from reading the poem – or that has a relationship to the poem that is also open to interpretation? Should I take the easy out and call it “Untitled” or use the first line?


Worry about that later. Like someday when I do a naming writing prompt. When I have it all figured out (*loud guffaw*). For now, have some fun! Use this poetry writing prompt for free verse and write something interesting, entrancing, or tragic. Make the reader feel. Then, you can worry about the naming.

A Writing Prompt for Exploring New Possibilities

exploring possibilities different doors

All the doors.

The beginning of a new year seems like a good time for a writing prompt for exploring new possibilities. That’s what a new year is about, right? Exploring new possibilities, trying new paths, getting a second chance – it’s a time when our point-of-view changes changes from what is to what could be.

In other words, it’s a time of year when everyone thinks like a writer. However briefly.

That’s what makes this the perfect time of year for this writing prompt. Most people are already looking for potential, and that is the hardest part of this brainstorming exercise – getting in the right mindset. Once you do that, the rest is relatively simple.

Here’s the process:

  1. Open your mind to explore possibilities and resist getting locked into a single answer.
  2. Pick or write an opening line. Here are a few that you can choose from.
    • As usual, no one else noticed the way the fluorescent lights seemed to shimmer and shake.
    • The coffee would have made better paint thinner than it did a drink.
    • Even after the doctor labeled her as legally blind, she could still shoot a hole through a chicken’s eye across a barnyard.
    • He knew over 15 ways to kill a man with a pen.
  3. Write a story that starts with that line. Or you can brainstorm it if you want to focus on thinking of possibilities rather than exploring each one.
  4. Write a different story that starts with the same line.
  5. Write another one. And keep writing them – write or brainstorm at least 5 totally different stories that start with the same line.

Yeah, it’s kind of excessive (especially if you write or finish every single one), but you could also learn a lot from the process. It’s kind of like the quick change improv gameit helps you discover different ways the story can develop. After all, the first line needs to have something to do with each story even if they have nothing else in common (The promises you make to your readers start from the first line.).

That means you have to examine the information given by that line and think of different directions you can go with it. These questions are only a few of the options.

  • What will be emphasized?
  • Whose point of view is the line written in? Does it match the rest of the story?
  • Is the first line serious or humorous? Will the next line going to agree with or oppose the first one?
    • Even after the doctor labeled her as legally blind, she could still shoot a hole through a chicken’s eye across a barnyard. Granted, it wasn’t always the chicken she was aiming for. Or one in her barnyard.
  • What kind of mood or tone is being set up? Mix it up.
    • He knew over 15 ways to kill a man with a pen. Ray stared down at the sword in his hand. It felt a lot heavier than a pen.
    • He knew over 15 ways to kill a man with a pen. And according to his business page on facebook, he could maim someone with a post-it note. Rolling her eyes, Claire clicked the back button and crossed out another name on her list of potentials. (Even this much could go in multiple directions – is it a list of potential dates or potential assassins? The first line could be a red herring – or you could make the reader think it was and then reveal otherwise.)

Any of the questions you normally ask when writing can help you find and explore different possibilities. Remember: it’s not the inspiration that makes the story unique so much as the execution.

Questions? Comments? Entertaining stories you wrote while doing this writing prompt and exploring new possibilities? (Pretty please?)

A Happy Thanksgiving Writing Prompt

Happy Thanksgiving Writing PromptIf you don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, you probably aren’t used to people asking you what you’re thankful for every single November. If you do celebrate Thanksgiving, you’re probably sick of it. But if you step outside the holiday mentality (and put the mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, and Black Friday ads down for a moment), I’m sure you can see how turning that question into a “Happy Thanksgiving Writing Prompt” could be useful.

No? Just me then.

What You’re Thankful for: A Happy Thanksgiving Writing Prompt

I’ve been looking back at old articles like “Quick Questions for Fixing Character Behavior,” “Acting Out: Character Motivation and Behavior,” and “Who’s Driving This Plot?” because I was sure I already talked about what the character wants (it’s pretty central to most plots). I still can’t quite believe I skipped it totally, but while all those characterization articles dance around the topic, none of them confronts it directly.

So here’s a little intro…

What Characters Want

What a character wants shows you what the character values: peace in the household, rowdy parties, expensive jewelry, fine coffee, time to read, or a special thimble (you never know…). What a character values can direct motivation as well as build characterization.

What Characters Want to Have (But Don’t – Yet)

What a character wants to have is the character’s desires and goals – the things, people, or experiences that motivate that character (If you think about Black Friday and Cyber Monday, this idea goes well with the Thanksgiving holiday.).

For some books, the kindling of this desire to achieve a specific goal acts as the inciting incident. For other books, the object of desire is lost and has to be recovered.

“Etc., etc., etc.”

What Characters Want to Keep

These are things, status, relationships, and so on that the character already has and values. In Thanksgiving parlance, it’s what the character is thankful for (whether or not the character actually thinks about it in concrete terms). It’s also, very commonly, stuff a character will fight to keep.

Turning What the Character Is Thankful for into a Writing Prompt

There are infinite ways to turn what a character wants into a writing prompt (seriously, that’s all stories – ever.). For this case, the focus will be 1. using a character’s desire for something to drive the plot and 2. using what the character values to determine character actions throughout the story.

  1. Make up a character / Pick a character you already have.
  2. List what the character is thankful for (what he/she/it already has).
  3. List what the character wants but doesn’t have yet.
  4. Prioritize the lists by importance. What can the character let go? What would the character kill for? What would the character die for?
  5. Pick one of the more important items on the list and make it the goal of the plot (Getting it back, achieving it, protecting it, etc.).
  6. Use the list of values to judge the options the character is given as you write/plot: Not only whether the action will help the character reach those goals but also whether someone who values those goals/people/relationships would take that action under those circumstances.

Although more formalized or ritualized than regular writing habits, this writing prompt process provides the basics of brainstorming both plot and characterization. So if you’re having trouble linking those two together, this could be a handy exercise.

And who knows? Maybe, all those “What Are You Thankful For?” homework assignments will come in handy after all because of my great writing prompt. (Or maybe not… I’m gonna go with not.)

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

A City’s Character: More Writing Inspiration from Travel

urban city aerialA while back, I talked about how to make the most of travel delays with the people-watching writing prompt, but even if there are no (or few) people around, you can still find plenty of useful inspiration in your travels by considering a city’s character.

Places are like people. They have a certain look, a certain feel. They have their quirks, their strengths, and their flaws. They can be welcoming, or they can be hostile. Whatever size or density, places have plenty to draw from as a writer.

Here are some aspects you might want to consider when using a place for inspiration:

  • Worldbuilding: style, layout, laws, business, crime, attractions, sounds, weather, wildlife, landscape, etc. Anything that exists in a real place can be used to make your imagined place feel real, to add interest, or even for humor.
  • Mood: Atmosphere is a powerful tool, and one of the best ways to learn to build atmosphere is to experience and observe a specific atmosphere and analyze how it is created. Or simply use imagery as inspiration.
  • Pacing: Different places go at different speeds. This is especially noticeable if you go somewhere that moves at the opposite tempo you’re used to. If you have the time to sit and watch the world go by (preferably with a nice cup of tea), you can see how those speeds ebb and flow throughout the day and even how different people have different speeds within that pacing. You could even pattern your story arc after the ebbs and flows of a town (wouldn’t that be an interesting project?).
  • Food: Cultural differences bring food differences – not only through what people eat but also through how people treat their food. Is it something grabbed on the run? Is it something eaten at the table in a leisurely manner? Is it scarce or plentiful? Even if you already use food for worldbuilding or writing inspiration, seeing new foods or new customs can give you fresh perspectives and ideas.
  • Personification: Or should I say, “reverse personification”? (No, I shouldn’t.) Writers often describe places as people (arrogant old women, young charmers, etc.), but you could just as easily reverse that to build a character inspired by a place. Like the dryad that takes on characteristics of her tree, you could build a character who embodies the spirit of a place.
  • Structural Opportunities: Ok, this might seem a little weird at first glance (there’s probably a better word for it), but bear with me. What I’m talking about is the layout of traffic flow and living spaces, both on a large and small scale. How the city is laid out in relation to the landscape, how streets meet each other, how green space or exterior space is tied in, and even where windows are (or aren’t).
    1. These are all things you might think of with worldbuilding, but they can also be very useful for plotting. Like looking at a building and realizing how easy it would be to walk from one to the other. Or like the fact that only locals know that you have to take the highway exit that says “west” to go east… (true story).

There are more options (always). And if you’ve thought about it at all, you’ve already realized that 1. these “aspects” are all things you can apply to where you live (no travel required) and 2. a lot of them are applying other writing prompts to a different location…

You caught me.

Seriously, though, this prompt isn’t about an idea you can only use when you travel. There’s no such thing! It’s more about remembering to be observant and think about this stuff when you have the opportunity to see things you don’t get to see every day. That’s the point of travel, right? You get to experience a strange mix of familiar and different.

That’s a great mix for writing inspiration – but only if you look.

Food as a Writing Prompt

steaming hot coffee held by mittens

Look long enough, and you’ll feel the chill of the air and the heat of the drink in your hands.

You can’t use food as a writing prompt! Or can you? Hmmm… Food can be used for worldbuilding. It’s inspired the readers to recreate the dishes from books and movies (Did you check out the recipes from Studio Ghibli and Avatar: the Last Airbender or from the Harry Potter series and LOTR?). Heck, if people can find Jesus on a potato chip, then why can’t we find a scene or a character?

Ok, bad example.

Setting a Scene with Food and Sensory Language

Visions aside, if done well, food is something you experience rather than something that’s inhaled and forgotten. If it’s bad, on the other hand, forgetting it may be the best you can hope for. That’s why describing a food and the surrounding ambience can very quickly give the audience a strong impression of a situation (scary or otherwise). For this aspect, foods that inspire strong emotions or memories may be easiest to work with.

  1. Pick a food that you associate with a specific experience, situation, or person.
  2. Picture in your mind the feelings, setting, and flavors you associate with that food.
  3. Describe the scene using sensory language (language that appeals to 1 or more of the 5 senses: taste, touch, smell, sight, or hearing).
  4. Analyze the mood created and use it to guide you to the next step of the plot.

Some foods have a comforting or cheerful association: hot cocoa after playing in the snow or a soothing glass of wine after a hard day at work. Foods can be used to comfort, to romance, or even to intimidate, but it’s the trappings that surround them and the way they appeal to the senses (or don’t) that does the most to establish that atmosphere.

Building Character with Food

In any culture, there are norms for what people eat. For example, a grizzled U.S. cop drinking coffee isn’t going to make anyone blink (it’s a stereotype thing). If the grizzled cop only drinks herbal tea and milk, however, that’s going to get the reader’s attention and show very quickly and easily that there is more to this cop than meets the eye. It’s also a useful way to establish amusing and interesting quirks that can endear the character to the readers (or do the opposite).

  1. Pick a stereotypical character.
  2. List what foods or types of foods that character would be expected to like/have tried.
  3. List what foods or types of foods that character would be expected to disdain.
  4. Decide what the character actually likes (it will most likely be some of each).
  5. Use those choices to help direct you as you develop the character.
    • Is he more sensitive than he seems?
    • Is he a health nut?
    • Does she have a deathly allergy that could come into play in the plot?
    • Does she love junk food?

It doesn’t really have to be a stereotypical character (That just makes the exercise easier.) – you can use the same techniques with anyone.

Want to make a character that annoys the reader? Make him/her a really picky eater – excessively so. One who likes to complain about every little thing that isn’t to his/her standards. Like a kid staying at his grandparents’ house and saying, “That’s not how Mom makes it!” Or like an adult who only eats things that are a specific color (it happens).

We have all sorts of associations with what people eat or how people eat. It’s really interesting. Open-mindedness to trying new foods. Or definitely not. Using herbs. Meat and potatoes cooks. Practically a gourmet chef. Expert baker. Able to burn water. Did each of those make you think of a specific person or people?

We’re around some kind of food every day of our lives (we hope). That means we have tons of memories tied to it. That’s a lot of story fodder!

A Writing Prompt for Animal Lovers

dog playing with a sprinkler

Imagine that that’s the neighbor’s dog, trying to take the sprinkler home with him.

You know what’s great about animals and plot twists? People are used to animals being unpredictable and impossible to reason with. That means that pet behavior can be used to add unexpected plot twists that still seem real and believable. If you’re an animal lover, you may enjoy this writing prompt – a brainstorming activity for exploring the ways animals can complicate a plot.

  1. Set up the situation: What is the character trying to do?
  2. Pick an animal: What type of animal is it? Is it a pet? Is it a wild animal? Is it from the circus/zoo?
  3. Brainstorm ways the animal can make it harder for the character to achieve his/her goal.

You’ll be surprised at how many ways there are, from the dramatic to the mundane. Here’s an example.

  1. Lydia and Davian rush to her house to get the disc with the secret information before the bad guys can.
  2. Lydia’s dog, Zeus, a 1-year-old chocolate lab
  3. Here are 3ish options:
    • They get to the house to discover that the bored, lonely lab has chewed his way out of his crate and destroyed the house. Now, they have to sort through the mess to try to find the disc. Even as they start digging, the bad guys pull up. (dun dun dunnnn)
    • They get there and grab the disc. Lydia goes to get the dog because it won’t be safe to come back to the house. At the same time, Davian goes out back to keep watch. In the instant the door is open, the dog rushes out. They end up chasing him down the road. Before they can get back to their car, the bad guys pull up, and Lydia and Davian can’t get back to their car.
    • Lydia and Davian go upstairs to get the disc and hear a car outside. The bad guys come inside the house. Lydia and Davian hide, but Lydia hears the bad guys threatening her dog because he won’t stop barking. She breaks cover to protect him. Both Lydia and Davian are captured. Or Lydia is captured and Davian has to rescue her. Or Davian sees Lydia about to break cover and does it instead, telling her to get the disc to so-in-so (You see where this is going.).

These are pretty mundane, obvious, and common examples (as far as the dog’s behavior), but they can go from a pet biting the bad guy to stealing something and running off. Or in a fantasy/sci fi world, the pet could have some unknown power and go on a rampage. You can make it as simple or as complicated as you want – at least for this exercise.

Here’s an example from a movie (spoiler alert):

  • In Treasure Planet, Morph is the alien equivalent of the pirate’s parrot. He’s a little pink blob who can change his shape into anything and likes to parrot what people say. At a key moment of conflict, he steals the map from the main character, Jim Hawkins (Not to cause any trouble – to Morph, it’s an innocent game.), and when forced to choose between Jim and Silver, Morph hides the map in a bundle of rope. Jim gets it first, escapes, and discovers too late that he actually grabbed Morph who had transformed into the map – the real map was back on the ship. It’s a pretty useful plot complication, and it was made possible by a simple, believable action by a pet.

If you play with it a bit, I’m sure you’ll come up with great ways to use pets to complicate the plot. You might even be able to draw from personal experience – I know I will!

A Library-Inspired Writing Prompt


What’s so inspiring about a public library? I mean, besides all of the fabulous books, movies, and other awesome stuff available for free (That’s too obvious!). Well, public libraries also have a certain ambience. Namely, you have to be quiet and not disturb other library-goers. Picture a stern-looking lady with a bun and glasses shushing people. That’s the atmosphere, and that’s what we’ll be using for this library-inspired writing prompt.

  1. Think of the sorts of things that you are strongly discouraged from doing in a library: for example, anything loud or rambunctious.
  2. Pick one (the more improbable, the better) and set it in a library. Or have it pass through a library.
  3. Write the scene so that the action occurs without breaking the public library’s atmosphere. It’s going to be a challenge, and characters will have to go to extreme lengths to do it (except, perhaps, ninjas or mimes).

Does it have to be a public library? No, not really. The main point is that the atmosphere and the action do not normally go together, so you (and the characters) have to work harder to make them go together.

This one way to use Schrödinger’s setting to brainstorm and explore how character behavior changes when the setting does. I think there have even been movies or anime series that have done this exact exercise or at least had a fight scene shushed and have to be quiet (although I can’t for the life of me remember which one did).

Actually, it’s commonly used in the other direction, as well. Two characters calmly finishing their card game while surrounded by a violent brawl (and having to move around the fighters to lay down cards, etc.) is the same type of exercise. The technique is popular because it follows the old comedy rule of setting up expectations and breaking them.

So if you want to work on your comedy or characterization, this can be a fun exercise. I’m already snickering inside imagining the different situations. If you try it, share in the comments, won’t you? We could all use a good laugh!