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Writing Excuses Writing Prompts

A giant list of the writing prompts from the Writing Excuses podcast. I’ll try to link to the specific episodes at some point, but the important thing was just to get a full list together for my own personal use. Still unfinished – I’m only partway into season 6

8.4 The Hero of the Most Boring Story Ever — your job is to make it interesting.

8.3 Write a human interacting with an alien, and the alien has a conspicuous companion animal who is critically important to the alien’s life.

8.2 Write a human interacting with an alien, and the alien has a conspicuous companion animal who is critically important to the alien’s life.

8.1 What does SFPA stand for?

7.54 Figure out what you would like the future of writing to look like. Now write a story about how we get there.

7.53 Take a popular piece of entertainment, grab a side-character, and give us their secret story.

7.52 Two different characters, two different magic systems…

7.51 In a setting in which magnetic fields are dramatically different between locations, give us a story about traveling between those locations.

7.50 Give us a magic system in which the thumbnail, the under painting, the other imagery are the basis for the magic.

7.49 Start a new story. Give us character, place, and sense of tone. Do it one sentence, and do it within 13 lines (which is what typically appears on the first page of a manuscript.)

7.48 “The Multi-Tentacled Space Goat cannot come and save us again.”

7.47 Raise the stakes without resorting to risks to reputation, livelihood, or mental health. Or explosions. Don’t use those, either.

7.46 Come up with a magic system based on stamps, but that has nothing to do with forgery.

7.45 Write a story about a squid who’s trying to write a space opera which is not about squids in space.

7.44 Introduce a place without using dialog. Describe five panels for an artist to draw, so that the reader has been introduced to the location.

7.43 Write a story in which all the characters are simultaneously the good guy AND the bad guy.

7.42 Pick a place where teenagers are not typically allowed, and put a teenager in that place.

7.41 Try out the seven-point story structure for yourself. Outline something!

7.40 You’re on a sidewalk late at night. You’re approached by three young, black males. Write the scene from their perspective. (Alternatively, simply jump off from “magical redneck,” but note that Maurice has already done that one.)

7.39 Find a way to kill a character. Then write it in three ways: sad, heroic, and accidental. As an alternative, take a story you’ve already written, and write a different ending so that someone dies instead of living, or lives instead of dying.

7.38 Put your characters in a place they cannot escape, and keep them there.

7.37 Cheerful ruffians, civilized louts, yes-but, no-and, ready, set, go.

7.36 For some reason one character is put into the body of another character.

7.35 Google military three-letter-acronyms (IED and RPG are off-limits.) Swap out one of the words for a supernatural descriptor beginning with the same letter. That’s your story seed.

7.34 “The Hairy Housewife,” because Brandon didn’t hear Howard correctly the first time he said “harried.”

7.33 Describe a setting. Then, without using any emotion-words, describe that same setting again three more times from a happy, sad, and angry point of view.

7.32 Your colonists are going to a world whose axial tilt is different from Earth’s. How are the seasons different?

7.31 Go find an interesting mental illness (quick, before Dan takes all the good ones.) Now write from the sufferer’s POV, but don’t tell us what’s actually wrong.

7.30 The story of the writer and her VERY ENTHUSIASTIC alien fan who is impossible to escape.

7.29 Take a hero and give him a hobby, and something alive that he loves.

7.28 Have Queen Victoria’s cousin not die. How is history changed?

7.27 Regarding riding mounted beasts — make the cost to the rider so high that it’s almost never worth it. Now create circumstances under which it’s always worth it.

7.26 From Earl K. Hill, our cameraman: tell a whole story from the view of the sidekick.

7.25 Your characters need to perform a reverse-heist, putting jewels into a safe without getting caught.

7.24 Take a character of yours, and split that character into a character and a foil.

7.23 You can only go back in time as far as your own life-span, but somebody needs to go back a hundred years. A team of 100-year-olds is assembled as time traveling heroes.

7.22 Write a flashback, in a prologue, with a mirror scene. Yes.

7.21 Do this with your own work — have your friends interview you in depth about something you’ve finished, or something you’re currently working on.

7.20 Adapt the unadaptable fairy tale Mary introduced us to (the one about the little old lady who catches on fire and dies.)

There was once an old woman, but you have surely seen an old woman go a-begging before now. This woman begged likewise, and when she got anything she said, may God reward you. The beggar-woman came to a door, and there by the fire a friendly rogue of a boy was standing warming himself. The boy said kindly to the poor old woman as she was standing shivering thus by the door, come, old mother, and warm yourself. She came in, but stood too near the fire, so that her old rags began to burn, and she was not aware of it. The boy stood and saw that, but he ought to have put the flames out. Is it not true that he ought to have put them out. And if he had not any water, then he should have wept all the water in his body out of his eyes, and that would have supplied two pretty streams with which to extinguish them.

7.19 You get kidnapped and put in an asylum for the criminally sane.

7.18 Find a writing buddy, swap stories halfway through, and then compare notes.

7.17 Give us a character who, after reading one Larry Correia novel, goes out and procures a grenade launcher.

7.16 Give us a monkey, a bronze pot, a baby, and pizza in completely different situations than what we heard in Mary’s outline.

7.15 Take an existing folk tale and re-tell it using the Dora the Explorer formula for quests.

7.14 Write a series of 16 numerals. This is probably Jordo’s credit card number, or at least one of them (in one of the many universes where he is still allowed to use credit cards.) Go shopping! Oh, you’ll need the expiration date! It’s April 1st, 2012.

7.13 “Jack Black stranded alone on an alien planet.” Your challenge? Make us like the main character and want him to live…


  1. Stick an omniscient narrator scene in between two 3rd-person limited scenes.
  2. Have two characters carry on a dialog which is out of sync with what each of them are thinking.

7.11 Listener Bill Housely provided this one — a lone woman who runs an orbital refueling post makes first contact when some aliens arrive in desperate need of fuel.

7.10 What if dreams became so much more vivid that when you woke up, for a full hour you didn’t know whether you were still dreaming or not?

7.9 Write what one of your characters would write if that character had a blog.

7.8 Take a city to which you have been, and set a chase scene there.

7.7 Identify a historical period that you like, and write a story in that setting. Don’t bother researching anything until you’re done.

7.6 Give us a story with an old, colonial British type eating marshmallows. For extra points, set it in the Schlockiverse. (Note: no actual points will be awarded.)

7.5 Write the point-of-view of a character whose vision is obscured, and describe how they use their other senses to attempt to determine where they are.

7.4 Give us a group of people on a long trip in space, with a problem, which they solve. Do it in 150 words.

7.3 Populate Excustoria’s coast with some magically, meteorically mutated life.

7.2 Take a horrible, hard-to-domesticate animal, and then create a culture in which somebody has figured out how to domesticate these beasties.

7.1 Come up with a list of three things that are important to your main character. Push one of those things out of alignment so that it will draw your character to the antagonist’s side.

6.30 Dan needs a hamburger. What’s stopping him? And what is he going to end up with instead of a hamburger? (Hint: it should be more satisfying than the end he had in mind at the beginning…)

6.29 Generate a list of five character pairs. Pick the most interesting of the set, and write about them.

6.28 Try to write something that doesn’t fit neatly into the genres you’re familiar with.

6.27 This whole episode is one big writing prompt, and you need one because NaNoWriMo is over, but that’s no excuse to not write. You’re out of excuses, as we’ve told you on more than one occasion. Write!

6.26 Write your way backwards into a puzzle-box mystery. The answer is that someone’s soul is in the box — now reverse-engineer the plot so that the presence of a soul in the box is surprising yet inevitable.

6.25 Create a solid romance in which the characters cannot be together because of good, intelligent, character-driven reasons.

6.24 Give us a story about a character who discovers that there exists a pill to grant you the powers of a god.

6.23 Jonathan writes one page to a writing prompt every day, pushing himself out of his comfort zone. Today his prompt for you is to write the opening scene of a steampunk version of Alice in Wonderland.

6.22 Someone wants to go to a writing workshop but gets held up by chicken and waffles.

6.21 No prompt this week. Not unless you want to try your hand at these headlines.

6.20 Using the first fifteen minutes of your least favorite recent movie as a starting point, write a story with a powerful ending.

6.19 Take three of your favorite books and write one of each kind of pitch for each of those books. Now convince a friend of yours to read one of those books using one of those pitches.

6.18 Using the Hollywood Formula, come up with a protagonist, an antagonist, and a relationship character.

6.17 First person once removed — give us a story from the perspective of a first person narrator who is NOT the cool person.

6.16 Take something that you do, something unique to you (and perhaps to your gender), and hand it to somebody in your book who appears unqualified for that task. Then qualify them for it.

6.15 Take some aspect of your neighborhood and twist it around, perhaps in the same way District 9 twisted the township of Soweto into an alien reservation.

6.14 Make the reader believe one impossible thing. If you can’t think of something on your own, start with teleportation.

6.13 Start with a fax machine, make it a 3d-printer/prototyper, and run from there…

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