There was a time when I believed creative writing prompts were only for losers. For wannabes writers who couldn’t come up with even the barest idea for a story.
Then one day curiosity got the better of me and at long last I gave creative writing prompts a spin. I read a handful of them and then focused on the one I liked most. It didn’t take long. In a matter of minutes I began fleshing out a short story. To be honest it was nothing to die for–far from it–but for me it worked like a springboard. In fact, I could say I used it to warm up my creative muscles.
Then once done, I was struck by another idea and set out to write an entirely different story. A story which had little to share with the one from the prompt, but that in some ways echoed it.
In short, I believe the best way to exploit creative writing prompts is just that. Not necessarily writing the story such prompts put into your head, but to warm up your muscles first and then set out in whatever direction your creative instincts lead you.
The following are ten of such creative writing prompts. Feel free to discard them all. Feel free to deface them. To rewrite them from scratch. Whatever. If they help you come up with some new ideas, no matter how, they’ve accomplished their mission. And I mine.
Oh, one last thing. I titled each prompt. Feel free to disregard them completely. The titles are only here to tease you.
Uffizi Gallery, Florence. Ben is admiring a painting. It’s so perfect that at a certain point he bursts out crying for the emotion. But then when he takes his handkerchief and wipes the tears away he realizes that in some way he has also wiped away the paint from the old master’s painting. He brings a hand to his mouth and gasps. But only to realize that’s even worse than that. Now the very room in which he stands presents large swathes of emptiness, as if he had just erased reality itself.
It’s the sunset. Danny moves furtively in the woods. He stops next to a towering chestnut. He slings the rucksack off his shoulders, puts it on the ground, and opens it. From it, he fishes out five candles. Moving with caution he drives each candle in the ground, roughly in a circle. Then he lights them.
Once done he straightens back and looks at the candles with mean satisfaction. In a matter of hours their flames will set fire to the woods.
He looks around. The night is here by now, so he switches on a flashlight and turns to go back home. He takes a step. But in the ground there’s a hidden trap. It snaps around his ankle.
Mauro drives always too fast. As a truck driver it is important to be on time, but he puts a whole new meaning to the concept of punctuality.
Now it’s midday. He is hungry, and he’s looking for a good trattoria. As usual he is going too fast. So when he spots a pizzeria he puts on the blinkers and at the very last moment pulls into the parking lot. So doing he cuts the corner too much. As a result the truck hits a dummy chef placed at the side of the road. The dummy has one arm raised in front of him. With it he holds a plate with a freshly made pizza.
The truck severs the arm of the dummy chef. Surprised, Mauro stops, climbs down his truck and retrieves the arm of the dummy chef. It’s made of chalk or something similar.
Mauro shrugs. He is too hungry to go in search of another place. So with the severed arm he enters the pizzeria.
Sarah is on her bed. With her cell she’s chatting with her friends. At a certain point she notices the screen is giving way more and more under her fingers. She stops a moment to squint at it. The screen seems to have vanished. No more reflections on the glass. No more fingerprints.
Gingerly she sticks out her forefinger and taps at the apparently vacant screen. As she does so the mobile snaps closed around her finger. She screams in surprise. And soon her surprise turns into fear and then pain. There are teeth. Teeth chewing at her finger…
Arlington is a small town. Nothing ever happens in here. So the opening of the new beauty parlor is something of an event. Felicia, the woman who runs it, isn’t just a beauty. She’s a stunner.
But she claims when she was an adolescent she was a plain-looking mouse. Then one day she discovered a secret beauty cream and everything in her life changed. This is the cream she still uses every day. And the same she rubs on her clients’ skin.
However, examining such a cream through a microscope it’s apparent it’s teeming with little insects that chew the skin and then regurgitate it to fill all the wrinkles, all the lines.
A Warm Neighbor
The real estate agent shows the apartment to Richard. The heating system is off, he says. But as you can notice it’s warm all the same in here.
Richard stares for a long moment at the real estate agent. After a while he decides the man is telling the truth. This means he could save a bunch during the long winter months. So he offers his hands to the real estate agent. Deal, he says.
A few weeks later, the first night Richard sleeps in the new apartment he awakes in the middle of the night. He is hot and thirsty. So he gets up to go to the kitchen and have a glass of water. But when his fingers close around the handle of the bedroom door he discovers the handle is burning hot.
Carl is upset. He has just got back home from shopping and discovered that someone has given him a counterfeited tenner for change.
He can’t believe he didn’t notice. And he is almost sure who the culprit may be. But almost isn’t enough. Not these days with everyone speaking about rights and privacy and whatnot.
But he can’t accept the idea of simply letting go and consider the fake tenner a definitive loss. Not at all. Instead, he decides to give it to someone else as soon as possible.
The day after at the supermarket he pays with three twenties and one ten, the infamous tenner. With the shopping bag in his hand he is already leaving when he hears someone calling him. He turns and…
Fish and Fingers
The lieutenant is a boorish son of a bitch who believes he is the only guy worth his salt. Every morning he enters the office with two goldfish swimming in a plastic bag. Time for breakfast, he always says with his booming voice. Then he empties the plastic bag with the goldfish into a tank that houses a couple of big piranha. At this point, hunched over, with both his hands on his hips and a fierce expression stamped on his face, he waits expectantly for the piranha to attack the goldfish.
But there’s a crack in the tank…
The leak from the apartment above is growing larger with each passing day. Dora sighs. But the manager of the building has just reassured her. He has called the plumber, he has just said. So there’s no problem to be worried about. No problem at all.
Tired, Dora goes to sleep. Then at two in the morning she’s awakened by a growing brightness. Bluish like the water of a swimming pool.
Blinking she notices the luminescence emanates from the leak in the ceiling. At first, she thinks the water must have been colonized by some of those bacteria which emit light of their own. But after a minute or so she realizes those on the ceiling aren’t just spots of humidity. They look like words. Words and numbers…
Never, ever get near the circular saw. Grandfather has told Robbie a thousand times. But the afternoon is so long and empty, and he is at home alone. Bored out of his mind. He could give the thing a spin. Just for a minute or so. He is in the barn. He is all absorbed. With his mind’s eye he can already see he himself while cuts the wood and stack it neatly against the wall of the garage. Weighting the pros and cons of his actions.
Robbie doesn’t see the snake. Not until he steps on it.
That’s it. If you want more prompts you can have a look at these other original story prompts