How To Use A Story Prompt

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Written by JJ Barnes

If you want to write a story, but you’re struggling for where to start, you’re not alone. Sometimes that initial little idea is the hardest thing to come up with. You can see characters you want to write about, have ideas of concepts you want to include, but you just need something to get you going. This is what a story prompt is for.

In this post I’ll talk you through how to use story prompts and then demonstrate breaking them down to grow your own story.

What Is A Story Prompt?

How To Use A Story Prompt, The Table Read Writing Advice
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A story prompt is the seed of a story. It’s a sentence or an idea designed to spark your imagination. From that little seed, you can start to grow your idea. You could be given a name, an idea, or a sentence, but from that little idea you grow something new.

The magic of story prompts is that they act like a key to your own unique style. You could give a hundred people the same story prompt and you’d get a hundred different stories. From the same idea we all grow in different directions and create something completely unique.

The point is, story prompts open the door to your imagination. If you’ve been desperate to write but struggling to get going, story prompts could be the key.

Story Prompt – Names

The characters are the most important part of your story. Your main character is who your audience will connect with, who they ride with, and who they’re invested in. Your main character is who you tell your story about.

Sometimes to come up with a story, all you need is to picture the person you’re writing about. And sometimes all that needs is a name. From that name you start to form the image in your head of a person, start to work out who they are, what they want, and what their story will be.

How To Use A Name Prompt

How To Use A Story Prompt, The Table Read Writing Advice
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For instance, yesterday I gave my daughter the name “Angelica Buffon.” From that she started to come up with a story, inspired by the stories she’s been reading or and watching, and the things she particularly loves.

For my daughter, Angelica Buffon was a girl with the power to control water. Her story was to begin on Sunday 3rd December when Angelica Buffon discovers her magic. From there she learns that her mother has fire power, her father has earth power, and her sister has air power. Together they form a family of magical super heroes.

You can see the influences and things she loves, but that’s fine. The point is, for her, Angelica Buffon became a character and from that character a story grew. A story that I wouldn’t have come up with, probably a story you wouldn’t have come up with. She came up with something unique from the story prompt of just a name.

Story Prompt – Concepts

Concept story prompts give you the actual root of your story, not just a vague prompt. For instance, this is from Pinterest:

As you die, you wake up in a fiery place. You quickly realise you’re in Hell. You ask the next Demon why you’re there, as you lived a very good life. “You’re not being punished,” he says. “You’re the punishment.

This is a fantastic concept, and has so much potential to grow out. So many places you could go.

How To Use A Concept Prompt

How To Use A Story Prompt, The Table Read Writing Advice
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So, job one. Who are you? The prompt says you lived a good life, so what did you do? Were you ACTUALLY good, or did you just perceive yourself to be good? What about your good life implies you’d be good for punishing someone else? Is it a skill you have for causing pain, or just your presence would torture somebody else? Were you human? Perhaps you were magical or a creature? Maybe an alien? What is special about you?

Job two. How did you die? Were you killed? Was it suicide? Was it illness? Your death would be probably be the inciting incident. Until death, you were living your good life and not a punishment in Hell, so the cause of death should be significant. Was your death a choice you made, or was it thrust upon you?

Job three. Do you like your current circumstances? Are you happy to be there, do you thrive? Are you striving to escape? Do you know the person you’re supposed to punish and do you want to punish them? Do you team up with them to escape, or do you want to hurt them?

Essentially, from this base prompt work out who you are, what you want, and how you’re going to get it. The location of Hell and concept of being a punishment are how you root it, but work out the character and their motivation are key to growing your story.

Story Prompts – Instructional

Instructional story prompts don’t give you anything about the characters you’re writing about or the circumstances they’re in, that’s all up to you. Instructional story prompts have less personality, but a clear story idea.

For instance, from Pinterest:

Write about the dream assassins that are tasked with fighting nightmares that disturb people’s sleep.

How To Use Instructional Story Prompts

How To Use A Story Prompt, The Table Read Writing Advice
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This instructional story prompt hasn’t given you anything about your character or your place in your story. You’re told what to write about, but not how to do it.

As with the concept prompt, you need to work out who your Protagonist is, what they want, why they want it, and how they want to get it. Who are you writing about and why?

So, are you a dream assassin? Do you like your work? Were you born into it and feel trapped, or did you aspire to become one? How does the job work? Is it dangerous? Is fighting nightmares real peril, or does the peril come from the person who’s nightmares you’re trying to kill?

Altnernatively are you the one creating the nightmares they fight? Do the nightmares have a pure purpose, teaching the victims or helping them process worries? Without nightmares, are the dreamers going to struggle more in real life? Do you want to stop the dream assassins and how are you going to do it? Will you fight them with nightmares of their own?

Your story will follow your character, through the world of dream assassins, fighting to get what they want, and watching that journey and the obstacles they must overcome.

Your Unique Story

You are the only person in the world who can tell your story in your way. Whether you need help with creating a character, a concept or a world in which to tell it, whatever story you come up with is just yours.

Story prompts can be fun, such as my daughter coming up with Angelica Buffon’s super hero family, good practice for concept development skills, or it can be the key to writing your story. But whatever you use your story prompts for, focus on what your protagonist wants, why they want it, how they want to go about getting it, and what is getting in their way.

More From JJ Barnes:

I am an author, filmmaker, artist and youtuber, and I am the creator and editor of The Table Read.

You can find links to all my work and social media on my website:

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Follow me on Twitter: @JudieannRose

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