Ten Short Story Prompts for Writer's Block

Exercises and Prompts

All writers experience writer's block from time to time. If you're having trouble thinking of short story ideas, or you find yourself returning to similar plots and themes you've already covered, you've officially entered the world of writer's block. But don't despair. There are exercises and prompts that can help you explore new avenues for your writing. Use them the prompts below to unlock your subconscious, explore new territory, and just to have fun.

In addition to the ten ideas below, there are other sources of inspiration you can turn to, such as the books The Right to Write and 52 Projects both of which provide a wealth of prompts and exercises.


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One of the easiest ways to generate new short story ideas is freewriting. Unfortunately, it is often overlooked outside of the classroom but shouldn't be because it's very simple. These guidelines provide a structure that will make the process effective while working on your own. If you are unsure what the results of freewriting should look like, don't fret, a link to the step-by-step example is provided at the end.

"I Have a Secret" - A Writing Exercise

Secrets have always been a natural catalysis to the storytelling impulse. This lighthearted writing exercise essentially prompts groups, or pairs, of writers to provide each other with random stories and has the added benefit of helping the group to bond.

Photos as Writing Prompts

This exercise is for individuals, pairs, or groups to help writers discover the story implicit in a photograph or snapshot. Or, you can use the image to start off a round of freewriting. This is also a useful prompt to awaken your narrative powers and remind you that in it's purest form, writing is a compelling visual exercise. Stories, as well as book chapters, can be reorganized visually into scenes. 

Dictionary Writing Prompts

A few words chosen at random can lead you in a whole new direction in this creative writing exercise. In essence, this prompt takes the dictionary and turn the entire into one big writing prompt generator.

Storyteller Exercise

This exercise (that plugs into your powers of imagination) is inspired by an exercise in Julia Cameron's The Right to Write. It teaches writers to use their ears and "listen" for short story ideas.

Ten-Minute Creative Writing Exercise

If you think you don't have time to write, think again. Every writer needs to write every day, whether they feel creative or not, or think they have something to say, or not. See what you can produce with a simple set of writing prompts and 10 spare minutes of your time with this creative writing exercise.​

Story Starters

These story starters are intended to be the opening phrase of a story. The phrase might give you an entire story idea, or you might spend a half hour freewriting, and that freewriting may lead you to the story you really want to tell. The important thing is that you spend time writing, whatever the result.

Short Story Idea Box

Keeping an idea box is a fun way to ensure that you always have a place to turn for inspiration. Your idea box doesn't have to be elaborate or filled with the gist of best sellers. Just creating a designated place where you keep ideas will keep your mind creatively engaged.

Monthly Writing Challenges

Look through previous monthly writing challenge posts and reader responses on the Fiction Writing site to get ​ideas for new writing prompts and exercises. The responses also provide examples of how the exercise might be approached.​

Testing New Short Story Ideas

Robert McKee, in his book, Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting, has this tip for testing out a new plot.