Thursday Night Writing Prompts: Prompts from My Junk Email

Today I was deleting spam email that ended up in my Junk box. I was amusing myself by thinking about the email and I came up with a few writing prompts.

1. “Enlarge Your Manhood by Three Whole Inches” This advertisement definitely makes me giggle everytime I get it in my junk folder. I am not a man. Does this mean that if I took this supplement I would become a hermaphrodite? Also if I were a man the ad is not specific about which direction the manhood would grow three inches larger. What if it grew three inches thicker? This started me thinking about such supplements and what if they did these remarkable things. What if a pill could make someone a hermaphrodite? What if it became a trend? What story could be generated from these general ideas?

2. “I am contacting you because you are the beneficiary of Mr. Blankety-Blanks estate.” I have had some wild adventures but I seriously doubt anything that I have done would merit me being the beneficiary of anyone’s estate– particularly if I could not remember the name. Well, on second thought… Anyway, write a story where the point of view character finds out that they are the beneficiary of a wealthy person’s estate who they met and had a fling with several years before.

3. “I am an African princess who is being oppressed and I need your help moving my vast wealth out of my country so that I can escape.” What if this is legitimate and the point of view character trustingly helps the “African princess”?

4. “Best gadget on the planet, order yours today!” I get a variety of these in my junk box everyday for everything from solar televisions to orthotic shoes to heal plantar fasciitis. Make up a gadget and describe what it does. Maybe the point of view character could be a salesperson. Maybe this person buys one of the gadget that seems like a fake ad or too good to be true and the gadget really does something fantastical.

5. “Easy credit for people with a bad credit history– apply today!” So, maybe there is a catch. Maybe they will give anyone credit– as long as they sign over their soul, first born child, etc. What would be something new to hold as collateral and make this fresh and have a new twist?

Just a few writing prompts.


Sunday Writing Discussion #11: Starting Points

Here are some starting points to get your writing going.

Starting Point 1

Pick 5 words that you like and begin to play with them to see what ideas might come about. I also read haiku and write haiku. This kind of random starting point sometimes gets ideas flowing. For instance what would you do with the following 5 words:
1. ghost
2. luscious
3. mercantile
4. warping
5. thread

Starting Point 2
Pick any proverb or saying and begin playing with it. For instance today on the BBC News page for Africa the following African proverb was posted:
“He who does not want to see a ghost should not move in the night.”

What ideas might that spark?

Starting Point 3
Lester Dent’s Plot Formula— can you use it to formulate a basic story? How might you alter it? How far can you push the formula?

Here is Lester Dent’s Plot Formula for reference:

This is a formula, a master plot, for any 6000 word pulp story. It has worked on adventure, detective, western and war-air. It tells exactly where to put everything. It shows definitely just what must happen in each successive thousand words.

No yarn of mine written to the formula has yet failed to sell.

The business of building stories seems not much different from the business of building anything else.

Here’s how it starts:


One of these DIFFERENT things would be nice, two better, three swell. It may help if they are fully in mind before tackling the rest.

A different murder method could be–different. Thinking of shooting, knifing, hydrocyanic, garroting, poison needles, scorpions, a few others, and writing them on paper gets them where they may suggest something. Scorpions and their poison bite? Maybe mosquitos or flies treated with deadly germs?

If the victims are killed by ordinary methods, but found under strange and identical circumstances each time, it might serve, the reader of course not knowing until the end, that the method of murder is ordinary.

Scribes who have their villain’s victims found with butterflies, spiders or bats stamped on them could conceivably be flirting with this gag.

Probably it won’t do a lot of good to be too odd, fanciful or grotesque with murder methods.

The different thing for the villain to be after might be something other than jewels, the stolen bank loot, the pearls, or some other old ones.

Here, again one might get too bizarre.

Unique locale? Easy. Selecting one that fits in with the murder method and the treasure–thing that villain wants–makes it simpler, and it’s
also nice to use a familiar one, a place where you’ve lived or worked. So many pulpateers don’t. It sometimes saves embarrassment to know nearly as much about the locale as the editor, or enough to fool him.

Here’s a nifty much used in faking local color. For a story laid in Egypt, say, author finds a book titled “Conversational Egyptian Easily Learned,” or something like that. He wants a character to ask in Egyptian, “What’s the matter?” He looks in the book and finds, “El khabar, eyh?” To keep the reader from getting dizzy, it’s perhaps wise to make it clear in some fashion, just what that means. Occasionally the text will tell this, or someone can repeat it in English. But it’s a doubtful move to stop and tell the reader in so many words the English translation.

The writer learns they have palm trees in Egypt. He looks in the book, finds the Egyptian for palm trees, and uses that. This kids editors and readers into thinking he knows something about Egypt.

Here’s the second installment of the master plot.

Divide the 6000 word yarn into four 1500 word parts. In each 1500 word part, put the following:


1–First line, or as near thereto as possible, introduce the hero and swat him with a fistful of trouble. Hint at a mystery, a menace or a problem to be solved–something the hero has to cope with.

2–The hero pitches in to cope with his fistful of trouble. (He tries to fathom the mystery, defeat the menace, or solve the problem.)

3–Introduce ALL the other characters as soon as possible. Bring them on in action.

4–Hero’s endevours land him in an actual physical conflict near the end of the first 1500 words.

5–Near the end of first 1500 words, there is a complete surprise twist in the plot development.

SO FAR: Does it have SUSPENSE?
Is there a MENACE to the hero?
Does everything happen logically?

At this point, it might help to recall that action should do something besides advance the hero over the scenery. Suppose the hero has learned the dastards of villains have seized somebody named Eloise, who can explain the secret of what is behind all these sinister events. The hero corners villains, they fight, and villains get away. Not so hot.

Hero should accomplish something with his tearing around, if only to rescue Eloise, and surprise! Eloise is a ring-tailed monkey. The hero counts the rings on Eloise’s tail, if nothing better comes to mind.
They’re not real. The rings are painted there. Why?


1–Shovel more grief onto the hero.

2–Hero, being heroic, struggles, and his struggles lead up to:

3–Another physical conflict.

4–A surprising plot twist to end the 1500 words.

NOW: Does second part have SUSPENSE?
Does the MENACE grow like a black cloud?
Is the hero getting it in the neck?
Is the second part logical?

DON’T TELL ABOUT IT***Show how the thing looked. This is one of the secrets of writing; never tell the reader–show him. (He trembles, roving eyes, slackened jaw, and such.) MAKE THE READER SEE HIM.

When writing, it helps to get at least one minor surprise to the printed page. It is reasonable to to expect these minor surprises to sort of inveigle the reader into keeping on. They need not be such profound efforts. One method of accomplishing one now and then is to be gently misleading. Hero is examining the murder room. The door behind him begins slowly to open. He does not see it. He conducts his examination blissfully. Door eases open, wider and wider, until–surprise! The glass pane falls out of the big window across the room. It must have fallen slowly, and air blowing into the room caused the door to open. Then what the heck made the pane fall so slowly? More mystery.

Characterizing a story actor consists of giving him some things which make him stick in the reader’s mind. TAG HIM.



1–Shovel the grief onto the hero.

2–Hero makes some headway, and corners the villain or somebody in:

3–A physical conflict.

4–A surprising plot twist, in which the hero preferably gets it in the neck bad, to end the 1500 words.

DOES: It still have SUSPENSE?
The MENACE getting blacker?
The hero finds himself in a hell of a fix?
It all happens logically?

These outlines or master formulas are only something to make you certain of inserting some physical conflict, and some genuine plot twists, with a little suspense and menace thrown in. Without them, there is no pulp story.

These physical conflicts in each part might be DIFFERENT, too. If one fight is with fists, that can take care of the pugilism until next the next yarn. Same for poison gas and swords. There may, naturally, be exceptions. A hero with a peculiar punch, or a quick draw, might use it more than once.

The idea is to avoid monotony.

Vivid, swift, no words wasted. Create suspense, make the reader see and feel the action.

Hear, smell, see, feel and taste.

Trees, wind, scenery and water.



1–Shovel the difficulties more thickly upon the hero.

2–Get the hero almost buried in his troubles. (Figuratively, the villain has him prisoner and has him framed for a murder rap; the girl is presumably dead, everything is lost, and the DIFFERENT murder method is about to dispose of the suffering protagonist.)

3–The hero extricates himself using HIS OWN SKILL, training or brawn.

4–The mysteries remaining–one big one held over to this point will help grip interest–are cleared up in course of final conflict as hero takes
the situation in hand.

5–Final twist, a big surprise, (This can be the villain turning out to be the unexpected person, having the “Treasure” be a dud, etc.)

6–The snapper, the punch line to end it.

HAS: The SUSPENSE held out to the last line?
The MENACE held out to the last?
Everything been explained?
It all happen logically?
Is the Punch Line enough to leave the reader with that WARM FEELING?
Did God kill the villain? Or the hero?

Thursday Writing Prompts: Fever Dreams

I have not been feeling well all week. I came home this evening and climbed into bed. My thoughts are a little random and so these writing prompts are coming straight from not feeling so great and very tired brain. I hope they can spark some creativity!

1. What kind of monster lives at the bottom of “surprise casserole” in the dormitory cafeteria? How does it survive?

2. What if light poles were a type of sentience and wandered the streets looking to be illuminating? What might this alleviate? What other impacts might there be to this?

3. What if a certain type of running shoe could stimulate something in the human physiology and genuinely improve the athletic ability of people who trained in them?

4. What if the dreams that we dream are really tuning into the thoughts of other alternate universes and this is what is ultimately discovered via theoretical physics? What does this say about flying dreams? Dreams where the physics of the dream defy the laws of ordinary physics?

5. If your point of view character could step into any painting, which painting would they step into? What would be the story behind this?

Thursday Writing Prompts: A Few Questions to Consider in World Building

I was thinking about an exercise that I once had to do for a cultural anthropology class. Our assignment was to take an ordinary object (like a paperclip, hair tie, or empty thread spool) and pretend that it was 3000 years in the future and we had no idea what the object might be for. We were to create a scenario for the use of the objet and tell its cultural significance. So if a site had hundreds of paperclips, what might be made of this? Were the paperclips a type of currency? A symbol with some sort of religious significance?

I also recently read an article by Michael Moorcock where he described having a kind of pre-created bank of fantasy items that could populate his stories and give them everyday realism. Today’s writing prompt is an exercise to do just that. Here are some questions to consider to help build a realistic fantasy/science fiction world:

1. Look around your bedroom. What would have not been present in the room 200 years ago? What forms of technology are present in the room? What do they do? How might those pieces of technology move forward and become changed/advanced? Technology having to do with transportation, communications, and information storage have changed dramatically in the last two hundred years. How might these change over the next two hundred years? What about medical technology? Might it become more independent and less dependent on the oversight of doctors? More oriented towards people taking care of their own health? What might it look like?

2. What might ordinary things like pencils, clothing hangers, books, a printer, a bed, a table, a chair, or headphones look like in a future setting? How could they be transformed?

3. What materials might clothing be made of?

4. What might an ordinary citizen in your created world have in their pockets? What routine objects might they use through out the course of a day?

5. Mobile smart phones are almost indispensable at this point in history. Seven years ago almost no one had even heard of them. Think of some gadget/device that might be indispensable in the world and time period of the fictional setting you are creating. What does it do? Why is it indispensable?

6. What does the food look like? What kinds of things do your characters eat in a day?

In thinking about these questions, go beyond your first thoughts. First thoughts are usually obvious thoughts that have been seen/read/stated previously. Delve deeper and explore creating the rationale behind the setting and objects that you create. Make it seem as real as possible.

Writing is cool because we get to be wizards of words and make realities! Have fun creating!

Writing Prompts: Stages of Life

All of these writing prompts have to do with various stages of life that people go through.

1. Your point of view character is an 80 year old woman who is writing what will be the last entry in her diary before committing suicide because she feels she has lived her life. Where is the story set? What things does this character write to loved ones? What are her remembrances? What moments or thoughts does she want to make sure are passed on for others to read?

2. Your point of view character is a worldly explorer who dies suddenly and his/her consciousness is transported into a new born baby. How does this character approach this experience? What do they notice?

3. Your point of view character is a middle aged man who becomes aware that while he is successful, dependable, etc. he has not lived his life how he had always dreamed of. What are his dreams? What does he do about these dreams?

4. A homely girl fantasizes being beautiful after being snubbed and bullied by the popular girls in her high school. She goes home to sulk and a strange magical woman steps through her closet. The woman invites the girl through the closet to a place where she is beautiful. What happens?

5. A young boy who was bullied grows into a man. He learned the techniques of bullying and how to be ready to defend on the school yard. Can he learn to be kind? Can he learn to be vulnerable? Does he? What motivates him?

Writing Prompts: Reveal the Naked Truth

There is truth in the naked form because nothing is hidden. All of these prompts have to do with nakedness and revelation.

1. Your point of view character is having sex and at the point of climax is suddenly transferred into the other person’s body. What happens? How do they feel? How did this transformation occur? What does the transformation do to their psyche? Do they return to their own body?

2. Your point of view character goes skinny dipping with another person who they notice has a tattoo. While they are having fun in the water your point of view character notices that the tattoo seems to move. What happens next?

3. Your point of view character comes back from an exotic vacation with a mysterious illness. Doctor after doctor cannot cure the point of view character. They notice that laying naked in the sun seems to make them feel better. Why? What condition do they have?

4. Your point of view character is taking a bath, but this bath has significance. Somehow this bath is a ritual and they are washing away something. There is power and magic. Who else might be present? What is being washed away?

5. A telepath realizes that an ancient naked statue in a museum has consciousness. Everyday when people view the statue, it feels things and thinks. The telepath sits and pretends to sketch to hear the statue’s thoughts. What is the statue thinking and feeling? What is the story behind the statue? What happens?

Writing Prompts: Moon as Muse

“The moon is a different thing to each of us.” Frank Borman, Apollo VIII Astronaut

The moon has been a source of inspiration for millennia. All of this writing prompts are in honor of the moon.

1. Write a story that incorporates not the dangers of the full moon, but rather of the new moon when the sky is void of the moon’s light. The dark moon was associated with nefarious acts by the Canaanites and Babylonians. What darkness could walk the earth when the moon’s light was not there to touch it?

2. I am not certain what mythology the idea comes from but I remember reading the idea that the crescent moon was a boat that ferried the souls of the dead to their afterlife. How could this be used in a story?

3. The West African Niger believe that the Great Moon Mother sends the Moon Bird to earth to deliver babies. What if in modern times the descent of the Moon Bird to deliver a baby was witnessed by a group of people? What would this portent? What would happen?

4. What if in a chunk of lunar ice the remains of some form of life were found? What would this mean?

5. Write a story where two characters interact while drinking coco-cola, eating moon pies, and watching meteor showers under the light of the moon. What is the relationship between the characters? What does the moon mean to them?

6. A farmer wants to harvest the biggest pumpkin possible. He plants his seeds by the light of the full moon and feeds the vines sweet milk and honey. By this magic what happens?

7. In the far future the moon becomes a space station where spaceships dock to shuttle goods to earth. What would the station look like? What would it be like to be on the moon as a regular person working on such a cargo ship?

8. The moon is associated with intuition. What if during the full moon the point of view character discovers he/she can read thoughts?

What does the moon mean to you? What do you see bathing in moonbeams and dancing in its aura?

Writing Prompts: A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

I was thinking about my camera this evening. I am hoping to go snowshoeing one afternoon this weekend and take some pictures so I came up with a set of writing prompts that have to do with either cameras or photographs. Have fun writing!

1. The point of view character buys a camera in an antique shop. They fix it up and try it out. The point of view character discovers that the camera doesn’t take a picture of the person or thing it sees in its lens. A different image appears on the film. What is that image of?

2. The point of view character moves into a new house and takes photographs to post on facebook. They discover that there are gruesome images in the backgrounds of all the photographs. What are these images?

3. A class composite in the hallway of a high school has fading photographs. The point of view character goes back to visit the high school and realizes that all the faded photos are of classmates that have died. Why are the photographs fading?

4. A photographer is a sought out portraitist because they have the ability to make their subjects look better than real life. Where do they derive their power from?

5. A wildlife photographer has the ability to take photos of animals and the animals are then resistant to death. How does this come about? How does the photographer use their ability?

Thursday Writing Prompts: Imagine If…

It is Thursday and that means… More Writing Prompts!

1. A special substance is created that can be added to high fat foods like chocolate that causes people to tell the truth if they ingest it. Truth chocolates for couples with no secrets are created. Write a scenario between two characters where the chocolates are eaten.

2. An amphetamine is created that can be used for a month straight. The user takes the amphetamine for a month and then sleeps for four whole days. Write about a scenario where the amphetamine is taken by a character. What happens? What complications might there be that are involved.

3. A special frequency that can be layered under white noise is created that can evoke subconscious issues and psychological traumas. It is described as subconscious psychoanalytical therapy to be done on oneself. Create a scenario where this frequency is used by a character. What happens? What might be the complications?

4. A mirror of health is created that shows the state of a person’s actual health. If they are very healthy, then their image shows as being so. If they have health issues, then they look aged beyond their years. Create a scenario where the mirror comes into play.

5. A scent is created that instantaneously relaxes human beings and lowers their guards. Create a scenario utilizing this scent.

Thursday Writing Prompts: Speculative fiction Sports

I was thinking about sports on other planets this evening and wondering if I could come up with some writing prompts. In honour of the X-Games happening in Aspen, here are some sports related writing prompts:

1. Imagine a world where genetic manipulation is the norm. What would extreme sports look like? What kinds of tests would be conducted on the athletes?

2. What would basketball look like in zero gravity? Describe a game. What would kickboxing look like?

3. What would spaceship racing include? What would be the challenges?

4. Imagine the Olympics on Mars. What accommodations would have to be made? What new events could be added?

5. Imagine a fast action sport that included devices that could manipulate the quantum field and alter game play. Describe such a game and how it would be won or lost.

Have fun with these prompts!