Prompts & exercises

September 21st

A week’s worth of prompts

  1. Choose or randomly select a picture from your collection and create a character profile for a protagonist. Include one quirk.
  2. First line: Next door’s dog had been barking for over an hour. She had to find out …
  3. List ten things that make you smile.
  4. Write a Haiku on LAUGHTER
  5. Mindmap (spidergram): STARS.
  6. Write a page of dialogue between your character from (1) and a friend they are sharing a problem with.
  7. Choose a picture of a place you don’t know. From the point of view of the character you created in (1), describe their feelings on arriving at the place, that they also don’t know.

September 7th

  1. Have a think about what area of your writing needs a bit of attention. It could be dialogue, characterisation, plotting, scene setting, description. Look up some advice on the WorldWideWeb.
  2. Be brave: ask a writing buddy what they think are the good points and not-so-good points about your writing.
  3. For the next five days: write between 300 and 500 words each day, targeting one particular writing element each day. Read it out aloud.


  • Describe a character’s favourite place, avoiding unnecessary adjectives.
  • Write a conversation between two family members. Do they sound different?
  • Describe a character’s reaction to a delayed flight/train: do their personality traits come across?
  • Stuck with a character that’s not coming to life? Do a detailed character profile.
  • Describe a woman receiving a much-wanted or a not-wanted present. Don’t mention feelings specifically (eg anger, frustration). Try to SHOW them in her actions.

August 31st

  1. List five smells you love and five you dislike.
  2. Think of two smells that evoke memories for you; write a few sentences on each.
  3. What would you smell as you walked into the following (make a list for each): a cave; a continental café; a teenager’s bedroom; a Middle Eastern or African souk; a hospital ward.
  4. Choose one of your lists from 3. Write a scene of up to 200 words, describing a character visiting that place, using smell as the main sense.
  5. Look through one or more of your recent stories. Have you used the sense of smell? If not, add some.

August 24th

  1. Re-read one of your stories, making notes of the plot points. Is your protagonist active all the way through?
  2. As you read, or watch television, see if you can identify the major plot points. Is the protagonist active?
  3. List some of your own plot points, where life has changed, and you’ve had decisions to make. What changed for you during lockdown? Did things just happen, or did you direct them?

August 10th

  1. Re-read your last short story or article and then apply the two sets of questions in my blog. Make a note of your answers and re-draft as necessary.
  2. Paintings are popular as writing prompts. Choose a painter that you like, look them up on the Internet and find a painting that inspires you to write. Or, if you can, visit your local art gallery or museum and find a painting there that you like.
  3. If you are a painter, choose one of your own paintings and write a story based on your own art.

August 3rd

  1. Think of three of your favourite animals or birds. Give each one a name, a goal, a strength, a weakness, and an enemy.
  2. Choose one of the above and write a 500-word Flash Fiction story.
  3. We all know that a group of cows is referred to as a herd; let’s be far more imaginative and come up with new collective nouns for a group of flamingoes; giraffes; hedgehogs; reindeer; and squirrels.

July 27th

  1. Read or re-read a sci-fi novel.
  2. Try one of more of these writing prompts:
  • Your holiday flight to Tenerife doesn’t go quite as planned.
  • You type and find you can talk to people from the past on the web.
  • You find a pot of cream in your makeup drawer, and it cures everything from acne to a broken leg.
  • The clocks were striking 13 (your version)
  • Kafka’s protagonist transmogrified into an insect. What would you be?

July 20th

  1. Do you have secrets? Why are they secret? Who would be affected if they came out? Could one of them make a story?
  2. As you watch TV or read a novel, notice if secrets are involved. How effective are they in advancing the plot?
  3. Think of a secret and plot a short story around it.
  4. Do you have a story you’re not 100 per cent happy with? Add a secret and see what happens.

July 13th

  1. Yes, you’ve guessed it – move out of your comfort zone! Make a list of where you feel uncomfortable; choose one and write about how you, or a character, could overcome that feeling.
  2. Make a list of what you’ve written in the past six months or year. Is it all the same genre eg short stories? Try something different, like an article or a poem. Present it to your writing group or enter a competition.
  3. Ask friends and family where and when they feel or have felt uncomfortable. Their answers might be different from yours and might surprise you – always good source material for stories.
  4. Lockdown here in the UK is gradually easing down. Write down your feelings about lockdown and its impact on you and your family and friends. Keep such pieces for use in the future when lockdown is just a memory!

July 6th

  1. When was the last time you used a Thesaurus? Even the one that comes with MS Word? Didn’t know there was one? Highlight the word you want an alternative for, right click and a menu comes up in which you click Synonym.

Next time you find yourself using the same word more than once, use a Thesaurus to find an alternative.

  1. Even if you’re a dedicated prose writer, it doesn’t hurt to try to write a poem from time to time. Poems create images in far fewer words, so poets really concentrate on finding exactly the right word every time.

Try a HAIKU:
five syllables in the first line,
seven in the second
and five in the third.

It doesn’t have to rhyme or be grammatical correct. Haikus, originating from Japan, are usually about the physical world, often invoking a single moment in time.

An example:

An old silent pond,
A frog jumps into the pond,
splash! Silence again.

Have a go at these topics: RAIN, MOONLIGHT, SPRING, ROBIN, SWAN.

June 29th

  1. Check your New Year Resolutions. How are you doing?
  2. Define and write down what Writing Success means for you, for the rest of this year.
  3. Talk about Success with your writing buddy or in your writers’ group.
  4. Some first line prompts:

He thought of himself as successful, but then …
“You’re a failure.” Those words had stayed with him all his life …
My brother was always top of his class, me somewhere near the bottom …
“Well done!” She smiled gratefully but couldn’t help wonder if he was being ironic.

June 22nd

  1. Who are the major and minor characters in your life? And the incidentals? Try a spidergram to illustrate the relationships.
  2. One day this week make a note of how many people you interact with: major, minor and incidental.
  3. Do the exercise in 1 above for one of your picture collection.
  4. If you are writing a novel, or long short story, make a list of your characters and track them through your sections or chapters.

June 15th

  1. Read through one or more short stories that you’ve written. Does your main character change? If not, can you find a way of introducing a change in them? You may have to go back to your character profile to identify strengths and weaknesses that can be tested.
  2. As you’re reading fiction, actively think about how the main character is changing. Or if you are watching a TV drama, notice how the different characters are changing, particularly in soaps!
  3. Make a list of 3-6 decisions you’ve made today. Some will be quite minor decisions, such as what cereal to have for breakfast. Others will be more personal, such as whether to ring someone you’ve had a disagreement with.
  4. How have YOU changed over the years? My Mum tells me I’ve become a lot more patient! I think I’ve slowed down too, but that may just be age! With hindsight, what advice would you give to yourself at 18?

June 8th

  1. If you’ve read this week’s blog, you’ll probably know what I’m going to suggest – a little tidying up of your emails!
  2. Pass this website address onto one person you think may be interested.
  3. Spend a couple of minutes writing down how you react to the following: a sudden rain shower; a full-blown thunder and lightening storm; sunshine; a full moon.
  4. Think of a time when the weather had an impact on what you were doing. I can remember a late-night journey into the Yorkshire Dales when a fog suddenly descended. I could barely see ten feet in front of the car so had to take things very slowly. I eventually arrived at my hotel to find it was a 17th century manor house, with suits of armour at every corner and a four-poster bed with heavy damask hangings. Not a good night’s sleep!

June 1st

  1. Try this for just three consecutive days: find a time and a space when you know you can be on your own, find a prompt and just write – for as long as you can or want to. After three days, you might be in a comfortable routine and you might even have an award-winning idea!
  2. Try the exercise in this week’s article Make Your Readers Care.
  3. Some first line prompts:
    When this is all over, the first person I want to see is …
    When this is all over, the first thing I want to do is …
    When this is all over, I’m never again going to …

May 28th

  1. List five problems/challenges that you have faced in the last year. Some will be minor troubles (losing your car keys, burning the dinner), while others will be major (a family member going into hospital, someone losing their job). Jot down anything you can remember about those times: how you felt, how you reacted, how your family/friends reacted, how you felt about other people’s reactions eg did they help or leave you to get on with it?
  2. Pick a character from your picture box. Give him/her a minor problem and a major problem. Write for ten minutes, or a complete story, using both problems to show different aspects of your character’s personality. You could start your planning by deciding how they overcome each problem.

May 20th

  • It’s getting hotter here in the UK this week, particularly so in the south of England. I’ve already checked, and I can’t get a paddling pool for love nor money. I think that would really do nicely! So, a couple of weather-related prompts this week:
  1. What is your favourite season and why? Write for five minutes.
  2. What’s your least favourite weather? Create a character who’s the same and write about them having to visit someone they don’t really like in such weather.
  • A friend phoned me to tell me they’d won on the Lottery this week – not a life-changing amount but a few thousand to enjoy. Randomly select a picture from your picture box/file and write for five minutes what that character would do with a £10,000 windfall.

May 11th

Activities for the week:

  1. Read through one (or more) of the stories you have written. Underline or highlight all the adjectives and adverbs. Can you take some of them out? You may need to find stronger verbs. Read your revised story out loud. Hear the improvement?
  2. Write for five minutes from the point of view of a weed, in a battle between spring flowers and weeds.

May 4th

  1. I know at least one person who is learning a musical instrument during the lock-down, following videos on the Internet. Which instrument might you like to learn and why? Look it up on Google and find out its origins.
  2. Here’s a favourite prompt of mine: choose a Beatles’ song and write a story based on the title. There are more than 200 to choose from!

April 20th

  1. Try finding a regular 15-minute slot for the next week when you can sit and write. It could be working on a story you’ve started, or making notes on a new project.
  2. Write for 5 minutes about something you’ve done or are doing during lock-down that you haven’t done before.
  3. Everything’s growing! What are the colours you can see, in your garden or park or along the street? Either list all the colours, or write a poem or a short descriptive piece.

Prompts April 13th

(1) Out of the letters in CORONAVIRUS, find
one 3-letter word
one 4-letter word
one each of 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10.
They are there – really!

(2) What creative ideas have you come up with in the past week? Have you tried something new? Painting, drawing, calligraphy, keep fit, cooking a new recipe, gardening, singing? I found some oil pastels in a cupboard so I watched a YouTube video and had a go – just confirmed that I have no such talent! But good to find out.

(3) Free-write (no planning, no stopping, no corrections, no judgements) for 3, 5 or 10 minutes on SUNSHINE, MINING THE MOON, BREAKING THE RULES.

April 6th 2020

I’m a great believer in a bit of a warm-up before making a start on my writing project of the day. Nothing too strenuous or too challenging. It just helps to get into the writing mode, concentrating on individual words rather than the bigger picture. It’s very much like a keep fit warm-up – a few gentle exercises and your muscles are ready. In this case, it eases the brain into the day.

So these suggestions, just a couple for the first week of our new venture, can be used in whatever way you want: a simple one-minute exercise; do several more on different topics; free-write for 3 minutes, or 5 minutes or 10 minutes. It’s up to you.

  1. A Haiku a day.
    A Haiku is a traditional Japanese poem that consists of three lines:

the first of five syllables,
the second of seven and
the third of five.

They do not need to rhyme.

Haiku can be traced back to the ninth century. They are said to be a way of looking at the physical world and finding something deeper. They should leave the reader with a strong image.

Here are three from Matsuo Basho (1644-1694), considered to be the greatest haiku poet:

An old silent pond…
A frog jumps into the pond,
splash! Silence again.

 Autumn moonlight-
a worm digs silently
into the chestnut.

 In the twilight rain
these brilliant-hued hibiscus –
A lovely sunset.

(The translation from Japanese doesn’t always give the 5-7-5 syllables)

And here’s mine for our current Coronavirus situation!

We cannot go out
But so many people phone
Much nicer than mail

I’m sure you can do better! Do send me your haikus and I’ll post some next  month.

2. Free-write (no planning, no stopping, no corrections, no judgements)
for 3, 5 or 10 minutes on ISOLATION.


Happy writing!

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