You know how to use Google to find a story prompt. You might have some books of prompts, or some blogs you follow, maybe even a subscription that sends a nice prompt to your email every day.
But you need the right prompts that work for you. And you need them on your time.
Here’s five online resources that you probably already use. But you’re probably NOT yet using them to cultivate the writing prompts that work for you when you need them most. Let’s stop trolling the internet, and instead, find your next story.
1. Need a Realistic Setting? = Google Earth
I’m pretty sure we’ve all used Google Earth to see what our house looks like from space. (This was what I was most excited about it when it came out). More usefully, it’s perfect for navigating your trip from “here” to “there,” and now you can literally see the place where you’ll be ending up.
But it can also substitute as your travel guide to make your story’s setting incredibly realistic. With the amazing Google Earth, you can literally go anywhere in the world.
Writing a novel that takes place in the Ukraine, but can’t afford to travel there right now? Google Earth it. And with the street view feature, you can “walk” around town, or the forest, or wherever, and see what it would actually be like. Of course it’s not as great as actually being there and experiencing the culture, but it’s a handy and effective way to research, and get inspired.
If you don’t have a place in mind that you’d like to better research, you can always spontaneously spawn to somewhere new and exciting, and see what your mind thinks about it. Cue, The Secret Door – basically a door that transports you to street view in Google Earth, somewhere beautiful and exciting, where you will immediately be greeted with an excellent setting to begin your next story.
Go have fun with it. Right now. This is one of my absolute favorite new things. In 10 minutes, I went to an awesomely glamorous cathedral, a thrift store (which was BEAUTIFUL for object prompts), a bar where I could literally see how they priced their American Honey and what their featured shot-of-the-day was, and a monkey park. Yes, a monkey park. I “walked” down a trail and found monkeys hanging out in a natural bath. And I did this in my pajamas. PLAY WITH THIS AMAZING THING! RIGHT NOW!
2. Need a Good Quote, a Story Starter? = Facebook & Twitter
People say interesting shit. They say it all the time, and that’s why the classic advice to go out and people watch, recording the conversations that you hear, is amazing advice for a story spark.
But you don’t have to go out and about to do this. You can sit on your couch, in your pajamas, and find some fantastic quotes.
Scroll through Facebook and Twitter looking for good quotes. Look for the type of people that speak their mind f r e e l y, boldly, and do it often. I’m sure you can already think of some good people that you know to look to for this.
Twitter is fantastic because people have to be short and sweet. Because you can only use 140 characters, you’ll often find brief, witty things that might be a perfect opening line. Don’t look through e-marketers, as you usually won’t find much. But try personal accounts, of people just talking like people talk. Look through conversations. Also, try Quote Catalog and #QuoteOfTheDay.
Facebook is fantastic for exactly the opposite reason. People can ramble and rant and explain their thoughts forever if they want to. They can comment back and forth with others. Some of my favorite ones are the posts that have 100+ comments of people rambling about nothing, and then you find that one gem. Also, try HONY.
It’s kind of like thrift store shopping – you have to dig through a bunch of junk, but when you finally find that awesome piece (and it’s at a great price!), it’s all worth it.
The best internet thrift stores for quotes besides Twitter and Facebook? = Reddit, & the comments on any controversial article.
P.S. — You don’t have to use the words they’ve said word-for-word, and you probably shouldn’t. Perhaps they said it exactly right, but they more than likely didn’t. The beauty of being the writer is you can audit what they said. Take the idea and make it work for your character. Trim a few irrelevant words out of the quote. Grab only the pieces that work for you, and make them yours. It’s a fantastic starting place.
Don’t believe me because you can’t find any quotes you’re loving? Sometimes nobody says anything interesting besides reporting their lunch. Try this: In every boring status or advertising you see, choose the best word. Do this again for the next one. These can be nouns, verbs, prepositions, it doesn’t matter. Just choose the ones that you’re drawn to in the moment. Do this until you’ve collected five or six words. Then, start your story using those. Or create an opening quote using all the words. (We’ll revisit this create-your-own-prompt later!)
3. Need a Any Aspect of a Story? = Pinterest
Pinterest is fantastic for great resources – like how to apply for jobs, the ultimate back-to-school checklist, and, most importantly, how to cook that delicious looking food. I use Pinterest mostly to catalog and curate the best articles I find on the web. But, I also like pictures of pretty outfits for fashion inspiration, dreaming about my future wedding, and designing a kick-ass house. Don’t we all?
Pinterest can be used for stories in a couple different ways (even with those silly, but so important dreamer pins).
a.) Create a board for your story.
This is perhaps the most common use for story-inspiration. Posting pics of what your main characters look like. Finding inspiration for building your world. Staying true to the idea you have in your head by keeping a virtual inspiration board.
You can have boards that inspire male characters, female characters, knights and medieval times, beautiful oceans and beaches. Any character or scene that exists, or could exist in your world, can have it’s own board to keep you excited and eager, and get you thinking when the wheels stop turning.
b.) Use pins as a prompt – even the seemingly irrelevant ones.
Gather all the information you can from the image – you don’t even have to go to the page it links to to figure out what it’s “really” about – and use that as the boundaries for your next writing session. There’s more to be uncovered in each image than you may think. Figure out the facts of each image, and ask yourself the questions that the facts can’t answer. These are the rules to follow during your next writing session.
Let’s go through some examples:
You have a food board. It’s where you keep all the recipes you’d love to cook one day when you learn how to cook. But it can also double as a story prompter.
Find the food.
What do we know about this image? What should we be asking?
This is a summer dish, best served as a dessert, or possibly breakfast. Best served with others. What kind of character cooks this dish? Why did they cook it? Some event, perhaps? Or they felt like surprising their significant other? Or they were trying to channel their late relative who always cooked it? Did they fail at cooking it? Did they do it better than before? Who will this dish be served to? What will it mean for them? Do they think it tastes good?
Start your story here.
Find a character. What do we know about this image? What should we be asking?
This girl is old enough to wear heels. Who the heck is this girl?
She’s dressed nicely, as if for an occasion. Why is she wearing what she’s wearing? What event is she going to? Who’s she trying to impress? Does she always dress like this, or just today? What does she think of everyone else’s outfits? How long did she take to get ready? What was “getting ready” like?
She’s looking away from the camera. Who is she looking at? Who is with her? What are they wearing? Does that matter?
Start your story here.
Find the plot. What do we know about this image? What should we be asking?
It’s a wedding. They’ve already gotten married, and this is the reception. How do they feel now?
The newlyweds are conversing with friends and family. What conversations are they having? What are they saying? They’re still in tune with each other (his arm around her, her hand on him), but they aren’t focusing on each other right now. What are they paying attention to instead?
It’s not too warm or too cool outside (given that they’re outside and still wearing long sleeves), so it must be spring or fall. How does this affect the scene?
Start your story here.
Find the setting. What do we know about this image? What should we be asking?
It’s in a tropical-ish location (hence, palm trees). How does this affect the characters who live here?
Whoever owns this house has some money, as it’s a nice house. How did they acquire this wealth?
They also care about having a nicely manicured lawn. And they’re fond of symmetry. What does this mean for who these characters are?
Start your story here.
Find the object. What do we know about this image? What should we be asking?
This is a very large picture of an octopus being hung in a house. Who loves an octopus this much? And why?
As per the description, it’s actually a shower curtain being re-purposed as wall art. What kind of character needs to get frugally creative like this?
Start your story here.
4. Need an Interesting Plot? = Any News Site Ever & YouTube
The world is full of interesting things. You know that; it’s why you’re a writer. Writers write to capture and comment on what’s happening in the world. What better resource for your next story than what’s actually happening? You can look to big news stories to find some relevant, current facts as a plot to throw your character in. Easy plot.
If you’re looking for something more offbeat: Electric Literature collects some of the best, and weirdest headlines in a monthly section, plugging them as news that is “strange enough to be fiction,” and they are pretty fantastic.
Need something funny? And/or weird? Ever heard of, The Onion?
You can look to the bigger, more obvious sites to scan headlines, but the real, hidden gems can be found in smaller papers. Using your new Google Earth skills, find an interesting place and then Google their news. Something bizarre and interesting is sure to have happened there lately. Find a tiny town no one is talking about, and use their front page story as the basis for your next story.
Or check out viral videos. Watch on YouTube, or check out some curated ones on the daily show,RightThisMinute. These are full of funny, crazy, inspiring things that have happened.
What story can you start from watching some of America’s Funniest Home Videos?
5. Need a Prompt? = Reddit & Email
You could Google, “writing prompt” and find a million options. You could find a bunch of websites you really like that have direct prompts. You can even find prompts on Instagram. But Reddit has a section for writing prompts too, and it’s one that I don’t often see talked about for some reason. It’s updated daily, covers a wide variety of genres and topics, and allows you to get feedback, should you want to publish your response for others to see. You can do nothing, and just go grab a prompt.
Another underutilized feature (and I under-utilize it too) is the Shower Thoughts section. These are philosophical thoughts, weird questions, and interesting ideas – all of which is excellent material to run with in your next story. If you’re looking for an opening line quote (“Isn’t it weird that we all have a little voice in our heads, like the one you used to read this?”), a character quirk (“Every time I don’t play the lottery I win a dollar”), or even a whole world (what if people DID use pregnant spiders as grenades?), you can be sure that the Reddit Shower Thoughts will get your imagination working.
For the second option of creating a prompt for yourself, we’re heading to your inbox. I know it sounds entirely counterproductive to your creativity (inbox = creativity drain and productivity downer), but this will get you to start seeing the world as you know it in different ways.
First, go to your sent folder and take the first name of the last person you emailed.
Then, take the subject line of your most recent email.
Then, go to your junk folder (or any section of your email that contains annoying emails) and take 5-6 interesting, strong words, the kind of words that just pop out to you and set that headline apart from the others.
This is your prompt. Use all the words in your story. Go.
It’s so simple. You could do this anywhere. (And you should, if your disciplined). But for the sake of your time and to get you writing right this second, just do it with your email. I guarantee it’s more interesting than you’d think.
To prove my point, I tried this out with two different emails of mine. And the results are actually pretty good:
Email 1: Name – Chris, Subject – canine influenza, Strong Words – barbeque, weekend, $120, moving, piggyback, detox
Email 2: Name – Jennifer, Subject – refund, Strong Words – welcome, wrong, training, first-time, doughnut, pick-up line
Prompts are everywhere. So stop wasting time by looking at your boyfriend’s friend’s cousin’s girlfriend, and quit reading articles about what to wear to your next concert.