Book review: 5,000 Writing Prompts

5,000 WRITING PROMPTS: A Master List of Plot Ideas, Creative Exercises, and More

5,000 WRITING PROMPTS: A Master List of Plot Ideas, Creative Exercises, and More by Bryn Donovan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: I did not read all 5,000 prompts.

But I did read most of them, actually, not just to get the inspiration, but to get an overall feel for how Donovan puts together her lists. Quite often you can see her riffing on a theme or flipping a prompt to generate another (“Write why you like scrambled eggs. Or why you hate scrambled eggs with the fire of a thousand suns.”)

There are a few things Donovan does that elevates this above so many other writing prompt books or websites:

  • Quantity. Yes, sometimes size does matter! The sheer volume of prompts means you’re bound to find some that appeal to you, even if you use her method of randomly picking one.
  • Speaking of randomly picking one, Donovan directly tackles the purpose of the prompts and suggest picking one to write every day for two weeks, to rekindle your interest in writing if it’s faded. This is an entirely sensible plan, but a lot of prompt books don’t address this at all, they just pile on the lists.
  • Speaking of lists, Donovan provides a great deal of variety and even the groupings that might seem marginal to you (for me it would be the poetry prompts) actually offer a lot of good ideas that can be applied to other types of writing.

Donovan offers commentary and background on some of her ideas, especially those that have cultural or historical significance.

Really, this is just a solid all-around collection. I expect to use a bunch of these prompts as I seek to re-ignite my own fiction writing (and if you don’t write fiction, there’s lots of material here for blogs and other forms of non-fiction writing). Recommended.

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I am a big fat liar

I did not do a writing prompt as promised. I am bad. But I did read a bunch more of the prompts, so that’s progress of a sort. Let me amend my original goal to “I will do a prompt in the next few days and then every day after for a total of two weeks.”

That seems reasonable. I think I can do it. I just need to focus. Focus focus focus. Focus. And not be a liar.

Sick writing prompts

Ever gotten sick and wanted to complain endlessly about being sick to everyone around you, but realized that no one wants to hear you complain, you big loser baby and keep back, I’m going on vacation in two days?

Here are a set of writing prompts just for you. Enjoy!

  • There are 500 words for “desert” in Swahili or something. Maybe it’s snow? Whatever. Make up 500 words for all the phlegm caught in your throat.
  • Write a day in the life of a cough drop. Make it a noir thriller.
  • Who doesn’t love lists? Very bad people, that’s who. Write a list of all the fun, crazy things you would be doing if you weren’t so sick no one wants to even call you, let alone get anywhere near you.
  • If you could cure one common virus, which would it be? Write your response as a PowerPoint presentation.
  • Flu is not a four letter word. But if it was, what word would it be? Keep it family friendly.
  • You’re the body guard for the Queen and you have to keep her from catching a cold. Write your adventures in keeping Her Majesty healthy using iambic pentameter.
  • Write a love letter to your favorite head cold. No, that’s dumb. Don’t do that. Write a poem about your worst head cold. Use the words “I”, “wish”, “was” and “dead.”
  • Hospitals are a great place to pick up germs and get sick. Ironic, ain’t it? Write a short story about one person’s attempts to stay healthy while in a hospital. Make it a Broadway musical.

Cloudy with a chance of doom

The chance of doom is minimal, but you never know.

Today the sun has departed and the clouds have rolled in. My mind is similarly clouded as I question the effectiveness of the so-called “extra strength” cough medicine I took this morning that has not particularly stopped me from coughing. Maybe it’s a perspective thing. If I hadn’t taken the cough medicine, I would be on the floor, in endless coughing spasms, my sides sore, feeling worn out from the effort. In that light, the cough medicine is actually working pretty good.

Meanwhile, this flu or whatever it is has reached the annoying stage. I try to remain positive and think how much better I’ll feel when it’s moved along, but right now a nap would be seriously nice. Just curl up on the cold tile floor, right here. I don’t need carpeting. Or a pillow. I’m surprised I’m not napping right now, in this chair, as I type.

Changing gears, I looked through my blog a few days ago semi-randomly. I do this from time to time, usually starting out by searching for something specific, and ending down the rabbit hole that can keep me checking YouTube videos for hours when I totally didn’t mean to do that.

One of the things I re-discovered is how in-depth some of the writing prompts I worked on were. There are complete stories, albeit short ones, on this very blog. I thought to myself, “Neat!” and “I should do more of this.”

So starting tomorrow, when I am hopefully feeling a bit better, I am going to tackle a prompt whenever I have nothing else to write about. Get the ol’ creative juices going again. Maybe this time it will stick. Stranger things–such as the election of Trump–have happened.

This post brought to you by Day 3 of the flu or convincingly flu-like.

Cold weather writing prompts

Apparently Vancouver set a record for low temperatures in February and I can vouch that it was pretty chilly for this particular patch of the planet. What better way to celebrate (?) than a bunch of questionable cold weather writing prompts.

  • It’s said there are 500 ways to say “snow.” Come up with another 500.
  • Write an action adventure about a snowman caught in a hothouse. Throw in some vampires, too.
  • Imagine you were caught up in the mountains during a raging blizzard. That would really suck. You’d probably die or lose all your hands and feet or something. So write a romantic comedy featuring anthropomorphized raccoons instead.
  • List 10 things to do with snow and hard liquor
  • Write a story where one night a magical frost gnome appears and grants you anything you want, as long as it rhymes with frost
  • The first time Betty went ice skating she fell and fell and fell. She just couldn’t skate. Everyone laughed! But Betty wouldn’t let others get her down. She practised and practised and got better and better. Then she got got run over by a Zamboni on the night of her Olympics competition. Write the story as a safety brochure on Zamboni driving.

Brainstorming in the USA

Actually, Canada, I just like riffing on “French Kissing in the USA” whenever possible, because it’s a goofy little song.

It’s been awhile since I’ve done any real brainstorming, but I love lists, I have a brain and it’s often stormy in these parts, so I have all the ingredients in place.

The goal here is to plant a few (dozen) seeds and see if any of them grow into big beautiful stories or writing exercises while I ponder other projects.

Here we go.

  • a story based on the song “Eat to the Beat”
  • what if they really are lizard people?
  • three wishes/Invisible Weekend redux: getting to try out as a shapeshifter or some kind of shapeshifter story
  • worst superpower ever
  • a talking duck (walks into a bar?)
  • when the line between waking and dreams blurs completely–how risky do you become in your actions?
  • a monster that feeds on hope and optimism (no, not Trump)
  • angry trees
  • the world is suddenly depopulated by 99.6% (30.4 million people–about 7 million less than the population of Canada)
  • getting stuck in the past
  • a bar walks into a man
  • a haunted playground
  • a Stage 4 cancer patient acquires a time machine–can traveling to the future lead to a cure?
  • seeing a person on the train, but only as a reflection in the window

The next task: pick one of these and turn it into a lovingly handcrafted tale of thrills and adventure that tugs at the heartstrings (which sounds pretty unhealthy when you think about it).

Seven more writing prompts for rainy days

Do The Rains get you down, leave you feeling blue? Leave you sopping wet and wishing you could travel outside in a miraculous bubble of pleasantly heated air that would never let the damp in?

If your answer is yes, I can’t help you. Sorry.

But have some writing prompts suitable for rainy days, wrapping fish or lining bird cages*.

  1. It’s raining cats and dogs. In 500 words or more, describe the ongoing horror of people being pelted by pets falling from the sky.
  2. Noah has asked you to build an ark because the flood’s a-coming. He has provided you with the supplies: a ball of yarn, a couple of 2×4’s and a bottle of paste, half-eaten by one of his kids and not closed properly, so most of it has dried out. Weave a tale about your mighty ark construction and how it saves all the world. Do not exaggerate your efforts because God hates liars.
  3. The storm drain is clogging with leaves and will soon cause a flood in front of your building, making it difficult for people to come and go without plunging through an enormous puddle. Write a list of ten other things you’d rather do than address this problem.
  4. Write a romantic story that uses these five words that rhyme with rain: main, gain, disdain, grain, pain.
  5. A magic genie gives you a choice between three kinds of rain: lava rain, electric rain and flaming oil rain. Choose wisely.
  6. Wouldn’t it be cool if you could conjure a little rain cloud that would follow around someone you don’t like and pour rain on them? Write a story about how totally cool that would be.
  7. Write a story about some unfeeling jerk that has a magic rain cloud follow you around and pour rain on you. Nah, just kidding. It would be totally cool.

* fish, birds and cages not included. Prompts will need to be printed on paper first. Paper not included.

Writing prompt: The Burn (Part 1)

Prompt from Creative Writing Prompts:

After I nearly burnt down my house, my garage, and most of the trees in a five mile radius, I mostly stopped trying to light fires.

The Burn

After I nearly burnt down my house, my garage, and most of the trees in a five mile radius, I mostly stopped trying to light fires.

But mostly stopped is not the same as stopped. I was being driven by a man who showed up at my front door every other evening. He would knock once, softly, when he knew everyone else would be asleep, everyone but me. I’d open the door and he would stand there in shadow, a hat pulled low to further hide his face. The dark of the night seemed to not just surround him but infuse him.

Each visit he handed me a box of matches with simple instructions: light each match and toss it aside when it got close to burning my fingers. Do this until all the matches were gone before the next visit in two days’ time.

I had no idea who this man was or what purpose these odd bits of pseudo-arson would achieve, but it didn’t matter because he said if I didn’t go through the box by the next visit he would make sure those I loved would burn as the matches should have.

It occurred to me the guy might just be a crank but was I willing to risk the safety of my family to prove it? I was not.

I was on the third box of matches when I became aware of their control. Each time I took out one of the wooden matchsticks and scraped its head against the side of the box, the spark and smoke and flame did something to me. I could have just gone down the street and lit the full box of matches over a sewer grate and safely met the terms of the “deal” and yet I couldn’t. I was compelled to light each match in the worst possible place and release it only when the guttering flame threatened to burn the skin of my fingers.

When the man arrived late at night with the fourth box of matches, I asked him why I had to do this.

“Some men just want to watch the world burn,” he said.

I told him that was a line from the 2008 film The Dark Knight uttered by Alfred the butler, his summation of The Joker’s motivations. And that since then it had become a popular internet meme. And was pretty dumb, as memes go.

I expected him to step forward into the light of the front step and reveal himself to be wearing full Joker make-up. Instead he just shrugged a little.

I took a match out of the box and lit it. The man took a small step back, as if he was afraid of it. That seemed weird. I held the match before him, saying there was nothing like an early start. Then I flicked the match at him, its spell over me seemingly inert.

For a moment I saw the soft brown leather of the man’s jacket illuminated by the orange glow of the match, then, as it struck, the man’s jacket exploded into flame. When I say exploded, I mean that quite literally–the force blew me back against the front door. When I staggered forward the man was gone, nothing but ash and some ragged strips of clothing in his place.

I considered the box of matches and nearly pitched them onto the street. Instead I kept them and took them with me to the bedroom, placing them on my nightstand before quietly slipping under the covers, hoping my partner would not stir. I fell asleep with surprising ease and if I dreamed, I did not remember them.

[to be continued]


More first sentence writing prompts: The woman lives big

Once again from Writing, I present super short stories* based on a generated first sentence (or part of a sentence). The generated text is bold, my contributions are not.


She stood out from the crowd because she was radioactive and two hundred feet tall.


She was carried along by the crowd of giant radioactive women that had suddenly appeared to lend support. They vanished as quickly as they had arrived, which still took a little while since they were gigantic. The aftershocks they caused persisted for several days.

Finally, and sadly:

He sat her down and held her close before telling her the terrible news: Although he loved her very much, when he stood to kiss her he could not close the 194-foot gap between them, even if he stood on his toes. All he could do was kiss some tiny section of her ankle and hug that weird bone that sticks out of the side of the ankle. What’s up with that bone, anyway? It’s kind of gross, really.

* stories that are super short, not short stories that are super

Writing prompts: Bean there, done that

From Writing, a site that offers a random first line generator.

The part in bold is the generated text, the rest is my thrilling conclusion to the story.

She could smell gas even before she opened the door. That was the last time she’d let Frank borrow six cans of beans.


After five years, he just happened to be walking down her street? She figured he would want something, he had a desperate and needy look in his eyes. She was right–he wanted beans and plenty of them.

Still more:

He had the urge to clear the ground, to look out and see nothing. He grabbed his magic world-erasing brush and with a few swipes back and forth was gazing upon a serene black void. After awhile he got bored of this but had left his magic world-creating pen at home and so was stuck with the black void for a very long time.

And finally:

More and more people were refusing to obey the laws of the land. Soon every last can of beans had been stolen.

Rainy early Spring writing prompts

  1. It’s raining so much you think it might be a good idea to build an ark in case the world floods. Write a shopping list for the supplies you will need, including all of the pairs of animals. Remember, unicorns are not real, so don’t include them.
  2. With trees starting to bud and bloom again, write a story about happy trees. Except these trees are happiest when eating small dogs and children, like those scary apple trees in The Wizard of Oz.
  3. Write a poem that includes the following things that rhyme with spring: ring, ding, sling, fling, ping, Emperor Ming
  4. Spring is a time of renewal. Write a short story about two countries renewing their bitter, pointless war. Make it a romantic comedy.
  5. Spring is also a time when the land again becomes covered with the lush green of vegetation. Write a story about a giant green blob that scours the land clean, leaving nothing but the desiccated bones of all humanity. Also make this a romantic comedy.

1,000 creative writing prompts: No more of 1,000

I once had a cute little notion that I would work my way through the 1,000 writing prompts found in 1,000 Creative Writing Prompts, Volume 2. Here is the blurb I attached to the end of each post for the first ten entries:

These are prompts featured in 1,000 Creative Writing Prompts, Volume 2 (Goodreads link). My intent is to write ultra-short stories that are no more than a few paragraphs long, working through the prompts in order. When I am done I will perhaps have a party of some sort.

Sometimes the short stories will be longer and sometimes instead of a story I will answer the questions (most of the prompts are in the form of questions).

There were two problems with this plan. First, 1,000 prompts is a lot, even if I followed the rules I’d laid out (which I didn’t because brevity may be the soul of wit but my wit apparently has no soul). Second, most of the prompts lend themselves more to “What I did on my summer vacation” pieces and not so much fiction, which is what I’m attempting to write here. If I am writing about actual events I don’t need any prompting other than a sense of outrage over Trump being elected president to get going.

But I digress.

I am officially announcing, then, that I am changing my goal from writing all 1,000 prompts to writing the first 10, which I have done. It’s only missing two zeroes so I like to think in some way I came pretty close to my original goal.

I will endeavor to find other writing prompts to mangle and may even return to some in this book as I confess to not reading all 1,000 of them yet. Onward and upward. Or off in some direction or another, hopefully not spiraling down.