Writing Prompts vs. Story Ideas

Hi Folks,

Reedsy puts out a weekly newsletter with writing prompts. Sometimes, the prompt is an actual story idea. Other times, it’s only a prompt.

What’s the difference?

Here’s a story prompt:

A person coming home late from a New Year’s Eve Party stops by a McDonald’s. A person staying home for New Year’s Eve goes to McDonald’s for a late night snack.

And here’s a story idea:

As the countdown on New Year’s Eve reaches midnight, you look around to find all your party guests have vanished. You think it’s a clever prank until you glance at your phone and see the date is listed as, “January 0th.”

See the difference?

In the first, the prompt, you’re given an interesting (maybe) situation, but no problem, so no conflict.

In the second, all the necessary ingredients are there: you have a character with a problem (conflict) in a setting.

If you want to write a story based on the McDonald’s thing, you have to come up with a conflict.

1. Maybe both people are tired or tipsy or both.

2. Maybe the people cause or witness a fender-bender in the McParkingLot.

3. Maybe one customer accidentally jostles the other at the counter.

4. Maybe the two people were sweethearts in high school and haven’t seen each other for 30 years. One is widowed and the other divorced, having sworn off taking on another wife or husband.

5. One is wearing a custom-made necklace that was stolen during a burglary at the other’s home a few months earlier.

With a little imagination, you can turn a “prompt” into an idea. All you have to do is add the missing ingredient: character, setting or (in this case) the problem (conflict).

If any of these ideas strike you, feel free to write it.

Every week (as I write this) Reedsy offers a writing contest based on their writing prompts, which you can receive via email by free subscription.  The winner gets $50 cash. (For more on this, see https://blog.reedsy.com/writing-contests.)

‘Til next time, happy writing!


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2 thoughts on “Writing Prompts vs. Story Ideas”

  1. Harvey, just wanted to say thanks for the critique. You took time away from your own schedule to help out a fellow writer. You’re doing good work, my friend. Oh, and I just bought The Rise of a Warrior. I’m enjoying it and looking forward to the rest of the series. Again, thanks

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