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Whether you’re trying to start a new story, or struggling with writer’s block in the middle of one, ideas may seem difficult to come by. To discover your next novel or short story idea, exercise your creative writing muscle with this list of creative writing prompts and story starters that will mine your life experiences, passions, and imagination for inspiration.

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1. Make 3 Lists

One of the best ways to brainstorm creative writing ideas is by making lists, then seeing how different items on those lists clash or combine. Here are three lists to get you started.

  • Ten true events: These events needn’t be “big” or “important”: just things that happened to you or someone you know, or items you read about in the news.
  • Ten characters: These could be characters you’ve already worked with, people you’ve seen but never spoken to, family members, high school teachers, or even historical figures that fascinate you.
  • Ten story shells: These are simple stories that can serve as building blocks for your own idea. Examples include fairy tales, myths, even family stories that were passed down to you. No need to write about them in detail: simply list a few words that sum up the story.

Now, take one item from each list—one event, one character, and one existing story shell—and use them to brainstorm a new story. What happens when you drop a character of your own into a classic folktale? How would Abraham Lincoln deal with a personal event you experienced personally?

2. Explore Your Interests

Here’s another list-making writing idea: Make a list of all the subjects or activities that you’re drawn to you right now. It doesn’t matter if you just thought of them today. Freewrite on each topic until you fill a single page.

What’s exciting or intriguing to you about this subject? Is it something you’ve always wanted, or something you’re afraid of? Why? Repeat this creative writing exercise for each subject. Then, review your free writing, and look for recurring themes or dramatic situations.

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3. Write (Or Rewrite) Your Opening Line

Your opening line is often one of the most important lines in your entire novel or short story. A great first line doesn’t just grab the reader’s attention: it distills the writer’s theme, main character, or premise. Just as an opening line captures something essential about an existing story, it can also help you discover the seed of a great story.

To jumpstart your creativity, try writing seven opening lines that serve as “doors” for future stories or novels. Take a few notes about why each would make a good entryway for a reader.

If you’re in the middle of a novel or short story, overcome your writer’s block by writing seven new opening lines that could serve as alternate doors for your existing manuscript. Then, test each opening line against the following criteria:

  • Does it create a mystery to pull your reader in?
  • Does it contain concrete significant detail?
  • Does it convey the voice of your narrator?