Need a few great first lines to get the ball rolling on your next story? Each of these one-sentence writing prompts gives you an opening sentence that hooks readers from the beginning. Have fun with these creative ideas as you craft your next short story or novel.
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Why Use Story Starters in Your Creative Writing Process?
You Need a Spark of Inspiration
Sometimes, coming up with short story ideas feels overwhelming. Maybe you have an assignment due and you don’t know where to start or perhaps you’re looking to write a little at the end of a long day but you’re creative juices have dried up. Perhaps you have a standard case of writer’s block.
Creative writing prompts with sentence starters or first lines help you overcome these challenges. Without forcing you into a certain direction, they give your story an interesting starting point. They are the kindle you use to start the fire, but tending it is up to you. Fifty people could take the exact same writing prompt and run with it in different directions, and we’d end up with fifty completely different short stories.
As you read through the list of one-line writing prompts below, don’t overthink it. Pick the one that stands out to you the most, the one that creates a dozen questions in your mind instantly.
For example, if you read the first one-sentence writing prompt below, The message inside the fortune cookie, which contained only four words, has become my fate, you immediately wonder things like who ate the cookie? where did they get it? who was it intended for? what were the four words? how did they become his/her fate?
If a first line turns you into an interrogator, you know you’ve found an idea worth exploring.
You Want to Try Something Different
Writers often get stuck in ruts. We find a formula that works for us and we repeat it. This can be great for meeting deadlines or selling stories, but it can also be limiting and boring. An occasional venture outside our comfort zones expands us as writers, exposes us to styles and storylines we might not normally pursue, and lets us play around with unfamiliar concepts.
If you’ve never explored science fiction or fantasy before, you might choose a story starter that offers an escape from reality. Or maybe you want a contemporary setting with just a touch of modern realism. Or, conversely, if you’re used to creating complex fictional worlds and magic systems, a realistic setting with a main character who’s just gotten some bad news could be out-of-the-box for you.
You’re Not a Planner — Or You Need a Break from Being a Planner
I confess: I’m a serial planner. (This is my go-to guide for novel planning.) The notes I make before writing a book usually come close to matching the book in length. I like to know everything before I ever write a single word. (This level of planning is probably also a form of productive procrastination).
Planning is helpful, but sometimes it feels like a barrier too. Planners can feel like they can’t write a story unless they’ve done all the planning, and if they don’t have the time or inspiration for the planning, they don’t write. It’s a convenient excuse, but it gets us nowhere.
For extreme planners like me, one-sentence writing prompts give us permission to write without a plan. We’re not trying to come up with the best way to lay the scene for the coming action or set the stage for character development. We’re parachuting into the middle of the action and it’s sink or swim.
Those questions we talked about a moment ago? The ones generated by the first sentence? They’re in charge here. They’re calling the shots. Instead of carefully mapping out a series of plot points, we need to figure out the answers to those questions and reveal them to the reader in the most tantalizing way possible.
The questions — and their answers —will take us where they want to go, not the other way around.
I’m not saying this method will make us leave plotting behind for good — perish the thought! — but it does give us an opportunity to tackle our writing from a different angle, an experience that will only sharpen our writing skills.
50 One-Sentence Writing Prompts
- The message inside the fortune cookie, which contained only four words, has become my fate.
- I’ve walked by that old house hundreds of times in the past two years, but today was the first time I caught the little girl watching me from the window.
- Just when I thought my life couldn’t get any more complicated, my mother decided to open her new business —a coffee shop — in our living room.
- My little sister thought she’d found the best hiding place in the house…until she realized it wasn’t exactly part of the house.
- Susan hadn’t expected the hot air balloon to be filled with two dozen baby animals, but when your great uncle sends you a modern-day ark, you roll with it.
- When I heard that familiar jingle coming down the street, I assumed it was the ice cream truck; I never knew they had mobile deliveries of those.
- The cruise ship was supposed to be the setting for the perfect vacation, and it was — until that stupid movie star showed up and decided we were all going to be part of her game.
- The first step in surviving middle school is easy — always be prepared — but the second rule? That’s not so simple.
- Confused and disappointed, Marcus tossed aside the photo album his mom gave him for his birthday but when voices started coming out of it, he decided to pay attention.
- “Don’t look at me, I thought we were going for tacos.”
- Late for work, I throw open the front door and find myself face-to-face with a UPS driver standing next to the biggest box I’ve ever seen.
- You know that dream where you’ve gone back in time and you’re reliving the craziest moment of your entire life? — I’m living it.
- The house shook with a violent surge like a hurricane had whipped right through it and, just as suddenly, was still.
- We danced until the sun went down and the floor gave way beneath our feet.
- Professor Soto said the assignment would be easy; he never mentioned we’d have to do it on a roller coaster.
- The old man in the seat next to me on the train speaks loudly on his cell phone; I’m pretty sure he wasn’t supposed to let that information out.
- Joanna’s favorite band is playing a sold-out show tonight but thankfully, she’s figured out a way to get in.
- When Jaden and his best friend took the blank page out of the notebook and drew their map of Ancient Egypt on it, they had no idea of the chain of events they’d set in motion.
- “Pick a number, any number,” she said, her voice a taunt, “And I’ll show you your future self.”
- Constance was planting daffodil bulbs in her flower bed when her trowel struck a most unusual object in the soil.
- “In other news,” Zach leans over and whispers to Marie, “they’re expecting you to go up on stage and resign in about, oh, sixty seconds.”
- Hup two three four, hup two three four —wait, shouldn’t we have been there by now?
- Why did she burst through the door like that if she wasn’t going to tell me the truth?
- Though Evie knew the dog was special, she’d never realized he was magical.
- The return address on the gold envelope is in Greenland — had they really tracked me down from the other side of the world?
- I always thought good historical fiction should transport you to another time and place, but when a man in a waistcoat and a top hat enters my room, I realize the book I’m reading has taken that to a whole new level.
- The checkout line at the grocery store wouldn’t have been my preferred place to “be discovered” — fluorescent lights and all — but who am I to say no to Elizabeth Van Zee?
- Is it even worth showing up here again if nobody’s ever going to come and answer my questions about my grandma?
- I can’t justify the crimes I committed, even though they saved lives.
- “Does this purple shirt make me stand out?” asked the giant one-eyed cat.
- I wish I could tell you that everything went as planned, and no one got hurt, but that would be a lie.
- They found my mom’s ratty ball cap by the edge of the creek around a month after she went missing; I wish they hadn’t.
- She’d eaten a lot of pie during her career as a restaurant critic, but never before had she tasted one quite like this.
- It was no problem catching the thief; he left his fingerprints everywhere.
- I knew Jax was meant to be my best friend, from the moment we met right up until his death.
- My knuckles were white as I gripped the armrests of my seat, hoping desperately that our pilot could get the plane back on course before it was too late.
- Riley Davis always said that I was his whole world, but if that was true, he wouldn’t have destroyed my life.
- I didn’t want to have to hurt him, so I ran away as soon as August got down on one knee.
- At first, I had thought telepathy would be a cool superpower, but that was before I knew of the chaos that lives in every person’s mind.
- “Why do you think you’re here?” Dr. Judy asked when I took a seat in her office.
- I had just finished crocheting the small grey elephant for my nephew and was placing it in a gift bag when it let out a little trumpeting noise.
- Teddy had always known there was something fishy about that new girl, and his suspicions were confirmed as soon as he saw the live salmon in her backpack.
- She was on the hunt for a way to ease her anxiety, and it didn’t take her long to discover that goat yoga was not the answer.
- I had never taken an interest in Randy until we both attended the teen fantasy club at the local library.
- Beauty is everything, something I learned from a very young age.
- I’ve been to at least a hundred weddings since I began my career as a photographer, each one a reminder of the love I will never have.
- My sister had always loved flowers, and I felt bad for only ever giving them to her after she died.
- When people ask what happened to my wife, I say it was a car accident, because no one would believe the real story.
- I had no idea how big a polar bear’s stomach really was until I was inside of one.
- When I began my study on ducks throughout the multiverse, I had no idea it would later solve world hunger.
Need more writing prompt ideas? Check out these posts:
- 50 Compelling Fantasy Writing Prompts and Plot Ideas for an Epic Story
- 60 Creative Journal Prompts for Teenagers
How are you using these one-sentence writing prompts in your own writing practice? Leave a comment and let us know.