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Writing Prompt

Story Starter Grab Bag

If you’re stuck on a story, or just want to mix things up, try making a Story Starter Grab Bag.

You can be a Plotter or a Pantser (or something in between)– be as structured or as loose as you’d like, but set yourself a timer of 3 minutes for each of the following lists, and write down as many things as you can think of:



What happens

Themes/What the story is about

Postive moments

Negative moments

Images you can picture vividly

Now cut up the lists and mix the slips up in a pile (you can make a separate pile for each list, or mix all of them together).
Then set a timer for 10, 20, or 30 minutes, draw three slips, and write. You’ll discover connections you hadn’t noticed, and see your story from new perspectives– and you just might solve some plot problems or writer’s block.


Austin Kleon writes about “A Bag of Words” in his blog post (referencing Linda Barry and Ray Bradbury). When I lead the Grand Marais Writers’ Guild each month, we always start with a free-association word list based on an image, choose from the list, and use those words in a couple writing exercises. I liked the idea of a Bag rather than a list– it reminds me of the party game, Popcorn, that’s sort of a cross between Charades and Twenty Questions. And I like the randomness of drawing slips of paper, like drawing cards from a fortune teller: I like trusting my subconscious or some other unseeable force to point me in the right direction (and you can’t be blocked about what words to choose when you don’t get to choose them).

For longer writing projects, like novels, things can get stuck in a rut: write chronologically, figure out the problem in Act 2 before moving on to Act 3, is this a single novel or a trilogy?, etc. Using slips and words/phrases brings us back to seeing the story; when you can see it, you just have to write down what’s in front of you.

Slug Conversations

We’ve got friends up in Hovland (further up Highway 61). They live in a dovetail log cabin they built themselves, from trees they cut on their property.

Going up to visit them often reminds me of when we lived at Wilderness Canoe Base: a tiny cabin (for a year with no plumbing) on a lake, an hour out of town, way out of cell phone range.

The thing that strikes me is the quiet. Even though Grand Marais isn’t a bustling, noisy city by any means, it’s not truly quiet the way the woods are.

I went for a walk through their property and came across these two slugs in quiet conversation. Perhaps they need a story written about them… Let me know if you do.

She Slept Alone for 40 Nights: 10 First Sentences

1. She slept alone for 40 nights.

10 First Sentences

2. How big is a whale, really?

3. It was an occasion for silly hats, and Brad did not care for hats.

4. ‘If’ and ‘When’ and ‘How’– they all mean such subtly different things.

5. “The parade’s coming! I hear the– oh, no.”

6. He had worked at the fair for 25 years and he did the same routine at two o’clock each day.

7. She was a hesitant pianist.

8. The sky was orange for days from the far-off fires.

9. The latest thing to catch her interest was mushrooming.

10. “If you only knew how precious you were,” said Aunt Margaret in a tone that said something else entirely.


Kelly Barnhill mentioned that she writes 10 First Sentences everyday. I love this. I love seeing glimpses into so many worlds. (It reminds me of reading Enid Blyton’s The Faraway Tree as a kid).

Share your 10 First Sentences in a comment– or write what comes next!