Creative Writing Cues and Concepts: Let’s Get Started!

When you start a new story or poem you often need a creative writing cue, or concept to get you started. You sometimes want an idea that prompts you to write a story, or a poem. Something that begins your writing might be as simple as a color, or a smell. However, a creative writing provocation can also be a fully formed plot!

Sometimes you need a story or poem topic area. Something that might be considered a genre, or a theme, like war, love, time, or friendship. A creative writing opening, or beginning, can be formed around characterization for poems and fiction.

A writing suggestion might come from a friend, or a teacher, or a family member. It might even come from a pet, if they look at you pleadingly or do something funny. Creative writing ideas for forms of writing for performance like screenplays, and plays are no different.

A story recommendation can set you on the right path, and make you excited. An exciting creative writing plan is sometimes all you need to get started writing!

Where Can I find Creative Writing Cues and Concepts?

Below is a list of concepts to consider when getting started with your story or poem, and then we dive into some specific ideas to get you started!

How Can I Start a Story?

Make them Talk! Sometimes if you can’t come with anything that feels original and exciting, it’s best just to let two of your characters talk, and see what they say! Let Jimmy tell Frank about the robbery he wants to commit. Let Alice tell Jan about her promotion. Let the President scold her chief of staff for the latest political disaster. Let your characters do all the work for you, and let them take on a life of their own! 

What Should I Write About?

Writing is Conflict. Ernest Hemingway said the closest analogy for story he could think of was watching dogs race around a track after the same objective. A great writing exercise championed by Aaron Sorkin of West Wing is to have one character ask another character for money, and have the other character refuse to pay up. Here is the essence of drama: you watch one character attempt a variety of tactics to achieve their objective, and the other character use their own tactics to evade. It helps to figure out the central conflict of your scene.

Where Should I Set My Creative Writing?

Many authors, like Tim Winton, describe the way they start with a place, and almost discover the characters there, and then simply follow them on their journeys through the landscape. Have a very detailed understanding of the setting of your novel will give you lots of clues about how the character might operate in that world. Especially if the world starts impinging on their lives – think of any scene where characters are caught outside in the rain, or are caught deep inside Russian territory as the winter cold arrives!

Can I Structure a Story Around a Problem?

Think of a problem, and how your character might solve it. Take Breaking Bad for instance. Walter White is a down and out high school teacher with cancer and no way to pay his medical bills and support his family once he’s gone. How’s he going to solve that problem? By becoming the greatest drug baron in Northern America, that’s how!

Can I Structure My Writing Around Character Change?

Yes. Think of a journey of character growth and change. Name a profession. Carpenter. Now name a place that builder could end up. The President. Now describe that journey. The way the character changes can be a warning for the audience not to fall into the same traps, or it can be a guide to how to achieve great things.

Here’s some ideas to mull over.

What are Some Specific Story Prompts, or Cues, to Get Me Started?

  • Write a story about a character trying to find meaning after an apocalypse has destroyed their world. One of the most enduring and popular genres is the post apocalyptic genre! Start writing about the things that make life worth living after an apocalypse! 
  • Write a story about an ordinary person who discovers they have magical powers. From Harry Potter to Star Wars, this prompt has led to some of the most highly praised stories ever written! 
  • Write a story about a person who is alone in an isolated place. Robinson Crusoe, the story of a man on a desert island, was so popular that it sparked its own genre of literature called the Robinsonade. Think of films like Castaway. Wilson! 
  • Write a story about a piece of new technology that changes the world forever! Sci-Fi is usually about how technology can radically alter the human experience, and yet at the end of the day no matter where human beings find themselves, the core human emotional experience is still the same. Think about how warp drive, or light speed, altered the nature of human reality! This is a great story cue and concept.
  • Write a story about the most important moment in history. Historical fiction is an enduring genre that is very popular, and often wins lots of awards. Find the moment in history that interests you the most, and bring it to life for a whole new generation. Creative writing suggestions and provocations like this can come from anywhere, at any time. Keep a look out.
  • Write a story about a love so powerful that it alters lives forever. Love and desire can be so fierce that lives are forever changed. Think Romeo and Juliet. What happens if you take this to the extreme? What is the fiercest love? 
  • Write a story about someone who will never give up until they get revenge. The revenge genre has been popular since the first stories were told, and these tales will never go out of style. From Hamlet, to Taken, find a character who has every right to seek revenge, and follow them on that journey! This is a powerful writing prompt: does it make you think of any any other cues to get you started? Story prompts can inspire other prompts to leap into your mind.
  • Write a story that shows what growing up was really like for you! Many writers start in the coming of age genre, because it’s a great chance to get your own experience of life down on the page. No two people’s experiences are the same, and no two moments in history are the same, so don’t be afraid to tell your story.
  • Write a story about an astonishing moment of beauty during a battle. From the earliest times (e.g. Homer) war stories have fascinated humankind. What we often most enjoy are the moments of beauty amongst all the horror, confirming that war portrays humanity at both its best and worst (check out the film Hacksaw Ridge). 
  • Write a story about the true impact of spying. Spy stories are riveting because of all the action and mystery they contain! But they also allow us to examine the human experience under extreme strain. Show us why a spy does what they do, and how it makes them feel. 

We believe in the importance of literature and new writing. If you have a story or poem ready to go, make sure to take a look at our Letter Review Prize for Short Stories, and Prize for Poetry. Both offer great prize money, and publication at Letter Review. All entries are considered for publication. You can also submit to our regular submissions all year round.