Ten Sentence Prompt

This is one of my favorite structures for re-usable prompts. It’s not as easy as some prompts are to get started and can be thorny to work through but it generates material that has potential more often than any other reusable prompt or prompt structure I have tried.




First, you need two estranged family members.

Then, write ten sentences:

  1. Describe the weather
  2. Describe a sound
  3. Describe an object
  4. Update the weather from 1)
  5. Describe a piece of clothing or an accessory
  6. Update the sound from 2)
  7. Using the object from 3), write about the mood
  8. Write about an action or movement using the clothing from 5)
  9. Write about a physical trait of one of the characters
  10. Write a single line of dialog.

By the time I get to line 10) I very often find that I have a situation that is fruiting with all kinds of potential. The tension, the prickliness of the air is alive.

As a bonus, this prompt often gives me characters types and topics that I have never worked with before. Now, at this moment I have only been using this off and on for about half a year so it is possible that I will be less surprised the more I use this. And, it’s not that these characters or topics are hugely original, it’s just that they are out of the range of my own writing to date.


After experimenting with the above, I came up with expansions.


  • the characters needn’t be family members, they need only some connection and/or some history, as well as some distance or tension between them.


  • weather can be substituted with setting or surroundings in general, and
  • sound can be replace with any sense:  smell, touch, taste


One last thought: stories that germinated from prompts and grew into complete stories have required extensive reworking of the material.

For one thing, the forced structures are often not the best sequence for the reader. I break down the material and resequence for clarity.

And, often some of the opening (forced) writing is not necessary for the ultimate story. A prompt using specific words may not need those words once the story is going, or in the case of this prompt, not all the description is needed once I figure out what the story is about.

Prompts are there to help generate stories. Once started, the prompts themselves can be changed or even removed, unless the prompt is required for a competition.

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