35 Bookish Writing Prompts & Story Starters
It's been far too long since I've posted writing ideas. My creativity hasn't been on hiatus, but blogging has (and here's why I won't ignore my blog anymore). With reading on my brain lately thanks to our goal to read more books, it only took minutes to come up with a rough outline of bookish writing prompts and story starters. So, if you're experiencing writer's block or struggling with scenes or plot development, perhaps these bookish ideas will inspire your book and be a tongue-in-cheek way of moving your story along (or starting it altogether).
35 Bookish Writing Prompts & Story Starters
The Used Book. Buying a used book in a second-hand bookstore, thrift store, or yard sale opens up many writing possibilities.
In a trash to treasure story, the book could be a rare first edition or hold some other great value, like a winning lottery ticket. A charmed or cursed book might be a portal to another world or bring evil into this one.
In a love story, a worn, well-read book could hold messages, letters, or notes, luring your main character to discover the original owner. Or it could start a meaningful back and forth between two strangers who leave note-filled copies for each other in the same used bookstore. Hmm, I like this one. Could be very romantic.
In a more sinister light, used books from an estate could unmask a serial killer or villain. Using books to create dastardly plans is smarter than using the internet. Marked pages could reveal copied death scenes or murder methods. Perhaps there are cryptic notes in the margins. Or eerie receipts used as bookmarks, like this one...
Purchased from Home Depot... duct tape, tarp, plastic ties, bleach, hammer...
The Left Behind Book. Finding a book on the subway, bus, train, or backseat in an Uber could inspire similar ideas, especially if it's special.
The main character might be driven to return a keepsake to a stranger, like an engraved or signed book. Or at least uncover the owner's identity if the book itself or the messages within present questions the main character must answer for peace of mind. A Bible or other religious text marked with hate-speech... A romance filled with love letters... An anatomy book with doodles of restraints, dissections, faces.
What if the book left behind contained strange codes? Passwords? Identities?
Or a map? Either coded within the story or tucked in separately? Would your main character be brave or resourceful enough to discover what the X at the end really is?
The "Normal" Bookstore Purchase. Your main character visits a bookstore looking for self-help books on _____________. (Divorce, adoption, Irritable Bowl Syndrome, Poisons, How to Deal with Difficult People). Or a book to support her _____________ habit or hobby. (Chess, Antiques, Cheesy romances, Crossword puzzles, Baking). Someone notices her deliberations and approaches.
An awkward Meet Cute begins. "I see you're suffering from IBS. May I suggest..." or "Why do women read trash like that?" or "I'm divorced, too, and no book'll make it better."
And so begins the stalking. Strange attractions can begin over the weirdest things, often unbeknownst to the victim. What if a sinister tale starts simply by what book he or she selects in a bookstore?
While Reading. If you're main character is a bibliophile, then she probably reads every chance she gets. At the beach. In the park. Waiting in line at the grocery store (Stephen King used to carry a paperback in his back pocket for waiting times).
Your MC carries a book in her lunchbox and must get away from the office/classroom/assembly line. What book is she reading? And who notices?
A book provides an instant conversation starter. Is this good or bad for your main character? When asked if she likes the book, she might critique it harshly only to discover it's the author who's asked. Yikes.
Does your MC read where she shouldn't? During a meeting? At family dinner? In class? And get in trouble for it?
At the Library. Is your MC a library patron? Or employee? Or just stepping in from the rain? Like any public place, anything can happen in a library.
The town toys with the idea of closing the local library and your main character becomes an activist fighting against it.
While working the circulation desk, your MC notices a disturbing series of books checked out by one person. What does she do?
Head Librarian Maggie always suspected the local celebrity chef of stealing recipes. Now, she has proof.
Racing across the city to get her library books to the drop-off bin before end-of-day, your main character runs into ________________.
It started with strangely redacted books. Words, phrases, paragraphs completely blacked out of popular titles. Then, whole pages torn. Then, hateful words written in black Sharpie. Sinner! Evil! Whore! Then, the mysterious vandal turned to violence.
Story time started, a room full of children ready to listen, and that's when the protests turned ugly.
Amazon Delivery. A private person, your main character doesn't have guests and no one knows where she lives except family. So, when the Amazon package arrives, she's sure it's a mistake. But it's her name on the address and the gift receipt, too, followed by the terse instruction... Read these.
In a mock intervention, someone in her family has sent her books on dealing with her hoarding, alcoholism, OCD, bad fashion sense, or __________________.
The books on overcoming trauma tell her that someone knows about her past... and where she lives.
Serial killers, human sacrifices, stories of blood and torture... she never reads anything like this! Who would send them to her? And why?
At a Book Signing. Anticipated by fans. Dreaded by writers, maybe. Stephen King has signed books until his fingers have bled... which actually made his fans happier about their bloody keepsakes. What else might happen at a book signing?
Your MC has been looking forward to this--finally meeting her favorite author. But it doesn't go as she expects. Will sparks or fists fly? Will the lackluster celebrity encounter be shadowed by who she meets in line?
When the publishing company tries to pass off an imposter for their best-selling, but reclusive author...
Where better for the author to find the next target for his "fictional" serial killer than at a book-signing event? Thousands of fans mean as many potential marks. And wouldn't it be the greatest honor of their mediocre lives, anyway? Their fear, their last words, their deaths forever immortalized in fiction? It's really the only reason to do a book-signing when you're that famous.
An inheritance. Long lost relatives and inheritances show up all the time in Agatha Christie stories. Why not in modern tales, too? But what if the inheritance is an oddball item, like a book?
Is it a journal? Does it contain family secrets? Bribery material? Great Aunt Sally's revered chocolate chip cookie recipe? The thing you've always wanted to know, but never imagined you'd find out?
You had no idea your ancestors were devil worshippers, but this proves it.
A first edition ___________ will fetch a decent price at auction, but should your MC sell it? What if she has no choice?
Why would your character's great uncle leave him a cheap copy of Treasure Island? Unless....
Reading Disruptions. She just wants to read. That's all. But why does life constantly get in the way of her escapism? There are many ways to go with this idea... comical, lonely, disturbing.
Busy work. Again. Students glared over their lengthy question packets at their teacher, twiddling her hair while her eyes darted over pages. Something about pirates and big-busted damsels this time. How can an English teacher read trash? In class?
Thirty minutes for lunch. Two ten-minute breaks in between. This was her time, and Hugo and Penelope's ongoing battle to reunite played with her imagination constantly. But how could she get to the pay-off scene if her cubicle-mate Jason kept interrupting? What do you think of this... and that's a lovely sweater... and what're you doing after work? Geez! She only wants a little romance in her life!
The baby monitor screamed to life again, making her shoulders jump. The exhausted mom huffed, cursing under her breath. Two pages left until the chapter's end. A crying baby can wait, right? She switched the baby monitor off. Too distracting.
Bookish Places. Perhaps your main character enjoys visiting bookish places. An unique setting could be a catalyst for meeting new people, getting into trouble, saving the world.
Edgar Allan Poe's grave in Baltimore, The Jane Austen Festival in Bath, England, The Doctor Seuss Museum in Springfield, Maryland, a Shakespearean tour of Europe. Those are just a few of the many ways to celebrate favorite authors and books. What if your MC is saving money for such a trip? Or in the middle of one when something amazing happens (good or bad)? Or maybe a bookish adventure changes her life like in Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat Pray Love?
What about other bookish places? Bookstores are obvious, but there are many unique ones. Books also feature in cafes, restaurants, and bars. Perhaps your MC owns such a place (or wants to). Or maybe she visits an art exhibit where everything's made from recycled books. Or that features dioramas of famous scenes from books? Or she's chasing a serial killer who's murder scenes are book-inspired. Hmm, I like that one.
Yes, I have a Murder, She Wrote game... Isn't it awesome?
Okay, wanderlust is setting in... and creative overload.
Books, bookish places, famous authors... what about your book-inspired story ideas? Favorite bookstores or landmarks? Share all things bookish below!