Characters attributing roles and 'social identities' to other characters

Have you ever heard or read a statement that something was "not morally innocent" or "not politically innocent" and wondered what supposedly made it guilty (or why the person making the statement wants to portray it as 'morally or politically guilty')? Most Humanities uni students will probably have come across such statements.

The following excerpt by Terry Breverton about Jean Jacques Rousseau may help you with some answers:

Rousseau believed that it was impossible to return to the innocence of the 'noble savage' [an idea that people are naturally good until corrupted by interacting with other people] so individuals would have to contract with each other to enter society. From the isolated selves of individuals a collective entity is therefore formed which can both legislate for and embody its individual members. The nature of freedom is changed by the act of contract. Before contracting, man's freedom lies in pursuing his individual interests, but afterwards freedom consists in obeying 'the general will.' Rousseau fled from France (helped by David Hume) and settled in Switzerland, but he continued to find difficulties with the authorities and quarrel with friends. The end of his life was marked in large part by his growing paranoia and his continued attempts to justify his life and his work. His writings inspired many of the leaders of the French revolution, leading Napoleon to comment at Rousseau's tomb: 'Maybe it would have been better if neither of us had been born.'

Write a story in which one character insists that another character is involved in a specific sort of 'social contract' (and maybe insists the character is guilty of breaching it) but the other character disagrees, leading to problems between the characters.

What characters think about themself and each other

The following quote is attributed to Isaac Newton:

I do not know what I may appear to the world; but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.

His epitaph, composed by Alexander Pope, read:

Nature and Nature's laws lay hid in night: God said "Let Newton be!" and all was light.

Use the above two quotes as inspiration to write a story about a character who makes a claim like Newton's and another character who makes a claim like Pope's about the first character.

Inspiration from Fred Nwonwu

Fred Nwonwu began his story Taming of the Plains Lion with:

The lion was born without fur; her white skin glittered in the morning light, as naked as a human baby. The sun had not yet risen and the cold wind that travelled across the night still blew from down the valley making her shiver and her vocal cords opened up wide to allow for the passage of a shrill cry that rents the morning’s ambiance. It was a cry that conveyed distress enough to break many a heart, filled with longings and pleading for care, but it moved not the birth mother.
That great lioness was deaf to her child’s call. She only managed, once, to pad over and sniff at her like she had done before, right after the cub was born, before rejecting her all over again, choosing rather to pay heed to her other cubs who appear whole.

Use the above as inspiration to write a story about human characters.

A synopsis as inspiration

Cynthia Voigt's novel On Fortune's Wheel, set in a medieval-Europe-like Kingdom, is summed up in the book blurb as follows:

Birle has agreed to be wed to the huntsman Muir as an escape from the drudgery of life at her father's inn - but the moment she looks into the bellflower blue eyes of the man she comes upon stealing one of her father's boats, Birle knows she cannot marry Muir. Even after she discovers the mysterious stranger is Orien, a Lord and as unreachable to an innkeeper's daughter as a star, Birle is determined to travel with him as far as he will allow.
Their travels take Birle to a world far from home, a world where Lords may become slaves, where Princes rule by fear, and where Fortune's Wheel turns more swiftly and dangerously than Birle ever could have imagined.

Use the above synopsis as inspiration to write a story.

Using sound in cinema and fiction

Jane Knowles Marshall, in an article on, has written:

Though we might think of film as an essentially visual experience, we really cannot afford to underestimate the importance of film sound. A meaningful sound track is often as complicated as the image on the screen. The entire sound track is comprised of three essential ingredients:
- the human voice
- sound effects
- music

Write a scene for cinema or fiction with emphasis on using the human voice, sound effects and music together in the scene.

Writing a character with a new lifestyle

The synopsis of the movie A Simple Plan, on the back of the DVD cover reads:

The lives of three small town people are turned upside down when they discover a small plane concealed by snow in the mountains. Inside the plane could be the only way out of their insufficient lives, in the form of a duffel bag containing four million in cash next to the dead pilot. Two of the men, Jacob and Lou, are eager to keep the money but have a hard time convincing Jacob's brother, Hank, not to turn it in. Hank agrees, but on one condition, he will hold the cash until it is safe to keep. It's a simple plan and all goes well until Jacob overreacts to an untimely visit by a neighbour and the plan begins to unravel. With loyalties frayed each person involved must decide how far they are willing to go to cling to their ill-gotten fortune.

Use the above as inspiration to write a story about a character who finds a way out an insufficient life not by finding money, but by finding a new way of behaving.

Characters learning lessons

Kristin Thompson has written the following about the movie Groundhog Day:

The film's trajectory is a bit like that of Tootsie, where the actor Michael had to learn how to be decent to women. At the start of Groundhog Day, however, Phil is much worse than Michael ever was, insulting everyone around him. It is almost as if Tootsie had been made with the goal of reforming not Michael but Ron, the TV director. Michael had to learn his lesson by fairly extreme means - posing as a woman - but Phil's transformation will require even more. Indeed, such a drastic character change is unusual for a classical narrative. Still, as I will show, a great deal of motivating material is provided.

Choose a story and develop a basic idea about what a major character learned throughout the story. Imagine how the story might be different if one of the other characters learned a similar lesson and use that as inspiration to write a story.

Writing about people skills

In How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie wrote:

Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain - and most fools do.

Write a story about a character who criticizes, condemns and complains and how they overcome these habits.

Combining prompts

Select the titles of two Daily Writing Prompts from the right-hand column and combine them however you like as inspiration to write a story about someone seeking a new start in a new place.

What happens beyond unaided human sight

According to a post on about the BBC documentary series Life:

An early voiceover from the "Insects" episode [says]: "Because they are so small, we rarely see how extraordinary they really are." With insects, the issue is scale, not time, and it is macrophotography, rather than time-lapse, that allows us to "enter their world." In both instances, though, Life claims to offer unique access to nature through its innovative use of technology, to reveal behavior that is invisible to the human eye.

Write a story that involves seeing things that are not discernible to human sight without the aid of extra equipment.

Storytelling through action and dialogue

The following quote from Akira Kurosawa has been used in an article on

It’s easy to explain the psychological state of a character at a particular moment, but it’s very difficult to describe it through the delicate nuances of action and dialogue. Yet it is not impossible. A great deal about this can be learned from the study of the great plays, and I believe the “hard-boiled” detective novels can also be very instructive.

Write a story about a character who earns the trust of another character through their integrity, told through action and dialogue (that is, no 'internal dialogue,' description of character thoughts and feelings, description of memories and backstory etc).

Using Daily Australia Focus as a prompt

Click on the link to Cinema and Fiction Daily Australia Focus, select one of the posts and use part or all of it as inspiration to write a story.

Inspiration from a synopsis

Click the link to, click on one of the movies on the first page and use the synopsis as inspiration to write a story set in your local area.

Using a biography as a writing prompt

Stephen King started his book On Writing with:

I was stunned by Mary Karr's memoir The Liars' Club. Not just by its ferocity, its beauty, and by its totality - she is a woman who remembers everything about her early years.
I'm not that way. I lived an odd herky-jerky childhood raised by a single parent who moved around a lot in my earliest years and who - I am not completely sure of this - may have farmed my brother nad me out to one of her sisters for awhile because she was economically or emotionally unable to cope with us for a time.

Find an autobiography or think of a person, develop a basic idea about that person's approach to life and write a story that starts with a first person narrator comparing your idea of someone's approach to life with their own.

Writing an animal perspective

Japanese professor Soshichi Uchii has a simple story on his website told from the perspective of his cat. It begins:

Once upon a time ....
I was a stray cat, I had no name, and I don't know who threw me aside.
All I remember is that I had a mother. I still miss her milk!

Write a story with a first-person narrator that is an animal, other than a human.

Afterward, you could use that story as inspiration to write a story about a human in the same setting as the animal story.

Using story beats for inspiration

Click on the link to and use one or more of the story beats for How To Train Your Dragon as inspiration to write a story.

Writing about a dramatic performance

According to the blurb of Pauline Kiernan's Shakespeare's Theory of Drama:

Kiernan examines work from different stages in the canon to show that far from being restricted by the 'limitations' of drama, Shakespeare consciously exploits its capacity to accomodate temporality and change, and its reliance on the physical presence of the actor.

Write a story involving the staging of a dramatic performance.

Writing about childhood boundaries

Shel Silverstein started the poem Where the Sidewalk Ends with:

And before the street begins,
And there the grass grows soft and white,
And there the sun burns crimson bright,
And there the moon-bird rests from his flight
To cool in the peppermint wind.

Write a story in which a sidewalk marks the boundary of where your children characters are allowed to go in their neighbourhood and about what happens when they cross it.

Writing theme via a question

Karl Iglesias has written:

The easiest way to reveal theme is to put it in the form of a question rather than a statement or premise, as most have done since reading Lajo Egri's classic book The Art of Dramatic Writing. For instance, rather than state the premise for Romeo and Juliet as "Great love defies even death," you could ask, "What does great love defy?" or "Can love survive even death?" and let your story provide us with the answer by experiencing it emotionally.

Write a story with the aim of posing and answering a question.

Some clear examples of this are When Harry Met Sally: Can people of the opposite sex be just friends?, The Last Kiss: Should a partner who cheats be given a second chance?, and Liar Liar and Slackers: Is honesty the best policy?

The answer can relate to the instance of your fictional story without being a judgment about all similar cases in real life.

Writing to a premise

Lajo Egri has written that "A good premise a thumbnail synopsis of your plot." One example he has provided of a premise is:

Egotism leads to loss of friends.

Write a story in which the above premise applies to either the whole story or to the beginning of the story.

Writing set in a hypothetical future

The following is from a article paraphrasing K Radhakrishnan, Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO):

In 2013, ahead of India's human space flight planned for 2015-16, ISRO plans to put an unmanned crew module on board a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, Radhakrishnan said.

He also said ISRO is working on a mission to Mars, adding that advanced space-faring nations like US and Russia are eyeing human habitation in Mars from 2030 onwards.

Write a story set in a hypothetical future in which many countries carry out regular space travel.

Writing about adventure

A synopsis for the documentary Off the Edge, on, begins:

Off the Edge is director Michael Firth's ode to the exhilaration of adventuring on the spine of NZ's Southern Alps. Something of a snowy Endless Summer, Firth follows an American and a Canadian as they ski, hang-glide, walk, climb and delve beneath glaciers, over nine months in the Aoraki-Mt Cook area.

Use the quote above and/or the video below however you like as inspiration to write a story about adventure and how an adventure changes your character's life.

Main plot and subplot

The beginning of Family Guy episode, Brian Wallows and Peter's Swallows, has been summed up as follows:

After another unsuccessful date, Brian is depressed about his romantic prospects. Lois encourages Peter to take Brian with him and the guys to the laser rock show, but when Brian notices that nearly everyone at the show as a mate but him, he just gets more depressed and drinks. On their way home, Brian is pulled over by Joe, who arrests him for driving under the influence. Meanwhile Peter decides to grow a beard.

Write a story with a serious main plot and a subplot that provides comic relief.

Writing on friendship, inspired by an image

Click on the link to and use one of the images in the picture gallery as inspiration to write a story using the keyword friendship.

Daily Science Focus as a writing prompt

Click on the link to Cinema and Fiction Daily Science Focus and use one of the latest news story snippets from the blogroll in the right-hand column as inspiration to write a story using the key word family.

Writing about jealousy, passion and misplaced trust

Shakespeare's Othello features jealousy, passion and misplaced trust.

Write your own story that features jealousy, passion and misplaced trust.

Using a song for inspiration

Use the following music video, 2010 by Sound Sultan (featuring M.I.), as inspiration to write a story.

This music video can also be found on the We Are Jos blog, where it is dedicated to those people of Jos in central Nigeria who have lost their life to violence.

Background details on this issue can be gained by reading this BBC news article or watching this CNN report.

Using an image to inspire writing

Click on the link to a post on and use the image as inspiration to write a story.

If you get stuck for ideas, use the song lyrics below the image for further inspiration.

Writing about sacrifice

JKS Makokha began his short story A Minor Mishap with:

On that night, the family of Papa 33 had to sleep in the damp cassava plantation near the stream behind their congested wattle huts. There was no choice. Zero. The issue at hand demanded it. It had to be done.

Use the excerpt above as inspiration to write a story about sacrifice and why that sacrifice has been made.

Writing inspired by cinema history

Click on this link to, pick a moment from the timeline of developments in cinema history and write a story about a character present at that moment or an activity in some way similar to it.