A Writing Prompt for the Worst Time of Your Life

Unless you’re amazingly lucky and have never had a low point in your life (*sigh* Wouldn’t that be nice?), as soon as you read the title, you knew what time of your life that would be. Or maybe you’ve thought of a series of moments that are all in the running for that title – the worst time of your life. If that’s the case, or the worst time of your life is too strong a memory to deal with comfortably or well (too personal, perhaps), you can pick any bad time that was hard to deal with. But considering what those times put us through, I think it’s only fair that we get something out of them – and what could be better to get out of them than a good story?

So here’s the writing prompt: take a bad time of your life and change it a little (so that it’s not quite so personal yet still wrenching and hard to get through). Then, make up a character that it happened to. Now, you’re ready to start a story.

But here’s the thing. Don’t start in the middle of the horrible time. Don’t start before it. Start after it. Start when the character is dealing with it but not completely healed yet.

That has a lot of power as a hook. See, we readers don’t know all the details of the awful thing that hurt the character. A few hints here and there can pull us in and make us really curious about what happened to the character before. Plus, seeing the character making it through regular life in spite of dealing with something hard humanizes that character and makes us like him/her. It’s something that most people can empathize with. Nothing yanks a reader into a story faster than that kind of curiosity.

On top of that, the struggle to deal rather than give in to the problem sets up instant conflict (another good way to suck readers in). Whether it ends up a major or minor conflict depends on where you take the rest of the story. But we want to see how the character deals with the existing problem (and any others that might crop up).

That’s a lot to get out of a hook – and a bad memory. Selling some books and making money off a low point in my life could go a long way towards making me feel better about it. It’s no substitute for therapy, but I imagine I’d feel pretty smug about turning some of them into lucrative books. That aside, so long as you get a good story out of it or even get some practice that helps you write a good story later, the writing prompt is doing its job.


  1. […] with “A Writing Prompt for the Worst Time of Your Life,” but instead of starting after that worst time, summarize it. Try to express how it felt, […]

  2. […] series of years) that felt like this? Like no sooner did you get your feet back under you than more awful news would knock you over? I know I have, and I know others who have, as well. That’s one reason […]

%d bloggers like this: