Each week, I’ll offer a tip you can take and apply to your WIP to help improve it. They’ll be easy to do and shouldn’t take long, so they’ll be tips you can do without taking up your Sunday. Though I do reserve the right to offer a good tip now and then that will take longer—but only because it would apply to the entire manuscript.
This week, check how you end each scene and/or chapter and make sure you’re giving readers a reason to turn the page.
A scene break or chapter ending is a natural place for readers to put down a book, and sometimes we write it that way without considering the downsides. Characters go to sleep, they leave for a journey, they settle in to wait—they at in ways that say “pause the story here” in some way.
But when we end a scene with something that must be known—readers keep on reading. Readers who can’t put a book down even when the scene is over or the chapter has ended are ones who are going to rave about your book the next day (while yawning from lack of sleep).
Look at the ending of your scenes and chapters. Do they end with something to keep readers reading? Not just the last line, but the situation or need int he novel itself? Is there something going on readers want to see? Need to know? Must read the outcome for?
If not, tweak, trim, or shift so the break happens in a spot readers won’t be able to stop on.
Whether you’re looking to write to market or are scouring manuscript submissions for your next acquisition, knowing what tropes appeal to readers can help inform your decision. We see different trends in different categories. And studying these trends, especially those that have been selling well recently, will help you learn what content can best engage your audience.
To help you get a sense of what’s currently engaging BookBub members, we’re showcasing two trending tropes across each of 15 different categories, along with examples of books that performed well for each trope. These trends and examples are based on our internal engagement data from the past few months as well as our editors’ research. Note that our readers’ tastes change over time, and these are the tropes that are currently trending!
Special thanks to BookBub’s editors for contributing their expertise and trope summaries below!
Crime Fiction Trends
When a person vanishes, they leave dozens of questions in their wake: not just how and why the incident occurred, but sometimes even whether the disappearance was a crime at all. And our readers are loving a good twist right now!
Our puzzle-loving readers enjoy books that reopen a cold case — a crime that’s lain dormant for years, sometimes decades — from a fresh angle, where someone finally finds the tools needed to crack it.
Historical Romance Trends
Marriages of convenience
In historical romances, readers love when heroines must wed the hero for reasons beyond their control, or marry for anything but love — only to find themselves falling head over heels!
Heroes with titles
Dukes might have been few and far between in actual 19th century England, but in historical romance they’re thick on the ground, and our readers have been loving them as heroes lately — along with earls and marquesses.
Middle Grade Trends
There’s nothing better than magic with a good dose of whimsy. Middle Grade fantasy often strikes a great balance between the quintessential magical elements our readers love and an inviting tone that appeals to all ages.
Drawing from classic series like Nancy Drew and The Boxcar Children, contemporary middle grade mysteries combine sleuthing with charm for low-stakes puzzles that are fun, exciting, and stress-free.
Teen & YA Trends
Contemporary about real world issues
We’ve seen our YA readers turning to books about real-world issues recently, like abuse, suicide, and mental illness, as they explore tough topics through emotional reads.
Fairy tale retellings
There’s nothing more satisfying than a new twist on an old favorite. Fairy tale retellings deliver a wonderful mix of familiarity and surprise as they approach the classic happily ever after from a different angle.
Literary Fiction Trends
Literary fiction often helps us reflect on how we as individuals belong in a community. Small towns — where everyone’s business is inescapable — are the perfect settings for exploring the divides between personal ambition, duty, and home.
The best literary fiction also helps us understand our relationships with those closest to us. Family sagas allow us to see how characters’ most intimate ties change over time, often underlining the sentiment that you can never truly go home again.
Science Fiction Trends
Science fiction stories span galaxies and centuries — and more often than not, several volumes in a series. Our sci-fi readers love good deals that let them visit and stay awhile in worlds beyond our own.
Great science fiction paints a picture of the future that shines a light on the present. Artificial intelligence has been a particularly strong frame for exploring current questions of consciousness, labor, and identity.
Our epic fantasy readers like to be swept up in vivid secondary worlds and love tales with high stakes, magic, and intrigue.
Fairy tale retellings
Fairy tale retellings breathe new life into classic fairy tales and myths, offering either lush reweavings of established storylines or new takes on familiar tropes.
Paranormal Romance Trends
Our paranormal romance readers enjoy sci-fi romance tropes, particularly a steamier plot featuring a sexy, alpha alien looking for a human mate.
In the supernatural world, sometimes destiny delivers one’s soulmate, igniting an unfathomable, intense connection. Fated mates is one of our paranormal romance readers’ favorite tropes right now.
Erotic Romance Trends
Sure, you’re probably thinking about Christian Grey from Fifty Shades, but he’s not the only brooding billionaire out there. What woman doesn’t want a wealthy man who can offer her everything her heart desires?
Right now our erotic romance readers are loving ménage romance and all the tension and pleasure that comes from adding another person in the bedroom.
Action & Adventure Trends
In military fiction, protagonists will likely have a degree of experience in the combat and survival departments, so the book’s action sequences will reflect that expertise.
Ancient secrets, codes, and hidden treasure
Given the gargantuan popularity of stories like National Treasure and The Da Vinci Code, it’s no surprise that our action and adventure readers are big fans of books featuring historical clues, hidden treasures, and puzzle elements.
Cozy Mysteries Trends
English village mysteries
Our US readers like to visit the pastoral countryside with English village mysteries — think cozy town centers and witty suspects who are questioned over afternoon tea. The inciting murder typically happens off the page and the amateur sleuth is able to tie things up neatly in the end.
Bookish cozy mysteries have amateur sleuths with one foot in the world of books — often as bookstore owners, book club members, librarians, or authors — and evoke the charm of a reading ritual or the thrill of researching through dusty tomes.
Queer literary fiction
Queer literary fiction is often bittersweet, with plots involving difficult choices and self-reflection. It captures parts of the queer experience not always covered in romance or other genre fiction.
In our LGBT category, mystery and thriller plots are popular when they provide a backdrop for a relationship — the central action or investigation creates tension, forcing characters into close quarters and bringing attraction sizzling to the surface.
Chick Lit Trends
Opposites attract & enemies-to-lovers
An unlikely couple slowly realizing they’re perfect for one another is a tale as old as time. This classic plotline is a perfect fit for those who want a taste of will-they-won’t-they tension.
Whether they’re set in bakeries or centered around an aspiring chef, books brimming with food conjure up warmth and coziness — and are sure to satisfy every appetite.
Historical Fiction Trends
World War II
The horror, drama, and emotion of World War II have been depicted in countless bestselling books, and it’s no surprise that the time period continues to enthrall BookBub readers.
Looking at recent performances, we can see that BookBub readers love novels set in early America, which often illuminate the dangerous lure of the unknown, the desire for independence, and the promise of a fresh start.
Lapses in memory bring an added layer of uncertainty to thrillers, forcing us to question whether we can trust the person at the center of the story (or how much they can trust themselves).
Children in peril
Thrillers featuring a child in peril have heightened stakes — the helplessness of the victim means greater urgency to defeat whatever’s threatening them. This is a popular trope across many thriller subgenres, from legal thrillers to psychological suspense!
What category trends do you want us to talk about next? Let us know what you think in the comments below!
For me, it’s always a kind of relief to write a piece for Writer Unboxed. That’s because you, Unboxed one, are among the most consistent elements of publishing.
Writers tend to work through the upheavals of the industry by focusing ever more intently on writing. This actually is not the pathway taken by many others in the industry.
As economic and market forces bash and bang up the business, company people (rightly) believe they have a mandate not only to adapt but to innovate, to look for things that will accommodate and/or ameliorate the changing circumstances of a creative industry in profoundly changing times. The industry! The industry!
And so my reporting at Publishing Perspectives and at The Hot Sheet have a lot to do with change: lots of trial and lots more error, fits and startups, big trends that fizzle in under two years, minor fads that flatten everybody’s expectations, and the abiding difficulty that this industry has in understanding itself as part of a major entertainment complex that has overtaken it.
On that last point, it’s not everyone. I love the exceptions: some of publishing’s brightest leaders are working well to associate themselves with studios and other production players to reposition bookish content for survival in a screened landscape.
But another thing I value in the Writer Unboxed community is the authorial viewpoint that, of course, isn’t always factored into industry thinking.
And today, I’d like to “provoke you,” to use a pleasantly over-strong term, to give me your input on an important distinction that I fear some in the business may be overlooking, and that I’ll bet many in the author corps are not.
Let’s say that there’s a difference in the content and the act: the story and the reception of it.
Heres what I’m on about. As you know, publishing’s shooting star at the moment is audiobooks. Oh, those double-digit gains. The Association of American Publishers just reported that between January and August of this year, downloaded audio was up 37.5 percent over the same period last year, by far the biggest gain in all publishing. And this is being replicated in other world markets we cover.
Audio is hot, hot, hot. (As long as it’s downloaded. Physical audio in the same time-period comparison tanked by 24.6 percent. We don’t need no stinkin’ CDs or cassette tapes, thanks just the same.)
So big is audio that at The FutureBook conference in London in November, my former associates at The Bookseller will be staging a full day of audiobook sessions–there’s an entire audio conference running parallel to the main stream. (And we could have bought stock in headphone makers, you know.)
As I’m sure I’ve bored you by saying before here, my own pet pleasure in this thing about audio is that in some markets like the UK (but not yet in Canada, we just learned), guys are leading the way in audiobook sales. Yes, guys. Outbuying the women in books. Sounds like another planet, doesn’t it? But it’s true. As long as it’s audio, the guys are in the lead. They don’t like reading, but they like listening, especially while doing other things, surveys show.
But that brings me to my provocation for you today.
Reading Books vs. Consuming Content
If audiobooks are soaring, and more people (especially those British guys) are reading, this sounds great, right? Your books are being … consumed.
Of course, they’re not quite being read. Except by those saints who are prompted by one medium to turn to another.
Similar effect in film and television series, of course. PBS recently aired the all-too-short BBC/Masterpiece production based on Jessie Burton’s The Miniaturist. Granted, some viewers will be tempted to get the book. We have to assume, however, that they’re in the minority.
And as studio work becomes better–as even those audiobooks get better–what’s happening to reading.
My irritating question for you: are you reading as much as you used to?
Let’s make a few assumptions, to try to clear the table of a bit of understandable and natural clutter.
Writers don’t always get to read as much as they like because they’re busy writing. It was ever thus, that’s perfectly okay.
Writers also tend to become more discerning as their careers progress, so that they may read less but make more exacting choices of what they’d like to read, either to support their own writing or even to support colleagues at times. Also perfectly okay.
Writers may also from time to time need to avoid reading. Some find that another writer’s style can become tangled with their own, or another’s good story can sway them from their outlines. Also also perfectly okay.
So those caveats and any others you feel are appropriate are easily taken onboard here, no worries.
But what I think we’re seeing is that writing really is becoming “content,” as much as some may not care for the term. I mean to say by that that your next piece may be read by far fewer than it might have been 10 or even just five years ago. It might be heard by a lot more English blokes at the gym. Or it might be watched on Hulu or Amazon Prime or Netflix or HBO by a lot more people. It might even be murmured by Alexa from a whole lot of Echo devices, right?
But reading? That’s where I’d like your input.
Being writers here, we’re all likely agreed that the act of reading is valuable in many important ways–the cultivation of imagination, the development of concentration capability, the joy and necessity of critical thinking (whatever happened to that?), the marvelous gift of vocabulary expansion, and so on. There’s little need for us to defend the value of reading to each other; other choirs need to hear us preach that one, not us.
But how say you, then? Whither reading? Not books, reading.
By Porter Anderson (@Porter_Anderson)
Think for a moment about your work in progress. How should your book be marketed? What kind of reader do you want to attract? Who is your book for?
Why, it’s for everyone! you exclaim.
After all, who wouldn’t want to read your fabulous plot, compelling characters, and engaging writing voice? Perhaps a few doltish persons on the fringe, but anyone with good sense and a love of good story would like your book.
Sorry, but nope.
Some people won’t want to read your book. In fact, some people might hate your book. And that’s a worthwhile reality to consider when we writers send our manuscripts into contests, open ourselves to outside critique, and read through reviews. Sometimes you’ll get feedback that you can simply shrug off with, “My book wasn’t for them.”
It isn’t personal (even though the comment might sting), but rather a mismatch between author and reader. We simply can’t write a story that every single person will adore. Your book, and my book, is not for everyone.
Yet that simply puts us in good company. I like to turn to the world of authors and see what wisdom they can offer. Check out these reviews, followed by the book that sparked them.
“…no more than a glorified anecdote, and not too probable at that…” – The Chicago Tribune
“…an absurd story, whether considered as romance, melodrama, or plain record of New York high life.” – The Saturday Review
THE GREAT GATSBY, F. Scott Fitzgerald
“…no better in tone than the dime novels which flood the blood-and-thunder reading population… his literary skill is, of course, superior, but their moral level is low, and their perusal cannot be anything less than harmful.” — in The New York Times
THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN, Mark Twain
“The book as a whole is disappointing, and not merely because it is a reworking of a theme that one begins to suspect must obsess the author. [The main character] who tells his own story, is an extraordinary portrait, but there is too much of him.” – The New Republic
THE CATCHER IN THE RYE, J.D. Salinger
“These are one-dimensional children’s books, Disney cartoons written in words, no more.” – The Guardian
HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE, J.K. Rowling
“How a human being could have attempted such a book as the present without committing suicide before he had finished a dozen chapters, is a mystery.” – Graham’s Lady’s Magazine
WUTHERING HEIGHTS, Emily Bronte
“the plan and technique of the illustrations are superb. … But they may well prove frightening, accompanied as they are by a pointless and confusing story.” — Publisher’s Weekly
WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, Maurice Sendak
But you know what? Just take that last one. Sendak didn’t write this book for everyone. It found its way into the hearts of children, of all ages, over the years.
Here’s how the Library Journal described it: “This is the kind of story that many adults will question and for many reasons, but the child will accept it wisely and without inhibition, as he knows it is written for him.”
Knowing who your book is for can help you figure out how to distribute and market it to the right audience, as well as how to handle the negative reviews that inevitably come in. When that happens, remind yourself that you’re in the same circle with the likes of Twain, Rowling, and Bronte. Not such a bad place to find yourself.
So the hero in my latest release has a few unlikeable traits (as in, pretty unethical and unsavoury behaviours), which would be fine in some genres, but not so much in romance. I realised that if I was going to have an online stalker who has come to some pretty dark conclusions about humanity, I needed to address this fairly early on in the book if I wanted my readers to fall in love with him alongside my heroine. Actually, if I wanted them to read past the second chapter!
I decided on the strategy I was going to use, but I began to reflect on the psychology behind Blake Snyder’s famous tactic. The tactic (which some of you would have guessed by now) we’ll discuss shortly; the science behind is the bit we’re going to delve into first, and it’s called the ‘halo effect.’
The halo effect
The halo effect is a type of cognitive bias in which our overall impression of a person influences how we feel and think about his or her character. Essentially, your overall impression of a person (“Gosh, he’s nice!”) impacts your evaluations of that person’s specific traits (“He’s probably also smart!”). We assume that because Johnny is good at A, then he must be good at B, C, and D. Conversely, it also works the other way (called the horn effect); if Danny is bad at A, then he must be bad at B, C, and D.
Psychologist Edward Thorndike first coined the term in 1920. Thorndike asked commanding officers in the military to evaluate a variety of qualities in their soldiers. These characteristics included such things as leadership, physical appearance, intelligence, loyalty, and dependability. He found that high ratings of a particular quality correlated to high ratings of other characteristics, while negative ratings of a specific quality also led to lower ratings of other characteristics. Soldiers were far more likely to be assessed as good in all areas or bad in all areas, even when there was no obvious correlation between the traits.
So yes, first impressions count out in the real world (which means they also do in your story).
Check out these other examples of the halo effect:
We tend to perceive celebrities as attractive and successful, meaning we also tend to see them as intelligent and funny.
Teachers are subject to the halo effect when evaluating their students. A teacher who sees a well-behaved student might tend to assume this student is also bright, diligent, and engaged (it’s actually how I see many students slip through the cracks in our educational system).
The halo effect can also impact how students perceive teachers. In one study, researchers found that when an instructor was viewed as warm and friendly, students also rated him as more attractive, appealing, and likable (I’m glad I made it a point to smile at my students during my teaching years!).
In the work setting, the halo effect is most likely to show up in a supervisor’s appraisal of a subordinate. In fact, the halo effect is probably the most common bias in performance appraisal. The supervisor may give prominence to a single characteristic of the employee, such as enthusiasm, and allow the entire evaluation to be coloured by how he or she judges the employee on that one characteristic. The employee could have areas they have yet to achieve competence in, but if they show enthusiasm, the supervisor may very well give them a higher performance rating than is justified.
Marketers take advantage of the halo effect to sell products and services. The iPod is a great example—a popular product, it functioned as a great launching pad for the iPhone.
What’s more, researchers have found that attractiveness is a factor that can be influential in the halo effect. The truth is, we tend to rate attractive people more favourably for their personality traits than those who are less attractive. Several different studies have found that when we rate people as good-looking, we also tend to believe that they have positive personality traits and that they are more intelligent. If a prospective employer views an application as attractive, they are more likely to rate the individual as intelligent, competent, and qualified (and no, that’s not fair). What’s more, one study even found that jurors were less likely to believe that attractive people were guilty of criminal behaviour (so crime writers out there—consider making your murderer attractive if you’re looking for them to get away with it).
Harnessing the halo effect in your story
Deliberate use of the halo effect can be a powerful writers tool. The idea is to create the impression you want the reader to build upon early on. If you’re looking to create a good impression, you can do this by showing your character as funny or smart, and possibly attractive. Your readers brain will extrapolate from there without even realising it. My character was certainly smart, and the reader got that sense from his hacking knowledge and sharp dialogue. And yes, he’s good looking, but he’s also significantly scarred. Capturing a romance reader in this scenario was going to be a challenge.
The literary device that I used was Save the Cat; a term coined by the late Blake Snyder—a scene relatively early in the story where the reader meets the hero and he/she does something ‘nice.’ Often it will have a heroic flavour, like oh, saving a cat. If that action has enough emotional impact, your reader will start making generalisations about the character’s other personality traits.
In my particular scene, chapter two in fact, we’re introduced to Erik, who is stalking his peers online without them knowing of his existence. What’s more, the reader realises he’s been doing this for some time, and he does not have a very high opinion of humanity. By the end of the scene he also saves one of said peers from being blackmailed by his brother.
On the other side of the coin, you have the ‘kick the dog’ scene. If you want to create a first impression of your villain, then have them commit some act of unpleasantness. If a villain is kicking a dog in chapter two, my brain is going to put two and two together and conclude this dude isn’t very nice in other areas of his life. It’s fascinating that this cognitive shortcut happens outside of my awareness will set up my expectations for the remainder of the book.
The cool bit is that this allows you, the author, to either confirm these suspicions, or blow them off the page.
Let’s say you skip reading the first few sentences and start with the fourth?
I don’t like the pressure of writing a first sentence.
What if I fail to engage readers? What if I’m boring them? What if I’ve wasted my time on this article because my first line sucks?
The task of writing a first sentence can paralyze even the most acclaimed writers. In an interview with the Atlantic, Stephen King admits he can spend months, or even years, on writing the opening lines for a new book.
Sounds crazy, right?
As business writers, we don’t have the luxury of time. We have other things to do than worrying about one line of text.
So what can we do?
Let me share with you a trick for writing a first sentence super-fast. But first, let’s define what a good opening line is.
An outrageously good opening sentence
This is how the novel “Nervous Conditions” by Tsitsi Dangarembga starts:
I was not sorry when my brother died.
Why is this sentence good?
It entices you to read on.
That first sentence creates drama because it instantly raises two compelling questions in readers’ minds: Why did the brother die? And why was the author not sorry? A reader reads on because he wants to find out the answers to these two questions.
An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story. It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this.
One of the most famous opening lines
This is how “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger starts:
If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.
This famous opening line is 63 words long.
Is such a long sentence a good idea?
Ben Blatt analyzed what makes a good novel great, and he also reviewed first sentences. His conclusions are not clear cut, as he summarizes in his book “Nabokov’s Favorite Word is Mauve:”
The first sentence is only as popular as the rest of the book, and brevity alone will not make a first sentence great.
Our literary heroes may write lengthy first sentences.
But when writing for the web, we need to remember our readers. They’re not curled up on a comfy sofa with a book and a glass of Rioja. They’re hurrying across the web, searching for interesting articles to read and share. Who has the patience to start reading a block of text?
So, instead of following J.D. Salinger’s 63-word mammoth sentence, take your cue from Toni Morrison, the master of short first sentences, like this one from “Tar Baby:”
He believed he was safe.
They shoot the white girl first.
From “God Help the Child:”
It’s not my fault.
Each of these sentences makes you curious to read on.
Your first sentence has two purposes. First, get people to read your first sentence—a short sentence works better because it’s easy to read. Then, make sure they want to read your second sentence.
The worst opening lines
Ben Blatt quotes the opening line of the book “Paul Clifford” by Edward Bulwer-Lytton as one of the most ridiculed opening lines ever:
It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the house-tops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.
Not only is that sentence awfully long, its worst crime is that nothing happens. Nothing grabs attention. Nothing makes me curious. It’s simply a description of the weather. So what?
Of course, in business we rarely write about the weather, but you may have come across similar opening lines that fail to whet your appetite for reading more. For instance:
Many ways exist to choose your words.
As you know, Rome wasn’t built in one day.
In business, you have to take risks.
The above opening lines may be short, but they’re obvious statements, killing readers’ interest. There’s no incentive to read on.
A little-known shortcut for web writers
Getting nervous about writing a good first sentence?
No need for nerves, when you know this blog writing trick …
Unlike novels, a blog post is often a conversation with our readers. And what easier way to engage readers than asking them a question?
Have you read a book you feel compelled to carry on reading? You know the kind of book I’m talking about. You read it past your bedtime and during your lunch breaks. You read it because you want to not only know what happens next, but you also wonder what is really going on.
Chances are the author is using a series of cliffhangers to keep you interested.
What Is A Cliffhanger?
According to Oxford Dictionaries it is ‘a dramatic and exciting ending to an episode of a serial, leaving the audience in suspense and anxious not to miss the next episode’.
The term itself originated with a Thomas Hardy serial when one of his protagonists, Henry Knight, was left hanging off a cliff.
Writers use cliffhangers as a literary device at the end of scenes, chapters, and books. These end without the questions raised being resolved. The reader has to carry on reading to find out what happens.
The History Of Cliffhangers
One of the most famous examples of using cliffhangers can be found in One Thousand and One Nights. Scheherazade tells a series of stories to the king for 1,001 nights, ending each on a cliffhanger, to save herself from execution.
They were also an important element of Victorian serial novels, including those by Charles Dickens, a pioneer of the serial publication of narrative fiction.
Television series are notorious for ending seasons on major cliffhangers. The most famous example was the ‘Who Shot JR Ewing?’ ending in Dallas.
Modern writers are using this device more often because readers can easily be tempted away from books. Instead of ending each scene satisfactorily, it has become quite commonly used to prolong suspense.
Cliffhangers are the clickbait that get the reader to turn the page. James Patterson has used this technique successfully using short chapters that end without major resolutions.
Here are 10 ideas for cliffhangers:
1. An Unanswered Question
This is the most common cliffhanger. Ask a provocative question or make sure that the one that started the scene is still unanswered.
2. A Loss
The loss can be physical or emotional. It can be a tangible thing or a relationship, but try to make it something that the protagonist thinks he or she can’t do without.
3. Dangle A Carrot
Show the character that something he or she wants desperately is there, but out of reach.
4. A Glimmer Of Hope
A pronouncement is made that something something that is needed, new, different, or exciting will happen soon.
5. A Physical Threat
Put the character, or somebody that he or she loves in immediate danger. If you have created empathy between your readers and your character, they have to carry on reading.
6. A Sense Of Foreboding
Use foreshadowing and body language. Use signs and symbols. Let your characters know that they will be going off into a dangerous place or a risky situation.
7. A Ticking Clock
End with a sense of urgency. A deadline has to be met.
8. An Accident
This can be a physical accident or a slip of the tongue. Set off an alarm. Reveal a secret. Break a leg.
9. Unexpected News
This includes any important information, or even a person, that shows up unexpectedly. End a scene with the protagonist receiving devastating news
Creative writing prompts are excellent tools for writers who are feeling uninspired or who simply want to tackle a new writing challenge. Today’s creative writing prompts focus on nature.
For centuries, writers have been composing poems that celebrate nature, stories that explore it, and essays that analyze it.
Nature is a huge source of inspiration for all creative people. You can find it heavily featured in film, television, art, and music.
Creative Writing Prompts
You can use these creative writing prompts in any way you choose. Sketch a scene, write a poem, draft a story, or compose an essay. The purpose of these prompts is to inspire you, so take the images they bring to your mind and run with them. And have fun!
A young girl and her mother walk to the edge of a field, kneel down in the grass, and plant a tree.
The protagonist wakes up in a seemingly endless field of wildflowers in full bloom with no idea how he or she got there.
Write a piece using the following image: a smashed flower on the sidewalk.
A family of five from a large, urban city decides to spend their one-week vacation camping.
An elderly couple traveling through the desert spend an evening stargazing and sharing memories of their lives.
A woman is working in her garden when she discovers an unusual egg.
Write a piece using the following image: a clearing deep in the woods where sunlight filters through the overhead lattice of tree leaves.
Some people are hiking in the woods when they are suddenly surrounded by hundreds of butterflies.
A person who lives in a metropolitan apartment connects with nature through the birds that come to the window.
Write a piece using the following image: an owl soaring through the night sky.
A well-to-do family from the city that has lost all their wealth except an old, run-down farmhouse in the country. They are forced to move into it and learn to live humbly.
Two adolescents, a sister and brother, are visiting their relatives’ farm and witness a sow giving birth.
Again, you can use these creative writing prompts to write anything at — poems, stories, songs, essays, blog posts, or just sit down and start freewriting.
Somebody once asked Warren Buffett about his secret to success. Buffett pointed to a stack of books and said,
Read 500 pages like this every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will…
When I first found this quote of Buffett’s two years ago, something was wrong.
It was Dec. 2014. I’d found my dream job. Some days, I would be there, sitting at my dream job, and I would think, “My god what if I’m still here in 40 years? I don’t want to die like this…”
Something wasn’t right. I’d followed the prescription. Good grades. Leadership. Recommendations. College. Dream Job. I was a winner. I’d finished the race. Here I was in the land of dreams. But something was terribly, terribly wrong.
Every day, from my dream job desk, I looked out into their eyes. Empty, empty eyes.
There were no answers.
In January of 2015, I found Buffett’s quote. I decided to read. I was going to read and read and read and never stop until I got some damn answers.
I didn’t quite make 500 pages a day, but, in these last two years, I’ve read over 400 books cover to cover. That decision to start reading was one of the most important decisions in my life.
Books gave me the courage to travel. Books gave me the conviction to quit my job. Books gave me role models and heroes and meaning in a world where I had none.
I want to say reading 200 books a year is an amazing thing. But the truth is, it’s not. Anybody can do it.
All it takes is some simple math and the right tools.
1. Do not quit before you start
When average Joe hears the advice “Read 500 pages like this every day,” his snap reaction is to say, “No way! That’s impossible!”
Joe will then go on to make up reasons to justify his belief without doing any deep thinking at all. These might include “I’m too busy,” “I’m not smart enough,” or “Books just aren’t for me.”
But what if we go a little deeper? For example, what does it actually take to read 200 books a year? Two years ago, I stopped to do the simple math. Here’s what I found: Reading 200 books a year isn’t hard at all.
It’s just like Buffett says. Anyone can do it, but most people won’t.
2. Do the simple math
How much time does it take to read 200 books a year?
First, let’s look at two quick statistics:
The average American reads 200–400 words per minute (Since you’re on Medium, I’m going to assume you read 400 wpm like me)
Typical non-fiction books have ~50,000 words
Now, all we need are some quick calculations…
200 books * 50,000 words/book = 10 million words
10 million words/400 wpm = 25,000 minutes
25,000 minutes/60 = 417 hours
That’s all there is to it. To read 200 books, simply spend 417 hours a year reading.
I know, I know. If your brain is like mine, it probably saw “417 hours” and immediately tried to shut off. Most people only work 40 hours a week! How can we possibly read for 417 hours?
Don’t let your monkey brain turn you away yet. Let’s do a quick reframe for what 417 hours really means…
3. Find the time
Wowsers, 417 hours. That sure feels like a lot. But what does 417 hours really mean? Let’s try to get some more perspective.
Here’s how much time a single American spends on social media and TV in a year:
608 hours on social media
1642 hours on TV
Wow. That’s 2250 hours a year spent on TRASH. If those hours were spent reading instead, you could be reading over 1,000 books a year!
Here’s the simple truth behind reading a lot of books: It’s not that hard. We have all the time we need. The scary part—the part we all ignore—is that we are too addicted, too weak, and too distracted to do what we all know is important…
All it takes to start reading a lot more is to take “empty time” spent Twitter-stalking celebrities or watching Desperate Housewives and convert some of it to reading time.
The theory is simple. It’s the execution that’s hard.
We all know reading is important. We all know we should do more of it. But we don’t. The main reason this happens is a failure to execute.
I’m not so perfect at it yet, but here are some tactics that have helped me get results.
I. Use environmental design
If you were quitting cocaine, would you keep it lying around the house? Of course not. Media is designed to be addictive. Moving away from media addiction can be as difficult as quitting drugs.
The biggest bang-for-buck changes here are environmental.
If you want to read, make sure (1) you remove all distractions from your environment and (2) you make books as easy to access as possible.
As an example, here’s my immediate environment:
I travel a lot. That doesn’t stop me from reading. The picture on the left is of my “bookshelf” in Thailand. I try to keep books everywhere so I can just pick one up and start reading.
The picture on the right is my smartphone desktop. Notice there are only two apps. One of them—the Kindle app—is for reading. The other is for habits… Which brings me to my next point.
II. Upload habits
Willpower is not a good tool for lifestyle change. It always fails you when you need it most. Instead of relying on strength of mind, build a fortress of habits—these are what will keep you resilient in tough times.
If you’re not familiar with habit science, my favorite book on the subject is Tynan’s Superhuman by Habit. It’s infinitely practical, and practical is all I care about.
Getting good at habit formation took me years. Many of the mistakes I made were avoidable. If I could go back, I’d find a habit coach. Here’s how I see it. One game-changing idea from a good book is worth thousands of dollars. If a coach helps you read ONE more good book a year, you already get your money’s worth.
When it comes to reading, be a jack of all trades, not a specialist.
If your goal is to read more, you can’t be picky about where you read or what mediums you use. I read paper books. I read on my phone. I listen to audiobooks. And I do these things everywhere—on park benches, in buses, in the toilet… Wherever I can.
Make your reading opportunistic. If you have a chance, take it. If you don’t have a chance, find one.
I read a book one day and my whole life was changed.
— Orhan Pamuk
If I hadn’t started reading, perhaps I’d still be at my dream job. Perhaps I’d still be at my desk, taking peeks at the clock and wondering if that was how I was going to die…
If you’re looking for answers, give reading a try. You may find much, much more than what you were looking for.