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Come up with a list of three things that are important to your main character. Push one of those things out of alignment so that it will draw your character to the antagonist’s side.
Hard Magic, by Larry Correia, narrated by Bronson Pinchot
Take a horrible, hard-to-domesticate animal and then create a culture in which somebody has figured out how to domesticate these beasties.
A Fire Upon the Deep, by Vernor Vinge, narrated by Peter Larkin
Populate Excustoria’s coast with some magically, meteorically mutated life.
Speaker for the Dead, by Orson Scott Card, narrated by Stefan Rudniki. It’s a fantastic example of well-constructed flora and fauna, and it’s also a good example of how to make a sequel almost completely unlike the book that came before it.
Give us a group of people on a long trip in space with a problem, which they solve. Do it in 150 words.
Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury, narrated by the author
Write the point-of-view of a character whose vision is obscured, and describe how they use their other senses to attempt to determine where they are.
Terrorists in Love: The Real Stories of Islamic Radicals, by Ken Ballen, narrated by Peter Ganim
Give us a story with an old, colonial British type eating marshmallows. For extra points, set it in the Schlockiverse. (Note: no actual points will be awarded.)
Identify a historical period that you like, and write a story in that setting. Don’t bother researching anything until you’re done.
His Majesty’s Dragon: Temeraire, Book 1, by Naomi Novik, narrated by Simon Vance
Take a city to which you have been, and set a chase scene there.
The Terror, by Dan Simmons, narrated by Simon Vance
Write what one of your characters would write if that character had a blog.
One Salt Sea, by Seanan McGuire, narrated by Mary Robinette Kowal
What if dreams became so much more vivid that when you woke up, for a full hour you didn’t know whether you were still dreaming or not?
Startide Rising, by David Brin, narrated by George Wilson
Listener Bill Housely provided this one — a lone woman who runs an orbital refueling post makes first contact when some aliens arrive in desperate need of fuel.
Persuasion, by Jane Austen. Note that there are lots of available recordings. We recommend something unabridged, like the version linked here.
Stick an omniscient narrator scene in between two 3rd-person limited scenes.
Have two characters carry on a dialog which is out of sync with what each of them are thinking.
Acacia, by David Anthony Durham, narrated by Dick Hill
“Jack Black stranded alone on an alien planet.” Your challenge? Make us like the main character and want him to live…
Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey, narrated by Dick Hill
Write a series of 16 numerals. This is probably Jordo’s credit card number, or at least one of them (in one of the many universes where he is still allowed to use credit cards.) Go shopping! Oh, you’ll need the expiration date! It’s April 1st, 2012.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Dummies, by Rob Wilson and Rhena Branch, narrated by Simon Slater
Take an existing folk tale and re-tell it using the Dora the Explorer formula for quests.
Give us a monkey, a bronze pot, a baby, and pizza in completely different situations than what we heard in Mary’s outline.
Under Heaven, by Guy Gavriel Kay, narrated by Simon Vance
Give us a character who, after reading one Larry Correia novel, goes out and procures a grenade launcher.
Spellbound: Book II of the Grimnoir Chronicles, by Larry Corriea, narrated by Bronson Pinchot
Find a writing buddy, swap stories halfway through, and then compare notes.
Here, There Be Dragons, by James A. Owen, narrated by Stephen Langton
You get kidnapped and put in an asylum for the criminally sane.
Everneath, by Brodi Ashton, narrated by Amy Rubinate
Adapt the unadaptable fairy tale Mary introduced us to (the one about the little old lady who catches on fire and dies).
The Slab, by Michael R. Collings, narrated by Andy Bowyer
Do this with your own work—have your friends interview you in depth about something you’ve finished, or something you’re currently working on.
Going Postal, by Terry Pratchett, narrated by Stephen Briggs
Write a flashback, in a prologue, with a mirror scene. Yes.
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, by Alan Bradley
You can only go back in time as far as your own life-span, but somebody needs to go back a hundred years. A team of 100-year-olds is assembled as time traveling heroes.
The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger, narrated by Fred Berman and Phoebe Stole
Take a character of yours, and split that character into a character and a foil.
Stranger in a Strange Land (unabridged), by Robert A. Heinlein, narrated by Christopher Hurt
Your characters needs to perform a reverse-heist, putting jewels into a safe without getting caught.
The Great Train Robbery, by Michael Crichton, narrated by Michael Cumpsty
From Earl K. Hill, our cameraman: tell a whole story from the view of the sidekick.
Partials, by Dan Wells, narrated by Julia Whelan
Regarding riding mounted beasts—make the cost to the rider so high that it’s almost never worth it. Now create circumstances under which it’s always worth it.
Sharpe’s Rifles, by Bernard Cornwell, narrated by Frederick Davidson
Have Queen Victoria’s cousin not die. How is history changed?
The Hollow City, by Dan Wells, which, as of this writing, doesn’t show up on Audible’s site. We counsel patience.
Take a hero and give him a hobby, and something alive that he loves.
Imager, the first book of the Imager Portfolio, by L.E. Modesitt Jr, narrated by William Dufris
The story of the writer and her VERY ENTHUSIASTIC alien fan who is impossible to escape.
Howl’s Moving Castle, by Diana Wynne Jones, narrated by Jenny Sterlin
Go find an interesting mental illness (quick, before Dan takes all the good ones). Now write from the sufferer’s POV, but don’t tell us what’s actually wrong.
Sucks to be Me, by Kimberly Pauley, narrated by Nancy Wu
Your colonists are going to a world whose axial tilt is different from Earth’s. How are the seasons different?
Helliconia Spring by Brian Aldiss, narrated by Christopher Slade
Describe a setting. Then, without using any emotion-words, describe that same setting again three more times from a happy, sad, and angry point of view.
All Men of Genius, by Lev AC Rosen, narrated by Emily Gray
“The Hairy Housewife,” because Brandon didn’t hear Howard correctly the first time he said “harried.”
The Newsflesh trilogy by Mira Grant, wraps up with Blackout, and is a very satisfying example of a series that does something different with each book.
For some reason one character is put into the body of another character.
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon, narrated by David Colacci
Google military three-letter-acronyms (IED and RPG are off-limits.) Swap out one of the words for a supernatural descriptor beginning with the same letter. That’s your story seed.
Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas, by John Scalzi, narrated by Wil Wheaton
Cheerful ruffians, civilized louts, yes—but, no—and ready, set, go.
Existence, by David Brin, narrated by Kevin T. Collins, Robin Miles, and L. J. Ganser
Put your characters in a place they cannot escape and keep them there.
Shanna plugged “One Hot Summer,” but the actual title is One Long Hot Summer. It is not currently available Audible, but it’s available on Amazon at the link above. There are lots of other things on Audible for you to listen to, including four titles featuring Shanna Germain.
Find a way to kill a character. Then write it in three ways: sad, heroic, and accidental. As an alternative, take a story you’ve already written, and write a different ending so that someone dies instead of living, or lives instead of dying.
Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing, by Mignon Fogarty, narrated by the Grammar Girl herself
You’re on a sidewalk late at night. You’re approached by three young, black males. Write the scene from their perspective. (Alternatively, simply jump off from “magical redneck,” but note that Maurice has already done that one.)
The House of Discarded Dreams, by Ekaterina Sedia, narrated by the Robin Miles
Try out the seven-point story structure for yourself. Outline something!
Enchanted, by Alethea Kontis, narrated by the Katherine Kellgren
Pick a place where teenagers are not typically allowed, and put a teenager in that place.
Chasing the Skip, by Janci Patterson
Write a story in which all the characters are simultaneously the good guy AND the bad guy.
Railsea, by China Mieville, narrated by the Katherine Jonathan Crowley
Introduce a place without using dialog. Describe five panels for an artist to draw, so that the reader has been introduced to the location.
Swords and Deviltry: The Adventures of Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, by Fritz Lieber, narrated by the Jonathan Davis and Neil Gaiman
Write a story about a squid who’s trying to write a space opera which is not about squids in space.
Hellhole, by Kevin J. Anderson and Brian Herbert
Come up with a magic system based on stamps, but that has nothing to do with forgery.
Caves of Steel, by Isaac Asimov, narrated by the William Dufris
Raise the stakes without resorting to risks to reputation, livelihood, or mental health. Or explosions. Don’t use those, either.
Control Point: Shadow Ops, by Myke Cole, narrated by the Corey Jackson
“The Multi-Tentacled Space Goat cannot come and save us again.”
Foundation, by Isaac Asimov, narrated by the Scott Brick
Start a new story. Give us character, place, and sense of tone. Do it one sentence, and do it within 13 lines (which is what typically appears on the first page of a manuscript.)
The Green Glass Sea, by Ellen Klages, narrated by the Julie Dretzen
Give us a magic system in which the thumbnail, the under painting, the other imagery are the basis for the magic.
The Dragon Factory, by Jonathan Mayberry, narrated by the Ray Porter
In a setting in which magnetic fields are dramatically different between locations, give us a story about traveling between those locations.
The Broken Kingdoms, by N.K. Jemisin, narrated by the Casaundra Freeman
Two different characters, two different magic systems . . .
Who Fears Death, by Nnedi Okorafor, narrated by Anne Flosnik
Take a popular piece of entertainment, grab a side-character, and give us their secret story.
A Short Stay in Hell, by Stephen L. Peck, narrated by Sergei Burbank
Figure out what you would like the future of writing to look like. Now write a story about how we get there.
The Last Light of the Sun, by Guy Gavriel Kay, narrated by Holter Graham