When our creative tap feels like it has run dry, sometimes all we need to get our creative juices flowing again is a fun writing challenge. That’s why today’s post is a writing prompt based on the Story Grid.

Get Inspired by This Story Grid Writing ChallengePin

The Story Grid’s Five Commandments

The Story Grid is an amazing tool developed by the famous editor Shawn Coyne that will help you build and edit stories. Over the past few years, the book has grown into a podcast and a community of certified editors. It’s a must-read for writers.

In part four of the book, Shawn outlines the Five Commandments of Storytelling, five elements that every story must contain:

  1. An inciting incident,
  2. A progressive complication,
  3. A crisis,
  4. A climax,
  5. And a resolution.

Shawn explains that not only do these elements exist in a large story, they also exist in each beat of a story. Each scene of a story should contain all five of the elements.

Your Story Grid Writing Challenge

For today’s writing challenge, write a single scene containing all five elements of a story. We will give you options for your inciting incident, progressive complication, and crisis below. Then finish the story by writing a climax and resolution that wraps the story up.

1. The Inciting Incident

The inciting incident is the event that kicks off your story. It throws your character’s life out of balance, and must cause your protagonist to make a decision.

Below are ten inciting incidents. Select one to use for your story, or to increase the challenge, let a random number generator pick for you.

  1. Melody discovers a stranger’s dead body in her basement.
  2. Sarah sees the man of her dreams in the grocery store.
  3. Meredith walks in on her mother kissing a man who is not her father.
  4. While arguing with her ex-husband, Katie discovers she has superpowers.
  5. Lucy’s catches her nemesis cheating on an exam.
  6. Nancy gets a job offer of her dreams.
  7. Christina catches her husband having dinner with another woman.
  8. Amy wakes up in a strange place and doesn’t remember how she got there.
  9. Mandy sees her boss take money from the cash register.
  10. In the middle of robbing a bank, Jamie discovers her gun doesn’t have any bullets.

2. A Progressive Complication

The progressive complication of a story is new information that makes the situation better or worse. Often stories will have more than one.

For today’s challenge, we will provide one. Feel free to add others if you want. Below are seven progressive complications. Select one to use for your story, or to increase the challenge, let a random number generator pick for you.

  1. Her obsessive boyfriend shows up in hopes of proposing to her.
  2. She falls and begins bleeding from her head.
  3. Her senile grandfather calls her cell phone to ask for her help in finding his pants.
  4. Her unhelpful best friend surprises her. Seeing the predicament she is in, the best friend decides to help.
  5. Filled with fear, she starts feeling sick and vomits on the person next to her.
  6. A messenger arrives with roses and a singing telegram from her secret lover.
  7. The electricity goes out and she can no longer see her surroundings.

3. The Crisis

Eventually, the progressive complication(s) lead to the crisis, where the protagonist must make a decision. The crisis is a question that presents the protagonist with two options she must choose between.

Below are four themes for choices. Select one to use for your story, or to increase the challenge, let a random number generator pick for you.

  1. She realizes that if she doesn’t do this right, the consequences will be unbearable.
  2. She can face the situation herself or run away, having to live with the guilt that she couldn’t handle it.
  3. She recognizes there is no way out. She has to handle this now, but she doesn’t know how.
  4. She feels there is no way this ends without something terrible happening. She must decide which option is the best bad choice.

4. The Climax

The climax happens when your protagonist makes a choice and acts.

Once you’ve written the crisis, have your protagonist make a choice. There are no prewritten climaxes here — it’s up to you to discover what your protagonist will do!

5. Resolution

The resolution is the final scene that tells the reader how the protagonist’s choice changed the story.

Finally, let us see how the story resolves. What are the results of your protagonist’s actions? Is she successful? Does she fail? Or does she lose on some levels, but win on others? Show us a glimpse of the new world order in the wake of her choices.

And with that, you’ve written a story!

Inspired Writing

Our goal with this exercise was to play around with story elements and get our creative juices flowing again. Did it work? Keep writing!

Or if you’re still stuck for inspiration, why not brainstorm your own lists of inciting incidents, progressive complications, and crises? Play around with combining them in fun ways, or save them as resources to inspire future stories.

And of course, check out Story Grid for more of Shawn Coyne’s amazing resources for writers!

Do you include all five commandments in your stories? Does writing these elements come naturally, or does it take a lot of work? Let us know in the comments.


Take fifteen minutes to work your way through the writing challenge above. Mix and match your inciting incident, progressive complication(s), and crisis to create a story that’s all your own.

When you’re done, share your story in the comments below, and don’t forget to leave feedback for your fellow writers!

Jeff Elkins is a writer who lives Baltimore with his wife and five kids. If you enjoy his writing, he'd be honored if you would subscribe to his free monthly newsletter. All subscribers receive a free copy of Jeff's urban fantasy novella "The Window Washing Boy."

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