Teaching Writing

Allow Me To Introduce … Character-Driven Stories: Prompts for Writing Outside


This resource is available to support place-based writing outside anytime of year and comes with related resources and age-level recommendations. Originally developed for Write Out (writeout.nwp.org).

“I think the best stories always end up being about the people rather than the event, which is to say character-driven.” ― Stephen King

A character-driven story is just as it sounds, a story in which the character is so alive, so complex, that she takes the ‘wheel’ and drives the story to wherever she needs it to go! A fully crafted character will be far more than what he or she looks or sounds like; this character will have wants and needs, fears and dislikes, and if you create a character who wants something but can’t get it, then you already have the plot to a story!

In the following two videos, you’ll be taken to places where the memory of some of the people who once lived there survive through the detailed, personal stories people share of them. You’ll be asked to search your own memory for someone who made an impact on you as a way to begin your own character-driven story.

Writing “Sparks”

Spark from Jimmy Carter National Museum – Think of someone who inspired you in your past and write their story

Content focus: People/Characters who inspire us
Age-level recommendations: 10 and up, intermediate
Time: 5:07

As Ranger Jacob gives a tour of the Jimmy Carter National Historic Park, he tells us of Jimmy’s childhood there, when it was still a rural home and peanut farm, and about Rachel Clark, the woman who worked on the farm who Jimmy thought of as his second mother. After Ranger Jacob reads a poem Carter wrote about his long walks to the creek with Ms. Clark, he asks you to think of someone in your past who inspired you and to write their story.

For this lesson, we suggest that instead of just describing this person, craft them into a real character by creating a situation and writing about how they might handle it. For example: imagine your character has lost something very special to them. Knowing what you know of the person this character is based upon, what would your character do and how would they act?


Spark from Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument – Imagine that a person from the past visits you as a ghost

Content focus: The ghosts of the women’s suffrage movement
Age-level recommendations: 12 and up, intermediate
Time: 5:07

Park Ranger Susan and intern Nia give a tour of the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument, showing portrait heads, photographs, and paintings of the women integral in the struggle for securing women’s rights in the United States. They also share some friendly ghost stories that guests who have stayed in the old house have shared with them–such as a spirit visiting to remind the guest of the importance of work still to be done–and then they ask you to imagine someone from the past coming to visit you as a ghost and to write that story.

For this lesson, we suggest that you imagine that this ghost also has a message to deliver to you. How does this spirit make itself known to you? Can you see it, or just sense it? If you can’t see it, are there things about this spirit that lets you know who it once was?

This post is part of the Story-powered Prompts for Writing Outside collection.