The most powerful way to engage your reader is to invoke strong emotion.
Readers who quickly empathize are more likely to keep reading a story that invites them to do just that.
We’ve rounded up 101 heartbreaking, sad writing prompts to make your job easier.
And since sad prompts aren’t always enough, we’ve thrown in some story ideas to show how you can spin a few words into a story your reader can’t put down.
- What Are Some Sad Story Ideas?
- 101 Sad Writing Prompts to Inspire Your Next Heart-Wrenching Story
What Are Some Sad Story Ideas?
Check out these five sad book ideas, each based on a prompt but taking it a step further.
As you move on to the prompts list, pay attention to those that start developing in your mind into story ideas. Then set a timer for a writing sprint and see what happens.
#1 — She never slept in this late…
But as he rolled out of bed that morning, he seized upon the idea of surprising her with breakfast in bed. It took longer than he expected, and for a moment, he feared she would wake before he brought it to her.
He needn’t have worried.
The eggs and toast were cold now on the breakfast tray. He hadn’t noticed the folded letter on the bedside table, which the officer held in her hand as she read it. Then, she looked up at him, her mouth closed and her eyes unreadable behind the reflective lenses.
“Can I read it, now?” he asked.
#2 — “What would you say if I asked you… “
“Asked me to what?” He visibly stiffened in his chair. She took a deep breath.
“I want you to empty one of the two rooms you’ve filled with your things — and I mean completely empty it, closet and all — by the beginning of summer… Or I’m out.”
He turned away, but she saw him swallow, heard him clear his throat, and take a deep, noisy breath through his nose.
Without looking at her, he nodded briefly and said, “I’ll see what I can do.”
#3 — The folks at work call me a “cat lady.”
I have two of them. And while my mother had earned a reputation for trapping strays in her house and taking them to the vet to be spayed or neutered, I was nowhere near that ambitious.
Mischa and Cal just got me. Both were spayed. Both patrolled the apartment with the confidence of creatures whose mere will sustained the universe.
Right now, they mutually shunned my guest, yowling every time the smell assaulted their nostrils.
“Patience, kitties. Wait ‘til the embalming fluid does its work. It’s a special recipe. You’ll warm up to him no time.”
#4 — She took her time choosing the perfect stone for this one.
They’d switched to cremation after she lost the first baby. Six more followed, and this one — the one she’d named Hope — had almost survived the ordeal of childbirth. It had started normally, but her doctor had urged an emergency C-section. She hadn’t argued.
No time for anesthesia. No time to say goodbye to her husband, who told her he would be in there as soon as he could.
Hope was silent. They tried reviving her, and she… lying on the table with her abdomen cut open, waited, afraid to breathe.
The door opened then to let her husband in.
#5 — He had that luxury.
The luxury of agreeing to work whatever hours he chose. Not being the family chauffeur gave him a freedom he’d gotten used to. He couldn’t see why none of her interviews resulted in a job offer.
He was about to learn.
“Jax and Lily finish school at 2:00. Ben’s done at 3. Then Lily starts her shift at 4 and is done by 7. Jax doesn’t work today, but they do tomorrow. And no, neither of them can cancel last minute.”
“Why not? How am I supposed to get anything done if I’m constantly heading out the door to get them from something?” he asked.
“Oh… Sorry, does your boss not know you have kids?”
101 Sad Writing Prompts to Inspire Your Next Heart-Wrenching Story
Develop at least one of them into an idea today. Which of these will get you started on your next writing sprint?
1. The lone survivor of an advanced race tells the story of their family’s mission to Earth and what it cost them.
2. The main character receives a devastating diagnosis and decides to track down and try to reconnect with their estranged daughter and son.
3. She asked him a question she wished she’d asked him years ago. He reacted much as she’d expected.
4. One look at his face, and she knew he’d been through a lifetime’s worth of pain but hadn’t been beaten by it.
5. Whose idea was it to add “‘Till death do us part” to the wedding vows? And did only one kind of death matter to them?
6. “How did I not see it in my own daughter? She was dying right in front of me!”
7. He teased her for not being a “detail person.” But she noticed well enough how he looked at her best friend.
8. “A hero would sacrifice you to save the world. I’m not a hero.”
9. They were playing hide-and-seek. She never found him. Until now.
10. “You’ve had 15 years to notice… It just didn’t bother you enough to do something about it.”
11. “I was hoping you’d prove me wrong. Being right is the last thing I want to be right now.”
12. “She gave me one last look before walking out into the storm. No one has seen her since.”
13. He had no idea how much she already knew. He walked in the door, ready to tell her everything.
14. “You were angry with me… because I made you look bad to your family. What am I, then?”
15. I was old enough to remember the day I became an orphan.
16. “You honestly think this is the first time he’s done this? Where have you been?”
17. “It gets worse at night. We can’t allow anyone into that room with her.“
18. She wanted to marry her best friend. He wanted an idea she couldn’t live up to.
19. She emptied the hope chest, filled it with potting soil, and, planting it full of cacti, left it behind his car before she drove off.
20. Being depressed is hard enough. Trying to hide it is what led to this moment.
21. “You have no idea how messed up it is that you’re fine with the way things are.”
22. Most of my nightmares are about things that happen when the sun is shining.
23. “I know I need to grieve what I thought I would have with him. But right now, I’m just relieved.”
24. She gave him her house key and the garage door button with a small smile and nod before walking to her car.
25. “I was a different woman when I married him. And I’ve never been enough. But good Catholic husbands don’t give up, right?”
26. “I was waiting in the car when the rain started. He stepped out onto the covered porch, looked at me, and shook his head.”
27. “What kind of retreat was this anyway?” she thought. But then she saw it: the perfect stone, worn smooth and darker than its neighbors.
28. She spent the week in bed, unable to do more than sleep between small sips of water. He wasn’t there when she recovered.
29. It was the best part of their usual cycle, but even then, she saw the beginnings of the next stage. Nothing had changed.
30. “It’s not that I’m not motivated to put in the effort to become a saint. It’s that I’d rather be anything else.”
31. His voice brought back memories she wasn’t ready for.
32. “Don’t wait until you’re ready. No one’s really ready until they have nothing left to lose — and not enough time to enjoy winning.”
33. “One day, when he grows up and tells the church to piss off, he’ll find someone else, and they’ll be happy together. I hope.”
34. Maybe I’m ready for a job that requires me to shower on a daily basis. Maybe I need that now.
35. This was the song that was playing when we met. It hits differently, now.
36. He wasn’t a stranger for long. Something he said within those first few minutes flipped a switch. And just like that, he was my home.
37. “You seriously overestimate my need for certainty.”
38. All anyone can guess is that she took the wrong prescription by mistake. It was right next to hers. No one knew about the allergy.
39. One day at a time, she sorted through her things, boxed them up, hauled donations out the door. This time was different. She was ready.
40. That cat was the only creature who brought a smile to her face. No one’s seen her leave the house since.
41. He sent her a bouquet of pink Gerbera daisies with a note. She bit her lip as she read it, sighing deeply before looking up.
42. She was the only one putting up signs when the child went missing. No one knew why until the police arrived at her door.
43. The flowers he bought meant something. The ones she bought for herself meant something else.
44. She never needed the alcohol to numb herself. It just made it easier to stay.
45. Retirement was finally just a week away. The cardiac wing of the hospital wasn’t the vacation spot he had in mind.
46. She listed every item in the donation box, making sure to add a value estimate to every gift she’d kept.
47. He left a note on the kitchen countertop: “I ate the cake you made for book club. It was dry.” Terrible last words.
48. “You have no idea how little those words mean right now.”
49. He’d forgotten how nice it was when people showed up when they said they would.
50. The last teddy bear sat on top of the pile, his head bowed.
51. The best thing about the property was the trees. One by one, they started dying.
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52. She brewed his favorite tea every morning and started her day with it.
53. Find a box that will work for my Dell tower, monitor (in a pillowcase w/ padding), keyboard, speakers, and cords.
54. What could have been doesn’t matter anymore. I’m more interested in what’s next.
55. He interpreted my being demisexual to mean I wasn’t attracted to him. He was right about that — but wrong to think he could fix it.
56. We never needed a perfect dad — just one that kept trying.
57. The “functional” bit in functional alcoholic is the word we use to trick ourselves into thinking we’re still in control — or that we ever were.
58. He had what he said he’d always wanted. It wasn’t enough.
59. They told her to choose between her own life and that of her unborn child. He chose for her.
60. After years of waiting for him to see what this was costing her, she finally told him.
61. Her leash and collar still hang on the hook by the front door.
62. He meant well. But he shouldn’t have used their daughter’s dead guinea pig as his first taxidermy project.
63. The child had a habit of eating houseplants, and his mother, the “salad queen,” was distracted.
64. She named her house “the Owlery” and started collecting them on her front porch, one cage at a time.
65. She folded the clothes and gently laid them in the donation box. These were for the woman she used to be.
66. Ankle-length skirts, demure necklines, muted colors… they no longer had a place in her wardrobe. She smiled and closed the box.
67. She paused just outside the door, hearing the dance music playing inside. She caught her reflection, and her shoulders sank.
68. She wasn’t used to being missed. So, she hadn’t called to let her parents know when she’d need a ride.
69. For years he would ask for it, teasing her one day and then resorting to guilt.
70. She’d burned a CD with his favorite songs, including some he’d introduced to her. She gently laid it near his cold hands.
71. Every time she heard a dog bark, she’d freeze, waiting to hear it again.
72. “Why are you grieving? Isn’t this what you want,” she asked. It is, now, I thought. But it wasn’t always.
73. If she were a house, her doors would be locked. But there might still be a way in for someone determined to find it.
74. Her interview was tomorrow. The clothes would arrive next week.
75. If there was ever a time for expedited shipping, this was it. She clicked on the box, wincing at the price. He would know.
76. I hadn’t known I was pregnant when I went out that night.
77. She would have chosen her child. I would have chosen her. The virus chose for both of us.
78. “Yes, beauty is fleeting,” she said. “But it’s right in front of us, now. Why not enjoy it?”
79. The flowers she’d bought the day before lay wilting on the sidewalk.
80. “You don’t know how hard I looked for it,” he said. “It wasn’t there.”
81. The rain and wind suddenly fell silent, and her eyes turned toward the deck window, her face paler than I’ve ever seen it.
82. She rubbed the lotion into her hands absent-mindedly, her fingernails shorter than they were before the movie started.
83. She held her doll to her face while her mother scooped her up and headed out the door.
84. The dog stood patiently by the door as he always did, waiting for his return.
85. Our cats all end up in the same place eventually. It’s a busy road.
86. She’d made her famous noodle casserole for every family that came to hire her husband. This one was different.
87. The phone rang five times before the seven-year-old picked it up. “No one’s here,” he said.
88. “The only apples that grow on those trees are half-eaten by worms by the time they ripen. You want applesauce? Buy some.”
89. I’d seen him chase her down the road, carrying something and yelling at her. The cops found them both an hour later.
90. They thought he would come when they sent word of his mother’s illness. Only after she passed did they learn the truth.
91. He had the best balance of all of us — and the least fear.
92. No one could see that he was actually suffocating until he passed out.
93. The box was empty. All of them were. She looked up with tears in her eyes.
94. Seconds before he pulled the trigger, I realized I was the villain in this story.
95. Now that I’m leaving, he won’t have to worry about renting storage space for all the things he wants to keep.
96. I could see that the front door was ajar when I pulled in. I left the engine running.
97. The curtain fell, and behind it, so did she.
98. She wasn’t trying to be the perfect mother. She was just trying to get through the day.
99. She trimmed the crusts off his sandwiches and brought them to his bed.
100. He has no idea most people aren’t born that way. No one’s told him.
101. Someone had left the starving animal chained to a fence post in the middle of nowhere.
Now that you’ve looked through all the sad story prompts and story ideas in this post, we hope you found at least one you’re itching to write about today. Jot it down, along with any ideas that come — snippets of dialogue, setting details, etc.
Then pick a time and let those words flow.