Celtic Folklore Inspired Writing Prompts
Updated: Jul 12
Aspiring writers and professional writers alike struggle at times to find inspiration for the next story. That’s why articles offering advice on how to overcome writers’ block and posts listing writing prompts abound. I realized recently, though, that I’ve never come across one that mentions anything about Celtic folklore so I decided to create one. First, I’ll say a little about how Celtic-based characters can help in marketing a story. That’s followed by a couple of examples of how they’ve inspired my fiction. Of course I’ve also provided prompts you can use as springboards for developing your own plots.
Celtic Folklore: What’s It Good For?
The great thing about Celtic folklore is that it’s a rich resource. There’s just so much of it. Also, the lore is full of tales and characters that aren’t well-known. That means the marketplace isn’t flooded with them, which gives writers shopping stories based on the lore an edge. One of the most popular, in-demand fiction genres is fantasy, but many stories written for this genre feature the usual suspects: witches/wizards, vampires, elves, and the beloved brain-eating undead. These fantasy staples have their strong points. The chief positive is that readers are familiar with these magical beings. The writer doesn’t need to explain why a vampire is reluctant to lie on the beach in Florida with his human girlfriend. On the downside, readers have become too familiar with these characters.
I’ve just finished compiling a list of journals seeking fantasy short fiction and agents representing YA fantasy. As I did research for this list, I found quite a lot of editors and agents had comments such as “no vampires or boy wizards” and “no zombies please.” This signaled to me that it’s time to offer agents and editors fresh protagonists. When was the last time you read a story about a cu sith, a puca, or a grogoch? And even though banshees can be found in online multiplayer games, it is past time someone wrote a story about a beautiful, compassionate banshee more akin to the original character from Irish folklore. Turn the stereotypical screaming, predatory old hag trope on its head!
From Inspiration to Story
So what exactly is a grogoch? Good question. I grew up hearing stories about Irish and Scottish faeries but had never heard of this one until I did research for my post “Irish Faeries: They’re No Disney Princesses.” Like its better-known Scottish cousin, the brownie, a grogoch is a house faerie. The main difference is that brownies clean and do chores unobtrusively while the family sleeps, but the Irish faerie tries to help while the family’s awake, getting underfoot, breaking things, and being a general nuisance.
When I read about this faerie, I fell for him like a child for its first puppy and had to write a story about him. So I developed one in which the main character, a farmer, is desperately trying to get rid of a grogoch, a task which requires delicate handling since you never want to insult a faerie. In the end, the grogoch is the hero, saving the protagonist from an evil the farmer didn’t know was in his midst.
My current WIP fantasy novel began with a question that tiptoed into my head one day. I wondered what it would be like to be a teenage girl with a mother who’s a banshee. Would she try to hide the fact from her friends at school? What was her mother like at home? Would she have to become a banshee herself when she grew up? Admittedly, I ponder strange things but those musings led me to develop a novel which I am just about ready to query. The plot has changed considerably. My protagonist now has way bigger problems than worrying about her friends discovering her mother’s a banshee. The original questions, though, got my creativity flowing.
1) Scottish folklore has a character called the cat sith, a faerie in the form of a large black cat with glowing eyes. Here’s a springboard opening: Black cats never worried me until that starless November night when I encountered the cat sith. It gazed up at me and whispered, "Hello Julia."
2) Banshees are female faeries who warn humans of an approaching death. Write a story about a banshee who’s sick of death and goes on strike.
3) Your protagonist has accidentally insulted a faerie and been cursed for life. Chronicle the things the character goes through to remove or reverse the curse.
4) Your protagonist moves into a home built on a site once was used for Druid rituals. Take it from there.
5) A group of friends are camping in the woods in the Scottish Highlands. They’ve heard the legend of the cu sith, a calf-sized faerie dog with green fur. The lore claims that those who hear its howl must reach safety indoors before the third cry or they will die. During the night, the campers hear the faerie dog’s howl.
6) Willow trees walk at night and mutter after strangers. Write a story with a willow tree as the protagonist.
7) In Celtic folklore, deer are guides to the Otherworld. Have your protagonist follow the deer.
8) Irish folklore warns people not to eat blueberries after Samhain because the puca spits on them. Write a story that reveals why pucas detest blueberries. (Click here to learn more about pucas.)
9) Washing your hands in chamomile tea will attract money, according to Celtic folklore. Your protagonist is in desperate need of cash and decides to try this method plus other folk magic to solve his financial woes. Why does he/she need the money? What are the hilarious and/or tragic consequences?
10) Overton Bridge in Scotland is renowned for a high incidence of dog suicides. Locals say the bridge is a thin place and that the dogs disappear into the Otherworld. Write a story in which your protagonist follows a dog as it leaps from the bridge. What does he discover?
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Slan go foil!
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