September’s Writing Prompt: The Best Terrain

August’s writing prompt is here.

The Best Terrain

Image: Edmundo Roa

A genie approaches you with an offer he’s forcing you to take. The offer is this: you have to choose a type of terrain. Your options are forest, plains, desert, beach, or any other you can think of, as long as it’s a type of terrain. (No cities.) The following morning, you will wake up on that terrain at a random spot in the world. Getting home is your responsibility, not the genie’s. You have ten minutes to decide. If you don’t choose something, the genie will choose for you, and he’s a very grumpy genie.

What do you pick?

This story is probably broken into three parts.

  • The first is our protagonist receiving the offer, answering the question, and then preparing to be transported.
  • The second is our protagonist waking up, taking in his or her surroundings, and then figuring out where he or she has landed.
  • The third is our protagonist finding a way home… or maybe deciding these new surroundings are better than wherever life took place before.


Character-wise, the protagonist is probably young and able-bodied. An older protagonist, or especially one with an illness or disability, might have a very difficult time if the destination isn’t near civilization. Aside from that, the protagonist could be anyone, and that in itself opens up possibilities to the author. A helpful background quirk is if the genie’s made this offer to anyone before.

The setting is the star here. Statistically, the setting is slightly more likely to be Russia or Canada than any other country – but only slightly, and not if the protagonist chooses a jungle. Whatever it is, it’ll have to be the subject of vivid descriptions and sell-worthy suspense.

As in a lot of fiction, plot will be driven completely by the characters and setting. Until the reader knows where the protagonist is landing, why the protagonist is choosing the terrain s/he chooses, and who – if anyone – will be there when the protagonist arrives, it is impossible to make predictions. Choosing a mountain could result in the protagonist waking up in Yellowstone or Kamchatka. The protagonist could experience any number of cultural, linguistic, wilderness-derived or other challenges. Determining what the protagonist is allowed to take affects the plot too; for example, does holding a rolled-up pup tent against your chest when you fall asleep bring the tent with you? I imagine the protagonist could take whichever clothing he or she is wearing, but beyond that, the author can decide. I suspect most right-thinking protagonists would eat an enormous meal right before falling asleep in order to stave off hunger while getting oriented at the destination.

This writing prompt would also make for a great Choose Your Own Adventure book. If that were the case, the genie would have to offer a finite, and small, number of options.

Books like The Jungle Book and Looking Backward, 2000-1887 are good reference material for this style. (Links are to my reviews; the original books are easy to find.) Nature-based adventure novels aren’t as common now, but the language they used during their approximate heyday of 1880-1930 is still accessible.

As for me? I’d choose a riverbank. I know I’d have water. Civilizations are often founded on riverbanks, so I’d have an easier time finding other people than in most situations. There might also be trees nearby for shelter.

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