Free Character Writing Prompts #35:
The Washed Up

Learn about some has-beens with these 10 character writing prompts about people who are washed up. For some reason, especially on television, we have a love of finding out more about the "washed up" people of the world. For these purposes, I have defined washed up as someone who used to be a well-known celebrity, athlete, artist, business person or other profession in high standing but has now fallen far down the totem pole. In recent years, we have come to worship the washed up in reality shows and even television shows like "Hung" and "Eastbound & Down." These characters can be used to dark comedic effect, but also in the form of a tragic commentary. For stories that show what happens after the fairy-tale life, including washed up characters is par for the course. 

Free Character Writing Prompts #35: The Washed Up

1. When he first entered into Major League Baseball, commentators thought that he would be the second coming of Nolan Ryan. Steroid accusations and recreational drugs derailed his career and by the age of 30, he could frequently be seen collecting unemployment. He had pitched a few years in independent baseball leagues, making less than a tenth of what he spent during his big league days. He tended to blame anybody but himself for his failings and would rarely listen to the loved ones in his life. He'd been on a few reality and game shows after his baseball career ended and he always talked about a comeback that would never make it through the drug use. What will the last few decades of his life be like and why has drug use been such a problem for him?

2. During his music career, he was known for trashing hotels and damaging equipment as frequently as possible. After 10 years and several #1 hits, his band grew tired of his antics and threw him out. He said they would never reach the top without him and yet they did. Unrestrained by his behavioral limitations, they released several platinum records without him. He tried his hand at a solo career but all his efforts were met with horrible critical reviews, most of them pegging him as a fraud from the beginning who had gotten lucky with his original band. His music career was over and the closest he got to headlines were bits of news about his messy divorce. What will his future hold and can he ever make it back to the top?

3. She was well-known for her facial features and her body when she was acting in some of the most popular movies of the 1980s and as she aged, she wanted to keep her fans from looking at younger and more attractive stars. She started down a long-road of plastic surgery and it wasn't long before she was almost completely unrecognizable. The movie offers stopped coming and before long stories came out talking about her as an example of surgery gone wrong and used for the wrong reason. She focused on her family thereafter and saved up the money she had earned to live a relatively comfortable lifestyle. She considered making a comeback on a reality show, but she decided her family was more important than money. Does her family look at her differently because of her appearance changes and why or why not?

4. Her career seemed to be blossoming with comedic movies and her late-night comedy show. She thought she'd take this opportunity to buy a new mansion and all the expensive furniture and treats that went with it. In the blink of an eye, her show was cancelled and the acting offers stopped coming in. She spent the next few years filing for bankruptcy and attempting to pay back creditors. To her credit, she kept the news stories about her issues light and comedic and this attention ended up getting her a recurring job on a low-rated sitcom playing herself. She figured, playing a wash-up on TV was better than being completely broke in real life. How will her bankruptcy leave the rest of her future?

5. He wasn't meant to be the star of the show, but his quirky antics as a nerdy teenager made his character legendary. He was on cereal boxes, talk shows and bumper stickers throughout the country. After the show was cancelled, everybody wanted him to play the same kind of kooky character but he refused. He had tired of the role and wanted to play closer to himself. He had been too pigeonholed, however, and he couldn't get more than a bit part here and there. He decided to tour on his own and with his dark comedy, he alienated most of his fans who came out to see him. All he wanted to do was be himself. What will he have to do to stage a comeback at this part of his career?

6. As a celebrity chef, his wild antics and perfectionism were known throughout the industry and the world. He had earned a large amount of money from his television appearances but burned his bridges with an elitist and pompous attitude. When his attempts at starting a restaurant chain failed, he tried to turn back to television but all the doors were closed. He was forced to work as an employee again and he an extremely difficult time reigning in his very openly expressed feelings. Eventually, he resigned himself to the work and earned his way back to respectability, if not stardom. What are the things he misses about being on television and what does he enjoy about his lifestyle out of the spotlight?

7. When she graduated from college, she published a novel that critics called the best of the generation. She had received a pretty paltry advance from this book and barely saw anything from it due to a poor contract. After her two following books crashed and burned, she was still just another college graduate with a liberal arts degree. She considered herself washed up by the age of 25 and was constantly depressed by it. The second contract did pay off her student loans, however and she was able to survive on a part time job while she tried to write and reach the glory of her first book. If nothing else, at least she appeared on Oprah once. Will she be able to return to artistic prominence and does she feel washed up when reading the reviews of her second and third books?

8. She was one of the most well-known television personalities for home decorating and crafts and her name was branded on many different products related to the industry. When she went to prison for fraud for half a decade, most considered her career to be over. After all, she'd had to return most of the profits from her products to pay the civil portion of the case. With her brand tarnished, she opted instead to reinvent herself. She founded an organization dedicated to helping women in prison to improve their opinions of themselves. The group was successful and while she never became rich or famous again, she certainly felt a lot better about herself. In what ways did her new line of work make her happier?

9. He had created one of the first major computer companies and competed thoroughly with IBM and Apple in the early years. He even once appeared on a magazine with Bill Gates and Steve Jobs labeling him one of the three new pioneers of computing. His star fell on hard times when his attempt at an operating system was an absolute failure. He refused to sell his company for a pittance and ended up losing everything. He turned down job opportunities from both Gates and Jobs and kept trying to come up with the next new thing in computing. After 20 years, his desire hadn't waned but his hard work had little to show for it. What kind of "could have" and "would have" statements does he say when thinking about his past prominence?

10. She was America's sweetheart in almost every entertainment industry. She'd recorded a successful album, won an Emmy on her own television show and had even headlined a $100 million grossing movie. After a horrifying car crash, she went into a coma for nearly a year before coming to and finding her growing empire had crumbled through no fault of her own. Her injury damaged her vocal chords and left her with facial scarring. She tried to enter back into the Hollywood machine but when no doors seemed open, she took to the road and toured a one-woman show about her experiences. There weren't any packed houses, but there was enough press to keep her afloat financially. What will happen to this former star after she's done with her touring? 

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Done with Character Writing Prompts about The Washed Up? Go back to Creative Writing Prompts. 

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    Written by Bryan Cohen

    Bryan Cohen is the author of more than 30 books, many of which focus on creative writing and blasting through that pesky writer's block. His books have sold more than 20,000 copies. You can find him on and Facebook.
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