[Writing Prompt] When One Door Closes…

This is it. We’ve come to the end of StoryADay May 2013.

Thank you so much for being a part of it. I would love to hear how you’ve got on, what you have learned. If you post on your own blog about your experience, please leave a link to it here. If you’d be willing to be interviewed (for future articles here at StoryADay.org), leave a comment here and let me know.

The Prompt

Write about an ending (and what happens next)


  • Perhaps your main character is graduating from school or college. What is she feeling? What doors will open for her? How will what he wants be affected by what he has to do?
  • People leave our lives in many ways. How will your main character fill the void when someone important leaves their life?
  • Just for fun, what if your main character is a writer, or other artist, finishing up a project? What if he/she has had a work rejected? What other doors will open for them next?

Don’t forget to come back on June 3 for the 7DayStory challenge! And keep an eye on your inbox for next week’s regular Write On Wednesday writing prompt.

Most of all, keep writing!

[Writing Prompt] The Non-Memoir

Don’t miss this news about a new week-long challenge to keep you writing in June — and this one comes with a built-in revision component!

The Prompt

Take an event/experience from your own life and fictionalize it

Last year, at a writer’s conference I was struck by the reaction of a panel of agents every time someone asked them a question that started, “I’m writing a memoir, and…”

They rolled their eyes. They groaned. They composed themselves and gently tried to dissuade the writer from getting their hopes up about being able to publish a memoir. The reasons?

  • Everyone is writing a memoir. Competition is huge and truly compelling memoirs are few and far between
  • Even if you’ve had a tragic life event, that’s not enough to sell your story. By all means write it, but don’t expect to sell it unless you have a bigger story: how you triumphed after the tragedy; how someone else can learn from your experiences; how you met/become/already were a celebrity (OK, that last one’s a bit cynical, but not far from the truth).

The best piece of advice I heard was not ‘stop writing memoir’ but “why not take your story and turn it into fiction, with compelling characters, rich scenarios, drama, comedy, all the things that make for a great novel?”

The Prompt

Take an event/experience from your own life and fictionalize it


  • Use the truth of your emotions, reactions etc., to inform the story but use this chance to have your character be wittier/smarter/weaker/more vulnerable than you were.
  • Write a better ending than the one life gave you.
  • Use an often-told family story as source material if you don’t want to write about your own experiences (e.g. the story of how my grandparents courted and eventually married is a wonderful one that I fully intend to mine for a story one day)
  • Remember that you are not cataloguing history. You are weaving a story that will share some experience in a visceral way with readers. Go deeply into the emotions and/or the details at least once during the story. Make us feel it.

[Writing Prompt] Thwarted

One of the best pieces of advice I received for writing short stories was to make your character want something. Once your character wants something you have a structure for the whole story: put obstacles in their way and see how they react.

The Prompt

Create a character who wants something really badly, then thwart them at every turn.


  • This story can be realistic, or high-fantasy; historical or far-future; tragic or comic. The strength of this prompt is that it focuses on character. No matter where you set it, you can make it realistic by having your character react to being thwarted in a way that feels familiar to your reader.
  • You get to decide whether your character gets what they want at the end or not.
  • Read Fight City (An Irish Jimmy Gallagher Novelette) by last week’s guest prompter James Scott Bell for a really fun example of how you can spin out this kind of ‘thwartage’ for a whole novella (it’s only $0.99 but you may also borrow it for free under Kindle lending plan).
  • Here’s a short-short story from Mary Robinette Kowal that demonstrates how a simple ‘want’ can sustain a whole story and help create rounded characters out of somewhat surprising source-material. (I highly recommend the Writing Excuses podcast that Mary co-presents with Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells and Howard Tayler. It doesn’t often focus on the short story, but it is always inspiring and only 15 minutes long.)


[Writing Prompt] The Child

Write A Child’s Story

This is ‘the story of a child’, not necessarily a story for children’s story


  • Children are adventurous. They are open. They are surprisingly insightful. They see the world in bright colors, not moral greys. They are, in other words, great hero material.
  • Children are inexperienced in the world and therefore, generally, not paralyzed by potential consequences. This makes them great hero material AND great villain material (Lord Of The Flies).
  • Around the age of ten children are aware of themselves, have some empathy for others, a growing facility to play with the more sophisticated language they hear from adults, and a fairly well developed ability to survive without an adult’s help. They are developing an awareness of their own personality and its affect on others and their ability to choose what they do with that. This is why so many great child-characters are written at this pre-teen stage. Consider making your protagonist this age
  • If you don’t have much exposure to children right now, consider writing a story in flashback, where your older character tells the story of themselves as a child (as Rob Reiner did in Stand By Me).

[Writing Prompt] A Holiday Tale

Today is a big day for last week’s Guest Prompter Simon Kewin: It’s the day his publisher is revealing the cover of his upcoming novel. Show him support and pop over to his blog to take a look at the cover. Leave him a comment to say ‘congrats’.

It’s Memorial Day here in the US. Unofficially that marks the start of the summer season. We get a day off work and school, and people have barbecues and open up their beach houses and generally goof off. Of course, the origins of this holiday are quite different:

Formerly known as Decoration Day, it originated after the American Civil War to commemorate the Union and Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War. By the 20th century, Memorial Day had been extended to honor all Americans who have died while in the military service[3]. It typically marks the start of the summer vacation season, while Labor Day marks its end.
Many people visit cemeteries and memorials, particularly to honor those who have died in military service. Many volunteers place an American flag on each grave in national cemeteries.
From Wikipedia

The Prompt

Write a story that takes place on a holiday/special occasion where things do not follow the traditional or ideal path


  • Use this prompt to write a story centered around a holiday, with a view to submitting this story to publications. Many publications, such as EveryDay Fiction are actively looking for seasonally-appropriate holiday stories (for Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, any holiday).
  • Write about a holiday that has just passed and is fresh in your mind. Put a note in your calendar to submit it to markets nine months from now (a month or three before the holiday comes around again)
  • You could write an Independence Day story where celebration and independence are NOT what happen
  • Family-centered holidays like Mother’s Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas or other religious holidays, are fraught with tension and opportunities for comedy, drama and subversion.

Alternate Prompt

In honor of Memorial Day, write a story featuring a member of the armed forces

[Writing Prompt] Sunday Silliness – and a check-in

We’re almost there! This is the last week of StoryADay May 2013. Stay tuned on Thursday for news of another, short-term challenge to keep you writing.

Also, I’d love to know who’s been writing this month. Please leave a comment on this post if you’ve written at all this month, and let us know how much/often you’ve managed to write. Spread the word to friends who might have fallen off the wagon. Tell them to check-in and celebrate what they have achieved so far (and maybe come back for the last week?).

As always, thank you for playing. Without out you, this challenge simply wouldn’t be any fun! You inspire me and each year’s participants influence the shape and content of the next challenge. So thanks!

The Prompt

Write a story that includes these words:

  • official
  • corpulent
  • totem
  • panic
  • scratching
  • delicious


  • This is a silly prompt. Feel free to write a silly story.
  • The chances are, if you’re still here, you’ve started to take your writing quite seriously, in a good way. However, there’s always a danger of ‘serious’ becoming ‘solemn’. Use today as a break from whatever you’ve been writing and write http://storyaday.org/prompt-fros/ that is purposely silly, off-the-cuff, not to be taken seriously.
  • Consider posting your story in the comments here so that we can see how everyone chose to use these words

[Writing Prompt] Back To Front

After this week’s post about jumping into the middle of a story, I thought I’d go the whole hog:

The Prompt

Start At The End
Start your story with the character walking away from a situation (figuratively-speaking) and then go back and explain how he/she got there.


  • Think of TV shows that start with a funny/dramatic scene and then jump back to “eight hours earlier”
  • Feel free to use stage directions like that, if it helps
  • Maybe you could tell the entire story backwards (“three hours earlier”, “three hours earlier still”). It might not work, but it could be interesting

[Writing Prompt] Guest Prompt from Cat Lumb

Today we have a guest prompt from aspiring-to-be-published writer and StoryADay participant, Cat Lumb. Thanks, Cat!

The Prompt

Your character wants to find the source of a strange noise they can hear. Tell the story of how they find out what that sound is…
Cat Lumb started her blog in 2011 as means to be accountable for her writing dreams. She is currently editing one of her two first draft novels and writing short stories.
Check out her blog: www.nowrittenwords.wordpress.com or link with her on Twitter @Cat_Lumb
You can read all of Cat’s Story a Day in May stories through her blog at: http://nowrittenwords.wordpress.com/a-story-a-day-2013/

[Writing Prompt] Guest Prompt from Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Today’s prompt is from writer, illustrator and all-round good egg Debbie Ridpath Ohi, who shares one of her Daily Doodles with us today to help inspire a story. Thanks, Debbie!

The Prompt

It Wasn’t Me!
Cartoon dog looking guilty

Tips from Julie

  • Use the words or picture in any way that seems right to you
  • If you’re not an animal person, you don’t have to use the dog.
  • If your’e not an animal person, you should consider using the dog anyway. (Hey, this is about stretching yourself, right?)

Debbie Ridpath Ohi (http://DebbieOhi.com) writes and illustrates books for young people in Toronto, Canada. She is the illustrator of I’M BORED by Michael Ian Black, published by Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, chosen by The New York Times as a Notable Children’s Book. Debbie has current and upcoming book projects with Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins and Random House. More info about Debbie and her projects: http://debbieohi.com. Her blog for writers/illustrators:http://inkygirl.com. Twitter: @inkyelbows.

[Writing Prompt] Guest Prompt from Phil Giunta

Today’s guest prompter is novelist Phil Giunta. Thanks, Phil!

The Prompt

Natalie arrives home from work and is perplexed that her dog is not there to greet her as usual.  In fact, he is nowhere to be seen or heard.  Even more disturbing is the semi-automatic pistol sitting on her coffee table and the sound of running water from the kitchen.


  • Natalie could live in a city, suburb, or rural area. House or apartment. Single or married.
  • It also doesn’t matter what type of dog she has.
  • I did not indicate whether the gun belongs to her or not.  Perhaps it’s normally hidden away.  How did it get onto her coffee table?  If the gun is not hers, then to whom does it belong?


Phil Giunta’s first novel, a paranormal mystery called Testing the Prisoner, debuted in March 2010 from Firebringer Press. His second novel in the same genre, By Your Side, was released in March 2013.
His short story work includes “There Be In Dreams No War” and “Root for the Undergods” featured in the anthologies ReDeus: Divine Tales and ReDeus: Beyond Borders from Crazy 8 Press.
Phil is currently editing a short story collection titled Somewhere in the Middle of Eternity for Firebringer Press and working on the paranormal thriller novella, Lineage. He is the narrator of an audio version of Testing the Prisoner, which can be heard for free at Podiobooks.com. The audio version of By Your Side is forthcoming on the Prometheus Radio Theatre feed: http://prometheus.libsynpro.com. Visit Phil’s website at http://www.philgiunta.com.

[Writing Prompt] Guest Prompt from Gregory Frost

Continuing our Guest Prompt week, today’s prompt comes from novelist and teacher Gregory Frost. Thanks, Greg!

The Prompt

Unusual Ways of Seeing

Imagine a person with a very idiosyncratic way of seeing the world (for example, a low-end drug dealer who’s perpetually paranoid because he’s sure everyone wants to steal his stuð; or an accountant for whom everything is numerical and anally precise)—anyone who, because of mental challenges, profession, or self-medicated state, negotiates the world in a distinctly peculiar, complicated, or unhinged way.

For this prompt, have your character witness a traumatic event that does not directly involve him or her (a traffic accident, a robbery, an explosion, etc.).

Narrate the event from this character’s first-person POV, incorporating the idiosyncrasies of this invented personality.

If you need examples from literature, look at George Saunders’ “Tenth of December” which includes both the portrait of a deteriorating mentality and the interiority of a child’s imaginings, or Jonathan Nolan’s “Memento Mori,” or Donald Barthelme’s “Game.”


  • The narrative should be focused upon the observed event, whatever it is.
  • The background/ biographical elements of this individual should be limited, which is to say implied rather than presented outright in the core of things. You know who they are. Get that across to us without resorting to our narrator saying something like “I’m a junkie.”
  • The details presented about the event–especially how they’re presented–should suggest everything about our narrator.


Gregory Frost’s YA-crossover SHADOWBRIDGE duology (Shadowbridge & Lord Tophet) from Del Rey (Random House) was a finalist for the 2009 James Tiptree Award and named one of the year’s four best fantasy novels by the American Library Association.  His Nebula-nominated science fiction novel, THE PURE COLD LIGHT is now available in ebook formats from Book View Cafe (as is his first novel, LYREC)

 For more:
Facebook: gregory.frost1

[Writing Prompt] Guest Prompt from James Scott Bell

Today’s prompt is from best-selling novelist and popular writing teacher James Scott Bell. Thanks, Jim

The Prompt from JSB

Write about your antagonist’s life at the age of sixteen. What were the events that shaped this character back then, and still haunt today?

James Scott Bell is a best-selling author of books for writers and thrillers like Deceived, Try Dying, Watch Your Back, and One More Lie (International Thriller Writers Award finalist).  He writes frequently for Writer’s Digest magazine and blogs every Sunday at The Kill Zone. You can find some of his books for authors here.

Tips from Julie

  • Choose the antagonist/villain of a previous story.
  • Or choose the antagonist of a work-in-progress or the novel you’ve been planning to write but can’t get a handle on.
  • Remember that an antagonist isn’t necessarily the villain — just the character that gets in the way of your hero’s dream


[Writing Prompt] Guest Prompt from Simon Kewin

To engage your readers and hook them in from the first line, it’s a great idea to start in medias res, which means into the middle of things. So…

Kicking off the next few days’ Guest Prompters is StoryADay past participant Simon Kewin, who provided this great prompt. Thanks, Simon!

To engage your readers and hook them in from the first line, it’s a great idea to start in medias res, which means into the middle of things. So, instead of opening with long descriptions of background and prior events, jump straight into the action. This is immediately more engaging for the reader. The trick for the writer is then to drip-feed into the narrative information about prior situations the reader needs without it becoming too intrusive and, well, boring.

The following prompts are opening lines of stories that start in medias res. See where they – or something like them – lead you…

  • Nate plummetted to the ground, screaming Kate’s name as he fell.
  • Amanda Frobisher stood in front of the entire school, only to find no words would come out of her mouth.
  • Jamie stood in the wreckage of his ransacked house, trying to take it all in.
  • Max had one bullet left. He had to make it count.
  • “So, will you marry me or not?”


Simon is a UK writer and a previous StoryADayMay participant. He has two novels appearing this years: Engn, to be published by December House in July and Hedge Witch, to be published by Morrigan Books on Hallowe’en. He can be found at http://simonkewin.co.uk

[Writing Prompt] Copycat Story

Today’s prompt is adapted from one of the most popular segments of the Warm Up Writing Course that I run here as an online course (and a home-study version).

The Prompt

Write A Copycat Story, based on one of your favorite short stories by another writer


  • Take a story by a writer you really, really admire — preferably a short short story that won’t take for ever to reproduce. Analyze it in minute detail: from word choice to sentence length. Now, choose a different setting and different characters with different dreams from that of the originals, and write a copycat story, following the exact structure and tone of the original.
  • During the Renaissance — the great flowering of European art and culture during the 16th and 17th centuries — great artists and artisans enrolled apprentices to train with them. The apprentices learned the principles of their craft not by creating their own unique works but by painstakingly copying the works and style of their masters. Why shouldn’t we try the same thing?
  • Don’t attempt to get any of our trainee copycat work published. That’s a plagiarism scandal just waiting to erupt!.


(If you want more details about this, and examples to follow, try the Warm Up Writing Course (home study version), the work-at-your-own pace version of the popular online course I run periodically here at the site.)



[Writing Prompt] Search The Markets

This prompt had a brief, premature debut last week. If you used it then, why not travel back and use one of these prompts from last week, today? Also, use some time today to pick a short story that you will use to guide your writing tomorrow. Pick one you really love. Need recommendations?

Maybe I crave approval or something, but I have always found that the prospect of being judged by someone else helps focus my mind.

Writing for publication is not something I usually suggest during StoryADay May. Worrying about whether or not a story will be published before you’ve even written it is a bit ‘cart before the horse’. However sometimes the thought of a competition deadline or submission to a themed anthology can provide a bit of inspiration and a dose of motivation that might otherwise be missing.

The Prompt

Write a story that fits the guidelines of a particular market, themed anthology or competition.


  • You don’t actually have to submit if the story doesn’t work out.
  • Choose a venue with a deadline date far enough away that you can revise this story after StoryADay May is over.
  • Resist the temptation to write the obvious story suggested by the theme, prompt or guidelines. Dig a little deeper until you find something you’re really passionate about.
  • Write your first draft with abandon, forgetting that you’re even thinking about submitting it anywhere.
  • Make a note in your calendar to look at it again some time in early June.

If you need a resource for finding contests and deadlines, you could do a lot worse than Duotrope.com . The full listings require an annual membership but it is a fabulous resource.
You can also try WritersMarket.com or pop down to your local library and look for the print edition of that tome if you’re saving your pennies or don’t think you’ll get the value from a subscription to Duotrope.com or WritersMarket.com.