Beginnings, Middles and Ends — Wrapping Up StoryADay September 2013

This week’s prompts took a structural approach to story. Each day we focused on element of story: the beginning of the middle, the real middle, the climax, the end and then we went back to look at the beginnings again.

This week, you should feel free to attempt a story a day, or work on the same story all week. You can even rewrite old stories paying particular attention to the structural element of the day.

Story Road(map)

Prompt 1 – Mess With Their Heads

Having worked on character (the real starting point of any story) last week, this prompt encouraged us to move quickly onto messing with them — creating the real beginning of the story.

Prompt 2 – Make It Even Worse

Ever got lost in the middle of a story? It happens all the time. One way to avoid the soggy midsection is to remember what your character wants and work on frustrating the more and more (and more).

Prompt 3 – The Bit Before The End

Now that it looks like all hope is lost, you can let your character fight back. Everything you’ve set up pays off now: it’s climax-time!

Prompt 4 – Writing A Strong Ending

It’s the end of September and time to look at the ends of your stories. We look at three different types of endings: when to use them and how not to screw them up.

Prompt 5 – Back To The Beginning

When you reach the end of any story, that’s the perfect time to go back and rewrite your first line…

 

Thanks for playing along during StoryADay September’s prompt-fest.
Don’t forget to sign up for news about the next proper StoryADay May challenge (which really is a Story A Day!).
If you need more writing prompts, bookmark this category. Come back as often as you need. You can also sign up for prompts by email every Wednesday and I’d love it if you’d play along by posting your short story here at the site each week and providing feedback for other people.
If you’re interested in investing in your writing development, sign up for the StoryADay Creativity Lab mailing list. I don’t mail to this list very often, but when I do it is with news about courses (mine and other people’s) and books, tools, workshops etc. that I think are worth your time and money as a developing writer. I’ll be posting details in this list first about the next Warm Up You Writing Live Sessions — a three-week workshop hosted by yours truly, with writing exercises, audio classes, online forums and one-to-one coaching. Don’t miss out!

Keep writing,

Julie
P.S. Don’t forget, everyone who comments this month will be entered in a drawing to win a free copy of the StoryADay Time To Write Workshop.

[Writing Prompt] Back To The Beginning

Now that we’ve concentrated on the middle, the climax and the end, it seem only logical to go back to the beginning.

The Prompt

Rewrite The Beginning

Tips

  • Go back through any stories you have written this month (or ever) and rewrite your first line. Strong beginnings are important and it is almost impossible to write a good first line before you’ve finished the story.
  • The ideal first line contains everything in your story: you character’s needs, desires, and where they will go on their journey through this story; setting, atmosphere, tone…
  • Spend a good amount of time on this. Try four or five different openings for each story you look at.

Go!

Thanks for playing along during StoryADay September’s prompt-fest.
Don’t forget to sign up for news about the next proper StoryADay May challenge (which really is a Story A Day!).
If you need more writing prompts, bookmark this category. Come back as often as you need. You can also sign up for prompts by email every Wednesday and I’d love it if you’d play along by posting your short story here at the site each week and providing feedback for other people.
If you’re interested in investing in your writing development, sign up for the StoryADay Creativity Lab mailing list. I don’t mail to this list very often, but when I do it is with news about courses (mine and other people’s) and books, tools, workshops etc. that I think are worth your time and money as a developing writer. I’ll be posting details in this list first about the next Warm Up You Writing Live Sessions — a three-week workshop hosted by yours truly, with writing exercises, audio classes, online forums and one-to-one coaching. Don’t miss out!

[Writing Prompt] Ending With An Ending

This week we’ve practiced starting with a character, progressing through the middle, approaching the climax, writing the climax. Now that September is drawing to its end, don’t you think it’s time to work on our endings?

The Prompt

Write A Short Short Story, Concentrating On Writing A Strong Ending

The End

Tips

  • Short stories have to end. You can’t just stop writing because you get tired and tell yourself you’re being ‘literary’. Even ambiguous endings have structure and purpose, when they’re well done.
  • You can tie everything up in a bow if you want. Answer all the questions, tell us who ends up with whom, whether or not the changes the character underwent in the story are permanent. Serve your reader their dessert, clear the table, stack the dishwasher, wipe the surfaces. The risk with this ending is that your reader will be insulted and left on the sidelines. Use a light hand. Give us the detail we need but don’t belabor it and remember to involve our emotions.
  • You can leave the ending ambiguous. Let the character act to answer a central question, but don’t tell us what choice they made. Let the reader decide. This is particularly effective if you have set up a big moral question for your character, or a life-changing choice. Let your character walk out of a door, or pick up a pen, or turn the ignition…You risk leaving your reader unsatisfied, but as long as all the other questions in the story are answered, you may be able to get away with having your character ride off into the sunset, leaving your reader to decide (based on what they have come to know of him during the story) what he’s riding off to do.
  • Give us a twist. As long as the twist is logical and not too much of a cliche, go ahead and surprise us. Twists can be sad or funny or sweet, but to be satisfying, they must not introduce any new information — no sudden new characters or magical fairies swooping in to save the day. Just something you have withheld or hidden. Think: O. Henry, Twilight Zone, The Sixth Sense. Your reader should be able to go back over the story and see all the elements that made the twist ending possible.

Go!

[Writing Prompt] The Bit Before The End

Remember when your teachers told you every story had a beginning, a middle and an end? Well, they missed a bit.

The Prompt

Write a Flash Fiction Story With Emphasis On The Climax
20130929-090052.jpg
I love disaster movies — even the really cheesy ones — so my story today will be a mini disaster movie.

I don’t have time, in flash fiction, to build up all the characters a disaster movie would visit at the beginning (the screw-up anti-hero, his ex-wife, the wise elder who’s doomed to die, the young person who hates the anti-hero but will eventually become reconciled with him, the comic relief, the unrequited love interest, the bull-headed person in authority who hampers the anti-hero’s efforts to save the world and, of course, the villain who causes it all through action or arrogant inaction…see? I REALLY love my disaster movies!).

nstead, I’m going to have to concentrate on quickly establishing my flawed character, what he thinks he wants, what he actually needs, his wise-cracking character and his long-suffering assistant/love interest. Then I’m going to wreck his life — quickly — which is fine, cos his life was a wreck anyway. Then I’m going to threaten the last people he cares about, just like we practiced earlier this week.

Finally, I’m going to really concentrate on the climax. I only have up to 1000 words, so I’m not going to be able to go the full Bruce-Willis/Sharknado here, but I’m going to put everything on the line and do my best to pull at the reader’s heartstrings.
FInally, I’m going to spend 100 words or fewer wrapping up.

Tips

  • Before you even start writing, imagine a killer climax
  • This mean you’re going to have to know your character and his/her problem before you start writing.
  • You’re also going to have to think of a few complications you might throw at your character.
  • How can you show the reader why this matters? (Disaster movies usually do this by having the main character’s best friend tell point it out in a conversation, wherein the anti-hero shrugs and makes a witty, self-deprecating joke.)
  • Don’t be afraid of the cheese factor. This is an exercise, not your last shot at literary immortality (and even if it was, someone got paid to write Sharknado, after all!)
  • Concentrate on your climax. Everything is at stake, but you don’t have to be writing a disaster movie to make this dramatic. How will your hero change to get out of this problem? If he’s a ranging drunk, can he put down the bottle? If she never talks back to anyone, does she finally stand up for herself? If she’s living under an oppressive regime, can she put three fingers to her lips in a gesture of defiance and have that gesture returned by the crowd (no, wait, that’s been done. But see how totally silent, non-violent act, can be electrifyingly dramatic?)

 

You have a maximum of 1000 words.

 

Go!

[Writing Prompt] Make It Even Worse

Yesterday we took your character’s dreams and dashed them in the middle of the story.

Today I want you to take your character, and their desire and cripple them not once, but twice. Of course you get to reward them with a little win in the middle.

The Prompt

Give your character a goal, frustrate them, let them make some progress but let it come at a  cost.

Darth Vader vs Obi-Wan Kenobi

Tips

  • Think about Star Wars, the great story-outliner’s tool: Luke wants to get off this boring little planet but his aim is frustrated by obligations and lack of opportunity. When his family is murdered he finally acts. His next aim is to find and rescue the sexy princess (spoiler alert: Ew!). Problem: she’s on the most heavily defended, most technologically advanced ship in the fleet of the all-powerful empire. Somehow he succeeds. Yay! BUT, oh no, they sacrifice Obi-Wan, his mentor, at the same time. Now Luke has a new mission: overthrow the empire. Fail, Strive, Succeed but at a cost, pursue next part of his ‘want’. [Check out this Narrative Map of the Hero’s Journey]
  • Put your character in an impossible situation. Let him dig his way out only to fall into a new pit. Only this time he knows a bit more about himself and what it’ll take to climb out. (Friends? A rope? Strong hands?) Let the character use what they learned in the first part of the middle, to achieve what they need to do next.
  • It doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom or drama. If you’re writing humor you can still do this. Frustration is funny. Even throwing in a moment of tragedy is acceptable in comic writing. In fact, if you’re making your reader laugh until 2/3 of the way through the story, they won’t even notice the knife in your hand until you’re sliding it between their ribs. Bam! Will that pack an emotional punch?! (Sitcoms do this from time to time. Aren’t you surprised to find yourself suddenly sobbing during your favorite 30 minute comedy?)

Go!

[Writing Prompt] Mess With Their Heads

Last week we concentrated on character desires. Giving your character a ‘need’ gives them something to fight for and your reader something to root for.

This week we’re going to explore ways to continue those stories and finish them off.

The Prompt

Create A Really Big Problem For Your Character
CLIFFHANGER

Take a character or situation you have written about before and write the story again. This time, bearing in mind your character’s need, do everything you can to derail that character’s progress. Make it big. Make it bad. Do things to your characters that make your reader gasp “How in the world is she ever going to get out of that?!”

Tips

  • Try not to worry too much about how you’re going to get your character out of trouble.
  • Do have an end in mind (i.e. know whether or not she’s going to get the guy and whether or not that is good news, given her character need).
  • Just for this story, don’t fret if you can’t transition neatly from ‘oh hell, it just all fell apart from her’ to ‘aha, and here’s how she reacts at the end’. Allow yourself to be sketchy. Don’t try to write deathless prose. Just hash out the events, concentrate on the emotions and worry about clean up later.

Go!

What Does Your Character Want? Five September Writing Prompts

This week’s prompts have all been about exploring character needs. Without a desire, why are we reading about your character? Without an obstacle to that desire, where’s the story?

Use these prompts to spark a few stories of your own. Don’t forget to leave a comment and let me know which ones worked best for you, and be entered to win a copy of my Time To Write Workshop.
Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
Prompt 1 — Filthy Lucre
Your character needs money, and fast! Why? How? You tell us!

Prompt 2 — Gimme Shelter 
One of the most primitive needs of any person is a need for shelter. This prompt explores that in ways from primitive to more civilized.

Prompt 3 — Feed Me, Seymour!
Staying with the basic needs of humanity: your character is hungry. Why? What’s stopping them from ordering in? Tell us the story.

Prompt 4 — Belonging
Now that you’ve explored the most basic needs of your characters, what next? Well, let’s assume they’re safe and fed. What do they want now? To belong. Tell this story today.

Prompt 5 — Appreciate Me!
Beyond mere belonging, people need to be appreciated for who they are. Write the story of someone fighting to be appreciated.


Could You Use More Instruction, From Writing’s Hottest Teachers? Watch this video!

get started button

(Not an affiliate link, because I want you to get the 50% discount you get by joining the DIYMFA list!)

Video notes

  • Chuck Wendig actually blogs at terribleminds.com, not the fake site I made up in this video!
  • Also, I forgot to mention James Scott Bell, the most generous man in publishing, and Stuart Horowitz of bookarchitecture.com, will both be speaking too. It just keeps getting better 🙂

 

Keep writing,
Julie
P.S. Don’t forget, everyone who comments this month will be entered in a drawing to win a free copy of the StoryADay Time To Write Workshop.

[Writing Prompt] Appreciate Me!

This week’s theme has been ‘character needs’. Today we assume your character has all their basic needs covered (they can eat, breathe and drink; they have a roof over their heads and they have some sense of belonging). And suddenly that’s no longer enough. More than merely belonging, your character has a burning need to be appreciated.

The Prompt

Write A Story In Which the Character is Striving For Recognition

Military Child Appreciation Day

Tips

  • This need brings your character into the realm of “esteem” needs — they’re no longer fighting for survival but for quality of life.
  • The challenge in this story is to make the reader empathize with a character who might, if handled carelessly, seem a little whiny. I mean, no-one’s dying so why are you whining?
  • The good news it that this kind of need is easier to write about that the needs at the top level of Maslow’s Hierarchy, which tend to really make your character seem like a spoiled brat (“Oo, I’m trying to self-actualize and no-one’s helping me, wah!”). And yes, I’m being harsh here, but I think this is why so much literary short fiction is hard to swallow. A lot of it focuses on this last level of needs. So chill, we’re doing the stage that’s a level lower down and a little harder to screw up 🙂
  • Think of characters like Ann in Ann of Green Gables or Jo from Little Women in this story: life isn’t terrible but she’s struggling to be what she knows she could  be if she’s true to her talents and needs.
  • A way into this story might be to give your character an opportunity to advance, even though it’s against her real desires. It seems like the safe option (take the promotion to manager instead of quitting and becoming a freelance writer!) What would your character do and how will that affect the reader?

Go!

 

 

 

[Writing Prompt] Belonging

This week our themes are focused on characters’ needs. Today, something above a survival need, but something that is nevertheless deeply important:

The Prompt

Write a story about a character who desperately wants to belong

Cafe BeLong at the Brickworks

Tips

  • This can be any kind of relationship story: love, friends, family, career.
  • The character must NEED to belong so badly that they’re willing to go through hell to pursue their need.
  • Your story should take your character somewhere: will they change to fit in, or will they realise that’s too big a step for them. Will they be OK with that (in either case)?
  • Show us why your character needs to belong and how that need drives her every action.
  • Put obstacles in her way as often as possible and show us about your protagonist’s character by showing us how he/she reacts to the obstacles.

 

Go!

[Writing Prompt] Food

Following this week’s theme of giving characters a basic need, today’s prompt is one of the most basic needs of all: food.

The Prompt

Your Character Needs Food

I Think We Need To Have A Little Chat About Hygiene...

Tips

  • Remember that, to make this story and your character interesting, they must need food above all else at this particular point in their lives.
  • Figure out how they got into this state and why they can’t just pop down to the vending machine and satisfy their hunger. Don’t launch into this explanation right at the start of your story.
  • Start with the character’s feelings of hunger/weakness and give us some character insights by showing how they deal with this adversity.
  • Give hints about why this is more than just normal hunger (perhaps they are stranded somewhere, perhaps they’re trapped in an interminable meeting).
  • This prompt easily lends itself to both comedy and horror. I can even see romance coming from this…
  • Remember to put obstacles in your character’s way. If possible include other people and movement so that your character is not simply in his/her own head.
  • Feel free to experiment with form. Have your stuck-in-a-meeting character texting a friend who is sending him pictures of the sumptuous lunch she’s having right now. Or include items from menus and recipes if your character has reached the hallucinating-about-food stage. Have fun with this.
  • This is a great opportunity for sensory descriptive writing: have me licking my lips or clutching at my stomach as I feel and taste what your character feels and longs for.
  • Don’t forget to resolve the problem. Will they find food? Will they find a way to deal with the hunger?

Go!

[Writing Prompt] Shelter

This week I’m providing you with something your character needs. Your job is to create someone who needs this thing, REALLY needs it. Not wants it. NEEDS it.

And then torture them.

According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, security (of the body, of employment, resources etc.) is pretty high on the list of basic human needs. Today we’re working with one of them:

The Prompt

Today your character needs a secure place to shelter

Bothy

Tips

This can be as simple as someone out walking in a storm, searching for a place to get out of the rain.

It can be someone whose house is being foreclosed on, or bombed, or overrun by zombies.

It might be someone who has challenged themselves to build a tiny house that they can live in

After you decide on the specifics of the NEED that will make this interesting for you, you must then figure out why the character NEEDS it so, so badly. What is there, in his history, that is driving him to find or protect or build this home? Why does it matter on a psychological level as well as a physical one? You don’t need to be explicit about this in the story, but you should know enough to slip in a few clues.

Next, think about some ridiculously challenging ways that the bad buys/the weather/the forces of evil or indifference can thwart your character’s plans. Make him really squirm. (NB This is why he must have an unusually strong desire for this shelter at the start. He’s going to have to overcome some interesting things. If he doesn’t want it badly enough, he’ll just give up).

 

Go!

[Writing Prompt] Wants, Needs, Desires

Every character (every story) wants/needs/desires something.
Every story needs this desire to be pursued, frustrated, attained, or pursued again.
In the process the character or situation changes.
That’s what story is.
This week I’m providing you with a list of needs. You choose a character and a situation in which they can pursue that need.
Money

The Prompt

Your character needs a lot of money, fast.

Tips

  • Before you write a word, sketch some notes on who your character is, why they need the money, why they need it quickly.
  • Think about what your character believes will happen when they have the money. What has your character failed to realize?
  • Why doesn’t your character have money now? You may or may not want to weave this information into the story, but you should probably know it.
  • What obstacles stand in the way of your character getting rich, quickly?
  • What three things will your character try to get the money?
  • Which ones will work? Which ones won’t? Why?
  • Is the story that is forming in your head tragic? Humorous? Poignant? Thrilling? Romantic?
  • Try to enter the story as late as you can. Don’t introduce the problem first. Start with your character’s abortive first effort to get money and feed us the information as you go through the actions.

Go!

StADa September: Five More Writing Prompts

Here’s your digest of this week’s StoryADay September writing prompts.

This set of prompts is all about point of view. The choice to write in First Person or Third Person Omniscient gives you, the storyteller, a different set of tools to use in each story. Use these prompts to practice some of those skills.

Prompt 1 — First Person Practice

First person is a great place to start because it’s how tell all our stories in everyday life…

Prompt 2 — Up Close And Third Person

Third person limited has quite a lot in common with First Person, even though you’re writing ‘he’ and ‘she’, not ‘I’…

Prompt 3 — Two Heads Are Better Than One

Third person omniscient gives you the chance to get inside more than one head at a time in your story…

Prompt 4 — A Way Into Second Person Storytelling

Writing well in the Second Person is tough but can be innovative and truly creative.

Prompt 5 — Changing POV

Now you’ve tried a few, you get to pick your favorite. then rewrite an old story in a new way.


Could You Use More Instruction, From Writing’s Hottest Teachers? Watch this video!

get started button

(Not an affiliate link, because I want you to get the 50% discount you get by joining the DIYMFA list!)

Video notes

  • Chuck Wendig actually blogs at terribleminds.com, not the fake site I made up in this video!
  • Also, I forgot to mention James Scott Bell, the most generous man in publishing, and Stuart Horowitz of bookarchitecture.com, will both be speaking too. It just keeps getting better 🙂

 

Keep writing,
Julie
P.S. Don’t forget, everyone who comments this month will be entered in a drawing to win a free copy of the StoryADay Time To Write Workshop.

[Writing Prompt] Changing POV

In this exercise we’re going to take what we’ve discovered while writing the other Point Of View prompts, and use it to rework a story.
"Grounds for Sculpture", Giant Mirror / Reflection

The Prompt

Take a story you have previously written and rewrite it, in a different Point of View

Tips

  • If you have a story that never really worked properly, try rewriting it. THis time, instead of third person, put it in first person. The “I” of this story doesn’t necessarily have to be the protagonist.
  • Notice how switching the POV frees you to do things you couldn’t do before (e.g. write atmospheric descriptions or ‘stage directions’)
  • Notice how changing POV changes what your reader can ‘see’ (i.e. they may not see other characters’ body language the same way if you switch to First Person. Or you may be able to allow them to see more internal motivations if you’re switching from a limited perspective to omniscient

Don’t drive yourself crazy with this. Just take your characters and the scenario you’ve already written and try it from a different perspective. See what happens. Have fun with it.

Go!

[Writing Prompt] Second Person

Today I’m recycling this prompt from March. It offers an innovate way to get into the Second Person (“you do this, you do that”) perspective without making your story sound like a Choose Your Own Adventure.A Way Into The Second Person blog post

The Prompt

Write A Story Set in the Second Person

Tips

  • Are you still collecting story sparks everywhere you go? Try to collect three a day while you’re away from your desk. They will help you on days like this when the StoryADay writing prompt does not suggest characters or a scenario, but rather a technique.
  • Read through the prompt from March, and take a look at the links it suggests.

Go!