Yesterday I reviewed Shakedown by Elizabeth Gonzalez, a story that doesn’t seem to be able to make its mind up whether it wants to be about the renovation of an old steam train, or about a fiesty old man in a Pennsylvania mountain town. It’s a wonderful example of a quiet climax: no car chases or bullets flying, but a satisfying story climax nonetheless. Continue reading “[Writing Prompt] Sleight of Hand”
In James Blish’s Surface Tension (which I reviewed recently), the author took the idea of space travel and did something a bit different with it: instead of humans arriving on a new planet and terraforming it to suit themselves, they genetically-engineer versions of humanity that would thrive on the planet.
Now that’s what I call ‘subverting reader expectations’. But it’s still a satisfying story that sticks to the rules of an off-planet adventure story (lots of ‘wonder’ and new environments, inter-personal conflict, conflict with the environment, bad guys, a struggle to unite the ‘good’ forces and to survive. Even a little romance.)
Write a story that subverts reader expectations but still works in genre Continue reading “[Writing Prompt] Turn A Trope Upside Down”
I’m steeped in (as well as 6th Grade homework) Lisa Cron’s fabulous latest book Story Genius, in which she makes the compelling point that you cannot begin to tell your character’s story until you know about their past.
It’s a delightfully obvious (and surprisingly overlooked) observation that ought to be front and center in every writing class. So here we go.
Interview a character from one of your stories. Find out as much as you can about their past and what formed the character they possess on Page One of their story. Continue reading “[Writing Prompt] Interrogate A Character”
Steal the first line of your favorite book and write a totally different story
- Don’t agonize about your ‘favorite’ book. Just go to the shelf and pick one.
- Type out the first line and then think of ways you can take that introduction in completely different directions.
- Read Mary Robinette Kowal’s The Lady Astronaut of Mars, for an example of how you might do this. Or listen to the audio collection it comes from.
- Consider writing a tiny, flash-fiction story that you can start and finish today.
- If you’re brave enough, post your story in the comments.
This week’s writing prompt is completely stolen from the first story in the 2016 edition of The Best American Short Stories (edited by Junot Diaz)
In the story, a man visits his elderly parents. A chance remark reminds him of an incident in his childhood where he was clearly in the wrong, and someone else suffered.
Without being heavy handed, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie allows her character to reminisce, taking us through a bright moment in a child’s life, before showing the act the man would later regret. There is very little commentary, just lush scene-painting and evocation.
Write a story inspired by one of your regrets
- Write this story using a nugget from your own past: an act or words of which you were later ashamed.
- Alternatively, combine a story you heard from someone else with the emotions you felt when you did something wrong.
- Don’t use this as a vehicle to feel sorry for yourself, now. Rather, use your experiences to conjure up for the reader the feelings, the physical experience of your shame.
- Don’t write this autobiographically (unless you really love memoir). Give your feelings to another character.
- Consider giving the feelings of shame to a character who is very unlike you, and see how they would react to facing the consequences of their own actions.
- Try to not consciously teach the reader a lesson. Instead, explore the experience and let them draw their own conclusions.
- Try to evoke the experience of doing something you know to be wrong, getting caught, or getting away with it but regretting it anyway, in ways that a reader might recognize from their own experience (that’s why I suggest focusing on the physical reactions).
- If the point of storytelling is to connect with other readers, sometimes its our worst experiences that give us the vivid emotional memories that allow us create a vivid story.
It’s Write On Wednesday Day! (That’s really clumsy. I’m going to have to never do that again!)
The Nov/Dec/Jan holiday season is fast approaching. I know you don’t want to think about it, but if you’re interested in putting out a short story for the holidays, this is actually kind of last minute.
Publications have long lead times for date-specific stories, so if your holiday stories aren’t already written, now’s the time. Magazines and online pubs LOVE themed stories (Christmas stories; New Year issues; Thanksgiving horror stories!).
Or perhaps you’d like to create a story for friends and family to say thanks for all their support (or: na-na-na-na-na-na-you-see-I-wasnt-lying-around-watching-daytime-TV-all-year).
Write a story tied to a Nov/Dec/Jan holiday
- You can use this to flesh out characters from a longer work in progress.
- You can include characters from your real life.
- You can use this as a calling card/thank you note/Christmas letter if you send holiday greetings cards
- Mine your own memories, but don’t feel you have to write memoir. Take an incident from one of your family holidays and recast it on a steampunk airship or a city made of living bone towers or at the Tudor court.
- Don’t feel it has to be a narrative story. One of the delights of the short story form is that it can be much more than that. Consider writing a list of holiday gifts your character has to buy, complete with passive-aggressive commentary; or a series of increasingly frantic tweets from the Thanksgiving dinner table…
- Create a compelling character and set them in a ridiculous situation, or a ridiculous character and put them in a banal situation.
Have fun with this. Amuse yourself. Remember, nobody ever has to see this story, so you can be as cruel or as kind as you like!
By this point in the challenge, you’ll have discovered some of your strengths and weaknesses.
This week we’re going to explore those areas further.
Look back, and think about which stories flowed the best for you, and in which your voice was strongest.
This week we’ll:
- Work on the tone of your stories
- Write in your favorite genre
- Write in an unfamiliar point of view
- Think about emotion, and the business of making readers feel.
Day 22 – Finding Your Voice
Day 23 – Watch Your Tone
Day 24 – Exploring Genre
Day 25 – All Change
Day 26 – So Emotional (Baby)
Day 27 – Write At Your Natural Length
Day 28 – Pace Yourself
Keep writing (and commenting) throughout this week, and get ready for The Last Hurrah in the final couple of days of the month.
Okay, you made it! Welcome to Week Two.
Week 2 Elements of Story
[Remember, if you want ALL THE PROMPTS NOW you can get them in the ebook A Month of Writing Prompts 2016, and help keep StoryADay free at the same time!]
This week we’re going to get a little more serious, but still keeping the stakes very low. I want you to remember that nothing you’re writing this month needs to be brilliant. The point of all of this is to get you writing a lot so that you can find out
- what it is you really want to be writing
- what your strengths are what your weaknesses are and
- how to get over that hesitation when you start to write, and instead find your way to the place where the writing is flowing.
Having said that I don’t want this to be a waste of your time.
So this week we’re going to work on some skills that you’re going to need as you get into crafting your stories when the month of short story writing is finished.
This week I’m going to give you three different story structures that you can use with the story sparks that you’ve been collecting (you have been collecting stories parks haven’t you?) We’re going to take a look at
- Setting and incorporating setting into your story so that readers feel like they’re part of the action.
- Ways of making your protagonist a rounded character by giving him or her some flaws.
- Antagonists and villains and how to incorporate them without making them flat but also without letting them take over the story.
- Sidekicks and secondary characters to see what they can do for your protagonist and your story.
If you’ve already written a story a day for seven days I’m confident that you are discovering your best practices. Hold onto that knowledge while we dive deeper into the nitty-gritty of storytelling this week. Work when your energy is highest. Squeeze writing into tiny pockets of the day if you have to. Harness your community and your support group and get them to keep you accountable. It’s going to get harder this week, but it’s worth it. Keep writing.
This is important to you.
You deserve this.
Tips For Success In Week 2
It’s getting harder this week so take all the lessons you’ve learned from last week and make them work for you.
- What was the best time of day to write?
- What did you do on your most successful days? How can you replicate that this week?
- What did you do on your worst writing days last week? How can you avoid those things this week?
- Did you read any short stories last week? Try reading some this week, to help recharge your imagination.
- Day 8 – The Cinderella Story Structure
- Day 9 – The Ugly Duckling Story Structure
- Day 10 – The Hansel & Gretel Story Structure
- Day 11 – Paint A Vivid Setting
- Day 12 – Your Flawed Protagonist
- Day 13 – Your Villain As A Mirror
- Day 14 – The Sidekick In The Tale
Tips For Taking Part
- Write a story every day (you don’t have to use the prompts)
- Come back to each day’s post (or this one) and leave a comment telling us how you got on.
- Encourage other people to keep going!
- Even if you’re not using the prompts, click on the links above, because the comments of those blog posts are where the community discussion’s happening for StoryADay September 2016!
This month’s theme, here at StoryADay is “Accountability”.
(If you haven’t yet declared your goals for the month, leave a comment in this month’s SWAGr post and tell us what you’re going to do with your writing for the rest of this month)
Contact a friend, right now, and tell them that you’re going to write a short story in the next 24 hours. Tell them you’ll send it to them, or at least check in when you’re finished. Then, write 500-750 words about a character you think that friend will love (or love to hate)
- Keeping the story super-short gives you a better chance of finishing it
- Focusing on your friend (someone you know well) helps you winnow the choices. What will THEY enjoy? (Too much choice is paralyzing. Eliminate every possible character or situation that wouldn’t interest this particular friend. Then start writing)
- Remember that a short story revolves around a single moment in which something changes for your character.
- The moment can have happened just before the story starts (in which case you’re dealing with the aftermath and the character’s choices about how to deal with it)
- The moment can happen at the end, when we know enough about your character to be able to predict how they’ll react (or at least enjoy wondering)
- The moment can happen in the middle, in which case you get a chance to show us the before and the after.
- With such a short story you don’t have much room for backstory. Write it as bare as you can. You can punch it up with details and dual meanings, as you re-read and re-write it.
- OR write a longer piece, if that’s what works for you. Just be sure to GET TO THE END OF THE STORY. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It has to be finished. (“You can fix just about any problem in revision, but you can’t revise a blank page.“)
In that vein, I’m bowing down to Julia Cameron today, and borrowing her concept of Artist’s Dates, popularized in her book The Artist’s Way.
Seek out something beautiful/inspiring today.
- You don’t have to write a story inspired by the thing you find. Just seek it out. View the world with curiosity and try to find something that makes you go ‘wow’.
- You might want to take a trip to an art gallery or a movie theater, or you might simply want to lie under a tree and look up at the sky through the leaves.
- You might want to listen to live or recorded music. Or watch your baby for half an hour while she sleeps.
- Breathe. Soak it in. Notice all the details of the Thing and of your reaction to it.
- Then go back to life, refreshed.
This week, make sure you’re reading some writing you really love; writing that inspires you. It’ll help with all your writing, and especially with this writing prompt.
Write a story inspired by, or in-the-style-of a piece of writing you love
- Don’t try to impress me. Pick something you really, really love (something that gets you excited) whether or not you think anyone else would respect it. If you love it, pick it (in the immortal words of this century’s new bard: “And love is love is love is love is love is love is love“)
- Analyze the heck out of a piece of writing you love, and recreate it with new characters and a new setting. Or just pick a character/author you love and write a loving fanfic tribute.
- Don’t worry about making it good. Just try to recapture, for your potential reader, the emotions you felt when reading the piece that inspired you.
- It doesn’t have to be a short story. Write anything. Perform something. Just get creative. Focus on the excitement of creating something.
In honor of this month’s theme, here at StoryADay, of Refilling The Well, I’m issuing a very odd writing prompt:
Don’t write/watch/read any stories today
- You’re probably a writer because you love stories/reading/storytelling.
- Since you decided to become a writer, your ‘work’ is storytelling, and so everything related to stories is now tinged with a different color.
- You used to relax by reading a good book, or watching a good show, but now those things make your subconscious go “oy, my character development isn’t as good as this” or “oo, I could do that in my third act…”
- You need to find, and indulge in, activities that are completely unrelated to writing/storytelling.
- Think about things you used to love to do as a kid (yes, I know, I know. I mean *apart from reading*). Did you like to roller-skate? Dance? Skip? Play tennis? Play piano? Sing? Knit? Paint? Build things? Garden? Hang out with friends? Lip synch?
- Pick one and try it. Clear 30 minutes out of your schedule and do something completely unrelated to storytelling.
P. S. Leave a comment to let us know what you picked and whether or not you felt rejuvenated afterwards.
In which I trick you into sending me cake…
It’s my long-suffering husband’s birthday today! (Happy birthday, dear!) In honor of that, here’s your prompt:
Write A Story That Features A Birthday
- You can take this in any direction: happy, creepy, silly, romantic, horrific…go wild.
- You could go a little ‘memoir’ on this: recount the story of your best or worst birthday.
- “Birthday” can be interpreted to mean anything from an actual human birth, to the day a supercomputer is switched on, to the anniversary of some other significant event.
- Feel free to send low-carb cake recipes.
- I just put that one in to see if you were still reading. But seriously: cake recipes. Nomnomnom.
This is it! You’ve made it!
This is the moment you’ve been waiting for. Today you’re going to take everything you’ve learned this month and write the story you’ve been waiting to write—the story you could not have written before today.
Go big or go home
- If you have written at all this month, you’;; have shaken loose some writing muscles, learned ways of creating time, making your writing a priority, and silencing your inner critic sot hat you can get that first draft written. Now, take all the lessons you learned about what you do best, stuff your inner critic and your inner editor into the sack, shove it under the bed, close the bedroom door, lock it, put on some earmuffs and write the story you want to write, today.
- Go big. If you light dark stories, but think you’re too nice a person to really be writing dark…forget it. Go really dark.
- If you discovered this month that you’ve a talent for being funny, go big today, be hilarious. Be outrageous. Write something so silly, so funny that you make yourself laugh.
- If you’ve discovered a talent for romance, go gushy today. Target their heartstrings, make yourself cry, make yourself swoon. Don’t worry what anyone else will think. You never have to show the stories to anyone!
- Maybe you discovered you’r good at writing things a little bit sexy. Go wild today. Say the things you never thought you could say. If you’re worried, handwrite it and then have a ceremonial burning. If you’re really shy, tell the story to yourself by whispering it, in the shower.
- Go further than you ever thought you would. You can always dial it back and rewrite or use this memory as a yardstick for future writing when you know you’ve gone too far. But try to go too far today.
- Today is all about joy. Make sure you are feeling the joy, and whatever you decide to write. It can be short, it can be long, it can be brilliant, it can be a mess. Just have fun.
Thank you so much for playing along this month
. I hope you learned a few things. I hope you’ve got the creative kick in the pants you were looking for. **Leave a comment and let us know what you wrote today, what you learned this month just how glad you are to be finished 🙂
And remember, keep writing!!
Haven’t joined the mailing list yet? today’s a perfect day to do it. We’ll be back here tomorrow with the SWAGr accountability group to declare our writing goals for the next month. Come back each following month to tell everybody how you got on. The accountability group is the most powerful way I’ve discovered to stay true to my writing. I hope you’ll join us.
If you wrote every day this month, you’ve written a decade of stories three times already. Three batches of 10 stories. Doesn’t that feel neat?
That’s because it conforms to the Rule of Three. For some reason humans love things that come in triplets.
This is a really powerful technique for making stories feeling balanced and deep.
Write a story using the rule of three
You’ve probably noticed that, in many stories, somebody tries and fails, tries and fails, tries and fails, three times. They might succeed on the third try. But they won’t succeed on the second try. That story structure has less resonance than if they fail twice and succeed n the third.
Character groupings often come in threes as well: you have the the hero, the smart one, and the funny one.
Even the fundamental story structure is made up of three parts: the beginning, the middle, and the end.
You can use send your character on a quest where they must complete three actions.
Perhaps your character gets three wishes, or three questions.
Maybe you can really play with this and drop the power of three in all over the place: every paragraph has three sentences; every sentence has a three syllable word in it. (I’m not sure that would make for great story but hey, we’re getting to the end of the month and were all getting a little punch-drunk!)
Leave a comment telling us how you use the power of three in your story today.