This week I’m focusing on prompts that novelists can use. If you’re novelist, I don’t want you to feel like you’re wasting your time here at StoryADay May. While short story writers can easily use these prompts, too, you novelists will find much in them that enriches your work-in-progress.
Let’s dive in:
Write a story that investigates a turning point in your protagonist’s past.
Every interesting character has an internal struggle fighting with (or complementing) the external struggle of the plot. It usually stems from a character flaw/defect/protection mechanism they’ve been building for years. Use this prompt to write a story that captures the beginning of that character development.
If you don’t have a novel or work in progress, investigate a character from an earlier story you’ve written (or one you hope to write).
Lisa Cron’s Story Genius (referenced in the video) can be found here or requested through your local indie bookstore.
Your company sends you to meet a costumer at their house. It’s a standard, nice neighborhood.
You ring and ring but nobody answers. The door is ajar, and you enter, calling aloud.
All is in order in the living room apart from an overturned potted plant on the expensive-looking rug…
You choose the atmosphere. Did the costumer run out to get milk or got kidnapped?
The setting is quite anonymous: can you create a fantasy story out of this? What about a science fiction piece?
Have fun thinking outside the box!
About Bea from The Busy Muse
Bea is a bilingual writer and freelancer currently living near Venice, in Italy. She blogs and helps writers with their writing and creativity at . The Busy Muse. She brainstorms new ideas with her cat, who is very good at listening but not at providing solutions.
Today, Charlotte Rains Dixon indulges in some whimsy, and I can’t wait to see what you come up with for this!
Write a story about what happens when a nun in a wimple, a man in cowboy hat and boots, and a bartender with a handlebar moustache wearing a red and white polka-dot bow tie meet in a tavern on a rainy night.
About Charlotte Rains Dixon
Charlotte Rains Dixon mentors creative writers from passionate to published. Charlotte is a free-lance journalist, ghostwriter, and author.
She is Director Emeritus and a current mentor at the Writer’s Loft, a certificate-writing program at Middle Tennessee State University. She earned her MFA in creative writing from Spalding University and is the author of a dozen books, including The Complete Guide toWriting Successful Fundraising Letters, and Beautiful America’s Oregon Coast. Her fiction has appeared in The Trunk, Santa Fe Writer’s Project, Nameless Grace, and Somerset Studios and her articles have been published in Vogue Knitting, the Oregonian, and Pology, to name a few. Her novel, Emma Jean’sBad Behavior, was published in 2013, and she is represented by Erin Niumata at Folio Literary.
Her prompt book, Just Prompt Me, was released in 2016, and is the first in a series.
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.)
Today’s writing prompt is ripped straight from my 6th Grader’s homework folder, but that doesn’t make it any less relevant.
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.
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
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!