One of the biggest problems in fiction is when a writer creates nice characters and then doesn’t want to hurt them. Today, let’s make it hurt!
Torture your protagonist
This may come easily to some of you, so you don’t need to read any further. If you’re already good at torturing your protagonist. Just go and get writing!
For the rest of us, there’s a temptation to let our characters be funny and nice and lovable. We don’t want to make unsympathetic. However, if they’re too perfect, they’re not interesting.
Let’s think back to the earlier story, where I asked you to create a flawed protagonist. Wasn’t that fun? You can still have a sympathetic character by letting them be terrible at one thing, especially if they’re very, very good at a lot of other things.
You want the reader to root for your character and the won’t if she’s perfect.
Torturing your character doesn’t really mean doing terrible things to them. It just means separating them from their goals and desires.
Remember my story about the person who wants the chocolate cake? She’s witty and feisty and could be running around the world getting everything she wants, but the real story doesn’t start until she separated from her heart’s desire: the chocolate cake. I could write all day about my witty-and-feisty character and eventually you would stop reading, if I didn’t torture her little bit.
Think about your character’s desires their wants and needs. How can you separate them from the things they want, at least temporarily.
It can be their own internal demons that are keeping them from what they want. Or it can be an antagonistic force such as a natural disaster. Or it can be an antagonistic character such as an loving, but overbearing mother. Or it can be a straight-up villain.
Did you torture your character today? Leave a comment telling us what you did to your character and if it came naturally to you or if this is something new. If you are ignoring these prompts and writing your own stories, leave a comment and let us know how it’s going!
As you look back at your stories this week did you notice anything in particular about pacing — How quickly the action flowed from one incident to the next?
Write a story paying attention to the pacing
In a fast, plot driven story your pacing will be fast, too. Things happen quickly. We’re off. We run. Things happen. The language reflects that. There’s not a lot of standing around looking at things once the action gets underway. That’s not to say that you can’t have slow passages and descriptive moments. However, they generally come before the quick action happens.
In a literary or inward-focused story, the pacing is more languorous, with your characters pausing lots of delicious description, a whole lot of internal dialogue and long sentences with lots of complex clauses.
Within every story the pacing should vary. If you attempt to write a whole story at one pace, you will either leave your readers breathless, or bored.
Remember to make the language match the emotion of the moment: choppy and brisk when things are exciting, long and complex sentences when things are relaxed.
Leave a comment telling us what piece you were aiming for today, overall. Did you notice anything about your writing as you looked over your pieces this week?
Continuing the theme of reaching to your strengths, this week.
By necessity, in a challenge like this, you will likely have been writing very short stories. (I do know some people who managed to stretch to a few thousand words on some of the days, but for the most part if you’re finishing stories during this challenge it’s probably flash fiction.) For me, that’s fine. If you naturally trend long, today’s your day.
Write to your natural length
- I’m a natural sprinter (like Gimli the dwarf). Some people are ultra marathoners, like Brandon Sanderson. What’s your natural length?
- Today I give you permission to write a partial story, a scene, and extracts from a longer tale. It doesn’t have to feel complete, like a short story should, but it should still have something of a story arc. Use today to practice that.
- For example, if you have novel-in-progress, use today to write a scene from that novel. Because you’re continuing the longer work you don’t have to explain the setting and the characters, just jump in.
- If you don’t have a novel or longer project that you’re working on take a few minutes to daydream. If you were writing a novel what would it be about? Spend a few minutes imagining the setting the characters and then pick a dramatic moment in the story. Write that scene, as if you’ve already written everything that comes before this point in your “novel”.
- Even if you are writing a novel, you can write a dramatic scene from a hypothetical-other-novel, if that sounds like fun to you)
- After having spent the best part of the month writing short stories you may find that your scenes start to come out with a stronger narrative shape than they used to.
Leave a comment telling us how your writing went today. What did you write that? I don’t forget, if you’re enjoying this prompts, share them.
Today we’re taking your readers on an emotional ride!
Write a story designed to elicit specific emotions in the reader
In looking back at your stories this month, have you noticed that you are better at eliciting certain emotions than others? Perhaps you’re good at scaring people. Perhaps you’re good at writing tearjerkers. Perhaps you good at making people laugh. Or making people feel the beauty of the situation or your words.
Even if you’re not sure what you’re best at, pick an emotion today that you would like to make your readers feel. This is your chance to go all “Stephen King”, or “50 Shades Of Gray”.
In order to elicit emotions in readers you’re going to have to make them care about your character. Then you have to put that character in peril.
Peril doesn’t necessarily mean dangling them off a cliff. Just remember to focus on what they really, really want…and then take it away from them.
The more you can keep the reader inside the heart of your character the stronger their reaction will be.
Leave a comment to let us know which emotion you went for today. And remember, if you’re enjoying these prompts, why not share them?
Today were looking at point of you again, but in a slightly different way
Pick a point of view you don’t usually use and write a story in it
*Look back at the stories you’ve written this month or in the past. Do you have a favorite point of view? Do you always default to first person or third person? Write a story today in a different POV.
If you flip back and forth between different perspectives frequently, just decide which to use today based on what you’ve written so far this month. What have you done most of? Choose that.
Each point of view brings with it restrictions and possibilities. If you frequently right in the same point of view you may be limiting yourself
To demonstrate the power of POV, you may want to repeat the exercise we tried earlier in the month of taking a story that you’ve previously written and writing it from another point of view. This time however I want you to keep the same character as the protagonist. Simply change the “I said “to “he/she/it/they said”.
Try to focus on the opportunities that this new perspective offers. If you’re shifting from third person omniscient to a limited/first person perspective, **really dig into the facts really dig into the characters thoughts and emotions. In these more limited perspective there’s no excuse for “Telling Not Showing”. Everything can be written as if we’re riding along on their shoulder, experiencing everything with them.
If you’re moving from a limited perspective to a third person omniscient, celebrate the fight that you cannot see things from different peoples’ perspectives. The most effective, least confusing way to do this is to have seen breaks between each head hop in the short story. (You probably don’t want to do it more than a couple of times but it can be quite fun to have most of the story told one person’s perspective then have a line break and give another character’s perspective as the conclusion of the story revealing a lot about the truth of the situation that, perhaps, the first character didn’t know.)
If you hate moving away from your favorite point of view that’s fine. You don’t ever have to do it again. Sometimes creative failures are essential to teach you what to avoid in future.
Leave a comment telling us what you discovered in your writing today. Perhaps you are very versatile with point of view or perhaps this was ridiculously hard. What did you learn? And remember, if you’re enjoying these prompts,share them.
Since we talked since we touched on the genre yesterday when talking about the tone of your story, today we’re going to take a deeper look at genre and the expectations readers have, based on that genre
Write a story focusing on genre expectations
- Pick a genre that you know well. (It’s all very well to say that you’ll write a noir mystery, because the noir style is so easy to copy. But if you don’t really know noir you’re just making life harder for yourself.) If you spend most of your day reading Regency romance, then by all means write a Regency romance today. (I’m looking at you, fellas.)
- Grab a book in your chosen genre and take a look at the first page. How does the author let the reader know — immediately — that they are reading a particular genre? Look at the choice of words. Look at the names of the characters. Look at the length of the sentences. Each genre has specific norms and you need to be using these norms if you want to please a lot of readers. (If you’re making experimental art, you may be able to skip these things. But, even if you are writing for your own pleasure, you’ll be dissatisfied if you feel like you’re missing the mark. Looking at reader expectations in your genre is one way to narrow your focus and hit that mark.)
- Make a list of the features you notice on the front page of the book you chose.
- Now that you have a list of norms (and a cheatsheet) for your genre, grab a Story Spark and start writing in the style of the genre you’ve chosen. Don’t be afraid to go over the top and write almost a parody. It can be a useful lesson in what makes this genre tick.
Leave a comment telling us what genre you are writing in today. Was this exercise hard or easy for you? Did you know what genre to pick? And remember, if you’re enjoying these prompts, please share them!
Look back at your stories from this month and see which tone comes most naturally to you…
Continuing the journey of discovering what comes naturally to you and harnessing that.
Story focusing on one consistent tone
Pick a book from your bookshelf. Read the first page. You should be able to tell what kind of tone the entire book is going to have, from that first page. Is it going to be spooky? Is it going to be funny? Is it going to be poetic and lyrical?
Look back at your stories from this month and see which tone comes most naturally to you. It may not be the one you expect. A lot of people think they’re going to write “serious” fiction and find out that instead, they’re hilarious. And sometimes it works in reverse, too.
Pick the tone that came most naturally, even if it surprised you. Consciously write a story today using that tone.
Don’t forget to give us a character to root for, an interesting setting, and a problem that conflicts with the character’s deepest desires.
Don’t forget to finish!
Leave a comment to tell us what you discovered about your best tone. Or, ask for help if you need figure if you need help figuring this out.
Silence all the critics in your head telling you you should be writing some other way…
You been writing for three weeks you have a good body of work under your belt. Now is the time to pause, see what you learned, and start focusing on your strengths.
Write a story in the voice that came most easily to you this month.
- Take a look back at the stories you’ve written this month. Which story came easiest?
- Let’s try to replicate that today.
- Take something from that story—the character, or the universe, or something about the styling which was written.
- Give your character a new setting, or a new problem. Or introduce a new character in the same universe.
- Do whatever it takes to re-create the voice of that story. Silence all the critics in your head telling you you shouldn’t be writing this way. Don’t let them say you should be writing some other style, or in some other genre, or more seriously, or less seriously. Today is all about writing what you are best at, the voice that only you can write.
Leave a comment to let us know what you discovered about your writing and your voice this month, and what you wrote today. And remember, if you’re enjoying these prompts please share them.
Today I’m giving you a classic “story-starter” prompt. I really don’t do this much, do I?!
Begin your story with the line: “Huh!” He said. “I never would have thought that would fit in there…”
- You can go pretty much anywhere with this one.
- That’s all I’ve got.
Leave a comment to tell us where YOU went, with this prompt. I’m dying to know!
More ways for you to steal ideas, as we continue Rescue Week here at StoryADay
Write a Fan Fiction Story
- While you can’t legally use somebody else’s world and characters to write a story and publish it, nothing is stopping you from writing stories for your own pleasure inspired by someone else’s universes.
- There is no limits to what you can do here. Pick a story or character you feel doesn’t get enough air time in your favorite show.
- Change the ending to the series that you love.
- Write the untold story of what came before we first meet character.
- Tell whatever story is going to give you the most pleasure.
- There are lots of places online where people share fanfic (sometimes with the creators’ blessings, sometimes not so much), so you could go and read something and get some idea. However, this is a rabbit hole I’m not sure you want to go down during the StoryADay challenge. Not to mention the fact that some of it gets quite saucy!
- Use all of the tricks you’ve learned about storytelling to play with characters you already love you. Spend some time with them using your talents and your skills along with the knowledge you have amassed by watching/reading about them.
- Think about how you can provide shortcuts and clues that let readers who don’t necessarily know the character catch up. Don’t waste time on backstory unless that’s the story you’re telling. Don’t forget to add in emotion and conflict.
- It can be easy to get carried away writing about your favorite characters. Don’t forget to builds to a climax resolve the crisis to finish the story.
Leave a comment letting us know what you wrote about today and how it’s going. And don’t forget, if you like these prompts, share them!
This is one of my favorite prompts of all time!
Re-write a fairytale
- TYou can find source material in Grimm’s fairytales, in collections of folktales, Aesops Fables, collections of regional tales, all kinds of places… Your own culture has fairytales. Your own family has “fables” that they tell. Steal without remorse. (Just remember if it’s not in the public domain you get into the messy territory of derivative rights and copyright law…)
- You can retell the story from the perspective of a side character.
- You can modernize the story.
- You can twist the fairytale and give it a completely different ending.
- Use any genre for this. A Cinderella story with a happy ending featuring a trans-woman? Go for it! Rumpelstiltskin, as Nick Sparks-style uplifting tale where the goblin is really a good-hearted social worker who saves the kids from a grim fate with their terrible parent? Sure! Want to turn the story of Beauty and The Beast into a modern-day slasher-pic? Be our guest!
Leave a comment telling us what source material you picked, what you did with it, and how it went. Or just post and let us cheer you on, if you’re flagging; celebrate with you if you’re still writing; applaud you if you’re getting back on the horse!
Today’s prompt is a reminder that it’s quite all right to be inspired by other artists work!
Write the story of a picture
*You can pick a favorite picture, or use one of these examples
You can change the time-period, to make it easier to write. Pay less attention to the setting, and more attention to the people’s faces and their body language.
You might want to write the story of the central figure in the picture. Or you might want to look at one of the less significant details in the picture. Why is it there? What does it signify? Who is that person?
You could also write the story of the person who created the picture. It doesn’t have to be a real historical version. You don’t even have to know who created the picture. You could tell the story of someone anyone who sets out to create this picture. The obstacles they faced. The things they overcame. Or the situation they found themselves in.
You could write a fictional history of this picture. Where it has traveled? Who has owned it? What scandals hasn’t seen from its place on the walls?
This prompt is a reminder that it’s quite all right to be inspired by other artists work!
Leave a comment and tell us what picture you chose, what you wrote about, and how it went. Also: how’s your month going? What have you learned about your writing practice so far?
There’s nothing quite like real life for providing weird and wonderful story ideas.
Write a story ripped from the headlines
- You can use your favorite new source or go to the front page of Wikipedia to grab a headline from the modern-day or from this day in history
- Media outlets often have that little “duck on a skateboard” moment at the end of newscasts or sometimes they call it Also In The News. These are wonderful sources for wacky, quirky stories.
- Remember, however: fiction has to make more sense than real life!
- Read for 5 to 10 minutes, until you find something that piques your interest even a little. Imagine how that would play out in fiction.
- Resist the temptation to spend too long reading.
- Try to pick a story that touches on issues you already care about. If you can imagine yourself getting into a Facebook fight with semi-friends over an issue, that’s a good sign that you could sustain your interest for the length of a short story. (In fact, why not plan to write a story specifically to annoy That Guy In Your Facebook Feed? You don’t have to post it anywhere!)
Leave a comment letting us know what you wrote about today. Did you find a fun headline or topic. Share it below! If you didn’t write to this prompt, what did you write and how is it going?
Remember: even when you write a story this tiny, you are training your creative brain…
Today’s story will not be as quick as you think it is, but it’s still a great way to rescue your writing streak.
Write a Twitter story
- Twitter fiction must fit into only 140 characters.
- You do not have to have a Twitter account, nor do you have to post this on Twitter. You’re simply writing a story that could, hypothetically, fit in a Twitter post.
- 140 characters is not much, but you can use a compelling situation to give us an idea of the characters who might be involved. Many super-short stories involve a little twist, or a surprising change of perspective in the last few words.
- To avoid a predictable twist, make your opening lines as ambiguous as possible. Provide clarity in the last clause.
- Don’t be afraid to use hackneyed or clichéd plots for this exercise. Do try to make sure that you add something truly original to it. Think of things you really care about. Things only you could write about, in only your voice.
- Make sure you allow some time to edit and find the story. It’s not as quick exercises might think it is.
- Think of this like writing haiku if it helps.
- You can use this prompt any day you need to rescue your writings.
- Remember: even when you write a story this tiny, you are training your creative brain. You have still found ideas, created a character, introduced complications, crafted a story arc and written to the end. Doing that every day for a month, is a powerful affirmation of your creativity; support of the priority you give your writing; and a tough exercise in wordsmithing. Pat yourself not the back for writing a story today.
Leave a comment to let us know how you got on with this tiny, terrible challenge. Did you write super-short? Did you ignore my suggestion and write an epic? How’s it going? Let us know!
Good news! You don’t have to get a whole new idea today…
This is the first of your Rescue Week prompts!
Rewrite your First Person story from Week One
- Try writing a story from a different in a different point of view. You could use third person limited, in which you can still only understand ‘hear’ the thoughts of the main character but which gives you greater flexibility. Or you could use use third person omniscient, which lets you head hop (just remember to limit that to places where you jump between scenes).
- If you’re having trouble remembering what Third Person, Limited sounds like, try reading a little Harry Potter.
- Trouble with the Third Person, Omniscient? Read some Dickens.
- Another option is to rewrite the story from the perspective of a different character. You could stay in First Person, but now you’re telling the story from the antagonist’s point of view; or the point of view of a secondary character.
- One of the benefits of doing this, is that you don’t have to get a whole new idea today. This can be a wonderful way to get a story finished when you’re running on fumes.
- An added benefit: you might discover your story works better from a different perspective or in another character’s voice.
This is the first of your Rescue Week prompts!
Rewrite your First Person story from Week One
Try writing a story from a different in a different point of view. You could use third person limited, in which you can still only understand ‘hear’ the thoughts of the main character but which gives you greater flexibility. Or you could use use third person omniscient, which lets you head hop (just remember to limit that to places where you jump between scenes).
If you’re having trouble remembering what Third Person, Limited sounds like, try reading a little Harry Potter.
Trouble with the Third Person, Omniscient? Read some Dickens.
Another option is to rewrite the story from the perspective of a different character. You could stay in First Person, but now you’re telling the story from the antagonist’s point of view; or the point of view of a secondary character.
One of the benefits of doing this, is that you don’t have to get a whole new idea today. This can be a wonderful way to get a story finished when you’re running on fumes.
An added benefit: you might discover your story works better from a different perspective or in another character’s voice.
Leave a comment telling us how you got on. What choices did you make as you rewrote your story? How did it go?