[Writing Prompt] Regrets, I’ve Had A Few

With Our Eyes Wide Open...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.

The Prompt

Write a story inspired by one of your regrets

Tips

  • 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.

[Writing Prompt] It’s Time For Holiday Stories

It’s Write On Wednesday Day! (That’s really clumsy. I’m going to have to never do that again!)

Thanksgiving dinner decor
Photo by Karin Dalziel


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).

The Prompt

Write a story tied to a Nov/Dec/Jan holiday

Tips

  • 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!

Week Four: Your Storytelling Strengths

People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feelBy 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.

The Prompts

Day 22Finding Your Voice

Day 23Watch Your Tone

Day 24Exploring Genre

Day 25All Change

Day 26So Emotional (Baby)

Day 27Write At Your Natural Length

Day 28Pace Yourself

Keep writing (and commenting) throughout this week, and get ready for The Last Hurrah in the final couple of days of the month.

Welcome to Week Two

Okay, you made it! Welcome to Week Two.

| jump to this week’s writing prompts |

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.

The Prompts

Tips For Taking Part

  1. Write a story every day (you don’t have to use the prompts)
  2. Come back to each day’s post (or this one) and leave a comment telling us how you got on.
  3. Encourage other people to keep going!
  4. 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!

Keep writing!

P.S. Want me to read all the prompts to you in my soothing Scottish accent? Check out the new podcast on iTunes, Android, or any other podcast player.

[Writing Prompt] Tell A Friend

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)

Today’s writing prompt includes a  built-in accountability trigger.
Phone

 The Prompt

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)

Tips

  • 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.“)

 

[Writing Prompt] Seek Beauty

Following this month’s theme of Refilling The Well, I’ve thrown some pretty unusual writing prompts at you, including Don’t Write Anything and Rip Off Another Writer.

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.

The Prompt

Seek out something beautiful/inspiring today.

Tips

  • 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.
  • Wallow.
  • Then go back to life, refreshed.

Go!

[Writing Prompt] Inspired By…

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.

The Prompt

Write a story inspired by, or in-the-style-of a piece of writing you love

Tips

  • 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.

Go!

[Writing Prompt] Don’t Write A Story

In honor of this month’s theme, here at StoryADay, of Refilling The Well, I’m issuing a very odd writing prompt:

The Prompt

Don’t write/watch/read any stories today

Tips

  • 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.

Go!

 

P. S. Leave a comment to let us know what you picked and whether or not you felt rejuvenated afterwards.

 

[Write On Wednesday] Happy Birthday!

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:

The Prompt

Write A Story That Features A Birthday

Tips

  • 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.

Go!

Go Big (And) Go Home

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.

The prompt

Go big or go home

Tips

  • 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.

The Power Of Three

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.

The Prompt

Write a story using the rule of three

Tips

  • 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.

Torture Your Protagonist

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!

The prompt

Torture your protagonist

Tips

  • 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!

Go At Your Own Pace

Day 28

Pacing

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?

The prompt

Write a story paying attention to the pacing

Tips

  • 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?

Write At Your Natural Length

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.

The prompt

Write to your natural length

Tips

  • 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.

An Emotional Rollercoaster

Today we’re taking your readers on an emotional ride!

The prompt

Write a story designed to elicit specific emotions in the reader

Tip

  • 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?