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!
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.
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.
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.
Today’s prompt comes from the Chief Instigator of the DIYMFA program, Gabriela Pereira. Always full of writer-craft goodness, you should definitely be checking out DIYMFA.com, always full of writer-craft goodness, and the wonderful weekly DIYMFA Radio podcast.
Famous Last Words
Most prompts give you a place to start and let you take things from there. Today we’re going to flip the equation. I’m going to give you a last line and you need to write toward it. In other words, your assignment will be to write a piece that leads you to that last line.
The reason this prompt is so useful is that it exercises your brain in a new way. As writers, we’re used to taking a kernel of an idea and running with it, but it’s a totally different proposition to have a fixed ending and finding your way to it.
You may someday find yourself in a situation where you need to use this skill, like if you know your ending but haven’t figured out yet how to get there. This prompt is great practice for doing just that.
Take the last line from your favorite book or choose one from the list below. Now write a short piece that ends with that line.
1. No one has claimed them yet.
2. “Let me tell you about it.”
3. Everything must go.
4. “Make me pretty.”
5. And it was still hot.
These are all last lines from actual books. Can you guess which books they came from? Answers are below.
1) From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
2) Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
3) Feed by M.T. Anderson
4) Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
5) Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
Conventional writing wisdom (these days) says that the mark of an amateur writer is to use colorful dialogue tags instead of a simple ‘she said’. Nevertheless, teachers continue to foist alternatives to ‘said’ on our children. Today’s assignment is designed to show you just how ridiculous that can become.
Write a story featuring lots of dialogue. Every time you attribute speech to a person you must use one of the ‘alternatives to said’ from the sheet. (Click to enlarge)
Make sure you rely entirely on the tags to convey the emotion, leaving the dialogue itself bland and without character.
Bonus points for making all your characters sound the same.
Be as ridiculous as you like.
This exercise works particularly well when your subject matter is serious or shocking.
This whole exercise is designed to show you how ridiculous dialogue tags can wreck a serious story.
(Remember, “he said” and “she said” become invisible when you use them well. These tags never will.)
Make sure every single utterance has a tag, whether or not you need one. (e.g. in the case of two people speaking, you can often get away with no tags at all, especially if the conversation is short and the voices are distinct.)
Big News! This prompts for this year’s StoryADay May challenge are now available for pre-order as a Kindle ebook! (More formats forthcoming)
If you’re the type of person who likes to plan ahead, go ahead and pre-order your copy today. It’ll land in your Amazon account on Saturday, April 23, (automatically downloading onto your Kindle or Kindle app on your phone) giving you a week to ponder the prompts before the challenge begins.
Stuffed with all-new prompts—including material from my StoryADay Live workshops on story structure and conflict—and headed up by a section that shares road-tested tips for surviving a month of short story writing!
And now, on to this week’s prompt.
Steal a title from a novel or song
You can tell the story of the song, in short story form
You can write a completely different story, taking the title and coming up with something fresh.
Don’t simply retell the story of someone else’s novel (that’s theft!)
Today I’m challenging you to share your story on the new Anchor App (only available for iOS just now, sorry).
Write A 100 Word Story Containing A Reference To Grandparents
This can be a story about grandparents, or it can have the most tangential reference to grandparents (see my story on Anchor)
Even if you don’t remember your grandparents, the idea of grandparents saturates our culture. I’m sure you can find some way (syrupy or sarcastic) to write about this!
100 word stories (also known as Drabbles) take some finessing, so I’m going to recommend writing something a little longer, then cutting it.
A good way to think about a 100 word story is to have 25 words to set it up, 50 words for the meat of the story and 25 words for the wrap up. It’s not that neat, of course, but the formula is just a ‘way in’.
Dribbles often come across almost like form-less poems. The descriptions and characterization certainly owe more to poetry than to novels.
If you’re new to Anchor, download it from the app store and go through the introductory ‘first wave’ instructions, then just mash the big red button to record your story. You have two minutes, so you might want to fire up a stopwatch. When you’re finished, you can listen to the finished ‘wave’ and then click the ‘next’ arrow to move to a screen where you can give your wave a caption and a hashtag (use #storytelling and #storyaday so that I can find it and listen). Then listen to other people’s stories and hit the ‘reply’ button (you’ll have one minute to reply. When you’re listening, the app will keep playing content until you
If you don’t have Anchor you could always record your story and upload it to your own blog or another audio hosting system.
We’re always being told to write what we know but doesn’t that sound the teensiest bit boring?
Still, unless you have a lot of time for research, mining your own experiences can be useful…if you go about it in the right way.
Write a list of things you know about. Pick one. Give that knowledge to a character.
Dig deep as you make your list. Consider all the arcana of your brain’s storehouses. Don’t discount very, very specific things like “growing up one street across from an elite military academy’s live-fire training grounds, in the 1970s” or “spending vacations in an apartment over my uncle’s store”.
Pick something from the middle of your list. The first will be too obvious and everyday (therefore the story will not excite you) and the last one will be too weird, because you were clutching at straws. That one would require too much research and then your short story would never be written (or would demand to become a novel).
Consider what kind of character you can give this experience to. Will the wnjoy it? Hate it? Grow up to try to hide it only to have it become important (remember Clarice in “The Silence Of The Lambs” trading secrets about her backwoods upbringing to buy Hannibal Lector’s assistance?)
Consider giving your character a sidekick to impress/show off for/frighten/lie to.
What does your character want? How can this specialist knowledge help/hinder in their quest. What would they do/never do? What do they need? Where are they at the start and the end of your story (metaphorically and physically).
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The Prompt: Write A List Of Song Titles You’d Actually Be Interested In Listening To. Write The Story Behind The Song, for one of them.
After you reach a certain age — or stage — of life, it seems like no one writers songs for you any more. You’ve learned a lot of the lessons pop singers seem to be struggling with. Maybe you’re (gasp!) happily married. Maybe the things you struggle with are things other than love and boys and where to go on a Saturday night.
Write A List Of Song Titles You’d Actually Be Interested In Listening To.
Write The Story Of The Character In That Song.
Country music is probably a slightly better role model here than pop. I know there are lots of songs about a more mature kind of love, or about the kind of lifestyle people wish they were living. You could write a wishlist of how your life would look (similar to the country music odes to God, Guns, Mama, Girls and Trucks)
Inspiration for this prompt came from the very wonderful How To Be A Writer by Barbara Baig, which I’ve only just started reading, but which echoes what I’ve been saying here for years (so naturally, I think she’s a genius!)
Not everything you write should be written with a view to showing it to anyone else.
Just as you would practice the piano in private for months or years before hoping to be able to bring any pleasure to a listener, writers must practice their craft too…sometimes in private.
Write A Story That Is You Will Never Show To Anyone
Don’t cheat and tell yourself that something magical is bound to happen and that you’ll end up writing a story so good that you’ll feel compelled to show it to people. Promise you will not show it to anyone and stick to that.
If you’re having trouble coming up with something to write about, dive into your stash of Story Sparks (you have been collecting them, haven’t you?)
If you haven’t been collecting Story Sparks out in the real world, take ten minutes right now and look deep inside yourself. What news story annoyed you this week? Which political candidate do you despise the most? Why? What did you see that was beautiful, recently? What is your strongest memory of your mother? Why? What did summer smell like when you were growing up? Who do you miss? What’s your favorite swear word? What frightened you when you were a child? What frightens you now?
Make a quick list of 30 Story Sparks. (If you don’t know what I mean by story sparks read this article)
I’m not big on regrets. Everything experience contributes to the person we become, so there’s not much point in wishing to change the past.
But everyone has regrets.
And what good is a character in a story without a few regrets?
Write A Story Centering On A Character Wrestling With A Big Regret
Think of a character (do this exercise: adjective noun; e.g. nervous housewife; tired teacher; suicidal businessman; carefree duke)
Give that character one thing in their past that they regret.
Think about how this thing has affected where they are today.
Ask yourself what would this character do if given a chance to act on the regret (to confront the person it concerned, to change the decision they made, to make amends, to take revenge).
Think about the different options open to your character. How does each of them work with the person the character has become in the intervening years? (A rich young man with no responsibilities might swear revenge on the woman who broke his heart. When he meets her again, as an older man who has inherited his wealth and title, does he still want revenge? What will it mean for him if he takes revenge? Is it worth it?)
Decide which course of action your character will take (or not take).
Set them on the road to taking that course of action.
Now start the story. Don’t start with the backstory. Start with them on the road, in the room, in the middle of the fight, in the midst of the heist. You can weave the backstory into the conversations they have during the story.