Guest Prompt From Gabriela Periera – Famous Last Words

This prompt…exercises your brain in a new way.

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.

The Prompt

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

Gabriela Pereira Author Pic
Gabriela Pereira, DIYMFA.com

Gabriela Pereira is the founder of DIY MFA, the do-it-yourself alternative to a Masters degree in writing. She is also a speaker, podcast host for DIY MFA Radio, and author of the forthcoming book DIY MFA: Write with Focus, Read with Purpose, Build Your Community (Writer’s Digest Books, July 2016). For more info and email updates, sign up for her newsletter.

[Write On Wednesday] Dreadful Dialogue Tags

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.

 Have fun!

And, if you’re near King of Prussia, PA, tonight, come out to the StoryADay Live! “Un-Dreadful Dialogue” workshop  hosted by the fabulous Main Line Writers’ Group!

Thumbnail of 100 words poster - alternatives to saidThe Prompt

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)

Tips

  • 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.)
  • Read it (and weep).

 

Go!

[Write On Wednesday] Steal A Title

A Month of Writing Prompts 2016Big 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.

The Prompt

Steal a title from a novel or song

Tips

  • 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!)

 

[Write On Wednesday] 100 Word Story With Grandparents

Today I’m challenging you to share your story on the new Anchor App (only available for iOS just now, sorry).

The Prompt

Write A 100 Word Story Containing A Reference To Grandparents

Tips

  • 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.

Go!

[Write On Wednesday] Change A Headline

Did you ever, as a child, say a word so often that it lost its meaning? (“Basin”, anyone?)
Today I want you to stare at a news headline until it loses its original meaning and lets you play with it.

The Prompt

Take A News Headline And Change A Word Or Two, Sparking A Fictional Story.

Examples

For some reason, to me, this headline suggested some kind of epic fantasy with heroic quests, tasks the hero have been assigned. Continue reading “[Write On Wednesday] Change A Headline”

[Write on Wednesday] Write what you know

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.

The Prompt

Write a list of things you know about. Pick one. Give that knowledge to a character.

Tips

  • 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).

GO!

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[Write On Wednesday] PostModern Pop Songs

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.

The Prompt

Write A List Of Song Titles You’d Actually Be Interested In Listening To.

Choose One.

Write The Story Of The Character In That Song.

Tips

  • 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)

Continue reading “[Write On Wednesday] PostModern Pop Songs”

[Write On Wednesday] Write A Secret Story

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.

The Prompt

Write A Story That Is You Will Never Show To Anyone

Tips

  • 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)

Continue reading “[Write On Wednesday] Write A Secret Story”

[Write on Wednesday] Regret

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?
Regret - Contrast

The Prompt

Write A Story Centering On A Character Wrestling With A Big Regret

Tips

  • 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.
  • Make sure to let the reader know what’s at stake.

Go!

[Write on Wednesday] The Lie, Revisited

I’ve been browsing the archives here at StoryADay, unearthing some gems from the first year I ran the challenge.

I also decided to recycle a prompt or two. Here’s one from the middle of May 2010:

Ooo, the lie. We’ve all done it. We do it all the time, even though we know we shouldn’t. Sometimes we get away with them and other times they come back to bite us in the most spectacular fashion.

The Prompt

Write About A Lie

Is it a tiny one? A whopper? Does no-one find out about it? Does that mean your character really ‘gets away with it’? Does it spiral out of control and become a Fawlty Towers episode?

GO!

[Write On Wednesday]

In honor of Groundhog Day, today’s prompt encourages you to tell a story over and over and over again…

In honor of Groundhog Day, and one of the best films ever made about an obscure holiday, today’s prompt encourages you to milk one simple plot for all it’s worth.

The Prompt

Write A Very Short Story About An Incident In Your Character’s Day, Then Make Them Relive That Incident

Tips

Continue reading “[Write On Wednesday]”

[Write On Wednesday] Zeitgeist

Are you even moved by an injustice in the world? A news story? A historic event that you feel has stories in it that haven’t been told?
DSC_1639

It can be hard to figure out how to write a story that is of the moment, but doesn’t become irrelevant when the news cycle moves on.

Yesterday’s Reading Room post was all about a story just like that and it pointed one way forward: set your story in the moment (in that story’s case, it was during the Occupy Wall St movement), but make the story about more universal issues. The protagonist of “We Was Twins” was not part of the the Occupy movement, but got caught up in it anyway. He was struggling with issues of poverty, life after military service, grief, estrangement…issues that are universal and timeless.

This week I encourage you to try something similar.

The Prompt

Write a story set in a specific time/place in history, but tell the story of specific individuals dealing with issues that are both specific to them, and part of the human condition.

Tips

  • You might write a story about an idealistic twenty-something who goes to help at a refugee camp in Europe only to find that she still gets picked on by people because she can’t stand up for herself.
  • You might write about someone working on Donald Trump’s Presidential campaign, but with an intriguing complications in their personal life.
  • What if your main character got caught in Winter Storm Jonas on their way to do something life-changing?
  • You could combine this idea with ‘evergreen’ occasions, like Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, the first day of spring. Write a story like this and you can republish it every year, or sell it to a publication that’s looking for holiday stories. Make sure your protagonist has an interesting story to tell, that you can highlight/echo/make poignant with the holiday you choose.

Go!

[Write On Wednesday] Aphorisms Are Ace

Finding a topic for a story, then, needn’t be hard. Try your hand at this week’s prompt and remember to have fun (even if your story is dark and depressing): Use An Old Saying As A Title

Not every story has to be sparked by a deep desire you need to share with the world.

the first rays
Every Cloud Has A Silver Lining! Photo by: Richard West

Sometimes we write for fun. Most people read to be entertained.

Finding a topic for a story, then, needn’t be hard. Try your hand at this week’s prompt and remember to have fun (even if your story is dark and depressing).

The Prompt

Use An Aphorism As A Title

Tips

[Write On Wednesday] Myers-Briggs-plosion

Myers-Briggs

Today I’m encouraging you to put some personality conflict into your story.

The Prompt

Put a particular personality type into a situation they would never choose

Tips

Use the Myers-Briggs personality types (hover over the table at the bottom of this page, to get a list of characteristics for your main character).

Take some of the traits that define your character and put them in a situation completely unsuited to those traits. See what happens.

For example, Continue reading “[Write On Wednesday] Myers-Briggs-plosion”

[Write On Wednesday] Manipulation

Marionette

Today’s prompts is all about manipulation.

The Prompt

Write a story with two characters: one manipulative and one manipulated

Tips

Think about what characteristics you associate with a manipulative person. Are they bossy? Aggressive? Passive Aggressive?

Use the contrast between the two characters to highlight the ‘truth’ of the each character- in their own minds, in each others’ minds, in the reader’s mind.

Have some fun with reader expectations here: allow the reader to think that the brash, bossy character is the manipulator when really it turns out that the seemingly submissive character is the one who gets their own way. Or vice versa.

Consider using an unusual setting for a very domestic dispute (an argument about housework during a car chase) or a domestic setting for an unusual conversation (two people making the bed, discussing the evidence for the the theory of multiverses).

Go!