[Writing Prompt] Interrogate A Character

InterviewToday’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 Geniusin 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.

The Prompt

Interview a character from one of your stories. Find out as much as you can about their past and what formed the character they possess on Page One of their story. Continue reading “[Writing Prompt] Interrogate A Character”

SWAGr – Accountability for December 2016

Every month we gather here to discuss what we’ve achieved and commit to making more progress in our creative lives in the coming month. We call it our   Serious Writer’s Accountability Group or SWAGr, for short! (We’re serious, not sombre!)

What people are saying about StoryADayMay 2014

Leave a comment below telling us how you got on last month, and what you plan to do next month, then check back in on the first of each month, to see how everyone’s doing.

(It doesn’t have to be fiction. Feel free to use this group to push you in whatever creative direction you need.)

Did you live up to your commitment from last month? Don’t remember what you promised to do? Check out the comments from last month.

And don’t forget to celebrate with/encourage your fellow SWAGr-ers on their progress!

****

Examples of Goals Set By SWAGr-ers in previous months

  • Write a story a day in May – everyone!
  • Revise at least 10 short stories – Iraide
  • Write two short stories. – Jami
  • Attend one writers’ conference – Julie
  • Write fable for WordFactory competition – Sonya
  • Re-read the backstory pieces I wrote in May and see if I can use them within my novel – Monique
  • Research the market – Jami
  • Focus on my serial – Maureen

 So, what will you accomplish this month? Leave your comment below (use the drop-down option to subscribe to the comments and receive lovely, encouraging notifications from fellow StADa SWAGr-ers!)

(Next check-in, 1st of the month. Tell your friends. )

A Month of Writing Prompts 2016

Don’t forget, if you need inspiration for a story you can still get ALL THE PROMPTS from StoryADay May 2016 and support the running of the StoryADay challenge at the same time. (I’m really proud of this year’s collection!) Give a little, get a little :) Click here. Now only $2.99

NB: if you haven’t posted before, or if you include two or more links, you’ll go into the moderation queue. I’ll get to you, don’t worry!

A Thank You, A Favor, And Two Reminders

The Thank You

Thank you so much to all the people who responded to my ‘what does short story writing do for you’ survey last issue.

Not all of the quotes made it into the Writer’s Digest Magazine article (coming March/April 2017), but they all informed it and made it better.

I’ll be making an online extra to go along with the article, which will include quotes from almost everyone I talked to during my research, so stay tuned for that and again, THANK YOU!

The Favor

Secondly, the favor: if you enjoy StoryADay.org and have a moment today, please consider nominating it (and other writing sites you love) for a Writers Digest Magazine 101 Best Websites for Writers listing.

If you’d like to nominate any site, you have to do it today, because the deadline is Dec 1. You can email writersdigest@fwcommunity.com (mailto:writersdigest@fwcommunity.com) and tell the the name of the site, it’s address and (optionally) why you like it.

You could send something like

“Hi, I’d like to nominate StoryADay (storyaday.org) as one of your 101 Best Websites for writers. It has helped me become more creative/ find a community online/ write more than ever.

Thanks!”

My first website for writers, the 21st Century Publishing Update (back in 2002, when the century was young), landed on the list and I’ve been itching to get StoryADay on there too, to spread the word about our fabulous little community.

Reminder 1: The Podcast

Looking Back & Looking Forward

If you haven’t discovered the StoryADay podcast yet, now’s the perfect time.

The current episode is all about Looking Back over your writing year and pulling out some achievements to help power you up for a new year of writing challenges and opportunities.

It includes ways that you can dig out those achievements from your murky memory of a year overshadowed by celebrity deaths and global crises; and shares some reasons for doing the exercise along with my examples of what I thought was worth of note, from my own writing year.

The next episode (in two weeks) will talk about Looking Forward to next year and will offer some concrete strategies on how to stop your writing becoming another casualty on your New Year’s Resolution list (abandoned, lonely and shivering by Jan 15 along with your good intentions for diet and exercise. Oh yes, we’ve all done it!)

To listen to this week’s episode, go here

To subscribe, paste this address into your favorite podcast-listening-software (it might be iTunes or maybe you’re more complicated than that), and have new episodes delivered automatically to your phone/computer/neural implant (it’s coming, don’t you doubt it).

http://storyaday.libsyn.com/rss

Reminder 2

SWAGr Is Coming

On the first of every month, a group of us ‘meet’ in the comments of that month’s Serious Writers’ Accountability Group post (we’re serious, not sombre) and leave commitments to our writing life, and look back over our past month’s progress.

If you aren’t receiving updates about this group, sign up for the mailing list and add yourself to the SWAGr group.

This month I’m encouraging everyone to do a Big Look Back at the entire year, and also to make commitments to your writing for the upcoming month: December. It can get overlooked in all the “Planning For Holidays And Making Resolutions For Next Year” nonsense, so hop on over tomorrow and make sure you set some writing goals for poor, neglected December. They don’t have to be big goals: just enough to keep you moving forwards.

And that’s it. That’s all I’ve got for now.

Except to say that I went to the Writer Unboxed Unconference last month and atteneded some mind-blowing sessions and met some amazing people. I’ll be sharing more of what I learned over the next few months in podcasts and blog posts, so stay tuned.

And…

Keep writing,

Julie

P.S. Remember to keep your energy high and get some rest this month. If you need more tips, check out last month’s podcast about energy for writing

SWAGr – Accountability for November 2016

Every month we gather here to discuss what we’ve achieved and commit to making more progress in our creative lives in the coming month. We call it our   Serious Writer’s Accountability Group or SWAGr, for short! (We’re serious, not sombre!)

What people are saying about StoryADayMay 2014

Leave a comment below telling us how you got on last month, and what you plan to do next month, then check back in on the first of each month, to see how everyone’s doing.

(It doesn’t have to be fiction. Feel free to use this group to push you in whatever creative direction you need.)

Did you live up to your commitment from last month? Don’t remember what you promised to do? Check out the comments from last month.

And don’t forget to celebrate with/encourage your fellow SWAGr-ers on their progress!

****

Examples of Goals Set By SWAGr-ers in previous months

  • Write a story a day in May – everyone!
  • Revise at least 10 short stories – Iraide
  • Write two short stories. – Jami
  • Attend one writers’ conference – Julie
  • Write fable for WordFactory competition – Sonya
  • Re-read the backstory pieces I wrote in May and see if I can use them within my novel – Monique
  • Research the market – Jami
  • Focus on my serial – Maureen

 So, what will you accomplish this month? Leave your comment below (use the drop-down option to subscribe to the comments and receive lovely, encouraging notifications from fellow StADa SWAGr-ers!)

(Next check-in, 1st of the month. Tell your friends. )

A Month of Writing Prompts 2016

Don’t forget, if you need inspiration for a story you can still get ALL THE PROMPTS from StoryADay May 2016 and support the running of the StoryADay challenge at the same time. (I’m really proud of this year’s collection!) Give a little, get a little :) Click here. Now only $2.99

[Writing Prompt] Steal A First Line

The Prompt

Steal the first line of your favorite book and write a totally different story

Tips

  • Don’t agonize about your ‘favorite’ book. Just go to the shelf and pick one.
  • Type out the first line and then think of ways you can take that introduction in completely different directions.
  • Read Mary Robinette Kowal’s The Lady Astronaut of Mars, for an example of how you might do this. Or listen to the audio collection it comes from.
  • Consider writing a tiny, flash-fiction story that you can start and finish today.
  • If you’re brave enough, post your story in the comments.

Go!

Make It Better – Best of The Web for Short Story Writers, Oct 2016

This month’s theme here at StoryADay is: Make It Better.

Here’s some recommended reading from around the web on various aspects of making your writing life better.

MAKING YOUR WRITING BETTER

Here are three articles on how you can make your writing better to read, easier to sell, and impossible to put down.

Confessions of A Slush Pile reader – really useful article on why one reader rejected stories from a publication (even if your’e not submitting stories to publications, this is a great list of ‘what will put your reader to sleep’ and help you improve your writing)

Hunting Down Story Goals Plot holes are deadly to your story, but just as deadly are the other ‘holes’ that you might not be thinking about. This article tells you what they are and offers up a handy, printable template for keeping track of the important details. This might be overkill for short-short stories, but could be really useful for longer short stories, novellas and definitely for those of you working on novels.

It’s A Story, Not Just A List of What HappensIn which I offer up some writing advice gleaned from watching an interview with Trey Parker and Matt Stone — of South Park fame, among other things. [quick read]

THE WRITING LIFE

All writing is not created equal, argues James Scott Bell, while Ruthanne Reid shares advice for not quitting even when you can’t write.

The Five Modes of A Writer’s Life James Scott Bell talks about the five types of writing day you might have (from the inspired ‘flow’ state, to the solid reliable quotas of the “pro”). This is an encouraging article to help you make your commitment to your writing better: understanding that every day is not going to be blissful, really helps you stick to your priorities!

3 Steps to Writing When Life Goes NutsWe all have them: weeks (months?) when life gets away from us and writing seems impossible. This encouraging article from Ruthanne Reid commiserates, then gives you some concrete steps to take, to keep your writing life alive.

REVISION WITHOUT TEARS

Two tools to help you revise without drowning in a vat of your own words (and tears).

The 7DayStory – This email course, that I created with Gabriela Pereira of DIYMFA, takes you through the process of writing, REVISING and releasing a short story in seven days. It’s free and, if you’re looking for a methodical way to work through the revision process, pay particular attention to days 3–6

Climbing Mount Revision, One Step At A Time – The guest post that began the 7DayStory process, by Gabriela Pereira of DIYMFA.com

BETTER CRITIQUE GROUPS

Critique is a funny thing. If you get lucky, you find a great group and you’re all mature and experienced. If you’re not so lucky, you get newbies or jerks. If you’re thinking of starting a group (or want to make yours better) start by showing them this video: Professor Puppet’s Writing Critique instructions.

This short, funny video by my buddy Gary Zenker, is a great introduction for anyone new to critique, or who needs a refresher Air this video at the start of your group, to set the ground rules in an entertaining way!

How To Ask For — And Act On — FeedbackIf you have other writers willing to read and critique your work it can be really valuable. Here’s are some of the right, and the wrong ways, to deal with feedback.

I hope these evergreen articles will help you Make It Better this month and in the future.

Do you have any tips for things that have made your writing or your writing life better? Share in the comments!


If you want to read more like this, let me send future articles straight to your inbox:

[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.

[Reading Room] Apollo by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This story opens the 2016 edition of The Best American Short Stories, edited by Junot Diaz.

It begins with a man visiting his parents, where a chance comment sparks a memory from his childhood. It’s clear, as the story goes on, that the man regrets his action as a child, but the author manages to convey this without ever being as heavy-handed as to say so.

The Opening Line

The story opens with a line that tells us a lot and paints a vivid scene in delicate brush strokes.

Twice a month, like a dutiful son, I visited my parents in Enugu, in their small over furnished flat that grew dark in the afternoon.

Think about how much we know:

  • The son visits, but is only acting ‘like a dutiful son’. He doesn’t want to be there, but he goes, by rote, because that is what one must do.
  • “Enugu” tells us that where this story is taking place. Even if we don’t know where Enugu is (do you?) it tells us where it is NOT taking place.
  • “Small, over furnished flat” suggests that the parents have downsized after a retirement or other change of circumstances
  • “That grew dark in the afternoon” – the son is not happy with this place. It suggests to me that the parents once had a larger, lighter, more expansive home. The son feels claustrophobic in this new flat – how much of that is real and how much psychological, we can’t know yet, but it certainly introduces the concept straight away.

The second sentence begins

Retirement had changed them…

For me, as a reader, this pulls me in straight away. I know this is not going to be wholly a naval-gazing story about a middle aged man. It’s inviting me to ask questions: how has it changed them? How has/will retirement change me/my parents?

And the changes that the son chooses to focus on are interesting: his parents are more credulous than they used to be. Several times he insists “my parents would have scoffed at these stories”. It’s not clear where the story’s going, but the ‘first act’ of the story ends when a lurid story relayed by his parents bring up a former acquaintance — a servant or ‘house boy’ — from his childhood, who has got into trouble as an adult.

“…the ringleader was Raphael? He was our houseboy years ago, I don’t think you’ll remember him.”

I stared at my mother. “Raphael?”

“It’s not surprising he ended like this,” my father said. “He didn’t start well.”

My mind had been submerged in the foggy lull of my parents’ storytelling, and I struggled now with the sharp awakening of memory.

My mother said again, “You probably won’t remember him. There were so many of those houseboys. You were young.”

But I remembered. Of course I remembered Raphael.

And we’re off. Of COURSE we’re going to keep reading, because once again the writer has invited us to ask questions. Why does he remember Raphael? What went down between them? And what does it have to do with his later rabble-rousing?

The rest of the story recounts the narrator’s life as a twelve year old boy, the son of older, intellectual parents who could afford to have servants help raise him and tend the house.

But Aidiche doesn’t really tell the story. She paints it. We live through the boy’s obsession with Kung Fu; we feel the sanded down wood of the nunchucks Raphael makes for him out of old mop handles; we see a still-life of the ‘patient’s altar’ his parents make by his bed when he is sick (“orange Lucozade, a blue tin of glucose, and freshly peeled oranges on a plastic tray”)

And when the story ends, we know that the seeds of the man’s later regret are planted in the moment the twelve year olds. The author doesn’t have to beat us over the head with it.

This story is a wonderful example of how to infuse a moral message into a story without making it read like a fable. It also illustrates how to introduce readers to a different culture, without great sections of exposition, but rather through select details and dialect/language choices.

[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!

SWAGr – Accountability for October 2016

Every month we gather here to discuss what we’ve achieved and commit to making more progress in our creative lives in the coming month. We call it our   Serious Writer’s Accountability Group or SWAGr, for short! (We’re serious, not sombre!)

What people are saying about StoryADayMay 2014

This month: listen to the podcast with me and Monique Cuillerier discussing writing, goals and accountability. (15 mins)

Leave a comment below telling us how you got on last month, and what you plan to do next month, then check back in on the first of each month, to see how everyone’s doing.

(It doesn’t have to be fiction. Feel free to use this group to push you in whatever creative direction you need.)

Did you live up to your commitment from last month? Don’t remember what you promised to do? Check out the comments from last month.

And don’t forget to celebrate with/encourage your fellow SWAGr-ers on their progress!

****

Examples of Goals Set By SWAGr-ers in previous months

  • Write a story a day in May – everyone!
  • Revise at least 10 short stories – Iraide
  • Write two short stories. – Jami
  • Attend one writers’ conference – Julie
  • Write fable for WordFactory competition – Sonya
  • Re-read the backstory pieces I wrote in May and see if I can use them within my novel – Monique
  • Research the market – Jami
  • Focus on my serial – Maureen

 So, what will you accomplish this month? Leave your comment below (use the drop-down option to subscribe to the comments and receive lovely, encouraging notifications from fellow StADa SWAGr-ers!)

(Next check-in, 1st of the month. Tell your friends. )

A Month of Writing Prompts 2016

Don’t forget, if you need inspiration for a story you can still get ALL THE PROMPTS from StoryADay May 2016 and support the running of the StoryADay challenge at the same time. (I’m really proud of this year’s collection!) Give a little, get a little :) Click here. Now only $2.99

[Reading Room] The Sentry Branch Predictor Spec: A Fairy Tale by John Chu

Oh, this was fantastic: experimental science fiction by John Chu

Supposedly the story of a technological development, as told by one of the inventors, this is not an easy read. It doesn’t sweep you up in character and stakes and plot points. It does, however, do all the things I love about short fiction: confuse, confound, sweep you along on a torrent of language, and spit you out at the other end, shaking yourself and going ‘whoa!

(For the record, I also like nice narrative stories with heroes and adventure and all the traditional elements of story, but short stories have a unique ability to skirt all that and still give you a good time)

Just throw out whatever anyone’s ever told you about short story structure and read this. The story is not where you think it should be.

Since I’m no computer scientist (and perhaps even if I was) I found myself having to let the words pour over me, for the most part, and search for the story where the author had cleverly hidden it. (Take a look. You’ll see what I mean).

Clever and artistic and unlike anything else I’ve read. I’m not saying I’d like EVERY short story to be like this, but it certainly was refreshing and kind of exciting to remember that short fiction can be … this!

Read it here
Have it read to you

Consider supporting Clarkesworld by subscribing (they are one of the few newer publications that commit to paying their authors. Gasp! I know!)

The Reading Room is a series of short story reviews that are posted (usually on Tuesdays) in order to inspire you to read more short fiction in order to become better at writing it

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.

[Reading Room] The Vaporization Enthalpy of a Peculiar Pakistani Family by Usman T. Malik

I found this richly-detailed story in the Nebula Showcase 2016.

This story is structured in sections, each one headed up by a scientific description of one of the states of matter (solid, liquid, gas, plasma). Each, loosely, represents a theme for the following segment.

The story is deeply personal and universal (dealing with the challenges faced by those living in modern Pakistan) and at the same time veers into a kind of magical realism that opens it up wide.

Reading this story brought home to me the difficulties and rewards of reading stories from different cultures:

  • It’s difficult because the language flows differently, and because cultural details and assumptions can catch you out.
  • It’s rewarding for all the same reasons, plus you get to challenge your own world view and assumptions. Best of all, you hear poetry in the language that you’d never encounter if you only read within your own culture.

This story slowed me down, and rewarded me for savoring it.

Read it online here