The Real You – A Guest Writing Prompt from C. S. Plocher

Three unexpected people were in the headlines last year: Adele, Gwen Stefani, and Seinfeld. Each of them achieved phenomenal success in different ways and for different reasons. But as I followed their stories, I realized that they had a common denominator—one key ingredient to their success—and it’s something every writer needs.

Their Stories

1. Adele

In 2015, Adele finally released her album 25 after four long years—a hiatus no one, including Adele, had expected. The album came out at the end of the year, but it still easily swept away its competition, selling eight million copies in six weeks in the US alone. (To put that number in perspective, Taylor Swift released her album 1989 the previous year and it sold 3.66 million copies in eight weeks, less than half of Adele’s sales.)

2. Gwen Stefani

I doubt anyone expected Gwen Stefani to be on the Billboard charts in 2016—she hadn’t had a solo album or even a hit single in over a decade. True, in 2014 she was a coach on “The Voice,” but her appearance didn’t even ruffle the music industry.

Then in 2015, Gwen rocketed into the headlines, but not for the reason she would have liked. After thirteen years of marriage, she divorced Gavin Rossdale, the lead singer of Bush. Somehow, despite the tsunami of scrutiny and gossip, Gwen was on stage at the Grammys only seven months later, live-filming her new hit song “Make Me Love You” (in Rollerblades, no less).

3. Seinfeld

In 2015, Hulu paid more than $150 million for the rights to air “Seinfeld”—that’s over $80,000 per episode for a twenty-year-old TV show. Jerry Seinfeld called it a “mind-blowing moment.”

The Common Denominator

Seinfeld: “It Was Fun to Do”

When Jerry announced Hulu’s multi-million-dollar deal, he reminisced not on the show’s success, but on its initial failure. The first four years, he said, were dismal: “people were not catching on to it,” it was “barely scraping by,” and it had “very low ratings.” Jerry recalled saying to a friend, “I don’t get it. This show seems funny to me.”

Then “Seinfeld” got an unexpected boost when it was moved to Thursday nights, airing right after the popular “Cheers.” All of the sudden it took off. But Jerry’s point was that, for half of the show’s life, “it didn’t seem to be working,” yet he and the rest of the crew kept at it simply because “it was fun to do.” “We were really doing it for ourselves for a long, long time.”

Gwen Stefani: “The Most Non-commercial, Personal Record Ever”

After her divorce, Gwen was distraught, embarrassed, and “down all the way.” But she refused to let it define her. She told herself, “I have to turn this into something. I can’t go down like this.” Music was her answer. She walked into the studio and said, “I don’t care about the charts, the hits, the style of music, I just want to tell the truth.”

Gwen wrote and recorded song after song—she felt empowered and confident—but when she sent her record company a demo, she was told that her songs were “too personal, too artistic,” people wouldn’t relate to them. Gwen called it a “punch in the face.”

Still, she walked back into the studio the next day and said, “Let’s write the most non-commercial, personal record ever.” The result was “Used to Love You,” which became the first single off her first solo album in eleven years. She called the album This Is What the Truth Feels Like, and it debuted last month at number one on the Billboard albums chart.

Adele: “It’s the Real Part of Me”

The popularity of Adele is almost impossible to grasp. On the day of 25‘s release, it sold one thousand copies per minute in the US, and it became 2015’s best-selling album worldwide. But the story behind 25 is mostly one of failure and crises.

After the jaw-dropping success of her second album in 2011, Adele worried she could never top it. She even considered walking away from music: “There was quite a long period where I didn’t believe in myself when I was making [25]. I lost my confidence.”

For years Adele wandered in and out of the studio, frustrated and confused, until she realized that the songs she was writing were “great to the ear, but they didn’t move [her].” Finally, she started focusing on what was important to her: “25 is about getting to know who I’ve become without realising.” After the album’s release, Adele said, “I’ve made the realest record I can make. It’s the real part of me.”

Your Key to Success

“Seinfeld” was a failure for years. Gwen Stefani hadn’t had a hit in a decade. Adele didn’t think she could ever top her previous album. But they all found outward success by, ironically, turning inward. They ignored “commercial” and focused on personal. To them it wasn’t about, as Thornton Wilder said, impressing other people. It was about expressing themselves.

Prompt: Write the Real You

The scariest part about creating art (real art) is that it demands exposure. The human instinct is to protect—after all, that’s how we’ve survived for thousands of years. More often than not, we become afraid and drag down our real art until it’s only a pale, flabby imitation. But not today.

Today you write the story you’ve been too afraid to write—the story that is too personal, too boring, too weird, too serious, too comical, too embarrassing. You write the story that you think everyone will judge and no one will understand. You write the story that interests you, inspires you, fulfills you, and you write it with confidence.

CS Plocher pictureC. S. Plocher is a freelance editor with an award-winning blog. Her job is to help people chase their dreams, and she loves it.

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.

Guest Writing Prompt from Jerry Jenkins

Today’s guest prompt is from the legendary Jerry B. Jenkins, co-author of the Left Behind series and many, many other best sellers, and host of the fabulously generous writing resource: JerryJenkins.com. I’ve been poking around inside his new Writers’ Guild (a memership site for writers). It’s well worth a look, and I’ll be posting a review of it later in the summer.

Updated: As a bonus, Jerry’s asked me to share this article with you:How To Become An Author

The Prompt

You head the credit union at a company that requires employees to explain needs for loans. One pleads privately for confidentiality, and you talk the the board into his loan, based on their trust in you. You go to your grave without revealing his secret, which is…

Jerry Jenkins, author pictureJerry B. Jenkins has written 187 books with sales of more than 70 million copies. He’s had 21 New York Times bestsellers, including the Left Behind series. He now shares his writing knowledge with aspiring authors at JerryJenkins.com.

Guest Writing Prompt from Jonathan Maberry

JONATHAN MABERRY is a NY Times bestselling novelist, five-time Bram Stoker Award winner, and comic book writer.

Today we’re kicking off StoryADay May 2016 with a prompt from the fabulous Jonathan Maberry.  (If you have a chance to hear him speak at a writer’s conference/group/signing, go! You’ll be inspired to run home and write!)

The Prompt

When Terry began scrolling through her phone, none of the photos she found were hers.

 

Jonathan Maberry, Author pictureJONATHAN MABERRY is a NY Times bestselling novelist, five-time Bram Stoker Award winner, and comic book writer. He writes the Joe Ledger thrillers, the Rot & Ruin series, the Nightsiders series, the Dead of Night series, as well as standalone novels in multiple genres. His new and upcoming novels include KILL SWITCH, the 8th in his best-selling Joe Ledger thriller series; VAULT OF SHADOWS, a middle-grade sf/fantasy mash-up; and MARS ONE, a standalone teen space travel novel. He is the editor of many anthologies including THE X-FILES, SCARY OUT THERE, OUT OF TUNE, and V-WARS. His comic book works include, among others, CAPTAIN AMERICA, the Bram Stoker Award-winning BAD BLOOD, ROT & RUIN, V-WARS, the NY Times bests-selling MARVEL ZOMBIES RETURN, and others. His books EXTINCTION MACHINE and V-WARS are in development for TV. A board game version of V-WARS was released in early 2016. He is the founder of the Writers Coffeehouse, and the co-founder of The Liars Club. Prior to becoming a full-time novelist, Jonathan spent twenty-five years as a magazine feature writer, martial arts instructor and playwright. He was a featured expert on the History Channel documentary, Zombies: A Living History and a regular expert on the TV series, True Monsters. He is one third of the very popular and mildly weird Three Guys With Beards pop-culture podcast. Jonathan lives in Del Mar, California with his wife, Sara Jo.

Sept 28 — See, Hear, Smell

Today, take a few minutes to notice your surroundings (you can do this at home, but going out may work better): Write down five things you see, five sounds you hear and three to five smells.

The Prompt:

Write a story with a character who has a difficult decision to make. Put this character in the setting you observed and use your sensory detail in the story.

Tips:

  • Your setting doesn’t have to be the literal place where you collected your details. Turn it into a fiction if it works better for your story.
  • I left out touch because depending on where you are, touching stuff might be out of the question. But add tactile details if you can.
  • Use the details as reminders of what the character has to do.
  • Use them as distractions.
  • Use them to present a solution.
  • Difficult decisions don’t have to be huge: your character might be an old person who’d like to get a dog but who can’t walk well anymore. Will the character choose more loneliness or physical discomfort?

Now go write!

Sonya Oldwin publishes a 100-word story every day – yep, it’s as crazy as it sounds.  

Don’t forget to share a link to your story in the comments below.

Visibly Invisible

Prompt: Visibly Invisible

Today’s prompt is about the inner self of your character trying to break out, to be seen, to be heard, to simply be acknowledged.

Think along the lines of being present in a group, yet you’re being discussed as if you were not there.  Now multiply those feelings by 100 for your character who, for reasons you will develop, cannot (at the moment) speak up for themselves.

Tips

  • Why is your character ‘invisible’?
  • You may want to go down the path of personal knowledge, for instance someone with a severe disability which restricts their line of communication.  Yet they are ‘in there’ and fully aware of what is going on around them.  How do they feel?  What can they do to get attention, and help?
  • Perhaps you want to go the fantasy route and your character has had a spell put on them.  What or who will break it?  How does the ‘invisible’ one deal with the situation they are in and what do they do to help themselves?
  • Your story should conclude with your character achieving ‘visibility’.

Not too many tips this week – let your imagination, and your emotions run free with this one.

Let’s GO!

Sept 4 – Friday Favourites 1

Hi, all! I’m Monique and I’m going to be posting prompts each Friday this month.

The theme is “Friday Favourites” and means that each prompt will be a generic premise for a story that is also the description of a classic (or favourite!) novel.

The Prompt

A person wakes up, not quite remembering what happened the night before, and is surprised and upset by what they see outside the window.
(The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams)

Tips

Change the genre. Instead of science fiction, turn it into a mystery. Or a romance. Or a children’s story.

Where (or when) do they wake up? ‘Window’ can be interpreted broadly.

Have fun!

Monique Cuillerier has always loved to write. She also enjoys procrastination. These two interests are frequently in conflict. Her stories have appeared in Round Up Writer’s Zine, Black Heart Magazine, (parenthetical), and elsewhere. She blogs sporadically (although more frequently during Story A Day!) at notwhereilive.ca

Guest Prompt from Mary Robinette Kowal

Mary Robinette KowalMary Robinette Kowal is the author of The Glamourist Histories series of fantasy novels and the a three time Hugo Award winner. Her short fiction appears in Clarkesworld, Tor.com, and Asimov’s. Mary, a professional puppeteer, lives in Chicago. Visit her online at maryrobinettekowal.com.

We’re rounding out our month with a multiple-award winning, working writer’s advice to take a look at scenes (or stories) from another angle. It seems to be working for her, so let’s give it a try! Thanks for sharing, Mary!

The Prompt

Take the last scene [or story – Ed.] that you wrote. Now rewrite it from the point of view of a secondary character. You have to keep all the physical actions and dialog in the same order, but make it clear what is at stake for the new POV character. Why do they say the things they do? What are they trying to achieve?

Now go back to your original scene [or story – Ed.] and adjust it to incorporate the new things you’ve learned about your secondary character.

Often when a scene seems flat, it’s because we haven’t thought through the motivations of any of the people in the scene except the point of view character.

 

Go!

Guest Prompt from John Dixon

John DixonJohn Dixon’s first novel Phoenix Island was not only the inspiration for the CBS series Intelligence (starring Josh Holloway), but was this year awarded the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a Young Adult Novel. (Well-deserved, too! It’s an excellent book!). John is a former Golden Gloves boxer, youth services caseworker, prison tutor, and middle school English teacher.

Like the expert in horror and all-things-creepy that he is, John gave us a very creepy prompt.

The Prompt

Write a story about someone trying to escape a subterranean space.

Go!

Guest Prompt from Gabriela Pereira – with submission guidelines

 Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 7.36.08 PMGabriela Pereira is the Chief Instigator at DIYMFA.com, the home of the do-it-yourself MFA in creative writing. In her new podcast series she has interviewed everyone from agents, novelists, writing teachers to marketing and networking guru Guy Kawasaki! You should definitely check that out!). She is hard at work on a DIYMFA handbook due out next year from Writer’s Digest Books.

This prompt is a little bit different today — and it comes with the possibility of publication.

Over at DIYMFA they’re launching an anthology and the only stipulations are that you write to the theme and use the custom-built Writer Igniter feature at DIYMFA to somehow spark your story. It’s a fun little slot-machine of a prompt generator that Gabriela had custom built for her site. It’s kind of irresistable…DIYMFA.com logo

The Prompt

The theme for the anthology is ORIGINS. The deadline is August 31, 2015, so you have plenty of time to brush up whatever story you sketch out today.

The rules are as follows: spin the Writer Igniter (no more than three spins!); take a screenshot of your result (ALT + Print Screen on Windows; CMD + SHIFT + 4 on Mac, then draw a box around whatever you want to capture); then write a story.

The finished story should be up to 2,000 words. See more guidelines for submission here.

Go!

Guest Prompt from Marta Pelrine-Bacon

The Blue Jar, novel coverToday’s prompt comes from Marta Pelrine-Bacon, who was a StoryADay participant in its first year, 2010. She is an artist and the author of The Blue Jar (a novel about two teen girls in trouble). She’s also a mom, wife, teacher, cancer survivor, and coffee-addict.

The Prompt

What is a picture (a photograph or a painting) that you love or at least that has caught your attention?

Write about the artist or the subject. What happened just before or after the scene in the image? (If possible, share the image with us too.)

Go!

Guest Prompt from Charlotte Rains Dixon

Your main character can have anything in the whole world that she wants. Anything!

Charlotte Rains Dixon headshotCharlotte Rains Dixon is a writer who has made the jump from non-fiction to fiction with her new series of mysteries, the Emma Jean books (the first is available now). Her short stories have been published in The Trunk, Santa Fe Writer’s Project, Nameless Grace, and Somerset Studios. Check out her blog for writing tips and inspiration that are very much in tune with the ethos here at StoryADay.

The Prompt

Your main character can have anything in the whole world that she wants. Anything! Doesn’t matter if it is illegal, immoral, or illicit. Explore what that thing is, why she wants it, and perhaps most importantly, what the consequences of getting that thing might be.

 

Go!

 

(Remember, all prompts are optional and you certainly don’t have to do two stories, or combine the prompts, on days when there’s a celebrity guest.)

 

Guest Writing Prompt from Jacob Tomsky

Jacob Tomsky of Short Story ThursdaysJacob Tomsky is a best-selling writer and host of Short Story Thursdays, a weekly email dispatch that somehow manages to be snarky and sweet at the same time. (If you haven’t signed up to receive a story a week from Tomsky yet, do it now).

Read our interview with him, talking about how he moved from a short-story-hater to one of its best champions.

As you can see from the prompt below, Jacob has Opinions. Do not disappoint him.

The Prompt

Story told in first person or third person only. NO SECOND PERSON, GODDAMN IT.

Past tense. You can do current tense or whatever it’s called but that would piss me off too.

Prompt: Main character is being interviewed on television, live, for the first time ever. Story begins at the moment the camera goes live on the main character.

 

Go!

Guest Prompt from Gregory Frost

Today’s prompt is a real treat: a writing exercise from author Gregory Frost. (Side note: his classes are the kind that writers only tell their best friends about … and then only after their own application has been accepted!)

Here he shares a prompt that seems to be about setting but turns out to be all about character. Flex those writing muscles, people!

The Prompt

Character through Setting

There’s a tale that John O’Hara once wrote a story in which all he did was describe the contents of a room, and by the end you knew that the occupant had committed suicide. No person appears in the story. It’s all done by inference.

For this exercise, select a character. Think about who they are and what you think you know. Then pick a setting. It can be a room, a landscape, the interior of a car…

Now describe the setting in in very specific detail: Use as many senses as you can, as are appropriate. The person you are telling us about is not present in this setting, but by the time you’re done, we should know the important aspects of him or her.

One more thing…

O’Hara also said that getting the details of a character exactly right is critical—especially the detail that is wrong.

So for this setting, add one element that does not belong there (one of these things is not like the other), and see what sort of story that wrong element suggests.

-gf

Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 7.33.05 PMAbout Gregory Frost

Gregory Frost is a fantasist, author of adult and young adult fiction (SHADOWBRIDGE, LORD TOPHET, FITCHER’S BRIDES, TAIN, etc.). He has been a finalist for the World Fantasy, Nebula, Hugo, Theodore Sturgeon, and James Tiptree Jr. Awards among others. He is Director of the Fiction Workshop at Swarthmore College.
For more:
Web: www.gregoryfrost.com
Twitter: @gregory_frost
Facebook: gregory.frost1

Guest Prompt from Meg Wolfe

Meg Wolfe‘s prompt introduces a little mystery into our writing, unsurprisingly since Meg is a mystery writer!

The Prompt

An Unexpected Acquisition

What suddenly shows up on your character’s doorstep, or in the mail, or on his or her birthday? It should be something that wasn’t expected or asked for or even thought about–how would your character react, and what hidden truth does the reaction reveal about his or her background, temperament, education, finances, desires, and/or motivations?

Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 7.33.59 PMAbout Meg Wolfe

Meg is a long-time nonfiction writer, most recently of The Minimalist Woman blog and its related self-help and cookbooks. She now focuses almost exclusively on fiction, and has written and published two mysteries, An Uncollected Death and An Unexamined Wife. A third, An Undisclosed Vocation, is slated for release in Summer of 2015.