May 31 – Scenario – The Windswept Plain

The Prompt

Your story starts with a character standing on a windswept, desolate plain. How did they get there? What do they want? And what is that on the horizon, and why is it getting closer?

You’ll notice that I haven’t provided a lot of (any?) scenarios during this month of writing prompts. That’s because I firmly believe your own ideas will provide more meaningful stories. The writing prompts I provide are merely a way to help shape your thoughts about the things that matter to you.

Today, however, I think you’ve earned a bit of a break.

This is a particularly fun story to post in the comments at the blog or in the community forums, to see how everyone wrote completely different stories from the same scenario prompt. Give it a try!

The Prompt

Your story starts with a character standing on a windswept, desolate plain. How did they get there? What do they want? And what is that on the horizon, and why is it getting closer?

Tips

  • This story can take place anywhere, at any time and with any kind of protagonist.
  • It could be a space opera, a farce, the climax of a tense kidnap story told in flashbacks, a mystery, a comedy, a romance or a heartbreaking work of staggering genius. Whatever your taste runs to.
  • You don’t ever have to explain why the character is there or what is approaching. You can focus on the character, his/her emotions, memories or senses and still have a satisfying story.
  • Your story can stay on the plain or, if you’re not the outdoorsy type, have your character scuttle into the huge building right behind her that we couldn’t see in the ‘opening shot’ of the story.
  • Consider sharing this with other people in the community who are writing to the same prompt. If you ever had any concerns about not being able to write anything ‘original’, sharing the results of this prompts should cure you of that!

GO!

Post a comment at the blog to let us know you’ve written today, or join the community and post in the Victory Dance Group.

 

And that’s it! You’re done.

No matter how many days you wrote (or didn’t), your writing thanks you for hanging in until the end. Now, print out your Winner’s Tiara, color it in, put your feet up and demand that every one treat you like royalty (the good parts, not the bloody-revolution-parts).

Then come back here tomorrow to check in with the June SWAGr crew, and make your commitments to your writing for next month. (I’m thinking: a few days of more relaxed writing and some revision, to start with.)

Also, I’ll be posting details about next month’s StoryFest, where we get to share our favorite stories from the past month. So don’t be a stranger!

Day 30 – The Impact of Art

The Prompt

Write a story about the impact of art

Writing means a lot to you. You’ve been doing it every day for weeks now. You’ve made it a priority. How does that feel?

There are probably other art forms that move you just as much (Music? Art? Dance?). What would you do and who would you be if you were forced to live a life without art?

The Prompt

Write a story about the impact of art

Tips

  • You may imagine a world where art is forbidden (all art or just the particular type your character wants to commit).
  • You can imagine an artist who is blocked for another reason.
  • What does the lack of art do to that person?
  • Has he/she known what it was to be an artist and lost it?
  • Has he/she never known and are they living a life they thought was OK. How do they discover the missing piece? What impact does that have on the rest of their life?
  • Perhaps your story will be about an art teacher impacting the life of an impressionable kid.
  • Your story need not be a narrative story. Perhaps it is a chilling set of rules to be imposed by an oppressive authority. Perhaps it is a list of titles of work in an art show or exhibition or that have been found in an archaeological dig.
  • You might write about the conversation between an ancient artist and the modern day observer.
  • What does art mean to you? Put that into your story.

GO!

Post a comment at the blog to let us know you’ve written today, or join the community and post in the Victory Dance Group.

May 29 – Back To Front

The Prompt

Write a story starting with the climax and working backwards to find out how we got there

This prompt might be easier for plotters than people who prefer to discover as they write. Then again, it might not. Let’s find out.

The Prompt

Write a story starting with the climax and working backwards to find out how we got there

Tips

  • Don’t worry about being cheesy and writing “meanwhile” or “five minutes earlier”. This is meant to be a fun exercise. Allow yourself to have some fun.
  • It still all starts with a character. Think of a character who wants something, doesn’t want something else and put them in their worst nightmare situation.
  • It can be something as overdone as finding themselves in their pajamas in a school hallway. Maybe she’s an adult, face to face with her mortified teenage son and all his classmates. Have her talk to someone (perhaps directly to the reader) and start to explain how she found themselves in this mess.
  • In each subsequent scene, start things off with another mystery (the character, still in her pajamas, and we still don’t know why) is on a bus, no, at the wheel of a bus. Explain how she got into that situation and what happened to the real driver, let it run into the school wall and her jump out to find help, then skip back to another, earlier scene. This time she’s running down the street (again, in her pajamas) away from an irate grandmother, who is shaking a walking frame at her. Explain that one and leave her at the bus stop, then flip back to the moment before she annoyed the grandmother; the moment when she discovered she was on her front step in her pajamas with he keys on the other side of the door. Explain how she went from there, to annoying granny, to being forced to seek shelter on a bus, whose driver was incapacitated, to whatever happened to get her into the school. Then, once last scene could show her very normal, serene morning: a morning in which she decides to stay in her pjs just a few minutes more, only then there’s a knock at the door.`
  • This doesn’t have to be a farce. Think of movies like Memento and Looper. Feed the reader little bits of information. Keep them disoriented.  Or think of
  • Pick your own character and nightmare scenario and…

GO!

Post a comment at the blog to let us know you’ve written today, or join the community and post in the Victory Dance Group.

May 28 – Non Human

The Prompt

Write a story with a non-human protagonist/main character

Perhaps you’ve tried this all ready this month, but I’m going to bet that most of your stories have featured homo sapiens. Let’s switch things up today:

The Prompt

Write a story with a non-human protagonist/main character

Tips

  • You could imbue an inanimate object with a character OR simply follow it through a series of owners’ hands, telling their stories as you go.
  • You could write about aliens
  • You could tell the story of an animal. Will you anthropomorphize the animals (like Beatrix Potter?) or will you tell their story from a more animalistic viewpoint, all smells and sensations and urges?
  • What conflict will drive your story? Imminent danger? Longing? Adventure? Relationships?

GO!

Post a comment at the blog to let us know you’ve written today, or join the community and post in the Victory Dance Group.

May 27 – Character Study – Fill In the Blanks

The Prompt

A [adjective, unlike you] [noun, like you] decides to [action – something reasonable] except [something unreasonable]

It’s getting late in the month. Either you’re ticking along with no problems or you’re getting a little desperate by now. Either way, this fill-in-the-blanks prompt should help you come up with a story today.

The Prompt

A [adjective, unlike you] [noun, like you] decides to [action – something reasonable] except [something unreasonable]

Tips

  • Here’s my example: a fitness-obsessed 40-something woman decides to train for a marathon except her husband objects.
  • I’ll have to drill down into why her husband might object, what kind of woman is she, what she thinks running a marathon will do for her, what she will never do, what she needs to do, what the state of her marriage is now and will be if she ignores his objections, if that matters to each of them. Then I’ll have to decide on her voice, whether she is strident, aggressive, funny, charming, wheedling, whiney, a doormat. I’ll have to decide when to enter this story (when she tells him her plans, when she’s already half way through the race reflecting on how she got there, when she’s in divorce court, retelling the story…)
  • You can flip the ‘unlike me’ and ‘like me’ and the ‘reasonable/unreasonable’ tags if that makes the process more fun for you.
  • Even the most mundane of ideas can become something wonderful if you think hard enough about pieces and let the characters come alive.
  • Don’t over-write this. Think hard, then imply. Remember, if you’re telling a story to your best friend, you don’t give her much backstory, and you certainly don’t give her both sides of the story. Write this story that way.
  • This story will work best if you let one voice ring out strongly, with all the whitewashing and self-justification we do without noticing!

GO!

Post a comment at the blog to let us know you’ve written today, or join the community and post in the Victory Dance Group.

May 26 – Joy In The Mundane

The Prompt

Write a story rooted in the small moments of everyday life.

I studied history at university.

Most people think of history as big lists of dates and kings and revolutions and war. My favorite moments in studying history were when someone directed my attention to the tiny things that allowed me to see how people really lived, what they were really like, in the foreign country of the past: shopping lists for Venetian guilds that provided clues as to which festivals they took part in (and when); journals by minor figures aboard ship in the early years of the European exploration of the Americas; how the plays and literature of a period could tell us about everything from economics to gender politics…

Big things happen in our world every day. I listen to news radio dry-eyed all morning, and yet (every damned week) a three minute segment on Fridays makes me cry. It’s StoryCorps, a project in which ordinary people interview each other about things that have mattered in their lives. It ranges from personal testimonies about 9/11, to an old couple reminiscing about their courtship 50 years earlier.

The Prompt

Write a story rooted in the small moments of everyday life. 

Tips

  • Think of the things that give you pleasure: a beautifully prepared dish of tasty nutritious food; a warm bed; the moment the sun dips below the horizon; the sun shining on a cut lemon on your kitchen counter. Write a story rooted in, starting from, or ending at that moment.
  • Read poetry that celebrates the mundane and relates it to bigger questions: for example, Birches, by Robert Frost or The Flea by John Donne. You don’t have to write poetry to make a small, everyday thing enough to power a whole story.
  • Listen to a StoryCorps interview and use it as the basis for a story.
  • Look around you right now. What can you see? What objects give you pleasure? Why? Imagine a character who gets similar pleasure from that object. Why? How can you make the story more universal? Focus on the tiny reasons for joy and write a story inspired by that.

GO!

Post a comment at the blog to let us know you’ve written today, or join the community and post in the Victory Dance Group.

May 25 – Character Fit For Purpose

The Prompt

Resolve the Conflict In Your Story Based on Your Main Character’s Abilities

 

This is inspired by an idea shared on the Writing Excuses podcast. They did a wonderful series of shows about how to make a character more sympathetic without making them inhumanely good/evil. Check out the first of the shows.  

Conflict can be “Oh no! The world’s about to end! How do we stop it/escape?” or it can be “Oh no, my mother-in-law’s coming for the holidays and she’s insufferable”, or it can be “I need to do something I really don’t want to do because…”

One way to create sympathy for a main character and keep the conflict in the story, is to use the character’s abilities (or lack thereof) to show how they are a good fit, a mediocre fit, or a terrible fit for the challenges they face.

The Prompt

Resolve the Conflict In Your Story Based on Your Main Character’s Abilities

Tips

  • Your character can be a good fit for the challenges but hindered by circumstances (Superman and his need to keep his true identity hidden).
  • Your character can be a poor fit for the challenge he faces, but willing to give it a shot (Bilbo, in The Hobbit. He is certainly not the Burglar Gandalf claims him to be, but he gives his best to the adventure, in spite of being a poor fit for the life).
  • Your character is a reluctant hero. He has the skills and the opportunity, but doesn’t particularly want to be a hero (Bruce Willis in The Fifth Element — in fact, Bruce Willis in a lot of roles!). What inner conflict is stopping him from helping resolve the outer conflict? What will change his/her mind?
  • What if your character is really, really good at one thing and is suddenly thrust into a world/situation where all their skills mean nothing…at first? Can they adapt? Can they find a way to use their skills? Can they partner up with someone whose skills compliment their own? Can you find a way to let them use their existing skills in the end, so they don’t seem like a pathetic character?
  • What if your character is the sweetheart who glues together an otherwise incompatible team of highly skilled, irascible experts?
  • Make us root for or against a character by showing how they employ their talents (or fail to).

GO!

Post a comment at the blog to let us know you’ve written today, or join the community and post in the Victory Dance Group.

May 24 – Epistolary Stories

The Prompt: write a story in letter form

I have an unexplained and abiding love for stories-in-the-form-of-letters, so if you spend any time at StoryADay.org you’re going to see this one again and again, sorry!

The Prompt

Write A Story In Letter Form

Tips

  • This can be a single communication or a series
  • It doesn’t have to be letters. It could be Tweets, Tumblr posts, office-wide memos.
  • The story can unfold from a single author’s point of view, or you can show more than one side of the story, by using multiple authors.
  • If you need inspiration, read famous letters here, here, here or here

Examples::

Handwritten love letters:

Letters from famous authors to young fans

15 Best Resignation Letters

A list of popular Epistolary Novels

(Just don’t spend too much time reading them!!)

GO!

Post a comment at the blog to let us know you’ve written today, or join the community and post in the Victory Dance Group.

May 22 – Time For Something Different

The Prompt

Write a story in a style/tone you never use

When I finished the first draft of a novel, my critique group was fabulously supportive. They told me all the things they loved and all the things that needed work. What surprised me the most, though, was their unanimous howl of despair that I had never paid off the romantic frisson between the two main characters. Not a single kiss! How could I?!

“But I’m not writing a romance,” I stuttered.

Their icy stares haunt my dreams, still…

I don’t write romance. I cringe when I read sex scenes. But being a bit of a prude doesn’t absolve me of the need to let my characters get a little lovin’. Clearly I need to practice writing something that’s outside my comfort zone.

The Prompt

Write a story in a style/tone you never use

Tips

  • If all your stories tend towards melancholy, try writing something utterly goofy today.
  • If you write very descriptively, try writing a piece as all (or mostly) dialogue between two distinct voices. Or vice versa.
  • If you normally write deep literary reflections, try a catalogue-of-errors romp.
  • Rewrite an earlier story in a totally different tone.
  • It might not be a work of art (or even a proper story), but you’ll learn something about lightness, language, rhythm and tone.
  • Don’t worry if you don’t think you could write a whole sci-fi novel, or you don’t know the conventions of a mystery or if everyone has always told you you’re just not funny. Try it. Write something short, sweet and out of your comfort zone.
  • There’s nothing wrong with developing a style. In fact it’s a smart career move. But even within grim realistic contemporary fiction, you’re going to occasionally want a little humor, or horror, or mystery. Writing shorts in different tones can help you vary the tone of longer works (or collections of short works).
  • Branching out not only mixes things up for readers, it helps you to boost your creativity, keep the excitement going, and revitalize your own writing.
  • If you’re having trouble with this, read, watch or listen to something you admire that is in the tone you’re aiming for today.

Me? I’m off to write turn down the lights, drape something in velvet, and write a story that’d make E.L. James  say ‘Steady on, old girl!” Wish me luck!

GO!

Post a comment at the blog to let us know you’ve written today, or join the community and post in the Victory Dance Group.

May 21 – Limits – Real Time

The Prompt

Write a story that unfolds in real time

The Prompt

Write a story that unfolds in real time

Tips

  • If a story unfolds in real time, you can’t have any ‘meanwhile’, or ‘three hours later’  or ‘earlier today’ scenes. Everything must flow chronologically and in as close to real time as possible.
  • If a character puts the kettle on, to make a cup of tea, you’re going to have to give them something to do or someone to talk to for the full two and a half minutes it takes for four cups of water to boil.
  • You can hop from one character’s perspective to another, as long as you stick to the timeline established at the start. If there’s a knock at the door, you could jump into the head of the person outside the door, but only right after they knocked.
  • You don’t have to time everything (like my example of the kettle) and you don’t have to worry about how fast different readers read; just try to keep everything flowing at a reasonably believable real-time pace. (Have you ever watched an action movie set in a city you know? Isn’t it irritating when there’s a car chase down a street that you know is only a few blocks long, yet seems to be three miles long in the movie? Don’t do that.)

GO!

Did you discover any time-shifting techniques that you would usually have used without noticing? Or was this very natural for you?

Post a comment at the blog to let us know you’ve written today, or join the community and post in the Victory Dance Group.

May 20 – Limits: Present Tense

The Prompt

Write A Story In The Present Tense

The Prompt

Write A Story In The Present Tense

Tips

  • The present tense grants an immediacy not there in the past tense.
  • This is great for thrillers, because we can’t be sure that the authorial voice (or first person narrator) will survive until the end.
  • You can jump around in time, but each segment must be in the present tense. You can indicate a shift in time by having your characters talk ‘to camera’ or by noting that the sun is now setting or that the morning dew has burned off the grass at last…

GO!

Post a comment at the blog to let us know you’ve written today, or join the community and post in the Victory Dance Group.

May 19 – Limits – Two Voices 

The Prompt

Write a story told only in dialogue

The Prompt

Write a story told only in dialogue

Tips

  • This can be a dramatic scene, designed to be read by two actors or it can be a story with ‘he said’ ‘she said’  dialogue tags.
  • With only two voices it should be possible to avoid using any dialogue tags at all, but you’ll need to work to keep the characters’ voices distinct.
  • Try to reflect, in their language, how they are feeling instead of relying on ‘stage directions’ (she said, nodding encouragingly).
  • Show agitation or excitement by making the language choppier. Like this. Really. I can’t believe … how could you?!
  • Allow characters to ramble when they are prevaricating, but try to avoid excessive use of “um” and “er”. Instead, let them go off on tangents, avoid the point.
  • Allow your characters to speechify (speak in a formal, unnatural style) if you want, but be conscious about it and consistent. Hey, it worked for Shakespeare and Aaron Sorkin!
  • Alternately, try to keep the voice of each character as realistic as possible. Remember that people talk at cross purposes, they interrupt each other, they don’t answer each other’s questions directly, worst of all, they often fail to listen to the other person at all because they’re planning their next riposte.
  • Try to pick two characters who reflect different outlooks or ages or stations in life (imagine the Dowager Countess talking to the cook. It’s more than just accent that sets them apart, it’s word-choice, rhythm, relative confidence, expectation, assumptions about life…)

GO!

Post a comment at the blog to let us know you’ve written today, or join the community and post in the Victory Dance Group.

May 18 – Limits: Third Person, Omniscient

The Prompt

Write A Story With An Omniscient Third Person Narrator.

Omniscient voice has fallen out of favor recently, which I think is a shame. Then again, I’m a fan of satire and enjoy a bit of Dickens now and then.

Omniscient voice can distance the reader from the characters a bit, and that’s not what the publishing industry thinks today’s readers want. However, it can be a fun challenge, and we’re taking it on today.

The Prompt

Write  A Story With An Omniscient Third Person Narrator. 

Tips

  • In this voice you are never entirely in one person’s head, but you can jump from head to head. It’s best to keep this consistent thought. Stay with one characters thoughts for a while, shift to another and stay there until the next piece of action ends. Otherwise, you’ll give your readers whiplash.
  • If you are not inside a character’s head, the narrator point out what a character is thinking by noting their actions and expressions.
  • Omniscient voice is great for satire, because the authorial voice can comment on the actions of characters, though you  probably want to use this sparingly.
  • If you’re having trouble finding the omniscient voice, imagine the voice-over at the start of the Winnie The Pooh cartoons, or read some Dickens.
  • See if you can pull off Omniscient without sounding like you wrote this in the nineteenth century. (I’m not sure it’s possible. Let’s find out!)

GO!

Post a comment at the blog to let us know you’ve written today, or join the community and post in the Victory Dance Group.

May 17 – Limits: Third Person – Limited

The Prompt

Write A Story In The Third Person, Limited

 

We’re writing in a much more conventional fashion today, good old third person, limited.

The Prompt

Write A Story In The Third Person, Limited 

Tips

  • Let the reader hear the thoughts of one person, and one person only. The narrator and the protagonist can infer information about other people’s thoughts, but the reader can never see inside those other characters’ minds. If this was a movie, the camera would swing around the protagonist, occasionally looking over her shoulder and through her eyes, never getting too far away from her.
  • This is the voice often used in detective stories, and mainstream fiction.
  • You don’t have to say ‘he thought’, to let us know what the character is thinking. In this POV if you make a declarative statement, it’s going to be clear that the ‘thought’ belongs to your POV character. For example: “The wind was picking up. Her hair whipped around her face, defying the extra-hold hairspray she’d used. Bob was going to wonder if she’d forgotten where she kept her hairbrush.” It’s clear the last sentence is the protagonist’s direct thought, right?
  • The advantage of this POV is that it keeps the reader close to the protagonist, emotionally. It also helps you set up suspense, since the reader can only know what the protagonist knows.
  • The disadvantage of this POV is that readers can’t see what’s happening ‘off-stage’ unless you use another device to reveal that information (like the way Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak allows us to eavesdrop on important scenes even when Harry’s not supposed to be there; or the way Isaac Asimov’s excerpts from The Encyclopedia Galactica fill us in on the politics, decisions and passage of time in the Foundation series).
  • Keep readers interested in your protagonist by giving them a desire, and an obstacle to overcome. A flaw and a special talent can help too. (Indiana Jones is a great example here: He always wants to save the priceless artifact for posterity, and he’s usually opposed by someone else who wants the same thing, but who has and Evil Purpose in mind. He’s a talented archaeologist, but he has a soft heart and a problem walking away from bullies, both of which get him into all kinds of trouble.)

GO!

Post a comment at the blog to let us know you’ve written today, or join the community and post in the Victory Dance Group.

May 16 – Limits: Second Person

The Prompt

Write A Story In The Second Person

Today we’re taking on the rare point of view: second person. It’s tough to pull this off without sounding like a Choose Your Own Adventure, but we’re going to try.

The Prompt

Write A Story In The Second Person

Tips

  • This is a rare point of view for a reason: it’s hard to make it sound good. However, there have been some examples that work well: Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City is one.
  • How To Get Filth Rich In Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamed, is a more recent example and, interestingly, reads like a self-help book. Consider writing a story in a self-help-y kind of style.
  • Halting State by Charles Stross uses Second Person  in a novel that features a MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role playing game). Role-playing games tend to feature a lot of Second Person in the scenario set-ups, so this is an interesting choice.
  • You could, of course, write an ironic Choose Your Own adventure story.
  • This story could be a mock-advertising piece — another form that often uses this voice.
  • This will probably feel odd, and read strangely, but if you create compelling characters and and an interesting problem for them to solve, readers will stick with you. You’ll probably end up with a fresh feel, even if your plot is not-altogether-original, simply because of the choice of voice.

GO!

Post a comment at the blog to let us know you’ve written today, or join the community and post in the Victory Dance Group.