[Writing Prompt] Sunday Silliness – and a check-in

We’re almost there! This is the last week of StoryADay May 2013. Stay tuned on Thursday for news of another, short-term challenge to keep you writing.

Also, I’d love to know who’s been writing this month. Please leave a comment on this post if you’ve written at all this month, and let us know how much/often you’ve managed to write. Spread the word to friends who might have fallen off the wagon. Tell them to check-in and celebrate what they have achieved so far (and maybe come back for the last week?).

As always, thank you for playing. Without out you, this challenge simply wouldn’t be any fun! You inspire me and each year’s participants influence the shape and content of the next challenge. So thanks!

The Prompt

Write a story that includes these words:

  • official
  • corpulent
  • totem
  • panic
  • scratching
  • delicious


  • This is a silly prompt. Feel free to write a silly story.
  • The chances are, if you’re still here, you’ve started to take your writing quite seriously, in a good way. However, there’s always a danger of ‘serious’ becoming ‘solemn’. Use today as a break from whatever you’ve been writing and write http://storyaday.org/prompt-fros/ that is purposely silly, off-the-cuff, not to be taken seriously.
  • Consider posting your story in the comments here so that we can see how everyone chose to use these words

[Writing Prompt] Guest Prompt from Cat Lumb

Today we have a guest prompt from aspiring-to-be-published writer and StoryADay participant, Cat Lumb. Thanks, Cat!

The Prompt

Your character wants to find the source of a strange noise they can hear. Tell the story of how they find out what that sound is…
Cat Lumb started her blog in 2011 as means to be accountable for her writing dreams. She is currently editing one of her two first draft novels and writing short stories.
Check out her blog: www.nowrittenwords.wordpress.com or link with her on Twitter @Cat_Lumb
You can read all of Cat’s Story a Day in May stories through her blog at: http://nowrittenwords.wordpress.com/a-story-a-day-2013/

[Writing Prompt] Guest Prompt from Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Today’s prompt is from writer, illustrator and all-round good egg Debbie Ridpath Ohi, who shares one of her Daily Doodles with us today to help inspire a story. Thanks, Debbie!

The Prompt

It Wasn’t Me!
Cartoon dog looking guilty

Tips from Julie

  • Use the words or picture in any way that seems right to you
  • If you’re not an animal person, you don’t have to use the dog.
  • If your’e not an animal person, you should consider using the dog anyway. (Hey, this is about stretching yourself, right?)

Debbie Ridpath Ohi (http://DebbieOhi.com) writes and illustrates books for young people in Toronto, Canada. She is the illustrator of I’M BORED by Michael Ian Black, published by Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, chosen by The New York Times as a Notable Children’s Book. Debbie has current and upcoming book projects with Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins and Random House. More info about Debbie and her projects: http://debbieohi.com. Her blog for writers/illustrators:http://inkygirl.com. Twitter: @inkyelbows.

[Writing Prompt] Guest Prompt from Gregory Frost

Continuing our Guest Prompt week, today’s prompt comes from novelist and teacher Gregory Frost. Thanks, Greg!

The Prompt

Unusual Ways of Seeing

Imagine a person with a very idiosyncratic way of seeing the world (for example, a low-end drug dealer who’s perpetually paranoid because he’s sure everyone wants to steal his stuð; or an accountant for whom everything is numerical and anally precise)—anyone who, because of mental challenges, profession, or self-medicated state, negotiates the world in a distinctly peculiar, complicated, or unhinged way.

For this prompt, have your character witness a traumatic event that does not directly involve him or her (a traffic accident, a robbery, an explosion, etc.).

Narrate the event from this character’s first-person POV, incorporating the idiosyncrasies of this invented personality.

If you need examples from literature, look at George Saunders’ “Tenth of December” which includes both the portrait of a deteriorating mentality and the interiority of a child’s imaginings, or Jonathan Nolan’s “Memento Mori,” or Donald Barthelme’s “Game.”


  • The narrative should be focused upon the observed event, whatever it is.
  • The background/ biographical elements of this individual should be limited, which is to say implied rather than presented outright in the core of things. You know who they are. Get that across to us without resorting to our narrator saying something like “I’m a junkie.”
  • The details presented about the event–especially how they’re presented–should suggest everything about our narrator.


Gregory Frost’s YA-crossover SHADOWBRIDGE duology (Shadowbridge & Lord Tophet) from Del Rey (Random House) was a finalist for the 2009 James Tiptree Award and named one of the year’s four best fantasy novels by the American Library Association.  His Nebula-nominated science fiction novel, THE PURE COLD LIGHT is now available in ebook formats from Book View Cafe (as is his first novel, LYREC)

 For more:
Facebook: gregory.frost1

[Writing Prompt] Guest Prompt from James Scott Bell

Today’s prompt is from best-selling novelist and popular writing teacher James Scott Bell. Thanks, Jim

The Prompt from JSB

Write about your antagonist’s life at the age of sixteen. What were the events that shaped this character back then, and still haunt today?

James Scott Bell is a best-selling author of books for writers and thrillers like Deceived, Try Dying, Watch Your Back, and One More Lie (International Thriller Writers Award finalist).  He writes frequently for Writer’s Digest magazine and blogs every Sunday at The Kill Zone. You can find some of his books for authors here.

Tips from Julie

  • Choose the antagonist/villain of a previous story.
  • Or choose the antagonist of a work-in-progress or the novel you’ve been planning to write but can’t get a handle on.
  • Remember that an antagonist isn’t necessarily the villain — just the character that gets in the way of your hero’s dream


[Writing Prompt] Write Sam’s Story

Continuing on from yesterday’s theme of giving you an element of the story you must use, today I’m giving you a character. I’m seeding some hints about this character into the prompt and you should take them where ever they lead you.

The Prompt

Sam Chase has just left a meeting with the big boss. Sam has been offered a dream position — or at least a position that would have been a dream if it had been dangled out there two years ago. But lately, Sam has been beginning to understand that there’s more to life than ambition, career, advancement, the trappings of success. Oh let’s be honest: it’s been coming on ever since last summer. If the only constant is change, Sam thinks, I’m a walking illustration.
Write Sam’s story.


  • In case you hadn’t noticed, I was very careful to use no pronouns in that blurb about Sam. Sam can be male or female, at your whim.
  • Will you explain what happened “last summer” or keep it mysterious? If you do explain it, will your story start there? End there? Mention it as a big reveal at the climax?
  • What will Sam choose? Just because we’re tapped on the shoulder by our better angels, doesn’t mean we always make the right choice. But then again, sometimes we do. What will YOUR Sam do?


[Writing Prompt] Set At A Wedding

This week I’m giving you some more traditional prompts, where one element of your story is dictated by me. (Oh, the power!)

The Prompt

Write A Story Set At A Wedding


  • The conflict in this story can be micro-scale (a guest reflecting on a deeply personal challenge, brought into the light by this landmark occasion) or dramatic (a headline-worthy bust-up, with generations of family tension erupting in a hot, molten mess).
  • Weddings are often the scene of comic stories because of the solemnity inherent in the occasion. But I was at a super-fun wedding recently. A story set at that wedding would lend itself to a solemn moment as an abrupt change of pace.
  • You can say a lot about your characters without beating the reader over the head with it, by describing which traditions your wedding principals and guests choose to honor (or flout). You can get rich cultural mileage out of this setting.
  • You can choose another culturally significant/religious event to write about if weddings really aren’t doing it for you.


[Writing Prompt] A Picture’s Worth A Thousand Words

…but sometimes so are a thousand words!

The Prompt

Go to the Flickr Explore page and pick the first photo that catches your eye.

Stare at it for five minutes or so and write a story inspired by it.


  • Pick the most visually arresting picture, the one that interests you immediately.
  • It might not be obvious what the story is going to be.
  • This will probably make the story better.
  • Don’t waste any time writing backstory. Think hard then start when something is happening or about to.
  • Remember that stories are all about character. What does your character want? What is getting in her way?

Remember to post in The Victory Dance when you’ve finished your story today. You’ll get congratulations and inspire everyone else to finish their stories.

(You don’t have to post your story anywhere, just let us know you have written today)

[Writing Prompt] Social Speech

Can you imagine your life without email, Facebook, Twitter, text messages? Can your characters?

Can you imagine your life without email, Facebook, Twitter, text messages?

Texting Oasis
Photo by John Frassinet

Can your characters?

If you’re writing contemporary fiction and your characters are still calling and popping round to see each other, you might want to rethink that.

This is something new in life and newer in fiction. How to integrate this stuff into the narrative? It’s an exciting chance to do something new. But “exciting” and “new” can also mean “challenging” and “fraught with clunky first attempts”.

Why not get your first attempts out of the way today?

The Prompt

Write A Story Using A Facebook Timeline


  • It doesn’t have to be Facebook, but some electronic form of communication should feature prominently.
  • Try to have your characters use the e-communication the way you do.
  • You might want to write the whole story as a series of Facebook conversations (how would you format that?) or texts between different friends (like an update of this phone scene from “Mean Girls”, which must seem hopelessly outdated to today’s teens!)
  • Streams of status updates and back and forth conversation threads (interspersed with direct messages (“who is ‘Janice Atherton’? And why is she commenting on my photo?!”)

[Writing Prompt] Wibbley-Wobbley, Timey-Wimey

I’m a sucker for a time-travel story. It might have something to do with growing up in the UK in the 1970s, where my generation was weaned on Doctor Who, but time travel in all its varieties works for me. Of course, there are lots of quibbles with time travel stories: can you really kill your own grandfather and cease to exist? If you step on a butterfly in prehistoric times will the future change (thank you, Mr. Bradbury)? And most perplexing, why do time travellers always seem to run into the important figures in history, rather than nobodies like you and I?

The Prompt

Write A Time Travel Story That Includes An Explanation Of Why Your Time Traveller Meets An Important Historical Figure

The Rules:

1. You should use the prompt in your story.

2. You must write the story in one 24 hr period – the faster the better.

3. Post the story in the comments — if you’re brave enough.

4. Find something nice to say about someone else’s story and leave a comment. Everybody needs a little support!

Optional Extras:

Share this challenge on Twitter or Facebook

Some tweets/updates you might use:

Don’t miss my time travel #WriteOnWed #storyaday http://storyaday.org/wow-wow-timeywimey

This week’s #WriteOnWed short story prompt is about time travel #storyaday http://storyaday.org/wow-timeywimey

Come and write with us! #WriteOnWed #storyaday http://storyaday.org/wow-timeywimey

See my story – and write your own, today: time travel!! #WriteOnWed #storyaday http://storyaday.org/wow-timeywimey

[Weekly Writing Prompt] Alternate History

Fifty years ago this week, the US discovered that the USSR was building nuclear missile bases in Cuba. The two weeks that followed brought the two countries closer to disaster than ever before or since.

Public domain photo from CIA records

The Prompt

Write a story set in an alternate history where the Cuban Missile Crisis turned out differently and someone did launch a strike.



If you want to read up on the actual events, this Wikipedia article seems pretty good. I particularly liked the part (well, not ‘liked’, but you know what I mean) about the Russian submarine, the facts of which were only disclosed in 2002. What if the commander had made a different decision? What if Miami had been hit by a nuclear bomb.

You don’t have to write a Tom-Clancy-style military thriller here. Imagine anything in the alternate history of the world, from a mother trying to find clean water for her kids, to a history lesson for Fourth Graders.

Your story could treat the subject tangentially. It could be the kind of story you normally write, only with a few details in this world different: maybe there are only 49 states now (or maybe there are 52), perhaps Disneyworld was relocated to Pennsylvania “after the big war”…

You don’t have to be too serious. People lived and loved and laughed through the Blitz. People in an alternate timeline after Cuba would have to find ways to do the same, or humanity wouldn’t survive!

The Rules:

1. You should use the prompt in your story (however obliquely you use the ‘want’, it should be there in the character and all their reactions).

2. You must write the story in one 24 hr period – the faster the better.

3. Post the story in the comments — if you’re brave enough.

4. Find something nice to say about someone else’s story and leave a comment. Everybody needs a little support!

Optional Extras:

Share this challenge on Twitter or Facebook

Some tweets/updates you might use:

Don’t miss my short story: After Cuba  #WriteOnWed #storyaday http://storyaday.org/?p=2648

This week’s #WriteOnWed short story prompt is about the Cuban Missile Crisi #storyaday http://storyaday.org/?p=2648

Come and write with us! #WriteOnWed #storyaday http://storyaday.org/?p=2648

See my story – and write your own, today: After Cuba #WriteOnWed #storyaday http://storyaday.org/?p=2648

[Prompt] – May 22 – Third Person Limited

This week’s prompts are all about point of view and narrative voice.

Write a story from the third person limited POV.

“Third Person, Limited” means that, unlike yesterday, your narrator never says “I did this”, rather you talk about “he went to the door”, “He opened it.”

The ‘Limited” part means that all the judgements and assumptions, all internal thoughts are limited to those of the character through whom you are telling the story. No popping out of Dave’s head to jump across the room and tell us what Mandy is thinking as she looks at him. The only thing we’re privy to is what Dave thinks Mandy might be thinking about him.

Within this framework you can still play with the form: your limited persona can be like Nick Carraway, reporting on Jay Gatsby’s life, rather than telling us about his own adventures. You can give your limited persona the ride of her life through a whitewater canyon and let us see it all from her perspective.

Third person limited is great for short stories, because it lets us – the readers – identify with one character, and ground the story somewhere. You don’t have much space in a short story and the last thing you want is to confuse your readers (unless, of course, the whole point of your story is to confuse your readers!). Letting them get to know a character by showing their reactions to events, puts you half way to rooting for (or against) the protagonist.



[Prompt] May 21 – 1st Person

This week’s prompts are all going to focus on Point Of View.


It’s easy to get stuck in a rut, writing in third-person, or first person, or inside or outside your character’s heads. So this week we’re shaking things up. Ready?

Write A Story Using The First Person Voice

The whole thing should be told in the “I” voice, and preferably should be a story about something that happened/is happening to the person telling the story.


[Prompt] May 20 – Revenge

I saved this one for last (in the plot prompts series) because it has the potential to be the most fun of all!

If you’re a writer, the chances are you think a lot (too much?) about everything that happens to you. And you probably remember every little slight anyone has ever perpertrated upon you.

Now’s your chance to have your revenge.

Today you will write a revenge story. (Use examples from real life if you like!)

If you want to keep your main character sympathetic, make sure they’re seeking revenge for something outrageously unfair and that the bad guys are really bad. And make sure that your main character doesn’t just slide through the revenge process unchanged.

Of course, it doesn’t have to end well for your main character. Maybe they start out nice-but-wronged and end up avenged-but-twisted. Or maybe your protagonist is a real bad apple, to start with.

As usual, keep the scale of your story small: focus on one incident – probably the moment of confrontation. Start right in the action and show the backstory in dialogue, allusions, images. Bring the story to a climax and show us how it has affected your main character as s/he walks off into the sunset.

Write A Story of Revenge


Thanks to James Scott Bell for a week’s worth of inspiration. Check out the StoryADay.org exclusive interview with JSB, his Plot & Structure book, or any of his suspense novels, zombie legal thrillers (who could resist?!), historical romance or books for writers.