In James Blish’s Surface Tension (which I reviewed recently), the author took the idea of space travel and did something a bit different with it: instead of humans arriving on a new planet and terraforming it to suit themselves, they genetically-engineer versions of humanity that would thrive on the planet.
Now that’s what I call ‘subverting reader expectations’. But it’s still a satisfying story that sticks to the rules of an off-planet adventure story (lots of ‘wonder’ and new environments, inter-personal conflict, conflict with the environment, bad guys, a struggle to unite the ‘good’ forces and to survive. Even a little romance.)
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.
Write a story inspired by one of your regrets
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.
It’s Write On Wednesday Day! (That’s really clumsy. I’m going to have to never do that again!)
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).
Write a story tied to a Nov/Dec/Jan holiday
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
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!
This is the moment you’ve been waiting for. Today you’re going to take everything you’ve learned this month and write the story you’ve been waiting to write—the story you could not have written before today.
Go big or go home
If you have written at all this month, you’;; have shaken loose some writing muscles, learned ways of creating time, making your writing a priority, and silencing your inner critic sot hat you can get that first draft written. Now, take all the lessons you learned about what you do best, stuff your inner critic and your inner editor into the sack, shove it under the bed, close the bedroom door, lock it, put on some earmuffs and write the story you want to write, today.
Go big. If you light dark stories, but think you’re too nice a person to really be writing dark…forget it. Go really dark.
If you discovered this month that you’ve a talent for being funny, go big today, be hilarious. Be outrageous. Write something so silly, so funny that you make yourself laugh.
If you’ve discovered a talent for romance, go gushy today. Target their heartstrings, make yourself cry, make yourself swoon. Don’t worry what anyone else will think. You never have to show the stories to anyone!
Maybe you discovered you’r good at writing things a little bit sexy. Go wild today. Say the things you never thought you could say. If you’re worried, handwrite it and then have a ceremonial burning. If you’re really shy, tell the story to yourself by whispering it, in the shower.
Go further than you ever thought you would. You can always dial it back and rewrite or use this memory as a yardstick for future writing when you know you’ve gone too far. But try to go too far today.
Today is all about joy. Make sure you are feeling the joy, and whatever you decide to write. It can be short, it can be long, it can be brilliant, it can be a mess. Just have fun.
Thank you so much for playing along this month
. I hope you learned a few things. I hope you’ve got the creative kick in the pants you were looking for. **Leave a comment and let us know what you wrote today, what you learned this month just how glad you are to be finished 🙂
And remember, keep writing!!
Haven’t joined the mailing list yet? today’s a perfect day to do it. We’ll be back here tomorrow with the SWAGr accountability group to declare our writing goals for the next month. Come back each following month to tell everybody how you got on. The accountability group is the most powerful way I’ve discovered to stay true to my writing. I hope you’ll join us.
If you wrote every day this month, you’ve written a decade of stories three times already. Three batches of 10 stories. Doesn’t that feel neat?
That’s because it conforms to the Rule of Three. For some reason humans love things that come in triplets.
This is a really powerful technique for making stories feeling balanced and deep.
Write a story using the rule of three
You’ve probably noticed that, in many stories, somebody tries and fails, tries and fails, tries and fails, three times. They might succeed on the third try. But they won’t succeed on the second try. That story structure has less resonance than if they fail twice and succeed n the third.
Character groupings often come in threes as well: you have the the hero, the smart one, and the funny one.
Even the fundamental story structure is made up of three parts: the beginning, the middle, and the end.
You can use send your character on a quest where they must complete three actions.
Perhaps your character gets three wishes, or three questions.
Maybe you can really play with this and drop the power of three in all over the place: every paragraph has three sentences; every sentence has a three syllable word in it. (I’m not sure that would make for great story but hey, we’re getting to the end of the month and were all getting a little punch-drunk!)
Leave a comment telling us how you use the power of three in your story today.
One of the biggest problems in fiction is when a writer creates nice characters and then doesn’t want to hurt them. Today, let’s make it hurt!
Torture your protagonist
This may come easily to some of you, so you don’t need to read any further. If you’re already good at torturing your protagonist. Just go and get writing!
For the rest of us, there’s a temptation to let our characters be funny and nice and lovable. We don’t want to make unsympathetic. However, if they’re too perfect, they’re not interesting.
Let’s think back to the earlier story, where I asked you to create a flawed protagonist. Wasn’t that fun? You can still have a sympathetic character by letting them be terrible at one thing, especially if they’re very, very good at a lot of other things.
You want the reader to root for your character and the won’t if she’s perfect.
Torturing your character doesn’t really mean doing terrible things to them. It just means separating them from their goals and desires.
Remember my story about the person who wants the chocolate cake? She’s witty and feisty and could be running around the world getting everything she wants, but the real story doesn’t start until she separated from her heart’s desire: the chocolate cake. I could write all day about my witty-and-feisty character and eventually you would stop reading, if I didn’t torture her little bit.
Think about your character’s desires their wants and needs. How can you separate them from the things they want, at least temporarily.
It can be their own internal demons that are keeping them from what they want. Or it can be an antagonistic force such as a natural disaster. Or it can be an antagonistic character such as an loving, but overbearing mother. Or it can be a straight-up villain.
Did you torture your character today? Leave a comment telling us what you did to your character and if it came naturally to you or if this is something new. If you are ignoring these prompts and writing your own stories, leave a comment and let us know how it’s going!
Today we’re taking your readers on an emotional ride!
Write a story designed to elicit specific emotions in the reader
In looking back at your stories this month, have you noticed that you are better at eliciting certain emotions than others? Perhaps you’re good at scaring people. Perhaps you’re good at writing tearjerkers. Perhaps you good at making people laugh. Or making people feel the beauty of the situation or your words.
Even if you’re not sure what you’re best at, pick an emotion today that you would like to make your readers feel. This is your chance to go all “Stephen King”, or “50 Shades Of Gray”.
In order to elicit emotions in readers you’re going to have to make them care about your character. Then you have to put that character in peril.
Peril doesn’t necessarily mean dangling them off a cliff. Just remember to focus on what they really, really want…and then take it away from them.
The more you can keep the reader inside the heart of your character the stronger their reaction will be.
Leave a comment to let us know which emotion you went for today. And remember, if you’re enjoying these prompts, why not share them?
Today were looking at point of you again, but in a slightly different way
Pick a point of view you don’t usually use and write a story in it
*Look back at the stories you’ve written this month or in the past. Do you have a favorite point of view? Do you always default to first person or third person? Write a story today in a different POV.
If you flip back and forth between different perspectives frequently, just decide which to use today based on what you’ve written so far this month. What have you done most of? Choose that.
Each point of view brings with it restrictions and possibilities. If you frequently right in the same point of view you may be limiting yourself
To demonstrate the power of POV, you may want to repeat the exercise we tried earlier in the month of taking a story that you’ve previously written and writing it from another point of view. This time however I want you to keep the same character as the protagonist. Simply change the “I said “to “he/she/it/they said”.
Try to focus on the opportunities that this new perspective offers. If you’re shifting from third person omniscient to a limited/first person perspective, **really dig into the facts really dig into the characters thoughts and emotions. In these more limited perspective there’s no excuse for “Telling Not Showing”. Everything can be written as if we’re riding along on their shoulder, experiencing everything with them.
If you’re moving from a limited perspective to a third person omniscient, celebrate the fight that you cannot see things from different peoples’ perspectives. The most effective, least confusing way to do this is to have seen breaks between each head hop in the short story. (You probably don’t want to do it more than a couple of times but it can be quite fun to have most of the story told one person’s perspective then have a line break and give another character’s perspective as the conclusion of the story revealing a lot about the truth of the situation that, perhaps, the first character didn’t know.)
If you hate moving away from your favorite point of view that’s fine. You don’t ever have to do it again. Sometimes creative failures are essential to teach you what to avoid in future.
Leave a comment telling us what you discovered in your writing today. Perhaps you are very versatile with point of view or perhaps this was ridiculously hard. What did you learn? And remember, if you’re enjoying these prompts,share them.
Silence all the critics in your head telling you you should be writing some other way…
You been writing for three weeks you have a good body of work under your belt. Now is the time to pause, see what you learned, and start focusing on your strengths.
Write a story in the voice that came most easily to you this month.
Take a look back at the stories you’ve written this month. Which story came easiest?
Let’s try to replicate that today.
Take something from that story—the character, or the universe, or something about the styling which was written.
Give your character a new setting, or a new problem. Or introduce a new character in the same universe.
Do whatever it takes to re-create the voice of that story. Silence all the critics in your head telling you you shouldn’t be writing this way. Don’t let them say you should be writing some other style, or in some other genre, or more seriously, or less seriously. Today is all about writing what you are best at, the voice that only you can write.
Leave a comment to let us know what you discovered about your writing and your voice this month, and what you wrote today. And remember, if you’re enjoying these prompts please share them.
You can retell the story from the perspective of a side character.
You can modernize the story.
You can twist the fairytale and give it a completely different ending.
Use any genre for this. A Cinderella story with a happy ending featuring a trans-woman? Go for it! Rumpelstiltskin, as Nick Sparks-style uplifting tale where the goblin is really a good-hearted social worker who saves the kids from a grim fate with their terrible parent? Sure! Want to turn the story of Beauty and The Beast into a modern-day slasher-pic? Be our guest!
Leave a comment telling us what source material you picked, what you did with it, and how it went. Or just post and let us cheer you on, if you’re flagging; celebrate with you if you’re still writing; applaud you if you’re getting back on the horse!
You can change the time-period, to make it easier to write. Pay less attention to the setting, and more attention to the people’s faces and their body language.
You might want to write the story of the central figure in the picture. Or you might want to look at one of the less significant details in the picture. Why is it there? What does it signify? Who is that person?
You could also write the story of the person who created the picture. It doesn’t have to be a real historical version. You don’t even have to know who created the picture. You could tell the story of someone anyone who sets out to create this picture. The obstacles they faced. The things they overcame. Or the situation they found themselves in.
You could write a fictional history of this picture. Where it has traveled? Who has owned it? What scandals hasn’t seen from its place on the walls?
This prompt is a reminder that it’s quite all right to be inspired by other artists work!
Leave a comment and tell us what picture you chose, what you wrote about, and how it went. Also: how’s your month going? What have you learned about your writing practice so far?
There’s nothing quite like real life for providing weird and wonderful story ideas.
Write a story ripped from the headlines
You can use your favorite new source or go to the front page of Wikipedia to grab a headline from the modern-day or from this day in history
Media outlets often have that little “duck on a skateboard” moment at the end of newscasts or sometimes they call it Also In The News. These are wonderful sources for wacky, quirky stories.
Remember, however: fiction has to make more sense than real life!
Read for 5 to 10 minutes, until you find something that piques your interest even a little. Imagine how that would play out in fiction.
Resist the temptation to spend too long reading.
Try to pick a story that touches on issues you already care about. If you can imagine yourself getting into a Facebook fight with semi-friends over an issue, that’s a good sign that you could sustain your interest for the length of a short story. (In fact, why not plan to write a story specifically to annoy That Guy In Your Facebook Feed? You don’t have to post it anywhere!)
Leave a comment letting us know what you wrote about today. Did you find a fun headline or topic. Share it below! If you didn’t write to this prompt, what did you write and how is it going?