One of the first internet-era writing challenges I ever attempted was over at 100words.net . The challenge was to write 100 words (exactly) every day for a month (I think the brain behind the idea originally did it for 100 days, but by the time I discovered the challenge it was a calendar month).
It was hard, but it was freeing too. And it was my experience with those limitations (and the rhythm of writing every day for a month) that set me thinking about my own StoryADay challenge, years later.
Write 100 words. Exactly 100.
It can be helpful to think of this as an exercise, not a story
Start with an experience of your own. As you whittle your words and ideas down to exactly 100, you will inevitably be creating fiction.
100 words isn’t much. You don’t have room for traditional story structure, or to worry about all those writing rules you’ve been working to absorb. Just write.
If you need a more specific prompt, write about something you did yesterday morning. Give me details, colors, emotion.
Oh, and thanks to everyone who left comments or got in touch about the five-a-week prompts in September. The deal was that someone who commented would win a copy of my Time To Write Workshop. And (drumroll please) the winner is: Sarah Cain!! (I used the random number generator at Random.org — and got ridiculously excited waiting for the winning number to appear! Congrats Sarah. Hope it helps!
Remember when your teachers told you every story had a beginning, a middle and an end? Well, they missed a bit.
Write a Flash Fiction Story With Emphasis On The Climax
I love disaster movies — even the really cheesy ones — so my story today will be a mini disaster movie.
I don’t have time, in flash fiction, to build up all the characters a disaster movie would visit at the beginning (the screw-up anti-hero, his ex-wife, the wise elder who’s doomed to die, the young person who hates the anti-hero but will eventually become reconciled with him, the comic relief, the unrequited love interest, the bull-headed person in authority who hampers the anti-hero’s efforts to save the world and, of course, the villain who causes it all through action or arrogant inaction…see? I REALLY love my disaster movies!).
nstead, I’m going to have to concentrate on quickly establishing my flawed character, what he thinks he wants, what he actually needs, his wise-cracking character and his long-suffering assistant/love interest. Then I’m going to wreck his life — quickly — which is fine, cos his life was a wreck anyway. Then I’m going to threaten the last people he cares about, just like we practiced earlier this week.
Finally, I’m going to really concentrate on the climax. I only have up to 1000 words, so I’m not going to be able to go the full Bruce-Willis/Sharknado here, but I’m going to put everything on the line and do my best to pull at the reader’s heartstrings.
FInally, I’m going to spend 100 words or fewer wrapping up.
Before you even start writing, imagine a killer climax
This mean you’re going to have to know your character and his/her problem before you start writing.
You’re also going to have to think of a few complications you might throw at your character.
How can you show the reader why this matters? (Disaster movies usually do this by having the main character’s best friend tell point it out in a conversation, wherein the anti-hero shrugs and makes a witty, self-deprecating joke.)
Don’t be afraid of the cheese factor. This is an exercise, not your last shot at literary immortality (and even if it was, someone got paid to write Sharknado, after all!)
Concentrate on your climax. Everything is at stake, but you don’t have to be writing a disaster movie to make this dramatic. How will your hero change to get out of this problem? If he’s a ranging drunk, can he put down the bottle? If she never talks back to anyone, does she finally stand up for herself? If she’s living under an oppressive regime, can she put three fingers to her lips in a gesture of defiance and have that gesture returned by the crowd (no, wait, that’s been done. But see how totally silent, non-violent act, can be electrifyingly dramatic?)
Writing in the first person seems simple, since this is the way we talk, write letters, tell our own stories. Introduce a keyboard or a notebook, however, and suddenly we get a bit frozen. So today we’re practicing telling a First Person story
Write A Story Narrated In The First Person
Go and grab a book from your shelf that has a strong main character and that is written in the first person. (Think Bridget Jones’ Diary or Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody series or any number of great stories)
Remember that in First Person, no head-hopping is allowed. You cannot tell us what any other character is feeling, only how your narrator perceives their words/actions.
Decide on one characteristic (or character flaw) that your character will have. Subvert it (or have it get them into trouble) at least once during the story, but try to make it a defining part of the story.
There’s a difference between the first thing that happnes in your story and the thing that becomes the inciting incident.
Write a story in which your main character is going along doing whatever it is he/she does. Very quickly, someone else walks into the scene. This person imparts news of great importance to the character (someone is dead/has been fired/is coming/has escaped/something).
Today we’re concentrating on a character: in particular the kind of person who would have been known to me, when I was a child, as “a little old lady”.
Write a story featuring a little old lady
Remember, in the days before hair dye and facial peels and gym memberships and HRT—in the days of hard physical labor from dawn to dusk—being a ‘little old lady’ could start at any age from your mid-forties! Those days were NOT that long ago…
OK, so I know it’s not back to school time everywhere (or for everyone), but we’ve all had that clean slate, back to school feeling: starting a new project that is all promise and no disappointment yet; sharpening your new pencils; buying new notebooks; making timetables.
Write a Back To School Story
This doesn’t have to be a traditional ‘back to school’. Use this prompt to write any ‘fresh start’ kind of story
“Back To School” doesn’t always bring a sense of optimism.
Go beyond the obvious ideas. Dig deep. Try to write something with a rounded character or distinctive voice, or with a twist.
I’m reading an autobiography written in the 1830s — when steam travel was the new big thing. The author (a mother of small children) just gave a vivid and opinionated account of a trip she took from Philadelphia to Baltimore. With very few words she conjoured the layout of the carriages and the hot, smoky atmosphere inside — heated as it was by a coal-fired, iron stove in the middle of the carriage (no health and safety, clean air regulations in the 1830s!). She told an amusing story of an encounter with a fellow passenger, while she was at it. I feel like I was ON the train with her.
Tell The Story Of A Journey
Use any transportation technology you can dream up, but include details to allow us to see, feel and perhaps even choke on the atmosphere.
Don’t forget to make something happen, and then resolve it (or leave it unresolved).
This week sees both Independence Day in the US and Canada Day in the north of the continent.
Write a holiday-themed story
It doesn’t have to be related to this week’s holidays. If fact you might want to start planning ahead for autumnal and winter holidays, especially if you’re interested in releasing those stories this year.
Did you know that magazines, online publications and anthologies are starved for date-appropriate stories?
And think about it, these stories are evergreen: release them yourself and talk them up every year on the same date. Or how about putting together a collection of date themed stories and releasing them as themed anthology of your own writing?
We’ve all lived through holidays – from the ones that give you a day off school, to the ones that come replete with custom and tradition and obligation and anticipation. Use your own experiences to bring the story (and its details) alive for the reader, but don’t forget to include a vivid character with a strong desire for…something.
This is the first weekly prompt since the end of StoryADay 2013. Congrats to all those who took part. If you finished even one story you’ll know something about this week’s prompt:
Write a story with “Perseverance” as the theme
You can write a fast-paced romp in which your protagonist perseveres against ridiculous, comic odds,
You can write a deep and thoughtful piece that reflects on the role of perseverance in a good or bad situation
You get to decide if your hero succeeds or fails and whether or not their perseverance (or lack thereof) helped. (Tip: Don’t be afraid to do the opposite of what readers might expect. Perseverance might *cause* things to fall apart…)
P.S. Did you sign up to take part in the 7DayStory Challenge? It’s a challenge I’m running with Gabriela Pereira from DIYMFA.com. It takes you through the process of writing, revising and releasing a story in 7Days (a luxurious pace, around these parts!). Check it out: 7DayStory.com
P.P.S. If you don’t want these emails to pop into your inbox every week, but would like to be able to save them for later, why not let your email software filter them so that they drop straight into an archived folder? Here’s how to do it in Gmail.
Today we have a guest prompt from aspiring-to-be-published writer and StoryADay participant, Cat Lumb. Thanks, Cat!
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/
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!
It Wasn’t Me!
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.
Continuing our Guest Prompt week, today’s prompt comes from novelist and teacher Gregory Frost. Thanks, Greg!
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 SHADOWBRIDGEduology (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)