To stick to our good intentions and create good writing practices, we have to stay excited about our writing. Meeting a word count goal or an hours-in-chair goal isn’t always enough of an incentive to break through our resistance to sitting down and creating something out of nothing, every day.
So, in this article, I’m offering you some alternative ways to get yourself jazzed about your writing practice.
Of course, being me, I’m going to recommend you incorporate short stories into your writing practice, but you can use these ideas even when you’re working on a scene in a longer work.
I’m going to show you how you can stay excited about your writing practice by:
- Understanding the purpose of your story and how it affects the final form,
- Experimenting with new formats and new ideas,
- Focusing on your audience (but not too much)
I’m also going to give you one foolproof way to make sure you finish your stories, every time.
And then I’m going to invite you to make a very specific commitment to your writing this year—if it seems right for you—one with built-in accountability and support.
Take A Break
Continue reading “Stay Excited About Your Writing This Year”
By this point in the challenge, you’ll have discovered some of your strengths and weaknesses.
This week we’re going to explore those areas further.
Look back, and think about which stories flowed the best for you, and in which your voice was strongest.
This week we’ll:
- Work on the tone of your stories
- Write in your favorite genre
- Write in an unfamiliar point of view
- Think about emotion, and the business of making readers feel.
Day 22 – Finding Your Voice
Day 23 – Watch Your Tone
Day 24 – Exploring Genre
Day 25 – All Change
Day 26 – So Emotional (Baby)
Day 27 – Write At Your Natural Length
Day 28 – Pace Yourself
Keep writing (and commenting) throughout this week, and get ready for The Last Hurrah in the final couple of days of the month.
This month’s theme, here at StoryADay is “Accountability”.
(If you haven’t yet declared your goals for the month, leave a comment in this month’s SWAGr post and tell us what you’re going to do with your writing for the rest of this month)
Today’s writing prompt includes a built-in accountability trigger.
Contact a friend, right now, and tell them that you’re going to write a short story in the next 24 hours. Tell them you’ll send it to them, or at least check in when you’re finished. Then, write 500-750 words about a character you think that friend will love (or love to hate)
- Keeping the story super-short gives you a better chance of finishing it
- Focusing on your friend (someone you know well) helps you winnow the choices. What will THEY enjoy? (Too much choice is paralyzing. Eliminate every possible character or situation that wouldn’t interest this particular friend. Then start writing)
- Remember that a short story revolves around a single moment in which something changes for your character.
- The moment can have happened just before the story starts (in which case you’re dealing with the aftermath and the character’s choices about how to deal with it)
- The moment can happen at the end, when we know enough about your character to be able to predict how they’ll react (or at least enjoy wondering)
- The moment can happen in the middle, in which case you get a chance to show us the before and the after.
- With such a short story you don’t have much room for backstory. Write it as bare as you can. You can punch it up with details and dual meanings, as you re-read and re-write it.
- OR write a longer piece, if that’s what works for you. Just be sure to GET TO THE END OF THE STORY. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It has to be finished. (“You can fix just about any problem in revision, but you can’t revise a blank page.“)
This week, make sure you’re reading some writing you really love; writing that inspires you. It’ll help with all your writing, and especially with this writing prompt.
Write a story inspired by, or in-the-style-of a piece of writing you love
- Don’t try to impress me. Pick something you really, really love (something that gets you excited) whether or not you think anyone else would respect it. If you love it, pick it (in the immortal words of this century’s new bard: “And love is love is love is love is love is love is love“)
- Analyze the heck out of a piece of writing you love, and recreate it with new characters and a new setting. Or just pick a character/author you love and write a loving fanfic tribute.
- Don’t worry about making it good. Just try to recapture, for your potential reader, the emotions you felt when reading the piece that inspired you.
- It doesn’t have to be a short story. Write anything. Perform something. Just get creative. Focus on the excitement of creating something.
As you look back at your stories this week did you notice anything in particular about pacing — How quickly the action flowed from one incident to the next?
Write a story paying attention to the pacing
In a fast, plot driven story your pacing will be fast, too. Things happen quickly. We’re off. We run. Things happen. The language reflects that. There’s not a lot of standing around looking at things once the action gets underway. That’s not to say that you can’t have slow passages and descriptive moments. However, they generally come before the quick action happens.
In a literary or inward-focused story, the pacing is more languorous, with your characters pausing lots of delicious description, a whole lot of internal dialogue and long sentences with lots of complex clauses.
Within every story the pacing should vary. If you attempt to write a whole story at one pace, you will either leave your readers breathless, or bored.
Remember to make the language match the emotion of the moment: choppy and brisk when things are exciting, long and complex sentences when things are relaxed.
Leave a comment telling us what piece you were aiming for today, overall. Did you notice anything about your writing as you looked over your pieces this week?
Continuing the theme of reaching to your strengths, this week.
By necessity, in a challenge like this, you will likely have been writing very short stories. (I do know some people who managed to stretch to a few thousand words on some of the days, but for the most part if you’re finishing stories during this challenge it’s probably flash fiction.) For me, that’s fine. If you naturally trend long, today’s your day.
Write to your natural length
- I’m a natural sprinter (like Gimli the dwarf). Some people are ultra marathoners, like Brandon Sanderson. What’s your natural length?
- Today I give you permission to write a partial story, a scene, and extracts from a longer tale. It doesn’t have to feel complete, like a short story should, but it should still have something of a story arc. Use today to practice that.
- For example, if you have novel-in-progress, use today to write a scene from that novel. Because you’re continuing the longer work you don’t have to explain the setting and the characters, just jump in.
- If you don’t have a novel or longer project that you’re working on take a few minutes to daydream. If you were writing a novel what would it be about? Spend a few minutes imagining the setting the characters and then pick a dramatic moment in the story. Write that scene, as if you’ve already written everything that comes before this point in your “novel”.
- Even if you are writing a novel, you can write a dramatic scene from a hypothetical-other-novel, if that sounds like fun to you)
- After having spent the best part of the month writing short stories you may find that your scenes start to come out with a stronger narrative shape than they used to.
Leave a comment telling us how your writing went today. What did you write that? I don’t forget, if you’re enjoying this prompts, share them.
Since we talked since we touched on the genre yesterday when talking about the tone of your story, today we’re going to take a deeper look at genre and the expectations readers have, based on that genre
Write a story focusing on genre expectations
- Pick a genre that you know well. (It’s all very well to say that you’ll write a noir mystery, because the noir style is so easy to copy. But if you don’t really know noir you’re just making life harder for yourself.) If you spend most of your day reading Regency romance, then by all means write a Regency romance today. (I’m looking at you, fellas.)
- Grab a book in your chosen genre and take a look at the first page. How does the author let the reader know — immediately — that they are reading a particular genre? Look at the choice of words. Look at the names of the characters. Look at the length of the sentences. Each genre has specific norms and you need to be using these norms if you want to please a lot of readers. (If you’re making experimental art, you may be able to skip these things. But, even if you are writing for your own pleasure, you’ll be dissatisfied if you feel like you’re missing the mark. Looking at reader expectations in your genre is one way to narrow your focus and hit that mark.)
- Make a list of the features you notice on the front page of the book you chose.
- Now that you have a list of norms (and a cheatsheet) for your genre, grab a Story Spark and start writing in the style of the genre you’ve chosen. Don’t be afraid to go over the top and write almost a parody. It can be a useful lesson in what makes this genre tick.
Leave a comment telling us what genre you are writing in today. Was this exercise hard or easy for you? Did you know what genre to pick? And remember, if you’re enjoying these prompts, please share them!
More ways for you to steal ideas, as we continue Rescue Week here at StoryADay
Write a Fan Fiction Story
- While you can’t legally use somebody else’s world and characters to write a story and publish it, nothing is stopping you from writing stories for your own pleasure inspired by someone else’s universes.
- There is no limits to what you can do here. Pick a story or character you feel doesn’t get enough air time in your favorite show.
- Change the ending to the series that you love.
- Write the untold story of what came before we first meet character.
- Tell whatever story is going to give you the most pleasure.
- There are lots of places online where people share fanfic (sometimes with the creators’ blessings, sometimes not so much), so you could go and read something and get some idea. However, this is a rabbit hole I’m not sure you want to go down during the StoryADay challenge. Not to mention the fact that some of it gets quite saucy!
- Use all of the tricks you’ve learned about storytelling to play with characters you already love you. Spend some time with them using your talents and your skills along with the knowledge you have amassed by watching/reading about them.
- Think about how you can provide shortcuts and clues that let readers who don’t necessarily know the character catch up. Don’t waste time on backstory unless that’s the story you’re telling. Don’t forget to add in emotion and conflict.
- It can be easy to get carried away writing about your favorite characters. Don’t forget to builds to a climax resolve the crisis to finish the story.
Leave a comment letting us know what you wrote about today and how it’s going. And don’t forget, if you like these prompts, share them!
Remember: even when you write a story this tiny, you are training your creative brain…
Today’s story will not be as quick as you think it is, but it’s still a great way to rescue your writing streak.
Write a Twitter story
- Twitter fiction must fit into only 140 characters.
- You do not have to have a Twitter account, nor do you have to post this on Twitter. You’re simply writing a story that could, hypothetically, fit in a Twitter post.
- 140 characters is not much, but you can use a compelling situation to give us an idea of the characters who might be involved. Many super-short stories involve a little twist, or a surprising change of perspective in the last few words.
- To avoid a predictable twist, make your opening lines as ambiguous as possible. Provide clarity in the last clause.
- Don’t be afraid to use hackneyed or clichéd plots for this exercise. Do try to make sure that you add something truly original to it. Think of things you really care about. Things only you could write about, in only your voice.
- Make sure you allow some time to edit and find the story. It’s not as quick exercises might think it is.
- Think of this like writing haiku if it helps.
- You can use this prompt any day you need to rescue your writings.
- Remember: even when you write a story this tiny, you are training your creative brain. You have still found ideas, created a character, introduced complications, crafted a story arc and written to the end. Doing that every day for a month, is a powerful affirmation of your creativity; support of the priority you give your writing; and a tough exercise in wordsmithing. Pat yourself not the back for writing a story today.
Leave a comment to let us know how you got on with this tiny, terrible challenge. Did you write super-short? Did you ignore my suggestion and write an epic? How’s it going? Let us know!
Today were going to do something similar to —- but different from —- yesterday’s prompt.
Today is the turn of the antagonist or the villain.
Write a story in which the antagonist or villain shows the reader what your protagonist could easily become if they gave in to their flaw
A villain and an antagonist are not necessarily the same things. A villain seeks to harm your main protagonist, whereas an antagonist might merely get in their way. Do you remember the TV series Rhoda? Rhoda’s mother was not a villain, but she certainly got the main character’s way.
This exercise probably works best with someone who’s at least a little villainous. Choose a protagonist you we can mostly admire (it could be the person from yesterday’s story). Think about who would be a good opposing force for this character.
Some of the best villainous pairings in literature are ones where the villain and the protagonists can be seen as being somewhat alike. Think of the BBC’s Sherlock climactic scene in “The Reichenbach Fall”. Morality and Sherlock are on the roof of St. Bart’s Hospital. Moriarty leans in and says, “You’re just like me Sherlock, except you’re on the side of the angels”. What character trait can you give your protagonist that, when pushed too far, would transform them into a villain?
Create a protagonist and a villain on either side of this coin and put them in a simple story where they oppose each other.
**Leave a comment letting us know what character traits you gave your villain.]
Today we’re moving on to another element of story: your protagonist
Write a story with the flawed protagonist
This is kind of a cheat because every protagonist should have a flaw, but today we’re going to focus on that.
Characters are interesting for many reasons. They can be interesting because we identify with them, because we don’t like them, because they’re better than us at something, because they have some special gift, many reasons. But they are not interesting if they are perfect.
Think about Luke Skywalker, the hero of the Star Wars original trilogy. He has a gift, but is really annoying at the beginning of the story. He’s whiny. He’s immature. He’s rash. He puts other people in danger, all because he’s bored. All of which means that he has an interesting character arc on which to travel.
In the Amelia Peabody mysteries Amelia is ahead of her time: a brilliant Egyptologist, she’s rich, she has a fabulous husband, she’s very confident… she’s also hysterically self delusional, and fails to admit any of her own faults, while pointing out those of everyone else, at all times. She is a fun character, not because of the stuff she’s good at, but because of the stuff she doesn’t even realize she’s bad at.
Who can you write about today? Write a list of their attractive qualities and then give them one big weakness. It doesn’t have to be a fatal, heroic flaw that’s going to cause their downfall, although it can be if that’s what you want to write. It could be something as simple as Hermione Granger, being a bit of a pain in the neck, even though she’s so clever. In the first Harry Potter book, that flaw isolates her from her friends at the very moment when she needs them.
Concoct a scenario for your character where they get to show off their good talents but where their flaw is going to cause them problems. Then, write your way out of it.
If you get stuck at any point simply start a new paragraph with the words “And because of that…” and continue writing. Do this at least three times, then resolve the situation and you’ll have a complete story.
Remember, use these tricks, and then clean them up in the rewrite. It’s not like you got anything else to do in the month of June, is it?
Leave a comment to tell us what flaw you chose for you protagonist. Got any tips on how to keep writing as we head in to the middle of the month? Share them here!
And now for something completely different!
Write a story in which the setting is key
- Choose a setting for your story based on a real place that you know intimately. You can change details, of course, but this just makes it easier to summon up images in your mind. You can change it to be it futuristic, or historical, or on another planet, but base your buildings on building as you know, base the weather on whether you understand. Use your experiences to make this story shine.
- Sometimes we worry too much about plot and forget the story is NOT just about the things that are happening. A reader wants to be sucked into the story. They want to be able to see and feel everything the characters are seeing and feeling. Having a strong setting, a strong sense of where they are in space and time, can really help with this.
- In a short story we don’t have a lot of space. It’s important for every element of the story to serve multiple functions. Setting can provide atmosphere. It can echo or heightened emotions, and it can tell us a lot about the time, place, characters, and mood of your story.
- Think about your grandmother’s house and how it was decorated and furnished. Didn’t that tell you a lot about who you were going to find living in that house? Think about the houses in Architecture Digest magazine. Who would you expect to find living in one of those houses?
- Atmosphere, weather, climate, all of these things can enhance or echo your character’s situation and emotion. Storms speak of peril. Humidity makes things feel oppressive. If the trees are bare we know it’s winter.
- Simple details like whether or not there are weeds growing up through the paving can tell is a lot about the neighborhood in which your character finds themselves.
- Don’t worry about creating a complicated or original plot in this story. The exercise here is to practice using setting to enhance the simple story that you’re telling. Choose a character, give them a simple mission, and build the reader’s experience into a feast.
- Use all five senses. “Cinematic writing” can be good, but it means you’re only using your eyes. Use sounds to hear things, use the feel of things, the smell of things, the taste of things — even if the person isn’t eating, the tang of something-in-the-air can tell us whether we are near the sea, or near a decomposing body, or whatever it is that your story needs. Using all five senses will make your reader unable to separate themselves from the story, which is what you want.
Leave a comment and share what kind of setting you used. How’s the challenge going? Got any tips for the rest of us? Share them now!
Continuing our look at story structure, today I have a structure based on the story of the ugly duckling.
Write a story based on the Ugly Duckling structure
The story of the ugly duckling is one when you probably know fairly well: Continue reading “The Ugly Duckling Story Structure”
We’re changing tack today: writing in dialogue!
Write a story containing only dialogue
- You can write this in play format if you like, using each speaker’s name at the beginning of the line, but I would discourage you from using stage directions.
- Try to convey everything from emotion to movement the setting in the characters’ words alone.
- If you’re not using play formatting, limit the story to a dialogue between two characters, to keep things straightforward.
- You could use the two characters you’ve been working on for the past two days since you already have their voices and a sense of who they are. Put them in a room together and see what happens!
- As well as conveying setting, emotion and movement through words, concentrate on making each speaker sound different. If one is witty and speaks in one-liners, let the other be long-winded and speak in complex phrases with sub-clauses.
- You can vary these rhythms throughout the story for each character. On character could start relaxed — using relaxed language rhythms — and become gradually more upset — using short choppy language, while the other one goes the other way. Or you could let one character go through a bell curve of these rhythms: starting upset, getting more relaxed, getting upset again; or vice versa.
- A good way into a story like this is to have two characters discussing something, having an argument, or needing to reach a decision about something. Each should have a slightly opposing view. It can be more powerful emotionally if the two characters actually like each other and want there to be no conflicts between them.
- You can resolve the story, or one character can storm off leaving everyone shouting “Where you going?” It’s entirely up to you.
Leave a comment to let us know how this went. Was it easy? Did it feel almost-impossible? Did your dialogue sound realistic?
Today we’re turning yesterday’s prompt inside out.
Write a story about a character as unlike you as you can manage
- All those characteristics about yourself that you thought of yesterday? Age, gender, etc. Today were going to throw them out of the window and you’re going to write a story about a character who is diametrically opposed to all of those things.
- If you wrote about a woman yesterday today, you write about a man. If you wrote about a middle-aged person yesterday, today you write but someone very young or very old.
- When trying to get inside the head of this person, it can be useful to think of someone you actually know who is very different from you. Think of someone who does things that you would never do, that you despise, or that you secretly admire. Start with their external actions (what do they do when someone cuts them off in traffic that is so different from what you do, for example.) Backtracked from there to try to figure out what is going on in their head and their heart in that moment.
- Put this character in a situation where there is conflict or stress and where their reactions are going to be really different from how you would react. Write the reactions, and as you’re doing so, unpack the story behind this person.
- Don’t worry about trying to have a clever plot in this story. It can be something as simple as: this person gets cut off in traffic and how they react. The point of this exercise is to investigate the psyche of somebody very different from you. There’s a danger in always writing characters that are too sympathetic or similar to yourself.
- Writing about somebody you dislike or someone unlike you can be very difficult. To make them more sympathetic, give them something there really, really good at. They might be charismatic. They might be really good engineering. But everyone has some areas where they are competent even if they are incompetent in every other sphere that matters to you!
- This is not an exercise in writing a villain. This is an exercise in writing someone very different from yourself. It could be someone you admire.
Leave a comment, letting us know what you did with this prompt!