Paint A Vivid Setting

And now for something completely different!

The Prompt

Write a story in which the setting is key

Tips

  • 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!

The Ugly Duckling Story Structure

Continuing our look at story structure, today I have a structure based on the story of the ugly duckling.

The prompt

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”

Write A Story In Dialogue

We’re changing tack today: writing in dialogue!

The Prompt

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?

When Your Character Is Not Like You

Today we’re turning yesterday’s prompt inside out.

The Prompt

Write a story about a character as unlike you as you can manage

Tips

  • 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!

Guest Writing Prompt from Jerry Jenkins

Today’s guest prompt is from the legendary Jerry B. Jenkins, co-author of the Left Behind series and many, many other best sellers, and host of the fabulously generous writing resource: JerryJenkins.com. I’ve been poking around inside his new Writers’ Guild (a memership site for writers). It’s well worth a look, and I’ll be posting a review of it later in the summer.

Updated: As a bonus, Jerry’s asked me to share this article with you:How To Become An Author

The Prompt

You head the credit union at a company that requires employees to explain needs for loans. One pleads privately for confidentiality, and you talk the the board into his loan, based on their trust in you. You go to your grave without revealing his secret, which is…

Jerry Jenkins, author pictureJerry B. Jenkins has written 187 books with sales of more than 70 million copies. He’s had 21 New York Times bestsellers, including the Left Behind series. He now shares his writing knowledge with aspiring authors at JerryJenkins.com.

Guest Writing Prompt from Jonathan Maberry

JONATHAN MABERRY is a NY Times bestselling novelist, five-time Bram Stoker Award winner, and comic book writer.

Today we’re kicking off StoryADay May 2016 with a prompt from the fabulous Jonathan Maberry.  (If you have a chance to hear him speak at a writer’s conference/group/signing, go! You’ll be inspired to run home and write!)

The Prompt

When Terry began scrolling through her phone, none of the photos she found were hers.

 

Jonathan Maberry, Author pictureJONATHAN MABERRY is a NY Times bestselling novelist, five-time Bram Stoker Award winner, and comic book writer. He writes the Joe Ledger thrillers, the Rot & Ruin series, the Nightsiders series, the Dead of Night series, as well as standalone novels in multiple genres. His new and upcoming novels include KILL SWITCH, the 8th in his best-selling Joe Ledger thriller series; VAULT OF SHADOWS, a middle-grade sf/fantasy mash-up; and MARS ONE, a standalone teen space travel novel. He is the editor of many anthologies including THE X-FILES, SCARY OUT THERE, OUT OF TUNE, and V-WARS. His comic book works include, among others, CAPTAIN AMERICA, the Bram Stoker Award-winning BAD BLOOD, ROT & RUIN, V-WARS, the NY Times bests-selling MARVEL ZOMBIES RETURN, and others. His books EXTINCTION MACHINE and V-WARS are in development for TV. A board game version of V-WARS was released in early 2016. He is the founder of the Writers Coffeehouse, and the co-founder of The Liars Club. Prior to becoming a full-time novelist, Jonathan spent twenty-five years as a magazine feature writer, martial arts instructor and playwright. He was a featured expert on the History Channel documentary, Zombies: A Living History and a regular expert on the TV series, True Monsters. He is one third of the very popular and mildly weird Three Guys With Beards pop-culture podcast. Jonathan lives in Del Mar, California with his wife, Sara Jo.

[Write On Wednesday] Dreadful Dialogue Tags

Conventional writing wisdom (these days) says that the mark of an amateur writer is to use colorful dialogue tags instead of a simple ‘she said’. Nevertheless, teachers continue to foist alternatives to ‘said’ on our children. Today’s assignment is designed to show you just how ridiculous that can become.

 Have fun!

And, if you’re near King of Prussia, PA, tonight, come out to the StoryADay Live! “Un-Dreadful Dialogue” workshop  hosted by the fabulous Main Line Writers’ Group!

Thumbnail of 100 words poster - alternatives to saidThe Prompt

Write a story featuring lots of dialogue. Every time you attribute speech to a person you must use one of the ‘alternatives to said’ from the sheet.
(Click to enlarge)

Tips

  • Make sure you rely entirely on the tags to convey the emotion, leaving the dialogue itself bland and without character.
  • Bonus points for making all your characters sound the same.
  • Be as ridiculous as you like.
  • This exercise works particularly well when your subject matter is serious or shocking.
  • This whole exercise is designed to show you how ridiculous dialogue tags can wreck a serious story.
  • (Remember, “he said” and “she said” become invisible when you use them well. These tags never will.)
  • Make sure every single utterance has a tag, whether or not you need one. (e.g. in the case of two people speaking, you can often get away with no tags at all, especially if the conversation is short and the voices are distinct.)
  • Read it (and weep).

 

Go!

[Write On Wednesday] Change A Headline

Did you ever, as a child, say a word so often that it lost its meaning? (“Basin”, anyone?)
Today I want you to stare at a news headline until it loses its original meaning and lets you play with it.

The Prompt

Take A News Headline And Change A Word Or Two, Sparking A Fictional Story.

Examples

For some reason, to me, this headline suggested some kind of epic fantasy with heroic quests, tasks the hero have been assigned. Continue reading “[Write On Wednesday] Change A Headline”

[Write On Wednesday] PostModern Pop Songs

The Prompt: Write A List Of Song Titles You’d Actually Be Interested In Listening To. Write The Story Behind The Song, for one of them.

After you reach a certain age — or stage — of life, it seems like no one writers songs for you any more. You’ve learned a lot of the lessons pop singers seem to be struggling with. Maybe you’re (gasp!) happily married. Maybe the things you struggle with are things other than love and boys and where to go on a Saturday night.

The Prompt

Write A List Of Song Titles You’d Actually Be Interested In Listening To.

Choose One.

Write The Story Of The Character In That Song.

Tips

  • Country music is probably a slightly better role model here than pop. I know there are lots of songs about a more mature kind of love, or about the kind of lifestyle people wish they were living. You could write a wishlist of how your life would look (similar to the country music odes to God, Guns, Mama, Girls and Trucks)

Continue reading “[Write On Wednesday] PostModern Pop Songs”

[Write On Wednesday] Write A Secret Story

Inspiration for this prompt came from the very wonderful How To Be A Writer by Barbara Baig, which I’ve only just started reading, but which echoes what I’ve been saying here for years (so naturally, I think she’s a genius!)

Not everything you write should be written with a view to showing it to anyone else.

Just as you would practice the piano in private for months or years before hoping to be able to bring any pleasure to a listener, writers must practice their craft too…sometimes in private.

The Prompt

Write A Story That Is You Will Never Show To Anyone

Tips

  • Don’t cheat and tell yourself that something magical is bound to happen and that you’ll end up writing a story so good that you’ll feel compelled to show it to people. Promise you will not show it to anyone and stick to that.
  • If you’re having trouble coming up with something to write about, dive into your stash of Story Sparks (you have been collecting them, haven’t you?)
  • If you haven’t been collecting Story Sparks out in the real world, take ten minutes right now and look deep inside yourself. What news story annoyed you this week? Which political candidate do you despise the most? Why? What did you see that was beautiful, recently? What is your strongest memory of your mother? Why? What did summer smell like when you were growing up? Who do you miss? What’s your favorite swear word? What frightened you when you were a child? What frightens you now?
  • Make a quick list of 30 Story Sparks. (If you don’t know what I mean by story sparks read this article)

Continue reading “[Write On Wednesday] Write A Secret Story”

[Write On Wednesday] Myers-Briggs-plosion

Myers-Briggs

Today I’m encouraging you to put some personality conflict into your story.

The Prompt

Put a particular personality type into a situation they would never choose

Tips

Use the Myers-Briggs personality types (hover over the table at the bottom of this page, to get a list of characteristics for your main character).

Take some of the traits that define your character and put them in a situation completely unsuited to those traits. See what happens.

For example, Continue reading “[Write On Wednesday] Myers-Briggs-plosion”

[Write On Wednesday] Two Different Timelines

Today’s prompt is inspired by a great book I’m reading on story structure. It’s called Book Architecture: How To Outline Without Using A Formula by Stuart Horwitz (who I had the pleasure of meeting at the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference recently. If you get a chance to see him speak, I’d highly recommend it. Very engaging and he takes a VERY different approach to the idea of outlining a story from most pro-outline people.)

The Prompt

Write A Story That Contains More Than One Timeline

Tips

  • Here’s a Flash Fiction example of the kind of thing I’m talking about: Comatose by Megan Manzano
  • In Book Architecture, Horwitz offers a couple of great tips for keeping multiple timelines from becoming confusing: 1, anchor your reader in the ‘present’ timeline before jumping back to a flashback and b, keep your flashbacks moving in the same chronological order (i.e. start at one point in the character’s experiences and move in one direction from there. He uses the movie Slumdog Millionaire as an example of this structure).
  • Here’s a longer, and more complex story that has multiple timelines: The Weight Of A Blessing by Aliette de Bodard (the timelines here are The Present, After The Last Visit With Her Daughter; The Recent Past, During And In-Between Her Three Visits With Her Daughter; and The Far Past, During The War. All of them combine to illustrate the theme of the story while unpacking the details of what the heck’s going on (kind of).
  • For today’s exercise, try doing the minimum: weave two timelines together, and keep each one moving in a particular chronological direction.
  • This might take more time than the usual Write On Wednesday “write it fast and loose” kind of exercise. What the heck, take the whole week.
  • Try taking a story you’ve written before and reworking it this way. Choose one you’re not happy with, or that you never finished Good candidates are stories that sank under the weight of their own backstory. Split out the backstory and tell it in flashback.

Go!

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!

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.

Guest Prompt from Marta Pelrine-Bacon

The Blue Jar, novel coverToday’s prompt comes from Marta Pelrine-Bacon, who was a StoryADay participant in its first year, 2010. She is an artist and the author of The Blue Jar (a novel about two teen girls in trouble). She’s also a mom, wife, teacher, cancer survivor, and coffee-addict.

The Prompt

What is a picture (a photograph or a painting) that you love or at least that has caught your attention?

Write about the artist or the subject. What happened just before or after the scene in the image? (If possible, share the image with us too.)

Go!