May 01 – Seen from the Outside, Guest Prompt from Tadzio Koelb

Today’s guest post comes from Tadzio Koelb. I love this prompt, because it provides a great roadmap for a strong start to StoryADay May but you can also use it to craft a longer, more leisurely story any time you want.

Take it away, Tadzio!


For more advice for burgeoning short story writers, download
Signature’s Compact Guide to Writing Short Stories!

Signature Short Story Guide

This prompt, while a bit complicated, is useful because, by pushing you to see one person through the eyes of multiple other people, it makes you use methods of storytelling that many writers often overlook.

Write a story about someone who leaves the house for work, and on the way has some kind of accident.

This is the Main Character. The accident can be anything from spilling coffee on an interview suit to getting hit by a car.

The story is written in three parts of approximately 300 words.

The first part will be told from the point of view of a family member, friend, or lover who shares a home with and loves the Main Character, but knows his or her flaws (POV Character 1).

The second part will be told from the point of view of someone (a waiter at a diner, the lady who works security at an office building) who sees the Main Character occasionally, but isn’t a friend (POV Character 2).

The third part of the story is from the point of view of someone who has only just met the Main Character for the first time during or just after the accident. This character (POV Character 3) can be involved in the accident, or only a bystander.


  • Keep in mind that each POV character will have a different context (social, economic, emotional) that defines how her or she sees the Main Character. What looks elegant to POV Character 2 might seem pretentious or silly to POV Character 3. If POV Character 1 is having a bad day, that can change how everything looks.
  • Each section will put the other sections in perspective, so try to use that to your advantage: ask yourself how can it help you create suspense or surprise.
  • This exercise is all about showing vs telling: can you embed the world-view of each POV character into his or her section using only details such as vocabulary? Someone who addresses a man as “sir” is very different from the one who addresses him by yelling, “hey, buddy.”
  • Remember to think about causality and action: what does the Main Character do in the first section that leads to the accident in the second or third section? Even in a story about character, plotting remains crucial.
  • This prompt can work for stories far longer than the suggested word length; if you want to write a 3000-word or even 10,000-word story based on this, it will scale without any problem.

Tadzio Koelb is the author of the new novel TRENTON MAKES. He is a graduate of the prestigious writing program at the University of East Anglia in the U.K. He has translated André Gide’s work, and is an active reviewer and essayist for a variety of publications that include The New York Times and The Times Literary Supplement. He has taught creative writing at Rutgers University and The New School and lives in Brooklyn, New York

For more advice for burgeoning short story writers, download
Signature’s Compact Guide to Writing Short Stories!

Signature Short Story Guide

Let us know how you got on today:

  • Did you write?
  • Did you use this prompt? What was your ‘accident’?

Leave a comment below, and join the discussion!

66 thoughts on “May 01 – Seen from the Outside, Guest Prompt from Tadzio Koelb”

  1. I loved this prompt! My accident was a bowel attack. My characters were a mother with Irritable Bowel Syndrome on her way to work with a toddler in the car whom she was dropping off at the company daycare. The POV was the mother, the toddler…and the person who visited the outdoor toilet after the mother left. It was loosely (no pun intended) based on a true incident.

  2. I loved this prompt! It took me forever to find the story (even when I had two story sparks that I wanted to use with it, I ended with something different, I don’t know why). It was longer that I like my short stories, but not as long as I thought it would be.

  3. What a fun prompt idea! The story that came to me was about a rocker who trips on his front lawn, and the people who care for him. Excited to kick off this month and can’t wait to see what comes next! 🙂

  4. Well, this was fun. I am happy to have an accountability partner in the form of storyaday! It was a quick write for me in the midst of clients and admin work … a young woman, a man… and his dog! Pretty ordinary but such fun to write, and I’m giving myself permission to write ‘ordinary’ as long as I write!

  5. This prompt worked brilliantly for me. I ended up doing a bit of a custom refit on it, and ended up flipping the order of the three narrators, with the complete stranger going first, followed by the not-quite-acquaintance, and then the family member. The plot concerns a Superman-type caped hero who stops a mugging (he’s in a bit of a rut, career-wise).

    Really in need of a different challenge than my usual to shake out some kinks (not the fun kind) in my writing process–so glad that Story a Day is here!

  6. Day 1 story completed! My story is about a man who hits a deer on his way to work. His wife (pov 1) is angry because he left his phone at home, again. She becomes outraged when she sees a text from his coworker aking if heks coming to work today.
    Meanwhile, at the office, his assistant (pov 2) is complaining about how unfair it is that she always get to work early and our main character comes in whenever he feels like it – and never answers her texts.
    At the scene of the accident, the responding game warden offers to give the poor guy who collided with the deer a ride. The main character grabs his suitcase and asks for a ride to the bus station

  7. Just finished. I liked the prompt, though had some trouble ‘translating’ it and my idea to paper.
    It was about a smuggler on a space colony who accidentally breaks a container that has an alien lifeform inside. The first POV was the smuggler’s mentor, the second was a representative of the faction he was supposed to give the alien to, and the last is the servant whom the smuggler bumped into.
    Thanks for the challenge, here’s for 2018!

  8. Julie I want to thank you – I discovered this website after you did a podcast interview w/ Gabriela Pereira (DIY MFA) and I told myself I’d get after this in May. I’ve never finished a story before, and this prompt (which I really enjoyed) helped me get the monkey off my back.

    My story involved a man whose flight crashed with no survivors, but who actually missed the flight (and therefore survived) because he got in a car wreck on the way to the airport. It’s told from the perspective of 1) the man’s wife, 2) his secretary, who scheduled his flight and called him on while he was on the road, distracting him and causing the wreck, and 3) a bartender he spoke with shortly after the crash.

    Thanks to you and Gabriela both for making me feel like I have permission to write.

  9. I really enjoyed writing this prompt. Getting to write different POV was especially fun. I really let myself go with speech patterns to differentiate the POV.

    POV 1: Dad hearing the call that his son, working as a police officer, has been shot. His thoughts of what that might mean for both of them.

    POV 2: The man who owns the restaurant the shooting takes place at. Knows the officer, but not too well. Sees him as sort of a hope for the city.

    POV 3: The shooter. How he got to this point and how he suddenly finds himself wrapped up in the officer’s life.

    This story really flowed for me and that’s the most exciting way to start off a month of writing!

  10. I am writing in first person today, but the ideas are great. I want to keep this prompt for another time. Thanks for the support.

  11. Thanks for the interesting prompt, and for the challenge in general. This is my first try with this challenge, and I’m looking forward to see what the month brings.
    My story today revolved around a 40-year old man killed in an auto accident on the way to work. (I know, I went a little dark–but, the prompt seemed to fit the existential questions with which I usually wrestle.) POV#1 was his wife who simply has a normal routine morning at home, contemplating whether it’s becoming too boring of a life. In the story, she does not find out about the accident. POV#2 is a co-worker that enjoys MC’s company, and is wondering why he is late to work. He also, does not find out about the accident. The only character to find out is POV#3, a passerby on his way to an appointment comes across the gruesome seen. He’s bothered by it throughout the day and finds the accident report online later that afternoon.

    P.S. I enjoyed reading everyone else’s ideas!

    1. Welcome, Eric! Sounds like a cool story. It is interesting to see what everyone picked for these non-Main-Character perspectives. I think we could do this one all month!!

  12. Getting a late start–resting up for doctors’ appointments the next two days–ugh.

    This is a lot of fun, and it’s making me think. I’m enjoying watching my character from different POVs. The lessons I’m learning here will translate nicely to both short stories and novels.

  13. I did write, using the prompt, though mine ran a bit longer than the suggested word count. (My sections were around 500 words each…I’m longwinded, which I’m working on!)

    My accident was my main character collapsing at the crosswalk while waiting on the light to change.

    This one was challenging, but fun!

    Thank you!

  14. I decided I’ll be posting my stories online again, just like last year. The first one is online on Medium.com. Three points of view: a cheating wife, a Starbucks barista, and the wife’s lover — who happens to visit the same café as her husband. As for the incident… well, check it out if you have a couple of minutes to spare. 😉 https://psiloveyou.xyz/the-million-dollar-latte-4ca64e9fc632

    Thanks to Tadzio for the prompt and to Julie for setting up this wonderful challenge!

  15. Um. I had the idea in my head that I would follow the prompt, but use characters from my novel’s first draft. It seemed like a fun idea to just write a new story with those people.

    It didn’t go AT ALL as planned!!!!! First of all, I didn’t end up with an accident (oops–and I’m usually such a rule-follower). I ended up with a kidnapping. A bumbling, botched attempt at a kidnapping. With characters who are supposed to star in a romance, not a mystery nor this weird melodrama that I wrote.

    It’s crackfic, really. But it was fun. And I got just about the right word count. Hopefully this got all the weird out of my brain, and the rest of the month will go well! 😀

  16. Isn’t it good?

    And yeah, I kind of missed that the MC doesn’t get a point of view until I sat down to write. It was a fun story to work on. It’s kind of killing me to leave it as a rough draft, but I know, from past experience, that these drafts bear fruit when left to ripen.

    I can see me using this technique to get stories and characters unstuck in future .

  17. I brought a couple characters back from two of last year’s September Story a Day pieces(well, technically only 1 shows up in this piece, but the other is mentioned). I’m planning on fleshing their story out a bit more, and will probably use more of this month’s prompts for that.

    We have Bree, a little flustered and running late for work
    POV1: Lissa, Bree’s roommate
    POV2: Tiso, local barista
    POV3: Nita, a little girl coming into the coffee shop with her father


  18. Wow, a brilliant prompt to start with! I’ve had a busy day today so late to catch the prompt. It definitely needs some thinking about and plotting before jumping in. So I’m working out my characters, their relationships and motives. Weird that the MC doesn’t get a point of view, only through other people’s eyes, but a wonderful twist. I’ll start writing in tomorrow.

  19. mine is 65 above the limit, but it’s pretty much about this dude named Alvin and he’s going to an important interview for this job hes been trying to get for years.
    PoV 1 is his boyfriend Jim who loves him to death, figuratively, and is really happy for him, until he gets a call. Alvin’s been in an accident.
    PoV 2 Chica, a very observant girl who’s the barista at the coffee shop he usually goes to. She witnessed the accident, and it is hinted at even though they aren’t friends that she cares about him so it can be assumed that she was hurt to see him get him.
    PoV 3 is Carl, the person who hit Alvin. He was speeding to see to his wife in the hospital, she was sick before and had to be taken to the hospital while he was at work. And then he hit Alvin. He’s horrified at himself and often beats himself up about it years after.

    I don’t have a title for it yet and I’m not really sure if I’m going to have Alvin live but that was that.

    1. Lots of drama and conflict there!
      I’m not sure you even need to tell us whether Alvin lives. You can let the reader decide…
      Or you can break our hearts for sure 😉

  20. What a great prompt to kick off this month!
    I got to dust off two characters I use sometimes in my short story and add to their adventures together.

    1. Oh that’s fun. I love recurring characters!

      A few years back someone here wrote about these two old drinking buddies, who would keep popping up day after day. I miss them!

  21. This was fun! My MC is so distracted by a big day at work that he forgets his umbrella, despite being reminded by his husband (POV1). After he gets his morning latte from his barista (POV2), the heavens open up and he gets drenched. A guy in the elevator (POV3) is the first to see him in the aftermath.

    1. Hmmmmm, an elevator keeps coming up in my reading and now your post Jessica! It is added to the word bank list in my notebook now. That and elephant! ha ha

    2. i would love to read this tbh
      i just???
      it sounds like a light n fluffy thing (compared to at least my dude gets hit by a truck n his boyf dies a lil on the inside when he hears abt it, you dont get to see his reaction after the call but you get the jist) im not done with it though wheeze

  22. Done. Jem left Wanda, (his wife – POV I) in bed at 6 a.m., as always on a workday. She learned early on to give him his morning space. Mr. Dunham (POV II), the newspaper seller was surprised by Jem’s request for juice and muffin with his usual purchase of only the times. The unnamed woman (POV III) Jem nearly knocked over standing too close behind him, was eyeballing Jem for potential, and neatly warned away by Mr. Dunham.

  23. I liked that prompt!

    I’m attempting to use this month to help advance some of the plotting I’m doing for a longer work. Make little slices of life that I can use later. This prompt gave me an idea for a sub-plot that I was missing!

    Main character is Grace. In this section she is rather clumsy (will be changed too overused but useful for this prompt), injuring herself making her late for work.
    First POV- Her mother worried she will not be able to find Grace a husband.
    Second POV- Her work partner for the week. Stuck doing the job alone while Grace is late.
    Third POV- A stranger to town looking for information on descendants of Salem witches. Bumps into Grace as she runs towards work.

    1. That sounds great! I love writing stories that tie in to a longer work. It often turns up little gems like that (Two years ago I discovered the climax of my novel wasn’t really the climax, but one of my StoryADay stories was!)

      1. I’ve been plotting this book, and have a few plot lines that are coming along nicely. But was missing an element that tied them together. Something that really jump-started the sequence of events. My third POV just solidified it for me. Very exciting! When in doubt, add a stranger. 🙂

  24. Wow. Serendipity brought me to this site yesterday, after months without doing any writing. And I just sat down and wrote a 2000 word story; perhaps predictable and hackneyed, but still. So fulfilling. What a great writing prompt. I look forward to the rest of the month!

    1. Oh excellent! And welcome!

      Yeah, part of the point of this month is to allow ourselves to write all the predictable and hackneyed stuff. Once we get comfortable with that, it’s amazing what brilliant stuff is waiting in the wings!

    2. that is the best kind of serendipity – the story generating kind. Hope you find plenty to write about this month.

  25. I had fun with mine too!

    First Story Finished!
    A little shorter than I expected but I like where it went.
    This prompt really inspired me today. I have no title yet.

    My accident was a car accident from my main character, Grayson, who had married the Sat before.
    First POV – His new bride
    Second POV – Barista at the coffee shop
    Third POV – witness to the accident but part of the accident

  26. Well that was terrific fun. My main character – a bumbling advertising genius- has the accident of spilling his cornflakes and milk on a multi million dollar presentation folder then forgetting to put it in his briefcase. The three segments of the story were from the POV of 1- His long suffering but devoted wife. 2-The security guard at his work just doing his job. 3- The client who is not impressed by the man at the other end of the board room who shows no signs of genius and a whole lot of bumbling.

    Thank you Tadzio Koelb and Julie Duffy.

    1. Loved this prompt! So many possibilities popped into my mind as I drove to work.

      But, I did not finish my story. I stopped at 156 words and didn’t get to the “accident.” I started editing midway through. I lost focus, meant to get back to it, let life get in the way.

      Going back to it today!

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