Day 4- The 40 Minute Retelling by Julie Duffy

Set your timer…today’s StoryADay writing prompt forces you to focus!

StoryADay Writing Prompt illustration - original art by Matthew Alexander

The Prompt

Set a timer for 40 minutes and then retell a story that you know well.


The story might be a fairy story or fable, or perhaps you just wish that series you watched had a better finale, and you fancy rewriting the last half of that episode. (Remember, fanfic is fine as long as you’re not selling someone else’s ideas and characters as your own!)

To write a 40-minute story, I propose this timeline (and I’m serious)

  • 0-5 minutes: use the Short Story Framework to brainstorm your character and their need, and the first action they will take to move towards it.
  • 5-15 mins: Write the opening of your story based on those notes
  • 15-35 mins: brainstorm and write 1-2 ‘and because of that’ actions your character takes, which take them towards the conclusion of the story.
  • 35-40 mins: write a quick ending when you have answered the question of whether or not the character gets what they wanted.
  • 40-43:20: do a victory dance (seriously, put on some happy music and dance around your room. Celebrating your wins is important!)

This week, you might have noticed, all the prompts have built-in limits.
There’s a reason for that.

Historically, writers get very excited in the first week of StoryADay, and that leads them to get a bit over-ambitious. Stories start to balloon into novel ideas, and it’s hard to finish a story like that every day. With so many ideas lying around unfinished, it’s an invitation to burn out.

So, in recent years, I always start the challenge by pulling back on the reins a little, and asking you to enjoy the creativity that comes from limiting the possibilities for your daily writing practice.

Julie Duffy

Julie Duffy is a writer and founded StoryADay in 2010. She finds it very easy to get lost in her writing. She maintains that nothing in her life would get done without timers and calendar alerts. Her husband agrees.



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Join the discussion: what will you do with today’s prompt OR how did it go? Need support? Post here!

49 thoughts on “Day 4- The 40 Minute Retelling by Julie Duffy”

  1. Sloppiest draft thus far, 1177 in 40 minutes. I reworked just part of a fairy tale, and like the result, rough as it is. My greatest take away is that I am learning to just write. I’m not fixating on spelling as I go, or perfect punctuation, I’m just pouring thoughts onto a page, and it’s so much fun! Loved the challenge!

  2. “The Tortoise and the Hare” was the basis for my retelling. It’s about a college girl who enters a local museum’s Christmas baking contest in hopes of winning the prize money to help with her school expenses. As soon as she meets the competition at the event she despairs. They’re all better than she is, especially one who seems more experienced and above all, faster. As she struggles to keep up with each challenge, she fears she is falling more and more behind in points. Determined not to give up, she sticks with her “simple” recipes, and in the end her perseverance pays off.

    1. This prompt really stretched me! It’s going in the “I’ve got to turn this into something longer” file!

  3. A little stumped by this one. Going on the shelf for a day or two.

    1. Maybe because there was no specific subject-matter in the prompt?

      Keep drawing on those memories!

  4. Went a bit over 40 minutes but oh well. Wrote a total of 923 words which is pretty good for me in maybe 50 minutes. I wrote a longer story based on what I wrote on day 2.

  5. I’m really loving the limits this week! I tend to get decision fatigue/paralysis otherwise. In addition to limiting the amount of notebook pages dedicated to each day’s story, I also only have my lunch break to write, about 35 minutes minus chew & swallow breaks, lol! So the time limit was PERFECT! I rewrote Noah’s Ark & have a working outline for one of my linked stories. Yay!!!

  6. this was a blast! 🙂
    I’ve had a simmering grudge against the ending of The Lord of the Rings for some time, and it was very fun to sketch out a possible way Frodo might have had a chance at a new life in Middle Earth with his loved ones. The 40 minute framework helped me get it done too.

    1. Oh yes!

      I love writing “better” endings for stories I love. Good for you.

      (I love the idea of you nursing a “simmering resentment” for this!)

  7. I followed half the prompt — sticking to the 40-minute timeline to write a 1,000-word piece called “Paranoia” about an IT worker who demonstrates his inability to lead by protesting his boss’s request to identify a possible successor.

    Thought about re-telling “Diehard.” Briefly. 🙂

    1. Ah, but why mess with perfection? (You may not know about my deep and abiding love for the Die Hard movies…)

  8. Finished Day 4!! 823 words. I took a scene from another story I am working on, making changes to the original plot, same main character, different secondary character.

  9. Dorothy had a twin — you didn’t know? A fun tall tale retelling of the Wizard of Oz’s main character’s life history… Thanks — I wouldn’t have played with this without today’s prompt AND the time limit kept me allowing the story to flow without my inner editors constant noise…

    1. That’s the ticket! Whatever it takes to keep those inner editors quiet (maybe land a house on them?)

  10. I retold the story of Rumpelstiltskin_ in my version called Ropire. The miller’s daughter is a business analyst who is helping to save a friend of her father’s from ruin. Three different industries are involved. The business analyst owns a beautiful Bernese pup, who has taken an instant shine to an unnamed helper. The helper wants to keep the dog as a payment for helping the woman disable bots, and the guessing game starts. The imp hurls himself off a cliff into the ocean along with his treasured conch shell.

  11. Perfect Timing for this Prompt
    I took the opportunity to re-write a monologue in Act 2 of a play I’ve been performing. I know the story (of when I returned from living in an ashram in India for 3 years) and the dynamics of reentering life in the USA in 2013. I focused on “voice” and “what I dare not say” and getting clarity of what is the real point of the act – do I dare ?
    🙂 🙂 Made my day !!!!!!

  12. This was fun and something I’ve never done before. I retold the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin in just under 1000 words in 41 minutes. The story is titled Vamoose Vermin Control. The exterminator turned into a child abductor when he didn’t get his million dollars, and the police never found the missing children. Dark, but then, so was the original.

  13. It took me a little while to brainstorm an idea but in the end I rewrote the three little pigs fairy tale. I changed the pigs for elves and the wolf for a fox. The elves built their houses in different places (amongst bluebells, underground, at the top of the tree) rather than using different materials to build their houses.

    1. I should add that I wrote over 900 words. The most I’ve written in one writing session in a very long time!

  14. So I used the story framework, but with another 100-word story. Obviously, you can’t fully develop the “and because of that” actions at that restricted length, but I at least suggested a couple, and put the main character in a worsening situation. The solution comes to quick, and seems too easy. But what I have is a very short story that sort of works, but could easily be expanded. Not by adding on, but by fleshing out what is already there. It’s a bit of an eye-opener. It’s the difference between a twig, and an actual tiny tree, a bonsai. (I needed to think about that analogy some more.) But I feel I could take my bonsai story and give it the 40 minute treatment. Or maybe just 30 minutes because a lot of the brainstorming is done. I will do that today.

  15. I love rewrite prompts! I already have a plan for today, but it does involve using references to classic fairy tales, so it feels related.

  16. I blanked on a story I know well, so I ended up rewriting yesterday’s from the other character’s POV. And learned a bit more about his backstory. I went about 5 minutes over the time and wrote 1455 words.

  17. I tried writing my story following your instructions. I have to be honest in saying that just before posting here, I added and deleted a few words.
    Thanks for the prompt. I just hope that the hero of my story was from Greece and the story originally came from “Aesop’s Fables”
    The Story of Midas Retold (3.21 PM)
    One of my all time fave fables has been related to Midas. Remember it? Here is the story in brief for you. There’s this king called Midas, who was greedy for gold. His wish was granted by an angel or fairy. Consequently, whatever he touched, turned into gold. Remember the ending? (3.27)

    Long ago, in a prosperous city in Greece, there lived a King called Midas. Amongst his other drawbacks, what cut him out from the rest, was his insatiable greed for gold.
    One day, he was resting in his chamber in the Royal Palace when he was visited by God’s Angel.
    “I am so pleased with your loyalty, Midas. Ask me for any boon and it will be granted to it instantaneously.”
    Midas was over the moon, hearing this. Now, he was going to be the richest King in the world. He would have more gold than that of even an emperor.
    “My Lord! If you’re really pleased with me. Grant me the power to have all the golds in the world.”
    The Angel knew where their conversation was leading to.
    “Only God has the power to grant you such a wish. But I can do one thing. I can empower you to turn into gold whatever you touch with your hand.” He said.
    King Midas’ happiness knew no bounds.
    “Are you serious, My Lord? Whatever I touch, will turn into gold, really?” He couldn’t control his excitement.
    “Try it out if you don’t believe my words.” (3.40 PM)
    “No, no, no, My Lord, ” said he hurriedly. “I have the fullest faith in you, your words. Even then, let me see,” saying this, he touched the glass on a nearby stool. Lo and behold, the glass turned into gold! Next, he picked up the pillow. The pillow became a golden one within the blink of an eye.
    Slowly, Greed was getting the better of him. He touched the book, the chair and the sandy-clock. Goodness Gracious! They all turned into gold.
    He looked upto God’s Angle then with a sly smile. A sudden thought came to his head. The Angel was over 6 feet tall, well-built, solid. If he could turn him into gold, he wouldn’t have to worry about the Royal Treasury for quite sometime. Thinking like that,he leapt out of his bed. But Angels are God’s Messengers after all. This one was no fool. He knew what was going on in the mind of Midas. He started retracing his steps through the passage out of the chamber, closely followed by the King.

    Soon, the Angel was standing near the edge of the open roof. Midas had waited long enough. He couldn’t let go of such an opportunity. So, he plunged towards the Angel to grab him. At that precise moment, the Angel evaporated into thin air with an equally wily smile hovering over his face.

    By the time Midas realised his mistake, he had already plunged into the emptiness, nothingness behind where the Angel was standimg a moment ago.
    He could have owned this world but his greediness came in the way. (3.53 PM)

    1. Excellent. Love how you plaid that out, leading people to think that his daughter would enter the room and Midas would run and embrace her out of sheer joy.

      Not you though, I loved the twist, well done.

  18. This was good. I rewrote my own story in 1098 words and 41 minutes. I’ve had a recurring task of writing for 30 minutes every day since 1 Jan and these story prompts are a great way for me to just dive in and get my “joyful” writing done each day. I’ve also set myself the challenge of writing 3 new plot/story ideas (sparks?) each day for the month of May. If it cranks up the creative juices enough, I may continue that habit… Thank you, Julie, for facilitating my writing this month!

    1. I would imagine a submariner would have a clear perspective on confined spaces!!

      I had a friend who worked on nuclear subs. Not only confined but you had to be “vewy, vewy quiet”

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