Day 23- A Catalogue of Complaints by Julie Duffy

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Settings are important in today's prompt

Write a list of complaints. Focus on the voice of your character, and what the particular complaints tell the reader about that character.

Things To Consider

You can write this as an exaggerated version of yourself and your own complaints about the world—but be wary of doing this if you are not blessed with a strong sense of the ridiculous, or if you’re feeling particularly dark about the world right now. The point of this exercise is NOT to validate your complaints, but to communicate to a reader certain human commonalities.

Start with a character and think about what stage of life they are in, what their hopes are, what their experience of life might have been. Try to write the list the way they would, with an eye to providing context clues for a reader.

You might model your character on someone in public life who frustrates you, inspires you, or confuses you. What would a fabulously wealthy heiress have to complain about (it won’t be nothing). How do those complaints reflect on her? What would an admired philanthropist still grouse about, privately? How would that change a reader’s perspective from the start to the end of the story?

Use the title to tell us whose list of complaints we’re reading (for example, it might read like an advice article in a glossy magazine: World Champion Ice Dancer Melody Swope shares Fourteen Things to Prepare Your PreTeen Ice Queen For When They Go Pro; or How Famed Naturalist Sir Danny Arbuckle Packs For A Trip To The Wilderness, A List of Grievances by Olivia Snyder, Aged 12 1/4).

Write the list as if your character wrote it for their eyes only, because you want to get to the honest parts of the character, the parts they wouldn’t necessarily air on purpose.

Remember to provide a sense of discovery for the reader–they will be searching for meaning, so take them on a journey.

It doesn’t have to be a list of complaints, but do try to pick something that allows you to dig into a particular character and take the reader on a journey.

Be brave. Leave lots of gaps. See what happens.

Julie Duffy

Julie is the creator of StoryADay May. She tries not to complain too much. If you’d like to receive writing lessons and prompts from Julie throughout the year, consider signing up for the StoryAWeek newsletter.

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44 thoughts on “Day 23- A Catalogue of Complaints by Julie Duffy”

  1. Loved this prompt. Something about the specificity of it, the list format, was such a fun challenge for the imagination.

  2. This was fun! I wrote it last night but was so tired (as evidenced as the last paragraph having a repeated letter across a few lines…) so I just sucked it up, finished it and went to bed.

    I wrote about two sisters meeting up for coffee to commiserate over their children’s list of life complaints. (Disclaimer: I realize some kids have very valid complaints in life…these characters did not.)


  3. I had so much fun with this one! (And yes, I’ve written every day, but things got busy, and I have been less good about saying so).

    What happens when a Vulcan husband finds his human wife’s list of complaints about him?

    1. I’m finding that it’s hard to write AND check in, even though it’s not actually that much work to check in! If anything has to give, I’m glad it’s the check in.

  4. I wrote about an old woman named Rose who blames others for everything. Her children’s book isn’t selling, computers are too hard to operate, she’s been divorced for years and no men have ever been interested in dating her, the small town she lives in has no class. When she tells her best friend she’s got PTSD from all this, her friend laughs. Rose can’t believe her friend is so heartless. Also, her friend should have bought her book but didn’t. Rose cuts off their friendship.

    P.S. I got started writing late today and haven’t finished my story yet but I wanted to post that I wrote today. I will finish it.

  5. Fun prompt! I wrote in epistolary format with a character addressing her potentially dead friend in a letter and letting a lot of her grief seep into it, along with a few other worries and complaints that she can’t really vent to anyone else. Really liked how the whole thing shaped up and this story will likely be one I’ll revisit someday.

  6. Such good timing for this assignment. I’m about to hop on a plane after an intense weekend of “personality salad”. It will be hard to decide which perspective to take but it will be cathartic no matter what!

  7. I had a late start today and didn’t write a full story. I wrote two lists. One is a list of complaints from employees, and one is a list of complaints about employees.

  8. I really enjoyed this exercise. I’m working on a novel in the world of pro wrestling. I don’t think this exercise will go into it, but it gave me an opportunity to think about that world. I made of list of (retired wrestler) Bret Hart’s complaints about the state of wrestling today. I was able to combine things he’s actually said with a few of my own opinions, and it got me thinking about the differences between the time period(s) I’m writing in the novel and the present day.

  9. I wrote a character piece for my novel–

    Frank’s Lament
    First of all, I don’t care if you inherited the store, or that your last name spreads across the front in huge lit up letters. I been working here for over forty years, and I have the right to work the way I want to, no matter what you say. I earned it! Just because you’re now my boss, don’t mean I has to listen to you. I been working here over forty years, did I tell you that? Your newfangled ideas and ways are stupid. I don’t care if it is your store, you don’t know what I done these last forty years. I been here longer than you been alive, did you know that? This stupid, whatdycallit, cal-cu-la-tor, is nothing but a stupid gadget. I got my math skills I learnt, back in grade school, long before even your Daddy was borned. It served me in good stead all these years. That old cash register still adds, still works after all these years. I can do the math, I can add and subtract and I can multiply and divide. I can do all of that, and I have, these last forty-odd years. I learned that in school, the old Perry Street school, I’ll have you know, the one what was tore down to make way for the new firehouse. I was in one of the first classes there. I learnt my numbers good. I seen it all and I know it all and you can’t tell me what to do. I been here forty years, I know my job. You leave me alone. I can do this!

    1. Strong voice. I’d be interested in reading the companion piece from the person he’s talking about…

  10. It’s interesting how quickly a list can just become a piece of flash fiction! Anyway, day 23 is now done.

  11. Willful Ignorance

    Grievances. Refer to the grievance policy? Give me a break. You’re not listening anyway. No one is. We are just passing through in complete self-interest and disregard. And then there’s me, screaming into a howling wind that drowns out my efforts. I want you to wake up. I want you to break free. Turn off the TV, get off the phone, stop letting them get to you. I’m so tired of the fighting and bickering that just affirms exactly what they need you to be. Divided, self-indulgent, unlistening. There are no real arguments. Just talking aloud near each other, repeating the drivel picked up from their surroundings with no critical thought to be found. We can never be free if we keep this up. Even me, who can see through it, I am stuck here like this because you are all sleepwalking. You pass by me like corporate zombies, and I am snapping my fingers in your faces. WAKE UP WAKE UP. I am so close, but you feel nothing, and nothing changes. All our dreams mean nothing if we cannot stop counting sheep. The wolves are winning.

  12. I wrote a list of complaints as told by an elderly neighbor. And a partial list of what it takes to have a long-lasting relationship. The first one is (hopefully) funny and the second one is sweet. I do love me a good list story.

  13. Not so much a story as a scene. A college boy complaining to his girlfriend about such petty stuff that at first you think he’s merely shallow. The list goes on and her surprise makes you realize this isn’t typical for him. More complaints and you know something bad has happened, which is finally revealed at the end: his father had died. At least, that’s the way it’s supposed to work. It was fun thinking up the things different people would complain about, when I was trying to decide what to write.

  14. I am really very sorry. On the second reading, I find innumerable mistakes. I only hope that the mistakes don’t take away the humour of the story.

  15. My favorite prompt so far. I work in a grocery store so I hear lots of complaints. I think I’m going to write this through different characters in my store. This one is going to be fun.

    1. Oh that does sound like great source material. You could write a whole series of stories featuring the characters from your store! (I should declare my bias here. I’m always hoping people will write collections of related stories. You should feel free to ignore me!)

  16. (I really enjoyed the prompt very much today. I have written a story based on it. Now, you tell me if I got my story right.)
    The Ways of The World / Most Decent Boy

    Right after my marriage, all I craved for was a son. Oh, I forgot to tell you that I got married quite later, when I was in my forties. Naturally, I desperately needed someone to continue my lineage and lagay. I had been a very dutiful son myself, but I’ll come to that later. So, I thought that my son would be a glowing example of ‘like father like son’.

    My first jolt in the way of having a son, came when the doctor in the Nursing Home (after my pregnant wife had gotten admitted the very day she complained of a severe stomachache), took me aside and said:
    “We’ve waited for Shree’s water to break for nearly six hours. It doesn’t look like happening. The baby has its head in the wrong position. Naturally, I think it’s best for her to have the baby through the C-section. I need your consent…”
    I didn’t know what that meant really. But if the doctor felt it best for the mother to have the baby delivered through the ceasarian delivery, so be it.
    “Oh, I forgot to tell you,” The Doctor, heading towards the OT, cried out to me,” Do you understand the implications of this surgical procedure?”
    I nodded my headed thinking of my late Ma who implanted the idea of a son in my head.
    Some forty minutes later, a nurse came out, beaming:
    “Congratulations, Mr. Kipte. You’ve a son.”
    I felt elated and looking up, thanked God. I wasn’t feeling all that thankful when some hours later I went to the Cash Counter to clear off the bills as both my wife and the baby, in good health, were to be discharged the same day. On receiving the bills, I was in for a shock.
    “How kuch? 35,000/-? What is this 25,000/- for? I have already paid whatever was asked of me!”
    “That’s for the ceasarian operation. There were some complications, you know.” The bloke, licking his finger while counting the notes from behind the counter, told me.
    That’s how it all began. Raj became the apple of my eyes in the true sense of the terms from then on.
    Now, let me give you an account of my daily routine post retirement. In my sixties, I get up at six. I have always been an early riser. I sweep the room, make tea for my wife and myself, fetch water from the tap in the courtyard.
    I mop the room next, put the clothes in the bucket for washing and do the washing my went. (As a votary of cleanliness, I never saw the need to have a domestic hell. I simply couldn’t trust them enough.)
    I get back to my room. My son, 18 by now, has absented himself from school today’s as well. He didn’t even feel the need to ask his father’s consent.
    “No one goes to school to study any more,” he informs me, looking up from his tab. If he is not watching a K-movie on the tab, he is either fiddling with the mobile or listening to some Arijit Singh songs on the computer.
    “In addition to that, all my friends have their private tutors for each subject.” ( He has six, by the way, including one to teach him the vernacular language. And private tutors in Kol, let me tell you, are very expensive.)
    As Shree is a working lady, I serve Raj breakfast that his mom prepared before leaving for office. He takes the plate up and places it on his pap without taking his eyes off the screen. He will take the next 40 minutes to nibble at it. Luckily for some reasons, he doesnt keep the banana peel on the tablets today.

    I pick up the plate after he is done and take it out for cleaning. My son has no sense of shame at Baba doing the plates. The picture after lunch is not very different either.
    After doing the sweeping and serving, mopping and washing, then, sitting all by myself in a corner, I start ruing my fate, Shree back from officer, starts making a scene :
    “Who asked you to do all this? Why blame us if you enjoy doing the household chores? How many times did I ask you to employ a maid for washing and sweeping? Do you ever listen to us? Why are you grumbling then?” So on and so forth.

    Just when I start regretting my prayers for a son, I find Sneha, my neighbour’s daughter, taking her mother to the doctor’s. The way she is holding her mother’s hand, makes me cringe from inside.

    But I am yet to learn about the ways of the world, when my son comes back from a senior’s (at college) hone in the evening, he confides,
    “Baba, Mitadi called me. She told me that all her people were very impressed with me. I did nothing but when I saw her moving the dining table or doing the dishes, I just did the basics like lending her a hand, bending down to touch the feet of her parents and relatives, something you and Ma always insist on ….you know, and they were bowler over. Mitadi told me that her relatives now want to invite me to theirs as well. In everyone’s opinion, I am the most decent boy they have seen in a long time. Isn’t that sweet of them?”

    And as I listen to my son’s narration of The Most Decent Boy, I keep looking open-mouthed at him.

    Stranger indeed are the ways of the world!!!
    The end

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