Day 3- Character Pulls Focus by Tommy Dean

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Tommy Dean leads your character through a story

The Prompt

Start a story with a character in the middle of a conversation, where everyone knows something the main character doesn’t know.

Allow the main character to ignore the people around him. Use the setting to reveal something about the main character.

Let the main character gives us snippets of who the characters are around them.

Eventually, let one of the other characters get through to the main character!

Let the main character know seeing the room around them differently.

How does this added context force the main character to act/react?

How do they better understand the other characters in light of this revelation?

Tommy Dean

Tommy Dean is the author of two flash fiction chapbooks Special Like the People on TV (Redbird Chapbooks, 2014) and Covenants (ELJ Editions, 2021), and a full flash collection, Hollows (Alternating Current Press, 2022). He lives in Indiana, where he currently is the Editor at Fractured Lit and Uncharted Magazine. A recipient of the 2019 Lascaux Prize in Short Fiction, his writing can be found in Best Microfiction 2019, 2020, 2023, Best Small Fiction 2019 and 2022, Monkeybicycle, Moon City Press, and numerous other litmags.

His interviews have been previously published in New Flash Fiction Review, The Rumpus, CRAFT Literary, and The Town Crier (The Puritan).

He has taught writing workshops for the Gotham Writers Workshop, the Barrelhouse Conversations and Connections conference, and The Writers Workshop.

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83 thoughts on “Day 3- Character Pulls Focus by Tommy Dean”

  1. This prompt was fun. I took the scene to place my protagonist at a coffee shop with her friend who arranged a birthday party surprise for her. I delve into the middle of a conversation with the friend, and end it at four other friends popping out to surprise the protagonist. I was smiling as I wrote this one!

  2. I resisted this prompt for a while, but then I realized that doing what I’m committed to (a story a day!) would stretch me as a writer.

    So, I opened a document and just started writing.

    My story is about 500 words, checks all the boxes (I think?) and got me out of my comfort zone.

  3. I just finished Day 3. It’s only two days late. I took a new story that I’ve only just recently been thinking of and I wrote the opening scene using this prompt.

  4. My character came to the realization that she was in someone else’s body, all of a sudden. Whose? Where was she? Who are these people? The conversation she’s been dropped in the middle of is a graduate-level seminar in medieval studies. She has no knowledge of old English, or Beowulf. By the end of the scene, one of the other people in the class reveals that he knows she’s not who she’s supposed to be. It was fun to write.
    Thanks for the prompt.

  5. I still need to flesh out my effort in order to be able to call it a story, and, as evidenced by the date stamp of my comment, I am behind in sharing my experiences with this challenge. I look forward to polishing it up. Thanks for the prompt.

  6. I finnished this promp yesterday, and doing the dance today. I loved the promp, got some writing done, and possible some new characters for my story. The interesting thing was that by the end of the writing I started to collapse into sleep. But without really having reason to, other than the writing. It happend a few times. My head just fell down, and eyes rolled inwords. Had to have a cup of coffe afterwards and reflect on it. Not anything really confronting in the scene eather, it was about an mislaid book, and an assistent that tries to keep out of trouble by keeping it hid, and – ha ha – just by writing these sentences I got suddenly extreamely tired again, so it is definately here my sleeping pill is.

  7. Day 3 is done. My heroine Emma just found out about a possible courtship on the cards which she is in two minds about. Her goal up to now has been to a self efficient dressmaker and has no plans to marry. It will fit into the end of my story so she has developed feelings for the hero. Based in the 1860s so it presents a dilemma of sorts.

  8. A Vulcan at Woodstock? Sure, why not? A Vulcan dealing with his mating cycle at Woodstock? Okay….

    Over 1,200 words, and I feel I could have added a bit more, but I quite like how well this story shaped itself to the prompt – and exploring more deeply will happen later, because I wanted this one to be PG-13 at the most!

  9. I did it, It’s a tiny little thing, at under a 100 words, but it kind of matches the prompt, and it meets my goal of not missing two days in a row of writing a story. Got one on Day 1, and here on Day 3!

  10. This was fun. My story was about a new homeowner who chats up all his neighbors at an open house without seeming to realize they are all dead… until they leave the house without opening the door.

    1. Cool idea!
      My story ends with a ghost as well. A lonely guy gets a visit from his former best friends who tell him that his ex-girlfriend is dead. Only then is he able to see her again (as a ghost) and realize he has missed out on grieving her while she was still alive.

  11. This was a hard day for me. I worked all day, and worked when I got home too. I thought “you should take it easy today. It’s too much to think about writing”. But you know what? I made myself sit down and read the prompt through, and I just wrote down whatever. I like the idea I came up with, and- even though I was too tired to write all of it- I at least wrote the first bit, plus the skeleton of a story. It’s a relief not to have that prickly anxious feeling I get when I give myself excuses not to write.

    1. I love this. There is an integrity to living up to our own commitments, that snowballs….

  12. This one perplexed me for a while today with the ensemble of characters and then a happy story came out. That hardly ever happens! It was fun though.
    3 for 3.
    Goal is for 31 decent drafts at the end of the month!

  13. Continuation of the past two day’s prompts. Really like how it turned out. Still leaving room for more if the chance is there. I still haven’t done a word count. My first draft is always done by hand. But I’m estimating about 2,100 – 2,500 in total for the past 3.

  14. The prompt stumped me all day when I should have been thinking about work. When I finally settled into bed to write, I followed along section by section and did it! Patting myself on the back 😀

  15. At first the prompt stumped me, then when I re-read, I knew it was a scene I have been trying to write in my novel. I wrote 1260 words. Although it needs editing, I feel like I’ve accomplished something today. The combination of the prompt and the accountability of the challenge helped me get through it. Thank you for both.

    1. Aha!
      I think this was a prompt that stumped a few of us and then turned out to be just what we needed!

  16. I’m in the middle of writing day 3’s story and it was such a suprise to see what happened to my characters as I was writing it. I recently moved to a new state (Arizona) and am now living in the middle of a very friendly senior community. A neighbor invited me to a party the other night where I got to meet new friends and learn things about this place, which is a lot different from where I used to live in California. Anyway, I decided to begin day 3’s story at the party and have my new acquaintances discuss something my main character had no idea about. My main character got so bored she zoned out and went to stuff herself on appetizers while the others continued to talk. Then the next day as she was lying in bed reading, out her bedroom sliding glass door she saw one of the people from the party string some kind of electrical wire between her property and her neighbor’s. At the moment, I’m thinking this could turn into a big brother watching you story or sci-fi or who knows, but anyway, I’m very excited about the fact that I’m writing something very different from what I usually write. Great prompts, all three days they’ve given me luck.

    1. oo, intriguing.
      And good for you, for taking a chance on the prompts. One of the best things is when you discover yourself writing unexpected little tales!

      1. I finished day 3’s story! This was the hardest prompt for me to write from so far, and when I was trying to finish it up, I wasn’t sure if it was even going to work, but then a miracle happened, and everything became obvious! I needed to have the protagonist really fight for what she wanted. In the end she had to get out of town to save her privacy. This prompt really stretched my mind. I’ve now written 3 stories!

  17. As I write I’m thinking, “Is this show or tell?” In the end, I decided, for now it doesn’t matter if it’s show or tell, it’s me writing. That’s the goal, me writing. Day 3 – Win 3.

    1. Ah yes, learning to stuff the inner editor into a box (and sit on it) while doing the creative drafting part. A necessary skill and one this month helps with, a lot!

  18. May 3 2023
    “She really loves me,” he was saying to them. “I think I’m going to ask her to marry me.”
    He raised his beer at the people around the bar, expecting a cheers in return, but nothing came.
    “Come on, guys, don’t leave me hanging!” he looked around at them, searching their eyes for assurance, and again, there was nothing but blank looks and a couple murmurs.
    “Whatever,” he sighed to himself, feeling defeated. He chugged the rest of his beer and got up from his stool.
    “Well, hey, Pete, you don’t have to go, we’re just –“ one of the guys started to say.
    “Just what?” Pete said back. “You’ve known me for years, I’ve never been serious about a woman since Jane died, and you have nothing to say, no words of support?”
    Another one of the men spoke up now: “You know we love you, Pete, but what do you want us to say?”
    “What do you mean, buddy?” Pete said. “I shouldn’t have to tell you how to show support to me after all this time. I mean, when you were getting hitched with Beth, we all cheered you on, bought a couple rounds, celebrated. All I get is wide-eyed nothing?”
    At this point the other two men started to argue with Pete, but Pete wasn’t hearing it. He just kept bringing up all he’d done for them in their good and bad times throughout their friendship, throwing a bachelor party for Jack before his marriage to Beth and paying for a whole weekend in Vegas for Donald after his divorce.
    “You don’t need to throw it in our faces,” Donald said.
    Over the ruckus, the bartender Hannah decided it was time to intervene.
    “She’s cheating on you, Pete.” She had to shout over the lively throng of drunken regulars.
    Pete turned his head toward the familiar voice. Everything stopped. There was no movement, no noise. Just a group of people in a local bar sitting in stunned silence.
    “How do you know that, Hannerz?” Pete said with a slight chuckle, imploring for it to be a joke or at least unsubstantiated.
    “I’m a bartender, Pete. That also means I’m this town’s therapist. Besides, I seen her leave with a couple different Johns last week.”
    Pete frowned, feeling a deep sadness hit him in his stomach. Then, it reshaped into anger that came up through his esophagus like acid reflux, which he spit onto his friends in the form of words.
    “You were just going to sit there?!” he raised his voice at them. “You were going to let me go out there to buy a diamond ring when you knew, you knew she was doing this behind my back?”
    They just stared at him. Jack tried to explain, but couldn’t find the right way.
    “Yeah, that’s right,” Pete said. “Nothing you can say. You all betrayed me, too. How long did you know about this? How long did you let me play the fool?”
    Pete stormed out of the bar, leaving them with that question to marinade on for the rest of their lives. They had no clue this was the last time they would ever see their friend.

    1. Wonderful story! Thanks so much for sharing how you used the prompt, it’s very helpful to see the way you used it.

      1. Thank you! I think I could have done better with emphasizing the setting. How did you handle that part of the prompt?

  19. Today was another day that I was grabbed by an idea before looking at the prompt (no wild coincidence of actually following the prompt anyway this time). I am interested in using this prompt at some point though, especially since so many people are saying it was challenging to follow!

    Today was a poem day, I wrote one about how trees are so beautiful and don’t have eyes to look at each other (and in the end, don’t need them). It could use several more passes of editing, but I had a good time and there are some lines I really like!

  20. (The problem with me is that I really do not have much time to read the prompt thoroughly. Now, on reading it for a second time, I find that I missed out on some important points of the prompt. I will try to be more careful from next time on.)
    The Last Journey
    “He, being the most vocal and vibrant of us all, will always be sorely missed.” I heard Pradip, my friend, with a clump in his voice, whispering to someone in the group.
    “But it’s all so sudden, so unexpected! How could anyone go away like that?” Rita, the wife of another friend, Deepak, asked, while dabbing with a hanki at her eyes.
    I stood beside Pradip, all at sea. What was so sudden, so unexpected – would someone care to tell me?” I yelled at them.
    “There seems to be a storm brewing. The earlier we are done with this hateful rituals, the better.” Tithi, Pradip’s wife, said. “I had better go and close that window.”
    I started looking over the others’ heads to try to find Mimi, my better-half, out.
    The room was literally teeming with people. There was my sister-in-law, Gargi, sitting near the sprawled body at the other end. Her hair dishevelled, her face distorted. Her husband, Ronit, as caring as ever, was standing behind her, his hand on her shoulder.
    What was my old man doing here? How could he have aged like that? And why was he left unattended? Would someone mind telling me what was going on? IS THERE AN ACCIDENT OR WHAT?
    I heaved a sigh of relief as I lightly placed myself beside my brother-in-law, Dev.
    “And when did you come back, Bro?” I asked him, elbowing him from the side.
    Dev jumped up on his feet and looked in my direction as if he had seen a ghost! But soon, he went back to standing the way he was and stifled a yawn.
    “Why don’t you go to the room upstairs, Dev? You seem so worn-out due to the jet lag. Mumbai is not at a stone’s throw even by flight! Should I send Mridula (the Maid) with something?” It was my next door neighbour speaking.
    “No, no, Massima. Please don’t bother. This is no …” he stopped right in the middle of the sentence.

    Just then a framed photo of the sisters on the wall, just above Deb’s head, caught my attention. Why did the photo look so hazy? In it, both of them were in a sari. Though Riya, the younger one, had taken to wearing a sari only recently, she looked stunning in that sea-green, golden-bordered georgette of hers. While Rima, with her powered glasses, looked more mature of the two sisters. Both the sisters were captured in a tight sideways embrace facing the camera, with the younger and the taller of the two having placed her head on her elder’s shoulder.
    Where was the gang? Mimi and her shadows – Riya and Rima?
    I was about to slip out of the room but hurried back inside almost immediately as a shriek came from the bedroom. I saw Mimi looking wild, crawling down the steps and stepping into the room.
    “They’re here. We have to get him ready now.” What was wrong with her?Why did she look so uncharacteristically untidy ? How could she look so different in the span of a few hours? Besides, WHAT was here? WHO had to be readied?
    I kept looking at all those familiar faces. Ronit, Pradip, Dev bending down and putting the wreaths in a line over…Wait, what was that thing wrapped in a white sheet? The face of the man lying absolutely still, seemed very familiar. And who was that lady sprawled across the body. As someone brought her out of her stupor, Riya pushed the sheet up and touched the feet. I couldn’t tell you definitely whether her hand was cold or my feet!
    And I swear, I heard her speaking to herself :”I will never let you down, Dad. I won’t…’
    Mimi in the meanwhile had applied some sandlewood marks with a matchstick on the forehead. She looked devastated. Then I saw Rima. She looked as if she was caught in a whirlpool.
    “Ma, I will do the last rites. Now-a-days girls are allowed to do it. Let these people say whatever they feel like!”
    LAST RITES! Do you mean that I am…. I was diverted by some of my friends getting closer to the body. I could even sense the incense sticks on either side of the special cot brought for the occasion.
    “Please, give us a hand in lifting the cot.” Someone pleaded before crying out,”Balo Hari, Hari Bol” ( May Lord be praised.)

    I only knew what was wrong as they lifted the dead body. Why I was feeling so light-headed and floating in the air.

    The body on the cot undertaking the Last Journey, was mine!

    The end

    1. I was totally surprised by the ending, and I much enjoyed your story, as I did your wonderful story about the thief. I haven’t finished writing my story for day 3 yet so I don’t remember what parts of the prompt you left out (it was a long prompt), but that didn’t bother me as far as enjoying your story. I take it you’ve been a writer for some time, because your stories are totally enthralling, not for a second was I bored. Plus seeing the way you used the prompts was helpful. Thanks for posting.

      1. Dear Valerie,
        Thanks for your encouragement. You are right in thinking that I have been writing for sometime. In fact, I have been writing for long.
        I love writing as it soothes my soul, truly, inexpressibly.
        Keep writing and making a difference. Best wishes.

    2. Well, you don’t have to write to the prompt anyway, so if you missed things out, it just means you can come back and try it again when you do have more time…next time with another idea.

  21. My oldest son is stopping by home on the way from his university to his summer internship, so I don’t have as much time to write today. I used the Short Story Framework after coming up with an opening sentence and a premise and was able to knock out a flash fiction ghost story in half an hour! I suppose this balances out with yesterday’s marathon session. 🙂 Day 3 is done, and I’m looking forward to tomorrow.

  22. I wrote a beginning and an ending. Then I outlined the middle. I wrote about 400 words. (I blame it on my daughter who came to visit during the first week of STADM ~ the gall)

  23. This is a fun prompt! All I can think about are miscommunications that happen so much in our own lives when we’re hanging out with a group of friends..Getting down to writing this now.

  24. Writing today was an exercise in letting go.
    I thought I was going to write about something consequential, something that really *mattered* to me. I came up with one topic, but it felt too weighty and I couldn’t get started.
    So I trawled my ‘fiction ideas’ file and found a throwaway line, a Story Spark that inspired a setting that worked perfectly for this prompt.
    The story itself is different from what I wrote the past few days: more choppy, much less narratively driven, and only 148 words.
    And I’m fine with that.
    So much of ‘writing’ is getting over my own expectations and just doing the work.
    I *know* this, in theory. The doing of it takes constant practice.
    And that’s why I keep coming back to this challenge.
    I can know

  25. Another absurd premise with a dark plot strand. Maybe tomorrow’s story will be frothier!

    1. Mine was like that too, I started with a conversation in the cafeteria and it ended up as a workplace shooting.

      1. What an awesome idea! I’m finding for the first time in my life by using these prompts, that if I just start my story with the prompt in mind, it takes me to a place I wouldn’t have imagined.

  26. I found this prompt quite challenging too and don’t think I followed it 100%. Ended up writing what felt like a scene out of a larger work and I can’t say it’s my favorite thing ever either, but at least it’s 666 words that weren’t written before I started that are now on a page.

    1. This one pushed me too.
      I gave myself permission to ignore parts of the prompt, only to come back and look at it again and realize I’d subconsciously followed the suggestions, anyway!

      Well done.
      And it tickles me that you wrote a devilish 666 words 😉

  27. Like Britta, initially I found today’s prompt more challenging. I finally fell back on that favorite setting for pieces written in writing workshops: a writing workshop. I decided to make the MC the narrator. That seemed to me to offer the best approach to exploit the humor inherent in the situation. I’d be interested to know how others decided on POV for this prompt.

    1. I wrote something inspired by a situation I’d been in, but I didn’t want it to be about me, so I gave it to a character with a different name and wrote it in close-third (eventually. It started off ambiguous as it was other people talking…)
      I also wrote in present tense, because I wanted the reader to experience things along with my character in real time.

  28. Didn’t completely follow the prompt, but I did get started with it. Wrote 544 words and discovered a bit more about the characters, including the amorphous ‘he’ from the last two stories(and finally gave him a name), and a sea-life inspired curse.

  29. I don’t think I followed the prompt to a tee, but I used the bits that seemed to work with my idea. Like yesterday, it feels more like a scene than a story, but I don’t mind that. I’ve written three days in a row after all 😀

    1. Congrats.
      And yes, always feel free to use what you can take from the prompts or ignore them entirely.
      Making the commitment to keep writing is powerful, isn’t it?

  30. This one was harder for me than the one from yesterday. But then I came up with a plot with the help of the short story framework. However, in the process of writing the whole story changed and in the end I came out with a totally different result. That was interesting!

    1. Oh well done.
      This is why it’s so important to actually DO the writing, not just plan out stories in our heads (or for our imaginary future selves).
      The most interesting stuff happens after we’ve started writing…

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