The Five Sentence Story | StoryADay 2024 Day 1

You CAN write a story in five sentences. Really!

Five sentence story cover

The Prompt

Tell a story in Five Sentences from an idea you’ve been saving up for when you’re ‘ready’

Things To Consider

I know you’re probably raring to go, ready to write your brilliant, 4,000 New Yorker story that will guarantee your place in the literary pantheon for generations to come…so allow me to reset your expectations just a tad.

This month-long challenge is about reminding yourself that you are a writer, that writing matters to you, and that you can write whenever you want…and that writing is fun! All it takes, to tell a story is five sentences.

Don’t believe me? Try it.

Here’s what you need:

  • A character with a desire
  • A setting, in time or place
  • An obstacle to the character’s desire
  • An action taken by the character that brings them closer to or further from that desire
  • An outcome. And yes, you can do this in five sentences.

(NB. They can be long sentences, and you don’t have to use one sentence for each item. In the following example, I use one sentence to cover setting, character and desire, and use the spare sentence to fill out the action)

When the casting directors for The Bachelor came to town, Cindy really wanted to give it a go, “Not to get a husband, or anything…Just to have a few laughs, maybe meet some more women my own age…” {SETTING, CHARACTER, DESIRE]

“Don’t be ridiculous,” her step-mother snapped, as she squeezed both of Cindy’s step sisters into too-tight, too-short dresses and screamed at the neighbor’s 13 year old son to come over and cut off the wifi so Cindy wouldn’t be distracted from her chores by shopping for suitable audition outfits online. [OBSTACLE]

As the Uber bearing her family pulled away, Cindy sighed and resigned herself to watching online updates—she was sure she’d be able to find some on Instagram after she had reset the wifi—but before she could do any of that, their neighbor Mrs Pharey appeared at the front door, thrust a blue-silk jumpsuit into her hands and scurried away again, shouting behind her, “Remember to book your Uber home for before the surge pricing kicks in!”

Giggling, Cindy changed into the jumpsuit and sped off to the convention center where she was promptly eliminated in the first round of the auditions. [ACTION]

On the long walk back to the main doors, she struck up a really interesting conversation with Jenny, the show’s story editor who told her she was looking for an apprentice if Cindy was interested, and that she should consider coming back to California with them, which she did, but not before making time to return the blue jumpsuit to Mrs Pharey, because Cindy wanted to start her ‘happily ever after’ on the right foot. [OUTCOME]

Now you try it.

The reasons I’m asking you to use your Big Idea, the one you’ve been saving, is A, to take away some of your magical thinking around it. and B, I want you to always be using your best ideas.

Don’t worry that you’ll run out.

More ideas are coming. Better ideas. More exciting ideas. Ideas better-attuned to the person you are in the moment you sit down to use them.

The more ideas you use the more ideas you generate. Don’t be afraid to use them and (in case that is freaking you out…)  You can always use it again later, when whatever you’re waiting for (time? Talent? Magical fairy dust?) comes along.

Artists ‘repurpose’ their own ideas all the time. Don’t worry about it!

In fact, ‘don’t worry about it’, could be our motto this month, so we might as well adopt it here, on Day 1!

Remember, do your best to finish the story today, no matter how messy the middle is. We’re not aiming for perfection, just for completion.

Everything can be fixed in the edit. (Or abandoned. Abandoned is fine, too. You can always write more stories!)

Leave a comment and let us know what you wrote about and how it felt. (As a reminder, I don’t tend to recommend posting your stories in the comments here, except very rarely and here’s why. Treat your writing this month as your own secret pleasure, but do share with us how it’s going.)

Leave a comment and let us know how it went!

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57 thoughts on “The Five Sentence Story | StoryADay 2024 Day 1”

  1. Commenting here rather late in the challenge – but this is when I got the time.

    I wrote about a mother and daughter at the supermarket. In slightly more than 5 sentences, the mother got what she needed to be a better mother for her daughter. 🙂

  2. I am so pleased I did this exercise even though I’m a few days behind. It is refreshing to relearn that the smallest thought can result in a complete story. I was thinking about the homeless situation and how it could affect an individual. I now have two compelling characters, and a third who will find his way into a longer version. Thank you, Julie, for stretching my creative muscles.

  3. Fun prompt. I did take an idea I’ve been wanting to work on and use it for this effort. It’s still a challenge for me to completely free myself from my internal editor, but I approached it head on, run-on sentences and all.

  4. A couple of days late, but I have a five-sentence story. Nothing earth-shattering, but it’ll do. It is very difficult to compress a whole world into such a small package, but it’s so helpful to get into the heart of a story.

  5. I have five sentences! Not necessarily in the right order and not necessarily a story. More my thoughts on not being able to go to sleep last night 😪

  6. It’s after midnight but I did it. I wrote a scene in a mall in the 80s with teenage girls. 4 breathless, run-on dialogue sentences and 1 concluding action sentence. It’s not deep or meaningful, but it’s fun. I love limitations like that, it helps me get creative.

  7. I did it. It sucks, but it’s a first for me. It will be a really good activity for my students as well.

  8. I did it! I don’t really have an idea that I’m saving, so I dusted off a previous NaNoWriMo idea that I didn’t get very far with. It was so much fun! Thanks for doing this.

  9. This exercise was really useful in creating a succinct synopsis for my story idea. It gave me more clarity.

    1. I’m so glad.
      And you’ll be able to use this exercise any time you get stuck on a story that feels like it’s going around in circles…

  10. I wrote using Mary Robinette Kowal’s prompt, and it stretched me in different ways. Thanks for the post and the challenge, Julie.

  11. I like your advice about not letting our best ideas overwhelm us into inaction, to use them, more will come. It was a great exercise! Thank you for the inspiration.

    1. Yes, and stay tuned for more evidence, later in the month, that no writing is ever ‘wasted’…

  12. I stole Julie’s idea and made up a modern day fairytale based on Little Red Riding Hood. Her Cinderella story example pushed me to be outrageous.

  13. ++A character with a desire = A 71 year old man wants to be left alone to live in peace, not interfered with, not being beset upon or troubled by his upstairs neighbours.
    ++A setting, in time or place = present-day 2024 the Bronx, New York.
    ++An obstacle to the character’s desire = the upstairs neighbours, two brothers, try to intimidate him in many ways to get him to leave.
    ++An action taken by the character that brings them closer to or further from that desire = actions: shouting out accusations and condemnation, complaining to the landlord and trying to get him to assist, praying to God to deal with them, no proof so no police.
    -An outcome = the police visit the house on an unrelated matter, find them acting suspiciously, search their attic and find it a storage house for illegal drugs, as well as clear evidence of sexual abuse of a young boy who was tied up to a bed. The perpetrators are arrested and jailed.

    The fleshing out of the story was surprisingly easy once I had written out the basic details. The only part I had to work hard at was a logical progression from the character’s action to the outcome. Partly because the story really is bigger than the bare bones I outlined. It is based on a true story. It felt good to have a finished product, even though it’s the first draft. Oops, I got so involved in the story, I forgot all about the 5 sentence instructions.

  14. Story complete! 447 words based on a time travel story idea that I got in a dream a few months ago. I made notes on it but haven’t attempted a draft yet, so this was perfect to get some brainstorming flowing!

  15. Story #1 is complete and I had a lot of fun with it. It’s freeing to just let the mind take you wherever it wants and creating something beautiful from it. Excited for the next story.

  16. I am wrapping up a 28-day trip to the UK, so this is helping me follow through on my commitment to turn some of my experiences on the trip into short stories.

    For today’s prompt, I used an incident that happened early on in the trip. I made a quick note on my phone.

    Now I’ve turned it into a story of 182 words. With a little editing, I will have a nice flash fiction effort.

    1. Excellent! Glad this gave you the excuse to get started!
      (it’s so important to trick our brains into letting us write!)

  17. Julie,

    I do like this quote from your blogpost above ‘Remember, do your best to finish the story today, no matter how messy the middle is. We’re not aiming for perfection, just for completion.’

    That’s a good thing to keep in mind.


    1. There’s such power in finishing. It’s an accomplishment, it gives us something to work with, AND it reinforces the idea that yes, you ARE a writer!

  18. I was initially doubtful that I’d be able to complete this prompt. Maybe that thought was lingering from more frustrating experiences from some of the too specific or too random prompts I’ve tried in the past. But it actually felt like a successful experience! I sort of cheated and made one of my sentences a list. Probably at least one run-on sentence, too. And it feels more like a start to a story than a complete one. But I like how it turned out! I’m excited to try more prompts this month!

    1. I’m so glad this was a success for you.
      (I do try to make the prompts just specific enough, but also flexible enough to suggest a story).

      Also: I heartily endorse the concept of cheating in what ever way you need to. We’re creative, after all. Rules are not really our thang.

    1. Cellphone actions unnecessary – initial action boring, not in media res –- too derivative of action movies, transporter-ish – I got the gorgon and the cryogenics, but unfortunately not the point of the story. Sorry.

  19. Got my story written. This was a great prompt to get me back into writing fiction, I found the step by step instructions in the upgraded version helpful to get my mind into writing mode, especially with a baby that refused to nap. I wrote a story about an ambitious writer who by hook and crook gets her first self published novel onto the coveted welcome table in Waterstones. Reader, please note, this is not autobiographical.

    Giving myself permission to write the worst stories this May, as long as I write everyday.

    1. Maybe it IS autobiographical…and you’re just time-traveling a bit.
      And well done writing with a cutie awake and around. I remember that challenge well!

    1. When I told my husband what the prompt was, he said, “that’s no problem for you, your sentences are usually a paragraph long.” So I reminded him that so are Dickens’ 😉

    2. I love a run-on sentence, myself. Never could understand why they get such a bad rap (I mean, look at this one—all it takes is some cleverly-deployed punctuation and anyone can follow it, right? RIGHT?!)

  20. I ended up writing about 1000 words, which was many more than 5 sentences, before I had something that could really be a start, action, and finish, but I am happy with the exercise. It was nice to just write something with a focus on “finishing a thing”, however imperfect, from one of the ideas sitting on my cell phone notes app. Thank you!

    1. Ah, the notes app. That I think is where I got my prompt from tonight – do like the five sentence story, may save it up for a writers block day.

      1. I love that the Notes App is having a moment.

        We used to all get so hung up on the right tool, and now we’re tapping with our thumbs into the most basic of apps, and making it work!

  21. Dear Julie,
    Thanks for the challenging prompt. I tried to write my story following the 5 points. Though I have had my reservation about the title, I stuck to it in the end. Here is the story :
    Love-Shy :
    That night I fell in love with Sonam for I had been love-sick since I couldn’t remember for how long and I wanted to make use of the wedding of a close relative to be really intimate to her, you know what I mean, don’t you?
    We spent the night together, lying side by side, while she kept her eyes on the glimmer of a faint light coming through a chink in the curtains from the street-lamp outside, I had my eyes devouring her beauty, her charm, her enticing sari-clad figure in the dim light – talking about almost everything under the sun, well almost, starting with our relatives to her boyfriends to Pablo Neruda and my feelings for her.
    She sighed and told me then how, at one point of time in her life, she felt irresistibly drawn to my brother, who was nearly fifteen years older than her and how difficult it had been for her to switch her loyalties to any other person since then.
    In the wee hours of the morning, taking her to be asleep, I couldn’t resist the temptation of putting my hand across her naval tentatively, which was a blunder as she steadily placed the hand back on my chest.
    She was gone soon afterwards, leaving me devastated, pining for her proximity by burying my nose in the sheet on her side of the bed, smelling her faint perfume, hating my brother and ruing his manliness for the rest of the day.
    The end

  22. Well, story #1 down. Yes, I’ve been up since 2am. I have a shoulder injury that makes it hard to sleep because of the pain. My story is about a little girl’s desire to draw a rainbow because it’s her favorite thing to do. It’s inspired by my granddaughter who loves rainbows.

    Good luck to my fellow writers. Happy writing.

  23. Well, believe it or not story #1 down. Yes, I’ve been up since 2am. I have a shoulder injury which make it hard to sleep because of the pain. Any way I looked at my email and saw the prompt was already there. Mine is about a little girl’s desire to draw a rainbow, her very favorite thing to do. This story is inspired by my granddaughter who loved drawing rainbows.

    Good luck to my fellow writers. Happy writing.

  24. Here we gooooooo!

    Since I was up late anyway, I wrote my story. There may have been an over-tired woman, and some mention of ‘wolves at the door’ that turned out to be less-than-metaphorical 😉

    1. Got Story #1 done! It was hard; I found myself wanting to say so much more! But I was able to come up with a story that I’m happy with, and I think I would like to revisit it again sometime to to expand it into something more.

      1. My story is about Hope trying to get to the person who needs her and accomplishing this in a way she didn’t expect.

      2. I’m glad you got it done even though you felt you had more to say.
        Practicing writing short fiction is so useful because we learn to trust our words (and the reader’s ability to read between them).
        We’re not always going to need to write in such a concentrated, concise way, but it is a useful skill to have.

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