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The Rules | StoryADay 2024 Day 17

Love ’em or hate ’em, rules are everywhere

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The Prompt

Write a list of rules that tell a story

Things To Consider

What is a list story and why write a list of rules?

I’m glad you asked.

A list story is literally that: a list of things that, as the audience reads further into it, hints at a bigger narrative taking place outside the words on the page.

Why a list of rules?

Because we all know what that looks like and we all know that the person/people who make the rules have a very distinct agenda that may or may not conflict with the needs/desires of the people the rules seek to control. (And conflict, as you remember, is key to keeping a story interesting)

List stories are one of my favorite forms because they force us to break the way we think about storytelling and they allow us to practice misdirection, two extremely useful skills, as a writer.

But that hting I love the most is that they force us to trust readers, to recruit readers and make them partners in the storytelling experience.

If your story is written solely in the form of a list you have to allow that the reader is going to read between the lines and supply the rest of the story. And this is something we should be doing in our writing all the time.

If you’re writing novels you have vast acres of territory that you can fill with explanations, but should you?

Sometimes readers appreciate it if you let them feel smart because they worked out what was going on, even if they had to, you know, work a little.

The list story is the perfect way to practice this. The example I always recommend for how to do this well is

To Do by Jennifer Egan (the same technique is also used in this darkly comedic scene from the TV show Superstore.)

Note: You do not have to be plotting murder for this prompt to work.

Further Reading

A Catalogue of Complaints

Lists As Stories

Leave a comment and let us know how it went!


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17

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21 thoughts on “The Rules | StoryADay 2024 Day 17”

  1. Coming in at the last gasp today but I’m so happy I wrote.

    My rules started “Do not walk on the grass” and got weirder from there.

  2. This was a bit of prose and nonfiction mixed together. I started with a list of things I packed for a trip and hinted that the character was on their way far from home

  3. When you think of “rules” I feel like we all have a general understanding of rules given to us by both parents and the world. I thought it would be interesting to flip the rules backwards and have a character struggling with being told the opposite his whole life. For example, being polite and kind to others is bad and bullying others is good. It’s interesting to consider how flipping things around for a character would change them and shape who they are into someone entirely different.

  4. I went with a series of evolving bar rules that get more and more complicated until eventually hitting on, “Don’t be an asshole in the eyes of the bartender. No, you may not appeal to a higher authority. If in doubt, shut up and keep your hands to yourself.”

    1. As a former barmaid, I assure you these rules exist, even if they’re not always on display 😉

  5. Unlike Fallon, I found this one particularly time-consuming (and fun). I pretty much had to plan the whole thing out in my head before I started writing “Do not feed the bears.” By the end, of course, you’ve fed your children to the bears.

  6. I must be missing something. I don’t see how the pockets, purse and tote bag would defeat the store’s security system. Maybe if they had the right brand names on them…

    1. Well, the rules did advise scoping out where the employees were. Maybe there needs to be another rule about not taking things with electronic security tags on them…

  7. I hope this is what you were looking for:

    1. Do laundry
    2. Get dressed with large pockets
    3. Grab a large purse and a large tote bag
    4. Make a list of stores that carry the brand-name clothing and jewelry that you desire
    5. Find transportation
    6. Check out employee location upon arrival
    7. Locate items you’re interested in
    8. Stash items in purse and tote bag while employees are busy
    9. Make sure there are no employees in the area
    10. Exit the store safely

    1. I love this one! I didn’t catch on until #8. Until then, I thought, What a boring character this is. Lol.

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