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Party Time | StoryADay 2024 Day 31

You did it!!! Amazing!

The Prompt

Write a story set at a party

Things To Consider

Parties are great for stories because they are great opportunities for characters to come into conflict with each other, their own desires and expectations of society.

They can also be huge fun.

This can be a great opportunity to write a story that could double as the seed for a chapter in a novel-in-progress, if you have one of those on the go.

Bring all your characters together around one dinner table or in one back yard an let them loose on each other.

• What simmering resentments will someone air?

• Who will not confront the person they should confront?

• Whose secret will accidentally be shared by a loose-lipped older sister?

Then, make a note to show up at our StoryADay May 15th Anniversary celebration tonight!

Leave a comment and let us know how it went!


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YOU DID IT!!!

31

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The Right Container | StoryADay 2024 Day 30

Sometimes function follows form

The Prompt

Create a story that is a mashup of everything you’ve learned about your writing tastes, this month. Your character has a run-in with their nemesis.

Things To Consider

What have you learned over this month about the voices, tones, genres, characters, and length that come most easily to you?

What kinds of characters did you like to write about (fish out of water? Someone in a particular profession? Someone at a particular kind of crossroads?).

Pick your favorite type of character today. Don’t worry that you’ve written about them before.

This is about strengthening your skills.

What kind of tone did you most enjoy writing it? Satire? Heartfelt and romantic? Upbeat? Dark? Dreamy? Clipped and spare? None of these are the ‘right’ choice in any objective sense.

There is no ‘best’ tone to write a story in, only the tone that fills you with glee.

What genre did you find yourself coming back to over and over again? Mystery? Speculative? Historical? Romance? Literary? A blend of genres? (Literary Horror? Paranormal Romance? Romance Fantasy?)

Let yourself run wild in that genre today.

What length of story came most naturally to you? 100 words? 1200? 2000?

Aim for that today and spend a few minutes thinking about how much space that gives you for setting the scene, describing characters, introducing plot complications and side characters, description, and all the other details.

It should become clear to you why the common writing advice is ‘get your characters into trouble as quickly as possible’.

Spend a little time thinking before you write, so you don’t have to do it on the page.

(Or, you know, if you’re like me and you think best on the page, write it all out, then cherry pick the ‘real’ start of your story)

Leave a comment and let us know how it went!


Want more help brainstorming this today? Missed a few prompts this month?

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The Voices In Your Head | StoryADay 2024 Day 29

Call yourself an apprentice to the masters

The Prompt

Write a story in the point of view you found most satisfying, this month. Your character has just received some news they feel strongly about.

Things To Consider

Remember that each POV (1st person, second, third person limited, omniscient, and all the other flavors…) has its limitation.

In First Person the narrator can never know anything that’s happening outside their view, except through other people telling them about it.

In Third Person you can’t hop around between different characters’ internal lives within the same scene without risking confusing readers (and being jumped on by eager critique partners).

In Omniscient, you can inhabit many characters, which can make harder for readers to empathize with or root for anyone in particular.

Each POV can be helpful in telling different types of stories and you will want to develop your skills with cost of them, but is there one that comes most naturally to you?

Run wild with that, today.

Explore the limitations and opportunities it affords

. Have fun with it.

Leave a comment and let us know how it went!


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Steal an Opening Line | StoryADay 2024 Day 28

If it’s good enough for Shakespeare…

The Prompt

Take an opening line from a book you love and rewrite it to create a similar, but different opening for your story

Things To Consider

Getting started can be a huge obstacle to overcome. Faced with the prospect of having to start a new story every day we can start second-guessing our ideas, our style, our ability…All of this makes getting started even harder.

So let’s cheat.

• Go to your bookshelf

• Pull down a book you admire.

• Look at the first paragraph. How does it start? Is it a description of a place? Does something dramatic happen? Does someone talk?

• Look at the structure of the opening and use it for your own stories (this is how apprentices have always learned, they copy their masters’ work, and gradually find their own style). Copy your master-writer’s structure, but insert your own details.

For example, I pulled Ursula Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea off the shelf.

Its opening sentence is,

The island of Gont, a single mountain that lifts its peak a mile above the storm-wracked North-East sea, is a land famous for wizards.

(Isn’t that a great sentence?)

My story might begin,

The Arcologie Sando, a huge fractured semi-dome that rose up from the rock-strewn desert floor, was famous for producing arcolonists.

OK, hers is still better, but borrowing from the master, gave me a way in to my story.

Go to your bookshelf and steal an opening line from the best. Make it your own, and see where it leads you.

Leave a comment and let us know how it went!


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Write with us during May or go at your own pace.

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Structure for Your Writing Life

Learn from my mistake and triumphs, kiddoes…

Towards the end of the challenge, I’m noticing something about the people who are participating in the challenge: they’re getting more comfortable with tretaing the challenge as a support, not a cage.

What kind of support do you need, around your writing life?

Want to participate on your own schedule, get the StoryADay Challenge Handbook

Retell a Traditional Story | StoryADay 2024 Day 27

If it’s good enough for Shakespeare…

The Prompt

Retell a traditional story. I suggest Cinderella, but you may choose another story that’s closer to your heart. Bonus points for working in a story that comes from your particular cultural heritage.

Things To Consider

The simplest thing to do here is retell the story the way you remember it, but in your own words.

At the very least you’ll get a vivid reminder that you cannot help but be original. Your version will be the version only you could have told.

This is an important thing to remember on days when you’re wondering “why bother writing?”. An alternate approach is to tell a ‘twisted fairytale’, one in which you update or improve upon the original, either by changing the setting or changing the outcome (maybe modernizing it).

If you enjoy this exercise and want to add some source material to your bookshelves, check out:

Grimm’s fairytales, in collections of folktales, Aesops Fables, collections of regional tales.

Here’s a different version of the example I used for the 5-Sentence Story Structure from earlier in the challenge.

It’s not a work of genius, but it was written in one day and I did have fun. If I can do this (and share it!) surely you can write something today 😉

Once upon a time there was a lonely orphan named Cindy whose social media self-help gurus had affirmed her yearning to find her place and encouraged her to take up a particular space in the world, as soon as she decided what she really, really wanted from life.

The surprise drop of a local casting call for “The Bachelor”, coming as it did immediately after she had uttered the intention ‘I wish to be find my place and take up space’, seemed a bit on the nose, but, as Cindy said, “It’ll at least be giggle…not that I want to find a husband or anything, just to see a bit of the world, maybe go to a party or two, have a few laughs, meet some more women my age…” But her stepmother and stepsisters had their own plans for the days leading up to the casting call, none of which involved the pretty little orphan girl who cleaned their bathrooms snagging the eye of the casting director. They kept her busy with housework and changed the wifi password in case she had been planning to log on to ASOS and order a pretty outfit with an risky unsecured pay-by-the-month plan from an e-commerce company—which would have been the only way she could have afforded it.

Cindy sighed and resigned herself to watching audition-line updates on Instagram. (It hadn’t taken long to guess that the new wifi password was “UnbelievablyW3althy”.) She blinked back tears as she watched the Uber pull away with her stepmother and sisters inside.

She was just turning to go back inside, when a rustle caught her attention. It came from the hedge that separated their driveway from the neighbor’s. Mrs Phayree, who kept herself to herself, but sometimes waved to Cindy if she saw her out, hanging up washing, slipped through a gap in the hedge carrying a garment bag.

“Hurry, Cindy, this is for you. It was your mother’s. I bought it from the jumble sale your wicked stepmother had when she moved it. I wanted to save it for you. Your parents were good people.”

The old woman sniffed. She thrust the bag into Cindy’s hands and scurried off towards the hedge, calling over her shoulder, “Just make sure you book your Uber home for before midnight when the surge pricing kicks in!”

Cindy closed her mouth and blinked a few times. The garment bag was still in her hands. Taking it into the kitchen, she unzipped it slowly. Something from her mother?

Her hands shook as she drew forth blue silk, with the care previous generations would have reserved for holy relics. It was a jumpsuit, a style so old that had come back around into being fashionable again. Cindy’s breath caught in her throat, and then she did a little jig right there in the kitchen. She checked the oven clock. She had just enough time. She ran upstairs and changed into her mother’s old jumpsuit. Surely this would be the extra piece of luck she needed to find her place in the world.

At the conference center Cindy was stunned by the seemingly endless parade of perfectly-made-up women and girls, preening in hand mirrors and squabbling over places in the line. She looked at the line.

She looked at the little knot of staffers, in leggings and sweatshirts, hanging around behind the producer’s table. They were laughing and bumping elbows and then scurrying off to do tasks that Cindy could only imagine were important to the day’s outcome. “Hey,” scowled a woman behind her.

“The line’s moving. Are you even in this line?”

Cindy muttered something incoherent and edged aside, drawn towards the production crew.

“I could murder a cappuccino,” she heard a headphone-clad young woman’s voice from behind a laptop at the production desk. The coffee shop was only a few steps away. Cindy looked at the line of pretty young things.

She looked at the production crew. With a firm nod to herself, Cindy ran over to the coffee shop and spend the last of her credit balance on two coffees and carried them back towards the woman with the laptop.

“Hi,” she held out the coffee like an offering. “I’m Cindy. Do you have a moment to tell me a little more about what it is you do?”

The woman looked at her, in her silk jumpsuit, and said, “Aren’t you here to audition?”

“I don’t know anymore,” Cindy grinned, proffering the coffee again. “Cappuccino?”

“Well, I’m pretty busy but you did bring me free coffee, so pull up a chair and let’s chat.”

It turned out that the young woman was the show’s story editor, and she had a budget for an assistant. By the end of the day, Cindy was making plans to follow the production back to California, but not before she popped home to thank Mrs Phayree for her help, because, as Cindy now realized, that was the kind of space she wanted to take up in the world.

Leave a comment and let us know how it went!


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Write with us during May or go at your own pace.

Access immediately. (Will stay online as long as I’m running StoryADay!)

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Fan Fiction | StoryADay 2024 Day 26

It’s everyone’s guilty pleasure

The Prompt

Correct an injustice in a story someone else wrote

Things To Consider

We’re writing fan-fiction today, which is, technically, a derivative work.

There are legal issues around playing in other people’s worlds, for profit, but most artists and creators (and Intellectual Property owners) have learned to be cool with people writing fan fiction for fun.

For example, if you grew up reading a series of novels and felt strongly that the hero ended up with the wrong person as their life partner, take that as the starting-point for your story. Write the story of how they encounter the right person and realize this is their soulmate…and what steps they take to make that happen.

If you loved a particular film but one of your favorite characters is killed off, write a story of how that death was actually a sham and give your favorite character a new adventure, after that moment.

If you watched a long-running TV show and had a ‘head-canon’ idea about what happened to a side character later in life, only to have the show writers bring that character back and give them a different outcome…write your version!

With all of these ideas, you do not have to start the story with backstory about the original. Just put your character in an interesting situation and, at some point in the story you may choose to have them make an allusion to, or offhand comment about the ‘wrong’ that this story is ‘righting’.

Or you may not. Likewise, all of these ideas will be rich with novels’-worth of potential, but what you are trying to write today is a short story. Remember everything you’ve learned about short stories so far:

• Center the story on one incident

• Limit the scope (in characters, settings, time) and choose your details for maximum impact.

• Aim for an emotional impact, not an immersive, novel-like experience.

If you discover that you love writing fan fiction and haven’t yet discovered the site Archive of Our Own (AO3) you might want to check it out. It might, of course, massively distract you from your other writing, so treat it with care 😉

Leave a comment and let us know how it went!


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Get the Challenge Handbook, with helper videos, audio and text PLUS daily warm ups and brainstorming exercises designed to jumpstart your writing, daily.

Write with us during May or go at your own pace.

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Micro-fiction For The Win | StoryADay 2024 Day 25

Briefly…

The Prompt

Write a story in fewer than 250 words. Somewhere in the story use the phrase “the moment everything changed”

Things To Consider

A story in 250 words? Really?

Really!

But you’re going to have to leave a lot out, imply a lot, and trust the reader to fill in the gaps.

When we get down to this kind of word limit it is important to think about the essential elements of a story.

If you are trying to write a story and not just an aphorism or meditation, there are some elements you’ll need:

• A character (or two)

• A situation that conflicts with their wants or needs in some way

• An action that they take or plan to take

• A sense, for the reader, of consequences, and how that will change the reader.

I know, it’s unsubtle of me to ask you to include “the moment everything changed” in the prose, but it’s a great reminder, as you’re shaping the story, that readers like it when something changes in a story, whether it’s the character’s state or simply their understand of the character/situation.

Further Reading

If you’re not familiar with micro fiction, it can be helpful to read a few examples. (Just don’t use up all your writing time, reading!)

Microfiction Monday Magazine

O Magazine’s Microfiction feature

Vestal Review: the longest-running Flash Fiction publication on the planet:

Leave a comment and let us know how it went!


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Steal A Song | StoryADay 2024 Day 24

Don’t worry, they can’t copyright the song title!

The Prompt

Write the Story of a Song (Title)

Things To Consider

Art inspires art and there’s nothing wrong with borrowing from other creatives, so today you’re going to write the story of a song. You don’t actually have to write the story of the song, of course.

You might:

• Write a response to the song from another character

• Simply use the title and write a story that has nothing to do with the song (don’t worry, you can’t copyright a title. They’re fair game!)

If you choose a song that has a story built in (A Boy Named Sue, or Copacabana, for example—guess who grew up in the 1970s?!) you could choose to tell a story that serves as a prequel or sequel to the story.

I love the idea of a prequel because it should slowly dawn upon the reader that you’re leading into the story/song they already know.

Here are a couple of resources

An A-Z of Song Titles

Tulsa Library System’s Song Index

Fantasy Song Title Generator – for those of you who like to play fast-and-loose with the rules

Leave a comment and let us know how it went!


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Inspired by An Image | StoryADay 2024 Day 23

It’s the highest form of flattery

The Prompt

Choose one of these photos and tell a story based on it
Winslow Homer – Metropolitan Museum Gift of Mrs. William F. Milton, 1923
Paul Cézanne – Metropolitan Museum Bequest of Stephen C. Clark, 1960
Léon Bonnat – Metropolitan Museum Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Collection, Bequest of Catharine Lorillard Wolfe, 1887

Things To Consider

Using inspiration from other artists is a time-honored tradition (and helpful when it comes to marketing your version: fans of the original will be interested, whether they love or hate it!)

Images are helpful prompts for short stories because they capture a moment.

Your story can build up to or away from this moment (or both, placing the picture’s scene smack-dab in the middle of your story)

You do not need to honor the artist’s original inspiration for the story.

You can totally ignore the title of the picture. You can transpose these characters into a totally different setting (useful if you like to write futuristic or fantasy stories).

No matter what you choose to ignore, consider what is interesting about the moment captured in the picture.

Why did you pick this one? What stories does it suggest?

You might choose to give your story the same kind of mood suggested by the art style and color choices.

Further Reading

A StoryADay prompt about pictures (with video lesson)

Leave a comment and let us know how it went!


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Truth Bomb!

Learn from my mistake and triumphs, kiddoes…

An update from my StoryADay Challenge including travel; a migraine; whether or not writing streaks matter; and what to do when you don’t stick to your own rules for the challenge…

Haven’t joined the challenge yet? Do that here

Want to participate on your own schedule, get the StoryADay Challenge Handbook

Rewrite YourOwn Story | StoryADay 2024 Day 22

Is it plagiarism, if you wrote it?

The Prompt

Rewrite a story that you wrote over the past few weeks

Things To Consider

If you’ve done the “Same Story, Different Perspective” prompt, this will feel similar, but this time I’m inviting you take a story that you wrote and tell it all over again in a completely new way.

You can re read the story and decide to tell the story from the perspective of a different character, but you could also choose to try and tell it in a completely different format.

If you told a narrative story, you could see what happens if you rewrite it as a list story. If you told it as a Hermit Crab, could you write it again today as a traditional, narrative story?

This prompt makes it easier for you o write because you don’t have to come up with a whole new plot and cast of characters.

The challenge today is to make remake it in a new way.

For an interesting twist on this experience: rewrite a story you wrote recently without rereading it first.

After you write this draft, compare the two and see what they have in common and what was missing/added to each version. (Hat tip to Stuart Horwitz for this idea)

Leave a comment and let us know how it went!


For more examples of how you can work with this prompt, plus a warm up and brainstorming exercise:

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Story In Reverse | StoryADay 2024 Day 21

Fun that was

The Prompt

Start your story at the end. Write about a character who must do something they really, really don’t want to do in order to get out of a sticky situation.

Things To Consider

For readers of a certain age, I can simply cite the opening of the Tobey Macguire Spiderman movie (Falls off a building. Freezeframe, voice over: “Yup, that’s me. You’re probably wondering how I ended up in this situation…”).

Starting at the moment of peak drama and then jumping back in time to tell the rest of the story is a great and time-honored way of telling a story, and probably the easiest to do on a day like this, when you only have one day to craft the story. S

ome other options for telling a story backwards include literally telling it backwards.

In Courttia Newland’s 2017 story “Reversible”, the narrator shows us the victim of a crime and then tells the story as if it was a film, running in reverse (people back away down the alley and get into cars and reverse away at high speeds).

It’s a clever technique and ends up packing a huge emotional punch as we follow the victim back through his morning and into an average morning. (This is an idea that will take a bit of time to work out, so if you don’t have a lot of time to write today, file this idea away for later!)

Another clever-but-potentially-time-consuming idea, is to tell a palindromic story, in which you tell the story once in one direction and then reverse the direction and tell it again, but in the other direction.

Further Reading:

Here’s an example of a palindromic story and here’s a children’s story that does this very effectively

Here’s a collection where you can read Courttia Newland’s “Reversible”.

Leave a comment and let us know how it went!


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Write with us during May or go at your own pace.

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Same Story, Different Angles | StoryADay 2024 Day 20

A prompt for those who struggle with plot

The Prompt

Tell the story of an incident. Then tell it from another point of view. Then tell it a third time from another point of view.

Things To Consider

The great thing about this prompt is that you don’t have to come up with a large and complex plot to start.

Just write an incident (it could be someone observing a traffic accident, or a young mother interacting with her kid).

Then tell the story from someone else’s perspective.

The second versions should add to our understanding of what’s going on (or how people perceive events).

The third perspective tells the same story again but differently.

As with everything in life perspective matters.

One person’s insult is another person’s compliment. Blame can be assigned easily, but when the know more details, the ‘black and white’ of a situation can quickly become grey.

This is a wonderful opportunity to tell a story in a way that encourages readers to check their knee-jerk reaction to events they encounter in the world. You can use any point of view you want.

All three sections could be first person (“I saw an incredible thing today”) or you could play with the various third person perspectives (limited, omniscient) or even venture out in to second person (“You are walking down the street when”, or “We see the car slew towards the old woman and…”)

Further reading

You And Them

The Whole Is Greater Than The Sum of Its Parts – a prompt from Neha Mediratta

Leave a comment and let us know how it went!

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Mysterious Letters | StoryADay 2024 Day 19

My favorite prompt!!

The Prompt

Write a story in which your main character tries to unravel a mystery, but write it as a series of letters, social media updates, or memos – or a mix of forms

Things To Consider

The ‘epistolary novel’ had its moment in the sun in 18th Century British literature.

It was a form that allowed an intimate glance into the thoughts and emotions of characters ‘just like me’, at a time when expressing yourself publicly could be awkward, if not dangerous.

It was a titillating alternative to omniscient narrators and religious or political tracts that circulated more commonly, which, I imagine, accounted for the popularity of the form!

Epistolary writing goes in and out of fashion, but it does always come back around and is really fun to play with.

(My friends and I were obsessed with The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, aged 13 3/4 by Sue Townsend (which really wasn’t a children’s book!).

You might have been moved by the 19th century photo-Blair-Witch-Project that was Bram Stoker’s Dracula – treasure trove of ‘found documents’ from letters and journal entries to newspaper clippings and telegraph messages (pretty cutting edge stuff, in Stoker’s day).

This is another form where short fiction triumphs, because short stories don’t have to play by Big Narrative’s rules.

Further Reading

A one-sided conversation

Leave a comment and let us know how it went!

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Hidden Message | StoryADay 2024 Day 18

A challenge within the challenge

The Prompt

Write a story in a cypher: where the first word of each sentence is the REAL message

Things To Consider

It helps to write out the message you’re hiding in the story first.

Then, simply write a story and find a way to start each new sentence with the next word of your hidden message.

You can choose to hide the message in the second or third word of each sentence if you find that easier, or the last word (though I think that would be hard to pull off, unless you like dangling participles).

You can see my tips on a previous iteration of this prompt here

As an alternative to this you might try Grant Faulkner’s prompt from a StoryADay 2022….

When you have finished do something to celebrate. It can be as simple as grinning for five seconds, or doing a little dance (I like a victory dance, myself).

The important thing is to take a moment to revel in the good feelings you get from meeting your goals.

Leave a comment and let us know how it went!

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The Rules | StoryADay 2024 Day 17

Love ’em or hate ’em, rules are everywhere

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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In A Flash | StoryADay 2024 Day 16

Blink and you’ll miss this storytelling opportunity

The Prompt

Write a flash fiction story. Limit it to 1000 words. Your character finds and everyday object that changes their understanding of their past.

Things To Consider

Flash fiction emerged as its own form of short story in the 1970s and 80s.

As well as being shorter than the average short story being written at the time, flash fiction required something extra, a ‘flash’ that left an after-image in the mind’s eye. It’s an incredibly useful form for writing when you have an urge to make an impact, and are impatient with all the set up and backstory that you feel you ‘ought to’ provide in a longer story.

Flash fiction tends to

Revolve around a single moment in a character’s life, a single question or realization

Contain compressed, almost poetic language that packs a punch Feels crafted, but not contrived

Here’s my favorite explanation of how to think about Flash Fiction:

“ A novel invites the reader to explore an entire house, down to snooping in the closets; a short story requires that the reader stand outside of an open window to observe what’s going on in a single room; and a short short requires the reader to kneel outside of a locked room and peer in through the keyhole. –

Bruce Holland Rogers The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction

In keeping your story to 1000 words you’ll probably find that your first draft is significantly under or over that number. If it come in under the word count, great! You get to add more sensory detail to the story. If it comes in over, wonderful! You get to practice cutting words and choosing more effective ways of saying what you wrote in the first draft.

(NB You don’t have to do these things today. This might be a task for after the challenge, but makes some notes today, before you move on, so you remember what you were trying to achieve.)

I’m asking you to write today about a character finding an everyday object, because so much of human experience comes from moments like this.

Yes, sometimes it’s great to get swept up in galactic adventures and politics, but even in those stories it’s the small, human moments that let us connect with the characters.

Some examples: Your character finds a picture of their family, with an extra person in it who nobody has ever mentioned. Your character finds a piece of jewelry that had been lost Your character drops a mug and it smashes on the tile floor

The moment with the everyday object can occur at the beginning, middle, or end of your story

Further Reading

The StoryADay Flash Fiction Primer, with links to example stories

Leave a comment and let us know how it went!

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Hermit Crab | StoryADay 2024 Day 15

Hope you’re not kabourphobic…

The Prompt

Write a Hermit Crab story – that is a story which is told in another form. Write a story about a character who has just received some unexpectedly good news.

Things To Consider

For years, here at StoryADay I used this prompt without knowing that someone had given a name to it: the hermit crab.

The hermit crab is a crab that remains a crab while making its home in any outer container seems like the perfect name for the type of story I want you to write today. Not quite sure what I mean yet? Well, I’m talking about stories that emerge from things like a series of crossword clues or from a series of footnotes, or a series of interview responses , a recipe, the questions in a quiz, or an academic review paper (complete with footnotes).

Today I’m promoting you to write a story about a character receiving good news because often, when reaching for the dramatic, we immediately think of negative disruptions to a life.

But that often leads us to write a story that’s more of a downer than we really wanted to write.

Good news can be dramatic and disruptive too (I remember shaking after seeing my degree results and after seeing a positive pregnancy test. Both of those things were dramatic in the moment, and had a dramatic impact on the rest of my life, for sure!

Even smaller things like a successful audition for a local amateur dramatic production, or hearing ‘yes’ to any kind of request, can be a profound and interesting moment in a character’s life.

What good news will you give your character today? Remember to come back and post your ‘victory dance’ letting us know what you wrote about and how went.

Further reading:

a poem with the ‘story’ in the first words of each line

Browser History – a prompt from Gabrielle Johansen

Last Will – a prompt from Michele Reisinger

Recipe for Magic – a prompt from Carey Shannon

A Story In Memos

Multiple choice test

Review of Jennifer Wortmann’s story “Theories of the Point of View Shifts In AC/DC’s ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’”

Leave a comment and let us know how it went!


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Show & Tell | StoryADay 2024 Day 14

Such useful Iand terrible) advice. How to actually do it? Read on!

The Prompt

Write a story outline and argument, where one character enters the space, and once character leaves at the end.
Write the outline like this: [Name] is in [place] doing [verb], [Name 2] comes in in, obviously [in this mood]; then this happened, then [Name] said; then [Name 2] said; then this happened…and so on.
Look for the moments of highest impact (drama, humor, action) and rewrite those moments, showing as much of the action as you can.
Then polish the ‘telling’ parts of the story to make them a little smoother.

Things To Consider

“Show, Don’t Tell” is useful advice for reminding authors that readers want to be ‘in the moment’ with the characters, but if every moment of our stories is written like that it would exhaust your readers.

Our job, as writers, is to direct the reader’s attention to important moments (and sometimes away from them, if you’re trying to surprise them or keep a mystery going). “Showing” is really useful for that.

“Telling” is great when you want to speed up the action or misdirect the reader.

Let me give you an example from Shirley Jackson’s classic story, The Lottery

The first part of this paragraph is very much in the narrator’s voice, telling us what’s happening.

Then, Jackson slows us down and takes us into the moment by following the actions of Bobby Martin:

“The children assembled first, of course. School was recently over for the summer, and the feeling of liberty sat uneasily on most of them; they tended to gather together quietly for a while before they broke into boisterous play, and their talk was still of the classroom and the teacher, of books and reprimands. Bobby Martin had already stuffed his pockets full of stones, and the other boys soon followed his example, selecting the smoothest and roundest stones; Bobby and Harry Jones and Dickie Delacroix—the villagers pronounced this name “Dellacroy”—eventually made a great pile of stones in one corner of the square and guarded it against the raids of the other boys.”

Notice how the details become more specific as she moves into painting the picture for us. We can feel the stones, see the pile, picture the boys ‘guarding’ it. The ‘important’ part of this paragraph is not that the children are off school or that they are talking about school.

The important part it that they are gathering stones, so that’s where Jackson directs our attention, by using much more descriptive language than before. This is what I want you to do for a select few piece of your story, today.

When I say “polish up the ‘telling’ parts of the story”, I mean take the places where you wrote “And then [x] happened” and make them just a little more conversational or literary. (“She ran to the door” not “she stepped carefully across the shiny oak floor towards the closed French doors, careful to avoid the specific planks that she knew, through long practice, would reveal her presence with a telltale squeak underfoot.”)

Leave a comment and let us know how it went!

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Point of View | StoryADay 2024 Day 13

Getting creative with voice

The Prompt

Write a story about a character with a big decision to make. Write it in a point of view you don’t often use.

Things To Consider

I’m giving your character a big decision to make. You get to decide how much backstory the reader needs (and when they need to know it), but I will make a plea for NOT starting your story with any of that information. Start us in the middle of the action: during a conversation, or as they enter a new room. (need more on openings? Review this)

On Point of View

Many of us default to a particular point of view in our writing — “I don’t know what to say.” (First person), or “She didn’t know what to say.” (third person).
Today, I want you to write in a point of view you don’t often use, or that you find awkward. (Yes, I’m asking you to get comfortable with discomfort!)

A quick review of points of view

Each point of view brings with it restrictions and possibilities. If you frequently write in the same point of view you may be limiting yourself and run into trouble when a particular story idea seems to call for a different ‘voice’.

Try to focus on the opportunities that this new perspective offers. If you’re shifting from third person omniscient to a limited/first person perspective, really dig into the opportunity to access the characters’ thoughts and emotions. In these more limited perspective there’s no excuse for “Telling Not Showing”. Everything can be written as if we’re riding along on the perspctive-character’s shoulder, experiencing everything with them.

If you’re moving from a limited perspective to a third person omniscient, celebrate the fact that you can now see things from different peoples’ perspectives. The most effective, least confusing way to do this is to have scene breaks between each head hop in the short story. (You probably don’t want to do it more than a couple of times in a short story, but it can be quite fun to have most of the story told one person’s perspective then have a line break and give another character’s perspective as the conclusion of the story revealing a lot about the truth of the situation that, perhaps, the first character didn’t know.)

If you hate moving away from your favorite point of view that’s fine. You don’t ever have to do it again. Sometimes creative failures are essential to teach you what to avoid in future.

Leave a comment and let us know how it went!


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How’s StoryADay May 2024 Going?

In which I talk about how StoryADay May 2024 is going (spoiler: it’s going great!) and how much fun everyone is having, and the best ways to participate, even if you don’t want to write a story every day.

Chapters

[00:01:08] How Is StoryADay May 2024 going?

[00:01:30] Join The Discussion

[00:02:24] The Challenge Handbook Benefits

[00:04:51] The Experience of StoryADay May in 2024

[00:05:10] Week 1 – Come To Your Desk

[00:05:48] Week 2 – The Elements of Craft

[00:08:03] Week 3 – The Art of the Short Story

[00:09:10] Wish I’d Known Then…Podcast Appearance (Short stories for novelists)

[00:11:15] Fun With Short Stories

[00:12:45] The Benefits of Community & How to be A Good Literary Citizen

[00:17:29] Wish I’d Known Then…podcast – other topics we covered

[00:19:08] Indie vs Traditional Publishing

[00:20:39] If You’re Having Difficulty Writing or Staying Motivated to Write…

LINKS
StoryADay Challenge: https://storyaday.org

StoryADay Challenge Handbook: https://storyaday.org/challenge-handbook

Wish I’d Known Then…Podcast: https://stada.me/wishidknown

Other Ways To Increase Your Joy Around Writing

Download the Short Story Framework:

Take the 3-Day Challenge

Sign up for the StoryAWeek Newsletter

Take the I, WRITER Course

https://stada.me/iwriternow

Join the Superstars Group

https://storyaday.org/superstars

Coaching with Julie

Beginnings | StoryADay 2024 Day 12

Your opening lines are important…that’s why we leave them until last

The Prompt

Write a story that starts when your character enters a new environment with a plan to achieve something that matters to them…and immediately faces an obstacle.

When you have finished writing, go back and put a new opening on your story.

Things To Consider

Have you ever felt unable to start a story even though you want to write today?

You’re not alone.

Often writers get stalled at the start, because we’re aware of how important those opening lines are.

After all, a good opening should:

  1. Introduce the main character
  2. Set the scene (time and place – relative to  the reader)
  3. Set the tone.
  4. Hook the reader (ways to do this: intrigue, dialogue, surprise, contradictory information, introduce a mystery, start in the middle of the action, seduce the reader with the language, 
  5. Establish the story question or problem

That’s a lot of pressure.

So for today’s story, start writing in the middle of the action. Your character has just arrived somewhere new, in order to pursue something that matters to them, and they run into an obstacle within the first two sentences. 

You can do this with dialogue (“Well, that’s a problem.”) or with a little bit of scene setting, “She heaved the ornate oak door open and saw…a solid brick wall.)

Get your character into and out of trouble a couple of times until they have achieved their desire or otherwise changed in a satisfying way.

For added symmetry, end the story with your character leaving the environment they entered at the beginning.

NOW, look at your story and write a new opening for it that hits all five of the points listed above (it won’t take you five sentences to do this. You may be able to repurpose what you’ve written already).

Here are some possible opening line templates:

As [character name] [active verb][setting], they [verbed] a [noun]. [Image]. [Transition]

e.g. As Joanne fled the crowded pub, she lobbed what remained of her lemonade over her shoulder. With one last look over her shoulder she saw it arc through the air–globules caught in the security lights like fireworks–and spray across the faces of her three meathead pursuers, momentarily slowing them down. She put on a burst of speed. How had it come to this?

[Vivid details about something disastrous]. And to think, just [time period] earlier, everything had been going so well…

or

A [profession] in a [setting] doesn’t usually end up with [unexpected result], [conjunction]

Things To Consider

Leave a comment and let us know how it went!


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Everything Changes | StoryADay 2024 Day 11

No more unsatisfying endings!

The Prompt

Write a story that starts with your character in one place. Then they go through a series of events or experiences that leads them to a moment where everything changes for them.

Then let us follow them back through a series of events that mirror those that happened before, and show us how the world looks different to the character now.

Things To Consider

I’m suggesting this structure because it offers one way to create a clear path through the ‘muddy middle’ of a story.

The best illustration I can give you for this, is the Hans Christian Anderson story ‘The Ugly Duckling’. Here’s how that story goes:

  • The Duckling starts off in a farmyard with his loving mother but siblings who reject him, but he doesn’t give up. He goes off into the world to seek his place. He leaves home determined to find his place in the world, and wild ducks are mean to him
  • He goes to a farmyard where some of the animals are so mean to him he has to leave He goes to a peasant’s house and is chased by the children.
  • He goes to the river, and sees the swans who are so beautiful he is willing to risk his life to go and tell them how gorgeous they are, even if they peck him to death for his audacity.
  • They say: dude, look in the mirror. He’s a swan!
  • He heads out and some children see him and throw bread and cake into the water, talking about how beautiful he is, balancing out the other children’s action.
  • If I were rewriting this story, I’d be tempted to take the duckling on another journey, back past the peasant’s house and the farmyard, and to his home, reversing the initial journey and allowing him to see the word anew.

Leave a comment and let us know how it went!

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Fight To The End | StoryADay 2024 Day 10

No more unsatisfying endings!

The Prompt

Write a story about a character who is engaged in a contest that matters very much to them. You may or may not reveal the result, at the end. Your choice.

Things To Consider

A lot of writers struggle with ending a short story.

This comes down to one of a few problems

  1. They don’t know when the story is ‘over’
  2. They are afraid of tying things up too neatly in a bow and seeming cheesy

The solution to problem #1 is to figure out what the central point of your story really is.

It’s easy to keep writing, introducing new characters and new situations, but at some point you have to start making decision and shutting down your characters’ options, driving them down a funnel towards the ending. (I know, I know, making decisions is hard. But that’s what we’re doing, as writers: making a series of decisions for all of our characters. No wonder this is exhausting work!!)

When you know the point of your story, you can decide how to end it.

For example,

Winning And Winning Some More: in many movies about sports teams, especially underdogs, the team is engaged in a final contest. For a moment it seems like all is lost, until they rally and then, at the final buzzer, someone throws/hits/kicks/lobs a ball that lands exactly where it needs to, to put them over the top for a win.

This is a neat, happy, and rather cliched ending, but you can pull it off if the reader is invested in the characters and their success.

Similarly, romance stories end with the main couple getting together, but the inevitability of this ‘neat’ ending, doesn’t spoil the ride because we are rooting for each character to get out of their own way and let themselves accept love.

Failing (but also winning): SPOILER ALERT, the end of the Star Wars universe movie Rogue One is far from a traditionally happy ending, but it was a deeply satisfying ending. The characters we cared about made a huge sacrifice for the greater good, and along the way resolved a bunch of their personal demons.

If this movie had ended with everyone escaping to live happy, uncomplicated lives, I would have thrown my popcorn at the screen.

The Unresolved Ending: More SPOILER ALERT: in the finale of the long-running series Angel, the main characters have overcome a lot of squabbling to come back together as a team. They face the final conflict against terrible odds: cornered at the end of an alley facing down a bunch of demons. They’ve got out of this kind of situation before, but this one seems particularly dire.

Because this was the last time we were ever going to hang out with these characters the stakes were particularly high. Instead of creating a neat ending that would satisfy some viewers and enrage others, the writers had the characters rally as a team one last time, grin at each other and charge into the fight…at which point the end credits rolled. It was satisfying because the larger story of the series been wrapped up, but the final outcome was left to our imaginations.

Further Reading:

Three Ways to End a Story

The StoryADay Podcast episode 145: Ending Strong

Leave a comment and let us know how it went!


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Creating Conflict | StoryADay 2024 Day 9

Conflict is the beating heart of your story

The Prompt

The characters in your story today are stuck and need to work together to escape

Things To Consider

If character is the emotional heart of a story, conflict is the engine of the plot. Conflict doesn’t have to be something huge and traumatic.

It can be as simple as a disagreement about whether the coffee should be decaf or whether the person suggesting that is a monster caffeinated.

Every conflict is an opportunity to explore the motivation and values of your characters, and to point up the differences between them.

This is another great opportunity to take characters from another work-in-progress and dig deeper by putting them into a story.

One of the things that can easily get lost in a novel—especially after we fall in love with our characters—is conflict. We can spend so much time exploring their inner lives that we forget to torture them just a little bit.

Use today’s story to make life a little uncomfortable for your character. Sources of conflict to mine:

* Communication difficulties – misunderstandings, talking at cross purposes, someone not saying what they mean, linguistic difficulties…have you ever sat at dinner with your father and your brother and marveled at how they can argue over the minutiae of a how to talk about problem even though they agree on the bigger issue? (Asking for a friend…)

* Conflicting approaches to getting a task done – two characters may both want to escape the ravine they’ve fallen into, but one may want to follow the river until it reaches an outflow while the other wants to scale the cliff and get back on track as soon as possible.

Or, in a more mundane example: you take a wrong turn on the way to a party. You and your companion still both want to get to the party, but whereas your companion wants you to make a u-turn, you’re sure you can find an alternate route if you keep going forwards. Both of you are determined to do it your way. Why does it matter so much to each of you? What does it say about you as a character and about your relationship?

What else is feeding this conflict? What happens when you take that right turn down a quiet street, and how do each of you react to a, the events that greet you and b, the decision that led you there? Can you see how the story begins to emerge as you introduce conflict?)

* Conflicting wants/needs – perhaps one of your characters is less motivated to escape than the other. Why? Are they honest about it with the other character (or themselves) or not? * Lack of resources – conflict doesn’t always have to be interpersonal. It can be about a group of people in conflict with their environment. It’s easy to escape from a locked room if you have a key, harder if it’s barred from the outside.

Don’t forget, however, that it keeps things extra spicy if there is also interpersonal conflict, as stress levels rise.

Further Reading

A mundane situation 

Conflicting habits: 

Leave a comment and let us know how it went!


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