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!


Upgrade now to the Online Challenge Handbook

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.

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

Only $31 during the challenge. Price increases to $97 on June 1, 2024

BUY NOW BUTTON
storyaday graphic divider
23

Here’s your next Game Piece. save the image and share on social media with #storyaday


Prefer paper crafts? Here’s the cut & paste version

storyaday graphic divider

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:

Upgrade now to the Online Challenge Handbook

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.

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

Only $31 during the challenge. Price increases to $97 on June 1, 2024

BUY NOW BUTTON
storyaday graphic divider
22

Here’s your next Game Piece. save the image and share on social media with #storyaday


Prefer paper crafts? Here’s the cut & paste version

storyaday graphic divider

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!


Upgrade now to the Online Challenge Handbook

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.

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

Only $31 during the challenge. Price increases to $97 on June 1, 2024

BUY NOW BUTTON
storyaday graphic divider
21

Here’s your next Game Piece. save the image and share on social media with #storyaday


Prefer paper crafts? Here’s the cut & paste version

storyaday graphic divider

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!

Upgrade now to the Online Challenge Handbook

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.

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

Only $31 during the challenge. Price increases to $97 on June 1, 2024

BUY NOW BUTTON
storyaday graphic divider
20

Here’s your next Game Piece. save the image and share on social media with #storyaday


Prefer paper crafts? Here’s the cut & paste version

storyaday graphic divider

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!

Upgrade now to the Online Challenge Handbook

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.

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

Only $31 during the challenge. Price increases to $97 on June 1, 2024

BUY NOW BUTTON
storyaday graphic divider
19

Here’s your next Game Piece. save the image and share on social media with #storyaday


Prefer paper crafts? Here’s the cut & paste version

storyaday graphic divider

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!

Upgrade now to the Online Challenge Handbook

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.

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

Only $31 during the challenge. Price increases to $97 on June 1, 2024

BUY NOW BUTTON
storyaday graphic divider
18

Here’s your next Game Piece. save the image and share on social media with #storyaday


Prefer paper crafts? Here’s the cut & paste version

storyaday graphic divider

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!


Upgrade now to the Online Challenge Handbook

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.

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

Only $31 during the challenge. Price increases to $97 on June 1, 2024

BUY NOW BUTTON
storyaday graphic divider
17

Here’s your next Game Piece. save the image and share on social media with #storyaday


Prefer paper crafts? Here’s the cut & paste version

storyaday graphic divider

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!

Upgrade now to the Online Challenge Handbook

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.

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

Only $31 during the challenge. Price increases to $97 on June 1, 2024

BUY NOW BUTTON
storyaday graphic divider
16

Here’s your next Game Piece. save the image and share on social media with #storyaday


Prefer paper crafts? Here’s the cut & paste version

storyaday graphic divider

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!


Upgrade now to the Online Challenge Handbook

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.

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

Only $31 during the challenge. Price increases to $97 on June 1, 2024

BUY NOW BUTTON
storyaday graphic divider
15

Here’s your next Game Piece. save the image and share on social media with #storyaday


Prefer paper crafts? Here’s the cut & paste version

storyaday graphic divider

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!

Upgrade now to the Online Challenge Handbook

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.

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

Only $31 during the challenge. Price increases to $97 on June 1, 2024

BUY NOW BUTTON
storyaday graphic divider
14

Here’s your next Game Piece. save the image and share on social media with #storyaday


Prefer paper crafts? Here’s the cut & paste version

storyaday graphic divider

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!


Upgrade now to the Online Challenge Handbook

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.

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

Only $31 during the challenge. Price increases to $97 on June 1, 2024

BUY NOW BUTTON
storyaday graphic divider
13

Here’s your next Game Piece. save the image and share on social media with #storyaday


Prefer paper crafts? Here’s the cut & paste version

storyaday graphic divider

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!


Upgrade now to the Online Challenge Handbook

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.

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

Only $31 during the challenge. Price increases to $97 on June 1, 2024

BUY NOW BUTTON
storyaday graphic divider
12

Here’s your next Game Piece. save the image and share on social media with #storyaday


Prefer paper crafts? Here’s the cut & paste version

storyaday graphic divider

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!

Upgrade now to the Online Challenge Handbook

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.

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

Only $31 during the challenge. Price increases to $97 on June 1, 2024

BUY NOW BUTTON
storyaday graphic divider
11

Here’s your next Game Piece. save the image and share on social media with #storyaday


Prefer paper crafts? Here’s the cut & paste version

storyaday graphic divider

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!


Upgrade now to the Online Challenge Handbook

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.

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

Only $31 during the challenge. Price increases to $97 on June 1, 2024

BUY NOW BUTTON
storyaday graphic divider
10

Here’s your next Game Piece. save the image and share on social media with #storyaday


Prefer paper crafts? Here’s the cut & paste version

storyaday graphic divider

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!


Upgrade now to the Online Challenge Handbook

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.

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

Only $31 during the challenge. Price increases to $97 on June 1, 2024

BUY NOW BUTTON
storyaday graphic divider
9

Here’s your next Game Piece. save the image and share on social media with #storyaday


Prefer paper crafts? Here’s the cut & paste version

storyaday graphic divider

Character & Power | StoryADay 2024 Day 8

Character sheets are all very well, but no man is an island…

Bonus: if you’re starting to struggle, check out the SOS – Save Our StoryADay Guide now to get back on track

The Prompt

Write a story in which your character interacts with three other characters, one who has power over them, one whom they have power over, and one who is on an equal footing with them.

Things To Consider

Character biographies and archetypes are all very well as a starting point, but a person’s character is not fixed, nor does it ever fit one archetype. People are complex and and society even more so.

People show different parts of themselves in different situations. A useful way to decide which aspects of your character to show in a particular scene is to think the power dynamics in that scene. And remember: power can be psychological, physical, or the power of the group.

Our characters react based on who has the most power in an interaction. This dictates which masks they use to fit into a situation (or sometimes, to stand out) or whether they can be raw and vulnerable. Psychological Power

There are a bunch of old sayings like: you can judge a person’s character by what they do when no-one’s looking, or by how they treat ‘the staff’ (which, these days, tends to mean waitstaff, valet parkers, grocery store clerks or anyone they perceive as having less power than them in a given situation).

And this is true to a certain extent that these action reveal a person’s character and values.

But none of these interactions reflect how that character always acts. Nobody always acts as their best or worst self. And few people remain unchanged throughout their lives.

Physical and Social Power

In The Expanse series by James S A Corey one of the most interesting characters is Amos Burton, who is always, phsyically, the most powerful person in the room and the most comfortable with violence as a solution. In a room full of violent thugs, he is absolutely at ease.

Over the course of the series we don’t see his values change, but we do see him learn how to act in different situations, based on his desire to stay with the crew. It doesn’t feel insincere because his actions are not always dictated by his values and that feels very human.

He still has no problem with violence but he knows his captain does. He masks that part of himself because the captain of the ship has power over him, and the collective power of the rest of his crew is greater than his individual power (even though he could beat them all to a pulp if he felt so inclined).

Power Dynamics for Writing

In each scene of a story, in each interaction, we are seeing a snapshot of your characters. How they act in general is not necessarily how they will act in this moment.

But how to decide?

If you’re not sure what to do with a character in a scene, look around.

Who else is in the scene, and how much power does your character have, relative to them?

How does that affect how your character acts?Do they hold themselves differently? Do they speak differently? And how does that affect their mood and actions going into the next scene, where they might interact with someone with a different power relationship.

It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re being insincere in any of those situations. Rather, they are operating on a high-level understand of social dynamics. (Being human is complicated!)

Further Reading on character:

Give Your Characters A Voice

Character Counts (podcast)

Creating Compelling Characters – StoryADay Essentials Series

Great Character Writing with Angela Ackerman (podcast)

How I Met Their Father (or: Characters Are People Too)

Leave a comment and let us know how it went!

Upgrade now to the Online Challenge Handbook

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.

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

Only $31 during the challenge. Price increases to $97 on June 1, 2024

BUY NOW BUTTON
storyaday graphic divider
8

Here’s your next Game Piece. save the image and share on social media with #storyaday


Prefer paper crafts? Here’s the cut & paste version

storyaday graphic divider

Title Longer Than Story | StoryADay 2024 Day 7

I feel like I should have worked harder on the title for today’s prompt…

The Prompt

Write a short story in which the title is longer than the short story itself

Things To Consider

Sometimes contents and anthologies call for stories of a very particular word count. I am often asked if the title counts towards the limit.

It does not.

Therefore, if you’re feeling cheeky, it can be fun to write a story with a ridiculously long title.

In fact, this year I heard of a contest that called for exactly this: a story with a title longer than the body of the story. In this case you may find yourself playing with the premise of a story for a while before you begin to compose the finished article.

You may need to get up and pace around or go for a long walk, or, if you happen to read this at the start of the day, mull over it all day before you sit down to write. Sometimes that’s how writing goes.

The title you end up with will probably do the work that’s usually done by the opening paragraphs of a more traditional story: establishing the setting, the tone, the character, their desire and the obstacle to that desire.

The story itself will probably take the form of an ‘answer’ to the puzzle you set up in the story. I’d aim for a title that uses up 2/3 of the total word count, and a ‘story’ that is no more than 1/3 of the words. Here are some examples of short stories pretty long titles, but I think we could take similar ideas and expand them in interesting ways.

My Last Attempt to Explain to You What Happened to the Lion Tamer – Brendan Matthews

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven – Sherman Alexie

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love – Raymond Carver

These are novels, but I hope they’ll give you a sense of what I’m looking for today:

No Matter How Much You Promise to Cook or Pay the Rent You Blew It Cauze Bill Bailey Ain’t Never Coming Home Again; A Symphonic Novel – Edgardo Vega Yunqué

Or how about this well-known novel that are rarely given its full title?

The Personal History, Adventures, Experience and Observation of David Copperfield the Younger of Blunderstone Rookery – Charles Dickens

And my absolute favorite:

The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, Of York, Mariner: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, all alone in an un-inhabited Island on the Coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein all the Men perished but himself. With An Account how he was at last as strangely deliver’d by Pyrates – Daniel Defoe

Could you write a title like that and a quick one-sentence riposte as the body of the story?

One of my favorite things about short stories is their ability to defy expectations.

See what you can do with this challenge today. Leave a comment and let us know know how you got on. Was this faster than usual? Slower? Fun? Annoying? Join the discussion!

Leave a comment and let us know how it went!


Upgrade now to the Online Challenge Handbook

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.

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

Only $31 during the challenge. Price increases to $97 on June 1, 2024

BUY NOW BUTTON
storyaday graphic divider
7

Here’s your next Game Piece. save the image and share on social media with #storyaday


Prefer paper crafts? Here’s the cut & paste version

storyaday graphic divider

Word List | StoryADay 2024 Day 6

This is such a ridiculous prompt you can’t possible ‘fail’

The Prompt

Write a word story containing each of these 10 words

Why
Misery
Consternation
Pallor
Orchestra
Forgive
Paper
Entry
First
Grandmother

Things To Consider

I expect many people reading this prompt to have a viscerally negative reaction. “How am I supposed to write anything good with a list of random words?!”

Answer: you’re not.

Today’s prompt is an exercise in coming to your desk, writing something awkward and keeping going away.

There will be many, many days as a writer when you need to write a scene or a story that just isn’t flowing the way you want to.

The ability to keep writing anyway is an essential skill. We all need to practice allowing the first draft to be janky, awkward, a little bit ugly…and finishing it anyway.

It’s easy to say, but harder to do. So today, I’m intentionally setting the bar low. Of course you’re not expected to write a masterpiece with a collection of words I plucked randomly from a book (“The Art of the Short Story”, Dana Gioia & R. S. Gwynn, Pearson Longman, 2006, in case you’re interested).

If you’re not entirely sure how to use a particular word, let one of your characters use (or misuse) it.

Their use of that word—or how they react to being corrected—can more effectively show us the character than any explanatory note from a narrator’s voice. Remember words can be used in metaphorical ways, not just literally.

If you are resisting this prompt, make doubly-sure to give this one a try. In my experience, the prompts people resist are the ones they learn the most from. Sometimes they even end up with stories they love!

Leave a comment and let us know how it went!

Upgrade now to the Online Challenge Handbook

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.

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

Only $31 during the challenge. Price increases to $97 on June 1, 2024

BUY NOW BUTTON
storyaday graphic divider
6

Here’s your next Game Piece. save the image and share on social media with #storyaday


Prefer paper crafts? Here’s the cut & paste version

storyaday graphic divider

Like You, But Not | StoryADay 2024 Day 5

FALSE

The Prompt

Use the Short Story Framework to help you write a story about a person who lives a life quite like yours but does not behave the way you do

Things To Consider

I hope you kept your copy of the Short Story Framework handy after yesterday’s prompt because we’re going to use it again today, to prove to you that, though it is a framework, it doesn’t have to produce formulaic stories.

Start with a character who lives a life like yours because it will take you less time to invent the surroundings of the story, this way.

Choose a situation that might enrage, frustrate, or delight you.

Give it to a character who seems like you, at first glance, but who reacts in ways you suspect you never would.

This can be an opportunity for you to be delightfully naughty or admirably honorable.

Make sure to disguise yourself a little bit, in case you ever show the story to anyone 😉 Use the short story framework and really dig into the ‘and because of that’ portions, making sure your character reacts in ways that you would not or could not.

What possibilities does that open up? What will be the consequences for your character?

On Keeping The Story Short

Along a highway near my house, some enterprising homeowner once planted a stand of bamboo to shield their yard from the traffic roaring by.

Sadly, nobody had warned the homeowner about bamboo’s insanely aggressive spreading habit.

Now a huge swath of the highway is bordered by a fragile forest of waving stems that ‘escaped’ from the original yard. The bamboo wreaks havoc on the traffic patterns every time Pennsylvania’s harsh winters flatten portions of it with wind storms or heavy snow.

If only someone had told the original homeowner to plant their bamboo in a sunken concrete tub that woud have contained the ravenous rhizomes and stopped the spread!

Likewise, stories we intend to write as short stories have a strong tendency to want to grow into novels. The best way to keep this from happening is to set some firm boundaries around your story idea.

Here are some boundaries that may stop your story from turning into yet another novel-in-progress

  • * Limit the central incident of the story to one moment in one day in the life of one particular character
  • * Limit the number of characters who appear ‘on screen’ or who need their relationships to the main characters explained. Two or three characters who appear in the story are plenty.
  • * Limit the number of locations your story occurs in. The more locations you include, the more description you need, and the longer the story will need to be, and the more distracted the reader will become (remember, short story readers assume every detail is important. If you introduce five locations they will begin to become overwhelmed)
  • * Choose your details like a minimalist. Choose few, but very specific objects, smells, tastes and sights. Oddly, the more specific you are about a couple of details, the more realistic the story feels (yes, even if it’s happening in an alternate, futuristic, universe!)

Did you have fun with your story?

Leave a comment and let us know how it went!


Upgrade now to the Online Challenge Handbook

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.

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

Only $31 during the challenge. Price increases to $97 on June 1, 2024

BUY NOW BUTTON
storyaday graphic divider
5

Here’s your next Game Piece. save the image and share on social media with #storyaday


Prefer paper crafts? Here’s the cut & paste version

storyaday graphic divider

The 40-Minute Story | StoryADay 2024 Day 4

Write like the wind, friends!

The Prompt

Write a story that begins with a character buying tickets at a ticket booth

Things To Consider

Is it really possible to write a short story in 40 minutes?

Yes!

It might not be a fully-drafted short story. It might not be a good short story. Or it might (I’ve certainly seen people turn out a draft that flowed beautifully and needed minimal tweaks to fix. Sometimes racing to the end is exactly what a brain needs!).

However, the point of today’s story is to teach you to push through the messy middle and get to the end, and appreciate how that process makes all the different in your sense of achievement, and your ability to revise the story later.

Here’s how to structure your 40 minutes

  • Use the Short Story Formula to help you brainstorm.
  • Set a timer!
  • Spend 5 minutes, using the Short Story Framework. Brainstorm ONLY up to the FIRST “and because of this. Who is your character. What do they want from the ticket booth and is that part of their desire or just something they’re doing while they plan the next part of their story? Where and when is this taking place? What is keeping them from today’s greatest desire? (Remember, their greatest desire really can be ‘a glass of water’ or ‘comfortable shoes”. It doesn’t have to be something life-changing!)
  • Spend 5 minutes writing the set up you just mapped out. You should have reached the first ‘and because of that’ and allowed them to DO something. • Now turn to the next ‘and because of that’. As you were writing the first part, you likely started to have ideas about what this might contain. Make some quick notes and then…
  • Spend 25 minutes writing two more complications (“And because of thats”). Remember, everything grows out of character and the logical consequences of the actions they take. Are they making it easier or harder to get to their goal? Are they going consistently in one direction or taking two steps forward and one step back? • During this time you’ll start to have an idea of endings. Pick the one that sounds the most fun to you (fun can be ‘horrific/depressing’!)
  • At some point during this 25 minutes your writing will begin to flow and you’ll start to understand what this story wants to be. It won’t be perfect yet, but you can make notes about these insights and come back to them, later. • At the end of that 25 minutes, set a timer for 5 more minutes and write your climax and resolution. (You may have to type ‘[transition to ending]’ and move along, if you’re running out of time and haven’t written everything you wanted to write.
  • Tips for the ending: Do you want it to be a happy ending or a sad ending? If the character achieves their goal, it might be a sad ending, but not necessarily. If the character desired something that was wrong for them, and doesn’t achieve it, that could be a happy ending!
  • Make sure there is a moment in the story where the character makes a big choice that exemplifies the change that they’re making through this story.
  • Spend 5 minutes wrapping up the story in a sentence or two, then spend the final 5 minutes thinking about your opening and ending lines. Do they feel like they belong to the same story? Can you tweak them now to hint at the theme?
  • Then take the rest of the day off! Seriously, it’s really important to celebrate reaching the end of your story and letting yourself off the hook for the rest of the day. You can, of course, work on other creative writing projects if you wish, but sometimes it’s worth savoring the win for a while. You know you’re coming back tomorrow, right?

Most importantly of all: if you are starting the challenge today, or have ‘missed’ a day, DO NOT GO BACK AND ATTEMPT TO CATCH UP, today. If you have written a story today, you are winning. Enjoy it.

Leave a comment and let us know how it went!


If you enjoyed the brainstorming exercises today, get more like this when you:

Upgrade now to the Online Challenge Handbook

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.

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

Only $31 during the challenge. Price increases to $97 on June 1, 2024

BUY NOW BUTTON
storyaday graphic divider
4

Here’s your next Game Piece. save the image and share on social media with #storyaday


Prefer paper crafts? Here’s the cut & paste version

storyaday graphic divider

100 Words – Inanimate Object | StoryADay 2024 Day 3

A story about stuff

If you’re getting stuck, consider getting the StoryADay Challenge Handbook It comes with warm-up and brainstorming exercises for each day and each prompt.

The Prompt

Tell a story of an inanimate object in 100 words

Things To Consider

You may want to anthropomorphize the object, giving it a personality and desires and a level of agency that makes sense for your story OR how about telling a story about why it’s important in the life of a character — or more than one character?

(Top tip: if you have a novel on the go, or other stories you have written before, use this as a chance to deepen an existing character’s backstory.

Why do they care about this object and what can it tell you as you write more stories about them?

These details don’t need to turn up in your 100 word story, but probably will inform your future writing.)

100 word stories are a great chance to practice ‘show, don’t tell’, the art of putting the reader in a scene and not over-explaining. Drop us right into the situation and hint at either the problem or the resolution.

Remember: the more specific a detail, the more realistic and universal a story seems. Odd, but true.

A story this small may be easiest to write by describing one moment, but I bet some of you are going to greet that suggestion with a cocked eyebrow and an ‘oh-ho, watch me tell a four-century story in 100 words’. Good for you. I can’t wait to read it 🙂

Leave a comment and let us know how it went!


Upgrade now to the Online Challenge Handbook

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.

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

Only $31 during the challenge. Price increases to $97 on June 1, 2024

BUY NOW BUTTON
storyaday graphic divider
3

Here’s your next Game Piece. save the image and share on social media with #storyaday


Prefer paper crafts? Here’s the cut & paste version

storyaday graphic divider

Two Characters Duke It Out | StoryADay 2024 Day 2

Limit your characters to maximize your chances of finishing a sthort story today

The Prompt

Limit your story to two characters. Each wants the same thing, but for different reasons

Things To Consider

Have you ever sat a a dinner table and listened to two relatives argue, only to discover, when you listen carefully, that they’re actually arguing the same point, just from marginally different angles?

(In my experience this happens with fathers and sons a lot. They agree on the big points but nitpick the expression of them to death, until everyone else slinks away from the dinner table and hangs out with mom and her box of wine, in the kitchen).

In this moment of what seems like deep divisions in our politics, if you dig deeper you mostly find that humans want the same things, they just differ about how to get there: we want to feel safe, to have love in our lives, to have some degree of autonomy, to do rewarding work, to make a difference.

But writing a story about such lofty ideas is not terribly compelling, so let’s bring this down to a more mundane level. Perhaps your characters both want a healthy meal but are bickering about whether that means a deep-fried, but vegetarian meal or one that includes grilled meat and seared vegetables.

As they walk and talk and try to pick a restaurant, their conversation might reveal other, deeper problems—or joys—in their relationship. Perhaps your characters are trying to break out of a locked room they’re stuck in.

Both have strong opinions about the best way to do that. This could be a simple puzzle (how will they escape?) or, again, you could reveal more about each character and their relationship to each other, based on the options each puts forward or in the way they physically approach the eventual escape.

I’m asking you to write this story with two characters for a couple of reasons

  1. If you only have one character in a story it can become very passive, with lots of internal though and very little action, which makes it hard to engage a reader and make them care….unless your character has a strong and quirky voice (and we’ll be talking about that later this month);
  2. The energy of a story is conflict. This can be conflict between what a character wants and what they are currently qualified to achieve, but when you introduce a second character you have many more types of conflict available to explore.

Plus, when you have characters interacting physically and verbally, you have built-in action to keep the reader interested and feeling like this is a thing that actually happened, in an actual physical space, and not simply an intellectual exercise or essay that they’re reading.

Other things to think about:

Don’t give us too much backstory. Short stories often work best when grounded in the moment, with only hints about the larger world the characters inhabit.

Give them one problem to deal with or bicker over, and then end the story. Remember, you’re coming back tomorrow to write again, right?

Leave a comment and let us know how it went!


Upgrade now to the Online Challenge Handbook

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.

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

Only $31 during the challenge. Price increases to $97 on June 1, 2024

BUY NOW BUTTON
storyaday graphic divider
2

Here’s your next Game Piece. save the image and share on social media with #storyaday


Prefer paper crafts? Here’s the cut & paste version

storyaday graphic divider

The Five Sentence Story | StoryADay 2024 Day 1

You CAN write a story in five sentences. Really!

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!


Upgrade now to the Online Challenge Handbook

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.

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

Only $31 during the challenge. Price increases to $97 on June 1, 2024

BUY NOW BUTTON
storyaday graphic divider
1

Here’s your next Game Piece. save the image and share on social media with #storyaday


Prefer paper crafts? Here’s the cut & paste version

storyaday graphic divider

Just Released: Save Time with the StoryADay Challenge Handbook

Ever have one of those days where you want to write, but get to your desk and…nothing?

Well, I created StoryADay May for you (and me).

And this year I have a fantastic new way for you to gain all the benefits of StoryADay: but spend less time wondering what to write: The StoryADay Challenge Handbook.

With daily warm-ups and brainstorming sessions, this new StoryADay experience will propel you into your writing day and let you get to the fun stuff (the writing) no matter how busy you are.

StoryADay Handbook

Whether you’re planning to write a StoryADay in May or just want to be able to show up at your desk any day, write, and walk away feeling like you’ve flexed your writing muscles, improved your grasp on the craft, and created something real.

​ I built the StoryADay Challenge Handbook so you can get more out of this year’s writing prompts, in May…or any time you want to write.

(And this one is specially designed for the introverted writers who aren’t interested in writing sprints or hangouts or really anything other than getting words on the page and growing their skills.)

I’ve taken everything I’ve learned over the past 15 years about short stories, writing, writers, and prompts, and put it together in this brand-new offering. I think you’re going to love it (and the special 15th Anniversary discount….it’s like nothing you’ve seen from me since 2018!).

Find out more here

If you’re longing to get to your desk more often, and feel more fulfilled when you walk away, check out the brand-new StoryADay Challenge Handbook

Keep writing,

Julie

P. S. Yes, the writing prompts will still be coming to your inbox for free, if you’ve signed up. The Handbook adds video, audio, an ebook collection, and daily warm ups and brainstorming exercises designed to propel you into your writing, whether you’re taking the StoryADay May Challenge, or simply want to use it throughout the year to jumpstart your writing day. Grab your copy now

SWAGr for June 2023

It’s that time again: time to make your commitments to your writing for the coming month. Join us!

Welcome to the Serious Writers’ Accountability Group!

CONGRATULATIONS! Whether you wrote stories during StoryADay May or focused on living the life that will feed later stories, congrats!

(I did a bit of both!)

Special June Edition of SWAGr

Because we’re coming out of a month of intense writing, I HIGHLY recommend you download and fill out the StoryADay Post-Challenge Workbook.

  • Capture your ‘lessons learned’
  • Document what worked for you (and what didn’t. No judgement, just data!)
  • Plan for the future so you don’t lose momentum OR burn out

Listen to two podcast episodes that walk you through the debrief process

Part 1 – listen now

Part 2 – listen now

Then:

Leave a comment below telling us how you got on last month, and what you plan to do next month, then check back in on the first of each month, to see how everyone’s doing.

(It doesn’t have to be fiction. Feel free to use this group to push you in whatever creative direction you need.)

Did you live up to your commitment from last month? Don’t remember what you promised to do? Check out the comments from last month.

And don’t forget to celebrate with/encourage your fellow SWAGr-ers on their progress!

Download your SWAGr Tracking Sheet now, to keep track of your commitments this month

****

Examples of Goals Set By SWAGr-ers in previous months

  • Finish first draft of story and write 3 articles for my school paper. – Courtney
  • Write on seven days this month – Clare
  • Extend my reading and to read with a ‘writers eye’- Wendy
  • write 10,000 words – Mary Lou

 So, what will you accomplish this month? Leave your comment below

(Next check-in, 1st of the month. Tell your friends!)

Day 31 – Wish Fulfillment by Julie Duffy

You did it! Now let’s see if your character has THEIR wish granted…

The Prompt

Grant your character’s deepest wish, today

You’ve done it!

You started this month with the desire to write more, write better, and build your writing practice.

With commitment (and probably some imperfect execution) you’ve arrived here, at Day 31 of StoryADay. That’s a huge accomplishment.

As you write your story today, think about how it feels to get what you wanted.

Of course, reality never quite matches up with how we imagined the perfect outcome (for example, I imagined that this year I wouldn’t crave Sundays ‘off’ from my own challenge. This did not turn out to be true…)

For your character, feel free to use the old fairy-tale caution to be careful what you wish for.

For yourself, however, I’d remind you that achievements begin with two things: a vision of how things could be; and a decision to work towards that better future. You used both to write, this month.

CELEBRATE!

Whether you wrote three stories or 31, you Imagined yourself as a writer, you Wrote, you Refined your practice, you Improved your craft, you Triumphed and, if you’re still reading this, I’m pretty sure you Engaged with the community.

You’re living the I, WRITER life.

If you’d like to keep Repeating this successful pattern, take the next steps with the self-paced I, WRITER Course, available now – a program of writing life and craft workshops that reinforces everything you’ve worked to build here.

  • Build your writing practice
  • Develop your craft
  • Start when you’re ready, go at your own pace

To celebrate the end of StoryADay May, if you join I, WRITER before my birthday on June 13, 2023, I’ll send you an invitation to join one of our Superstars Critique Weeks (valid until March 2024), at no cost (a $147 value).

Tomorrow, I’ll be back in your email inboxes one final time, related to StoryADay May 2023, to send you a self-assessment form, so you can capture what went well and what you will do differently as a result of everything you’ve learned on this journey.

This is one of the most valuable documents you’ll create for yourself and I recommend repeating the practice after every project, in future.

For now, sit back and bask in the your successes as a StoryADay 2023 Winner!


Julie Duffy

In 2010 Julie was a frustrated writer, who decided that writing a StoryADay in May would be a great way to kickstart her writing practice. 13 years later, it seems she was right. The rest of the writing world quickly caught on and now May is known as Short Story Month! Julie is the author of writing handbooks, articles, podcasts, workshops and courses, as well as a short story writer, and ‘Book Boss’.

Join the discussion: what will you do with today’s prompt OR how did it go? Need support? Post here!

31

Here’s your final Game Piece (you’re amazing!). Save the image and share on social media with #storyaday

Prefer paper crafts? Here’s the cut & paste version

Day 30 – Tell It Backwards by Julie Duffy

Starting at the end is a fun way to tell a story…

The Prompt

Start your story with the character walking away from a situation (figuratively-speaking) and then explain how they got there.

Things to Consider

  • Think of TV shows that start with a dramatic scene then jump back to eight hours earlier and show how the characters ended up there – in this case you can tell the rest of the story in chronological order from beginning to the moment we entered the story (Looks at the camera: this is where you came in…)
  • Another option is to step back through the day moment by moment, unpacking every event and the event before it, in reverse order. This can be very powerful if you take the readers on an emotional rollercoaster
  • Or you can do some blend of the two.
  • The great thing about this is that you know where you’re going, all the way through the story because you know the outcome. You know what you have to set up to make the ‘ending’ work. Even if you never use this story form again, it’s a great exercise that you can use to rough out the end of a novel or longer story, any time you get stuck!

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]

Winners’ Swag

We’re so close! It’s not too soon to order your Winner’s Swag:

Order Now
Order Now

Julie Duffy

In 2010 Julie was a frustrated writer, who decided that writing a StoryADay in May would be a great way to kickstart her writing practice. 13 years later, it seems she was right. The rest of the writing world quickly caught on and now May is known as Short Story Month! Julie is the author of writing handbooks, articles, podcasts, workshops and courses, as well as a short story writer, and ‘Book Boss’.

Join the discussion: what will you do with today’s prompt OR how did it go? Need support? Post here!

30

Here’s your final Game Piece (you’re amazing!). Save the image and share on social media with #storyaday

Prefer paper crafts? Here’s the cut & paste version

Day 29 – Crowd Scene by Julie Duffy

Can you fit a crowd into a short story?

The Prompt

Write A Story Featuring an Assembly or Crowd Scene

Normally I caution against having too many people in a short story, but today I want you to practice filling the scene with a crowd…but still focusing on your main characters.

There’s lots of potential for noise, color, and action in this one!

  • Think about the way fish school or birds flock. Can you use that in the story somehow?
  • Is your character happy to be lost in the crowd (running from pursuers) or would they rather be found?
  • How does the outer action of being in the crowd compliment or contrast with what’s going on inside your character?
  • Where will the reader enter the story, and how will we know it is finished? (for example, if the story starts as your character enters the crowd, perhaps it ends when they find their way out? This is a technique I learned from Mary Robinette Kowal’s MICE Quotient class. She’s running another one next month. * #recommended.)

Julie Duffy

In 2010 Julie was a frustrated writer, who decided that writing a StoryADay in May would be a great way to kickstart her writing practice. 13 years later, it seems she was right. The rest of the writing world quickly caught on and now May is known as Short Story Month! Julie is the author of writing handbooks, articles, podcasts, workshops and courses, as well as a short story writer, and ‘Book Boss’.

Join the discussion: what will you do with today’s prompt OR how did it go? Need support? Post here!

29

Here’s your final Game Piece (you’re amazing!). Save the image and share on social media with #storyaday

Prefer paper crafts? Here’s the cut & paste version

(*this is an affiliate link, meaning I may be rewarded if you use my link to sign up. But I would recommend this class either way.)

Day 28- The Body Talking by Neha Mediratta

We communicate with more than words…let’s explore that today

The Prompt

Write a short story describing your character’s inner reactions/emotions/thoughts to outside events entirely through body description.

Use this ending for your short story. “After he signed the papers, he stood up slower than usual. He almost limped away from the desk and into the corridor.

No, that’s not it.

His head hung to the left a bit, his whole torso’s weight shifted to the right leg for longer than the left one, as if was lugging around a log of wood attached to his left calf. His left knee didn’t bend. His arms, usually swinging, hung limp.”

Steve Maxwell, a fitness instructor, says: “People’s bodies are exactly what their thoughts are.”

Including the body’s reactions to outside situations is a great way to develop depth in characters. It creates a more immediate connection with readers (since they can absorb a lot of implicit information through such descriptions) and makes your writing more effective with just a few details!

How can we show defeat (like in the ending shared above) or anger or love or excitement/fear through body reactions of characters?

Enjoy!


Neha Mediratta

Neha is a generalist currently obsessed with stretching, mind-body-world connection and the spirit’s dwelling place. She writes fiction, non-fiction, takes on editing assignments she enjoys and works with people she admires. She lives by a lake in an overcrowded coastal city with her family and some wildlife. Check out her writing here

Join the discussion: what will you do with today’s prompt OR how did it go? Need support? Post here!

28

Here’s your next Game Piece. save the image and share on social media with #storyaday

Prefer paper crafts? Here’s the cut & paste version

Day 27- Last Will by Michele. E. Reisinger

Today’s prompt from Brenda Rech gives you a chance to stretch your imagination

The Prompt

A lawyer I know once told me there are only two kinds of people in this world: Those who think the pre-deceased should decide how to disperse their life’s work and those who think themselves entitled to it.

Write a story told as a LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT.

You can be silly or serious, realistic or really weird.

Which of the two kinds of people is your protagonist?

Which is their beneficiary? Is there a third kind of person?

What message may your protagonist be trying to send, and do the beneficiaries agree?

Consider your time period and genre, as well as the bequests. Are they sentimental, practical, or fantastical?

The gold pocket watch in 1886 could be a family heirloom, but in 6881 a portal between universes. What if the watch were BOTH those things, regardless of space and time?

Play around with the topic.

Maybe instead of writing the document, you write the story of the passed-down object or one of the beneficiaries.

Maybe you write about the ugly vase or the empty booze bottle, around whose necks cryptic notes are strung.

Maybe you focus on the relative who expected everything and received nothing. Or the lawyer, maybe, duped by the pre-deceased into unscrupulous behavior.

Whatever you decide, your story needn’t be macabre or gloomy. It can be, of course, but it can also be playful.

It can be joyous.


Michele E. Reisinger

Michele is a writer and StoryADay Superstar living in Bucks County, PA, with her family and never enough books. Her short fiction has appeared in Across the Margin, Stories That Need to be Told, Sunspot Literary Journal, Dreamers Creative Writing, and others. Find her online at mereisinger.com.

Join the discussion: what will you do with today’s prompt OR how did it go? Need support? Post here!

27

Here’s your next Game Piece. save the image and share on social media with #storyaday

Prefer paper crafts? Here’s the cut & paste version