This is it. We’ve come to the end of StoryADay May 2013.
Thank you so much for being a part of it. I would love to hear how you’ve got on, what you have learned. If you post on your own blog about your experience, please leave a link to it here. If you’d be willing to be interviewed (for future articles here at StoryADay.org), leave a comment here and let me know.
Write about an ending (and what happens next)
- Perhaps your main character is graduating from school or college. What is she feeling? What doors will open for her? How will what he wants be affected by what he has to do?
- People leave our lives in many ways. How will your main character fill the void when someone important leaves their life?
- Just for fun, what if your main character is a writer, or other artist, finishing up a project? What if he/she has had a work rejected? What other doors will open for them next?
Don’t forget to come back on June 3 for the 7DayStory challenge! And keep an eye on your inbox for next week’s regular Write On Wednesday writing prompt.
Most of all, keep writing!
Don’t miss this news about a new week-long challenge to keep you writing in June — and this one comes with a built-in revision component!
Take an event/experience from your own life and fictionalize it
Last year, at a writer’s conference I was struck by the reaction of a panel of agents every time someone asked them a question that started, “I’m writing a memoir, and…”
They rolled their eyes. They groaned. They composed themselves and gently tried to dissuade the writer from getting their hopes up about being able to publish a memoir. The reasons?
- Everyone is writing a memoir. Competition is huge and truly compelling memoirs are few and far between
- Even if you’ve had a tragic life event, that’s not enough to sell your story. By all means write it, but don’t expect to sell it unless you have a bigger story: how you triumphed after the tragedy; how someone else can learn from your experiences; how you met/become/already were a celebrity (OK, that last one’s a bit cynical, but not far from the truth).
The best piece of advice I heard was not ‘stop writing memoir’ but “why not take your story and turn it into fiction, with compelling characters, rich scenarios, drama, comedy, all the things that make for a great novel?”
Take an event/experience from your own life and fictionalize it
- Use the truth of your emotions, reactions etc., to inform the story but use this chance to have your character be wittier/smarter/weaker/more vulnerable than you were.
- Write a better ending than the one life gave you.
- Use an often-told family story as source material if you don’t want to write about your own experiences (e.g. the story of how my grandparents courted and eventually married is a wonderful one that I fully intend to mine for a story one day)
- Remember that you are not cataloguing history. You are weaving a story that will share some experience in a visceral way with readers. Go deeply into the emotions and/or the details at least once during the story. Make us feel it.
One of the best pieces of advice I received for writing short stories was to make your character want something. Once your character wants something you have a structure for the whole story: put obstacles in their way and see how they react.
Create a character who wants something really badly, then thwart them at every turn.
- This story can be realistic, or high-fantasy; historical or far-future; tragic or comic. The strength of this prompt is that it focuses on character. No matter where you set it, you can make it realistic by having your character react to being thwarted in a way that feels familiar to your reader.
- You get to decide whether your character gets what they want at the end or not.
- Read Fight City (An Irish Jimmy Gallagher Novelette) by last week’s guest prompter James Scott Bell for a really fun example of how you can spin out this kind of ‘thwartage’ for a whole novella (it’s only $0.99 but you may also borrow it for free under Kindle lending plan).
- Here’s a short-short story from Mary Robinette Kowal that demonstrates how a simple ‘want’ can sustain a whole story and help create rounded characters out of somewhat surprising source-material. (I highly recommend the Writing Excuses podcast that Mary co-presents with Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells and Howard Tayler. It doesn’t often focus on the short story, but it is always inspiring and only 15 minutes long.)
Write A Child’s Story
This is ‘the story of a child’, not necessarily a story for children’s story
- Children are adventurous. They are open. They are surprisingly insightful. They see the world in bright colors, not moral greys. They are, in other words, great hero material.
- Children are inexperienced in the world and therefore, generally, not paralyzed by potential consequences. This makes them great hero material AND great villain material (Lord Of The Flies).
- Around the age of ten children are aware of themselves, have some empathy for others, a growing facility to play with the more sophisticated language they hear from adults, and a fairly well developed ability to survive without an adult’s help. They are developing an awareness of their own personality and its affect on others and their ability to choose what they do with that. This is why so many great child-characters are written at this pre-teen stage. Consider making your protagonist this age
- If you don’t have much exposure to children right now, consider writing a story in flashback, where your older character tells the story of themselves as a child (as Rob Reiner did in Stand By Me).
Today is a big day for last week’s Guest Prompter Simon Kewin: It’s the day his publisher is revealing the cover of his upcoming novel. Show him support and pop over to his blog to take a look at the cover. Leave him a comment to say ‘congrats’.
It’s Memorial Day here in the US. Unofficially that marks the start of the summer season. We get a day off work and school, and people have barbecues and open up their beach houses and generally goof off. Of course, the origins of this holiday are quite different:
Formerly known as Decoration Day, it originated after the American Civil War to commemorate the Union and Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War. By the 20th century, Memorial Day had been extended to honor all Americans who have died while in the military service. It typically marks the start of the summer vacation season, while Labor Day marks its end.
Many people visit cemeteries and memorials, particularly to honor those who have died in military service. Many volunteers place an American flag on each grave in national cemeteries.
Write a story that takes place on a holiday/special occasion where things do not follow the traditional or ideal path
- Use this prompt to write a story centered around a holiday, with a view to submitting this story to publications. Many publications, such as EveryDay Fiction are actively looking for seasonally-appropriate holiday stories (for Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, any holiday).
- Write about a holiday that has just passed and is fresh in your mind. Put a note in your calendar to submit it to markets nine months from now (a month or three before the holiday comes around again)
- You could write an Independence Day story where celebration and independence are NOT what happen
- Family-centered holidays like Mother’s Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas or other religious holidays, are fraught with tension and opportunities for comedy, drama and subversion.
In honor of Memorial Day, write a story featuring a member of the armed forces
We’re almost there! This is the last week of StoryADay May 2013. Stay tuned on Thursday for news of another, short-term challenge to keep you writing.
Also, I’d love to know who’s been writing this month. Please leave a comment on this post if you’ve written at all this month, and let us know how much/often you’ve managed to write. Spread the word to friends who might have fallen off the wagon. Tell them to check-in and celebrate what they have achieved so far (and maybe come back for the last week?).
As always, thank you for playing. Without out you, this challenge simply wouldn’t be any fun! You inspire me and each year’s participants influence the shape and content of the next challenge. So thanks!
Write a story that includes these words:
- This is a silly prompt. Feel free to write a silly story.
- The chances are, if you’re still here, you’ve started to take your writing quite seriously, in a good way. However, there’s always a danger of ‘serious’ becoming ‘solemn’. Use today as a break from whatever you’ve been writing and write https://storyaday.org/prompt-fros/ that is purposely silly, off-the-cuff, not to be taken seriously.
- Consider posting your story in the comments here so that we can see how everyone chose to use these words
After this week’s post about jumping into the middle of a story, I thought I’d go the whole hog:
Start At The End
Start your story with the character walking away from a situation (figuratively-speaking) and then go back and explain how he/she got there.
- Think of TV shows that start with a funny/dramatic scene and then jump back to “eight hours earlier”
- Feel free to use stage directions like that, if it helps
- Maybe you could tell the entire story backwards (“three hours earlier”, “three hours earlier still”). It might not work, but it could be interesting
Today we have a guest prompt from aspiring-to-be-published writer and StoryADay participant, Cat Lumb. Thanks, Cat!
Your character wants to find the source of a strange noise they can hear. Tell the story of how they find out what that sound is…
Cat Lumb started her blog in 2011 as means to be accountable for her writing dreams. She is currently editing one of her two first draft novels and writing short stories.
Check out her blog: www.nowrittenwords.wordpress.com or link with her on Twitter @Cat_Lumb
You can read all of Cat’s Story a Day in May stories through her blog at: http://nowrittenwords.wordpress.com/a-story-a-day-2013/
Today’s prompt is from writer, illustrator and all-round good egg Debbie Ridpath Ohi, who shares one of her Daily Doodles with us today to help inspire a story. Thanks, Debbie!
It Wasn’t Me!
Tips from Julie
- Use the words or picture in any way that seems right to you
- If you’re not an animal person, you don’t have to use the dog.
- If your’e not an animal person, you should consider using the dog anyway. (Hey, this is about stretching yourself, right?)
Debbie Ridpath Ohi (http://DebbieOhi.com) writes and illustrates books for young people in Toronto, Canada. She is the illustrator of I’M BORED by Michael Ian Black, published by Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, chosen by The New York Times as a Notable Children’s Book. Debbie has current and upcoming book projects with Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins and Random House. More info about Debbie and her projects: http://debbieohi.com. Her blog for writers/illustrators:http://inkygirl.com. Twitter: @inkyelbows.
Today’s guest prompter is novelist Phil Giunta. Thanks, Phil!
Natalie arrives home from work and is perplexed that her dog is not there to greet her as usual. In fact, he is nowhere to be seen or heard. Even more disturbing is the semi-automatic pistol sitting on her coffee table and the sound of running water from the kitchen.
- Natalie could live in a city, suburb, or rural area. House or apartment. Single or married.
- It also doesn’t matter what type of dog she has.
- I did not indicate whether the gun belongs to her or not. Perhaps it’s normally hidden away. How did it get onto her coffee table? If the gun is not hers, then to whom does it belong?
Phil Giunta’s first novel, a paranormal mystery called Testing the Prisoner, debuted in March 2010 from Firebringer Press. His second novel in the same genre, By Your Side, was released in March 2013.
His short story work includes “There Be In Dreams No War” and “Root for the Undergods” featured in the anthologies ReDeus: Divine Tales and ReDeus: Beyond Borders from Crazy 8 Press.
Phil is currently editing a short story collection titled Somewhere in the Middle of Eternity for Firebringer Press and working on the paranormal thriller novella, Lineage. He is the narrator of an audio version of Testing the Prisoner, which can be heard for free at Podiobooks.com. The audio version of By Your Side is forthcoming on the Prometheus Radio Theatre feed: http://prometheus.libsynpro.com. Visit Phil’s website at http://www.philgiunta.com.
Continuing our Guest Prompt week, today’s prompt comes from novelist and teacher Gregory Frost. Thanks, Greg!
Unusual Ways of Seeing
Imagine a person with a very idiosyncratic way of seeing the world (for example, a low-end drug dealer who’s perpetually paranoid because he’s sure everyone wants to steal his stuð; or an accountant for whom everything is numerical and anally precise)—anyone who, because of mental challenges, profession, or self-medicated state, negotiates the world in a distinctly peculiar, complicated, or unhinged way.
For this prompt, have your character witness a traumatic event that does not directly involve him or her (a traffic accident, a robbery, an explosion, etc.).
Narrate the event from this character’s first-person POV, incorporating the idiosyncrasies of this invented personality.
If you need examples from literature, look at George Saunders’ “Tenth of December” which includes both the portrait of a deteriorating mentality and the interiority of a child’s imaginings, or Jonathan Nolan’s “Memento Mori,” or Donald Barthelme’s “Game.”
- The narrative should be focused upon the observed event, whatever it is.
- The background/ biographical elements of this individual should be limited, which is to say implied rather than presented outright in the core of things. You know who they are. Get that across to us without resorting to our narrator saying something like “I’m a junkie.”
- The details presented about the event–especially how they’re presented–should suggest everything about our narrator.
Gregory Frost’s YA-crossover SHADOWBRIDGE duology (Shadowbridge & Lord Tophet) from Del Rey (Random House) was a finalist for the 2009 James Tiptree Award and named one of the year’s four best fantasy novels by the American Library Association. His Nebula-nominated science fiction novel, THE PURE COLD LIGHT is now available in ebook formats from Book View Cafe (as is his first novel, LYREC)
Today’s prompt is from best-selling novelist and popular writing teacher James Scott Bell. Thanks, Jim
The Prompt from JSB
Write about your antagonist’s life at the age of sixteen. What were the events that shaped this character back then, and still haunt today?
James Scott Bell is a best-selling author of books for writers and thrillers like Deceived, Try Dying, Watch Your Back, and One More Lie (International Thriller Writers Award finalist). He writes frequently for Writer’s Digest magazine and blogs every Sunday at The Kill Zone. You can find some of his books for authors here.
Tips from Julie
- Choose the antagonist/villain of a previous story.
- Or choose the antagonist of a work-in-progress or the novel you’ve been planning to write but can’t get a handle on.
- Remember that an antagonist isn’t necessarily the villain — just the character that gets in the way of your hero’s dream
To engage your readers and hook them in from the first line, it’s a great idea to start in medias res, which means into the middle of things. So…
Kicking off the next few days’ Guest Prompters is StoryADay past participant Simon Kewin, who provided this great prompt. Thanks, Simon!
To engage your readers and hook them in from the first line, it’s a great idea to start in medias res, which means into the middle of things. So, instead of opening with long descriptions of background and prior events, jump straight into the action. This is immediately more engaging for the reader. The trick for the writer is then to drip-feed into the narrative information about prior situations the reader needs without it becoming too intrusive and, well, boring.
The following prompts are opening lines of stories that start in medias res. See where they – or something like them – lead you…
- Nate plummetted to the ground, screaming Kate’s name as he fell.
- Amanda Frobisher stood in front of the entire school, only to find no words would come out of her mouth.
- Jamie stood in the wreckage of his ransacked house, trying to take it all in.
- Max had one bullet left. He had to make it count.
- “So, will you marry me or not?”
Simon is a UK writer and a previous StoryADayMay participant. He has two novels appearing this years: Engn, to be published by December House in July and Hedge Witch, to be published by Morrigan Books on Hallowe’en. He can be found at http://simonkewin.co.uk
Today’s prompt is adapted from one of the most popular segments of the Warm Up Writing Course that I run here as an online course (and a home-study version).
Write A Copycat Story, based on one of your favorite short stories by another writer
- Take a story by a writer you really, really admire — preferably a short short story that won’t take for ever to reproduce. Analyze it in minute detail: from word choice to sentence length. Now, choose a different setting and different characters with different dreams from that of the originals, and write a copycat story, following the exact structure and tone of the original.
- During the Renaissance — the great flowering of European art and culture during the 16th and 17th centuries — great artists and artisans enrolled apprentices to train with them. The apprentices learned the principles of their craft not by creating their own unique works but by painstakingly copying the works and style of their masters. Why shouldn’t we try the same thing?
- Don’t attempt to get any of our trainee copycat work published. That’s a plagiarism scandal just waiting to erupt!.
(If you want more details about this, and examples to follow, try the Warm Up Writing Course (home study version), the work-at-your-own pace version of the popular online course I run periodically here at the site.)
This prompt had a brief, premature debut last week. If you used it then, why not travel back and use one of these prompts from last week, today? Also, use some time today to pick a short story that you will use to guide your writing tomorrow. Pick one you really love. Need recommendations?
Maybe I crave approval or something, but I have always found that the prospect of being judged by someone else helps focus my mind.
Writing for publication is not something I usually suggest during StoryADay May. Worrying about whether or not a story will be published before you’ve even written it is a bit ‘cart before the horse’. However sometimes the thought of a competition deadline or submission to a themed anthology can provide a bit of inspiration and a dose of motivation that might otherwise be missing.
Write a story that fits the guidelines of a particular market, themed anthology or competition.
- You don’t actually have to submit if the story doesn’t work out.
- Choose a venue with a deadline date far enough away that you can revise this story after StoryADay May is over.
- Resist the temptation to write the obvious story suggested by the theme, prompt or guidelines. Dig a little deeper until you find something you’re really passionate about.
- Write your first draft with abandon, forgetting that you’re even thinking about submitting it anywhere.
- Make a note in your calendar to look at it again some time in early June.
If you need a resource for finding contests and deadlines, you could do a lot worse than Duotrope.com . The full listings require an annual membership but it is a fabulous resource.
You can also try WritersMarket.com or pop down to your local library and look for the print edition of that tome if you’re saving your pennies or don’t think you’ll get the value from a subscription to Duotrope.com or WritersMarket.com.
I get mad sometimes. I mean, properly fuming about things. I won’t tell you which things, because that doesn’t matter, but I’m betting you do too.
Neighbors’ dogs barking too much? People in the street being inconsiderate? Politicians doing nothing (or the wrong thing) about an issue you care about?
Take that energy and use it in a story.
Mentally travel ten years into the future. What if [a hot-button issue for you really care about] has come to pass/been squelched. What does that mean for everyday life? What will your hero face/do about it?
- Use an issue you really, really get annoyed about.
- Promise yourself you won’t post/publish this anywhere if the idea of being ‘outed’ on this issue makes you uncomfortable.
- You don’t need to set the whole story in the future. You can set it in the past or in an altered present where this issue is different (examples: what if gun laws had been radically changed ten years ago? What if catastrophic climate change was already being played out in a way that no-one could ignore? What if, ten years ago, your government had decreed girls could no longer go to school? What if aliens had arrived a decade ago and imposed world peace?)
- You can go all dystopian as Margaret Atwood did in “The Handmaid’s Tale” or positive as in the Star Trek universe created by Gene Rodenberry.
- You can use satire if you don’t want to go too dark, but still get enraged on an issue. See: Terry Pratchett, Jonathan Swift, South Park…
- It doesn’t need to be a ‘world’ issue. If it really is ‘dogs barking incessantly’, just channel your rage about that and set a protagonist loose on the problem. Go where ever your story takes you. Then go a little further.
Simple prompt today from a song title:
Write a story prompted by the song title Beyond The Blue Horizon
- This song was written in the golden age of the popular song, by Leo Robin, W. Franke Harling and Richard A. Whiting. If you want to write a 1940s period piece have a listen to this very evocative clip, for inspiration.
- You could use the full lyrics for inspiration or
- Ignore the ‘prior art’ and simply let the title take you off in any direction.
Simple task today (ha!):
Write a story that opens, “On the edge of the mountain, silhouetted against the setting sun, there is a small ramshackle cottage made of wood.”
- This sounds, at first blush, as if it has to be set in a fantasy or fairy-tale world, but I bet you can turn it around to fit the setting you’re most comfortable with
- Prompts like this can be really effective because of the constraints they place on us; constraints that force us to reject the first idea we have and go digging for something better, twistier, more ‘me’.
- If you really want to, you can dismiss this pretty quickly with comic effect (“but that’s part of a different story”) or you could refer to it but move your characters away to the city (or space) if that’s more to your taste.
- Or you can write a story that fits this opening line perfectly. And I am still willing to bet money that no two stories written from this prompt will sound alike.
- In case you haven’t guessed yet, this is an exercise in proving to you that your writing voice is unique and even writing to a shared prompt, you needn’t worry too much about trying to write something original. Write from your heart, your experiences, your truth and your concerns, and you can’t help but be original.
Continuing on from yesterday’s theme of giving you an element of the story you must use, today I’m giving you a character. I’m seeding some hints about this character into the prompt and you should take them where ever they lead you.
Sam Chase has just left a meeting with the big boss. Sam has been offered a dream position — or at least a position that would have been a dream if it had been dangled out there two years ago. But lately, Sam has been beginning to understand that there’s more to life than ambition, career, advancement, the trappings of success. Oh let’s be honest: it’s been coming on ever since last summer. If the only constant is change, Sam thinks, I’m a walking illustration.
Write Sam’s story.
- In case you hadn’t noticed, I was very careful to use no pronouns in that blurb about Sam. Sam can be male or female, at your whim.
- Will you explain what happened “last summer” or keep it mysterious? If you do explain it, will your story start there? End there? Mention it as a big reveal at the climax?
- What will Sam choose? Just because we’re tapped on the shoulder by our better angels, doesn’t mean we always make the right choice. But then again, sometimes we do. What will YOUR Sam do?
This week I’m giving you some more traditional prompts, where one element of your story is dictated by me. (Oh, the power!)
Write A Story Set At A Wedding
- The conflict in this story can be micro-scale (a guest reflecting on a deeply personal challenge, brought into the light by this landmark occasion) or dramatic (a headline-worthy bust-up, with generations of family tension erupting in a hot, molten mess).
- Weddings are often the scene of comic stories because of the solemnity inherent in the occasion. But I was at a super-fun wedding recently. A story set at that wedding would lend itself to a solemn moment as an abrupt change of pace.
- You can say a lot about your characters without beating the reader over the head with it, by describing which traditions your wedding principals and guests choose to honor (or flout). You can get rich cultural mileage out of this setting.
- You can choose another culturally significant/religious event to write about if weddings really aren’t doing it for you.
This is one of my favorite forms of writing and I don’t know why I don’t do it more:
Write a story in the form of letters, journal entries, blog posts, tweets or other epistle.
- This used to seem like a bit of an old-fashioned story form now that we no longer have five-times-a-day letter delivery (as in Jane Austen’s day) but with all of our new ways of communicating in the written word it is ripe for a reboot.
- You should feel free to use old-fashioned letters, but consider using other communication vehicles.
- Remember that all the information must come in the form of communications from one person at a time. No dialogue attribution, no speculation by a narrator. This is essentially a First-Person format, but you can have more than one person talking, in turn.
Write a story in the Third Person, Omniscient style
- Think of a Dickens novel if you’re struggling to zone in one this style. The narrator of your story can know everything about everyone, and even interject with thoughts and judgements.
It is perfectly fine to ‘head hop’ in this style: i. e. follow the thoughts of one character in one scene and another in the next. In a short story you probably don’t want to do too much of this, but why not try it a little?
So did you all have fun with Second Person yesterday?
Today we’re focusing on a perspective that you’ve likely had more practice with.
Write a story in the Third Person, Limited POV
- Remember that in Third Person, Limited, you are writing in the ‘he said, she said’ format.
- You can go inside a character’s head and have them look at the world but you must only ever go inside one character’s head.
- This is a familiar style from those bubble-gum pink chick-lit books of the 1990 or many third-person mystery series.
Second person. Sounds scary. How can you possibly manage to write a story in the second person without sounding as if you’re writing the text for a Dungeon’s & Dragons campaign[1. Not that there’s anything wrong with that…] or a Choose Your Own Adventure?
Well, mainly by being aware that you shouldn’t. Remember that and you should be fine 😉
Write A Story In The Second Person
But in all seriousness, I think this is quite a natural way to write if you focus on the voice. Maybe it’s because I’m Scottish, but I think we talk this way quite a lot when relaying experiences to our friends (“You know that way when you’re running late and the cat throws up in the doorway and for some reason your keys are not on the hook by the door but instead in the bread bin? That’s the day a whacking great truck pulls out in front of you and drives at four miles an hour and just as you’re thinking ‘hey, that latch looks a bit loose’, he slams on the breaks and sheds a full load of packing peanuts all over you and your car and the road ahead of you.”).
- If you need an example, take a look at the opening page of Bright Lights, Big City, by Jay McInerney.
- Remember that second voice pulls your reader directly into the story. It’s a great way to create a visceral reaction in the reader. Why not make it exciting, thrilling?
- Keep the story short if you’re not confident in this form
- Allow the story to suck if you have to, but finish it and ask yourself what you’ve learned. File this away and try it again some time soon.
For the next few days we’re going to be concentrating on point of view. Sometimes it’s tempting to write all our stories in the same kind of voice. Not this week. I’m going to give you a real work out and take you through many different types of voice and story.
Ready? Let’s get started.
Write A Story Using The First Person Voice
- The whole thing should be told in the “I” voice.
- It should, for preference, be a story about something that happened/is happening to the person telling the story.
- When writing in the first person you can never allow your narrative to stray inside another character’s head. The “I” character can speculate about what other people are thinking, but everything must come from their perspective.
- If you fancy it, try writing the same story over the next few days, but each day from a different perspective.
In this age of Google Maps and Street view and everyone-documenting-everything, there is no reason not to set your story in a ‘foreign’ location and still get the details right.
Write a story in a place you’ve never actually been to.
- Use a search engine to find out a few important facts about the place.
- Use Google Street View to take a look at the place (if your story is taking place in a diner in North-East Philadelphia, hope on Google maps and find out exactly what your heroine sees as she’s looking out of the window, waiting to say that thing she wants to say).
- Find a blog or informal tourist account of the location and gather some off-the-beaten-track details.
- Don’t spend all day doing these things. Just find one or two really colorful details that will help ground your story in the location. Make your characters from somewhere else if you’re not confident of capturing local speech patterns.
- If you don’t write realistic fiction, find somewhere to act as a model for your extra-terrestrial setting. Use a detail or two (like the architecture of the TRW ‘Space Park’ in Redondo Beach, California; used in a Star Trek episode in 1967; or England’s Home Counties as Tolkein’s Middle Earth).
Quickly scan the “In The News” and “On This Day…” sections, or even the Featured Article. If something catches your eye, use it as the spark for today’s story.
Grab a story spark from the front page of Wikipedia
- Don’t spend more than 5 minutes trying to find a story that sparks your interest
- Don’t pick something that requires lots of specialist knowledge unless you a, work in the field or b, are comfortable blagging.
- Try to concentrate on the characters and their reactions more than the facts. This might be inspired by an encyclopedia entry, but you shouldn’t sound like you’re writing one!
To see how some of last year’s participants used this prompt, check out the comments on this post.
OK, this prompt is not as spooky as the title might lead you to believe.
Since we’ve started talking about ‘character’, let’s stay there for a while.
It can be hard to come up with a fascinating character for each new story. Yes, you can certainly use recurring characters, but what about when you get bored and need a change? You’ve raided your memories, you’ve looked at pictures for inspiration, but what to do on a day when you’re truly stuck?
Write A Story Based On An Obituary
Seriously, obituaries are like little potted character studies. Read them carefully and you’ll find stories there you never would have thought of: the little old lady in the nursing home who was actually a counter-espionage agent during WWII; the mother of four who loved to race go-karts; the business leader who quietly spent his retirement raising prize-winning orchids.
Characters, every one!
And if you feel strange ripping off someone else’s life story, try to see it as a celebration of their life instead. Change the names, change the details, but the story you write that was inspired by the obituary will remain a tribute to the unique human being you read about.
Where To Find Obituaries
- Your local newspaper’s website
- Reading about the great and good can be interesting, but paging down to the unsung, everyday people can be where you find the most unexpected and fruitful material.
- Seize on that one detail about a person that makes them seem real to you.
- What made them do the things they did?
- What stories lie behind their passions?
- What moment led them to that one fascinating detail in their obituary. Wind back the clock and show us the moment when it all started.
- Try not to read more than five profiles before choosing one to write about. You could easily lose your whole day looking for the perfect character (or simply reading about people’s lives). Pick the first person who has a detail that makes you go “huh!”
As I pointed out yesterday, story can be all about character.
Sometimes the idea of plot can trip us up (“How do I make it interesting? What should I make *happen*?”). But the truth is, write an interesting character, give them some need, put an obstacle in their way, and you need never worry about ‘plot’.
Think of a fascinating character from your life (past or present). Think about what they wanted on a particular day. Write that story.
- Short stories are about a moment in time, when something changes in a character’s life. What one thing tips the balance for your character today?
- The change doesn’t need to be life-shattering. Sometimes small changes in perspective have a huge impact on the rest of someone’s life.
- For examples of what I’m talking about think of episodic TV. Not every episode deals with the overall arc of the season. Sometimes it’s just a fun story about a day in the life of one of the characters. Maybe Data is trying to learn to sneeze and discovers some truths about life as an android. Perhaps someone goes on a really bad date and discovers that what he really needs right now is to stop dating for a while and hang out with friends.
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…but sometimes so are a thousand words!
Go to the Flickr Explore page and pick the first photo that catches your eye.
Stare at it for five minutes or so and write a story inspired by it.
- Pick the most visually arresting picture, the one that interests you immediately.
- It might not be obvious what the story is going to be.
- This will probably make the story better.
- Don’t waste any time writing backstory. Think hard then start when something is happening or about to.
- Remember that stories are all about character. What does your character want? What is getting in her way?
Remember to post in The Victory Dance when you’ve finished your story today. You’ll get congratulations and inspire everyone else to finish their stories.
(You don’t have to post your story anywhere, just let us know you have written today)
Welcome to StoryADay May 2013!!
Well done you, for deciding to take on this challenge. Check out the community and all the support you can find in there. But first, let’s get started!
Write A 100 Word Story (“Drabble”)
I’m starting the challenge with a Drabble because although a 100 word story will probably take longer than you expect, it’s still going to take a manageable amount of time.
Many people who sign up for StoryADay are looking for a creativity boost. Plunging into a 3,000 word story on the first day is a bit intimidating.
To make a drabble work,
- Choose one or two characters
- Take one single moment/action/choice and show us how it unfolds
- Give us one or two vibrant details in as few words as possible
- Show us (hint) how this moment/action/choice is more significant than the characters probably realize in the moment