[Write On Wednesday] Home Town Tales

This prompt is inspired by the book 44 Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith and by the Prairie Home Companion Lake Wobegon stories, both of which tell small (and sometimes tall) tales in sometimes-unrelated episodes, but all of which happen in and around the same setting.

The Prompt

Write a flash fiction piece about a set of characters in which something small and everyday happens. Hint that something else might be about to happen, before the story ends.


  • Give the story a strong sense of place. It doesn’t have to be a home town, but make the location feel specific by giving people a set of preconceptions, ways they talk about themselves and outsiders, distinct local expressions (this can be particularly fun if you write sci fi or fantasy, or another kind of speculative fiction.)
  • Try to end the story as if you were writing a daily or weekly serial. What can you do to make readers want to tune in again tomorrow?
  • Pretend you’re going to start posting this serial on your blog, where the whole world wide web is competing for your readers’ attention. How entertaining can you make it, to keep your imaginary readers’ attention?


Celebrate StoryADay May 2014!!!

StoryFest June 13-15, 2014 logo

Coming to this site, June 14-15, 2014 (nominate your stories here!)

Today is the last day of StoryADay May 2014!!

Even if you haven’t written a single story yet this month why not write and finish a story today? Writing and finishing one story in a single day is quite an achievement. You’ll be proud, I promise.

To those who have been writing every day: wow! You are awesome and every other writer on the planet envies you.  Well done!

Things You Have Done This Month

Q: Can you improve as a writer by writing a lot? CLUE: There’s a reason this challenge is in a month named “May”…


Don’t forget to submit or nominate stories for StoryFest by June 10 (and yes, there will be more details, a link to a form and another reminder, in the next few days). Then start planning to tell the world to visit StoryADay.org on June 1-15 for StoryFest!

(Seriously. This is your party. I don’t have email addresses for all the people you’d like to invite. You’ll have to do it!)


I’ll still be writing away, bring you interviews with writers, the Tuesday Reading Room, the Write On Wednesday writing prompt and regular Kick-In-The-Pants articles on Thursdays, with the newsletter serving as a regular digest of articles.

Take a moment today (or maybe tomorrow) to recap. Write an End of StoryADay report for yourself detailing any or all of the following:

  •    how you felt at the start,
  •    what you did,
  •    what you failed to do,
  •    how you kept going,
  •    what you learned,
  •    what you’re proud of
  •    how you plan to use the lessons learned this month to keep moving on your journey to literary superstardom (no wait, fulfillment. I meant to say ‘fulfillment’).

If you do write a recap and would like to share it, please post a link to it in the comments or simply send me a link in an email. I’d love to read about your experience.

Then get back to writing, polishing and submitting your short stories.

Further Reading

  • For help on developing the craft of writing, I suggest checking out DIYMFA.com.
  • For accountability and camaraderie in the year-round world of writing and submitting short stories, I refer you to Write1Sub1.

(Both of these sites have been started by former StoryADay writers since their first StADa experiences. I’m so proud!)


Every Wednesday throughout the year I post a Write On Wednesday prompt. (If you are subscribed to the Daily Prompt email list you’ll receive these Wednesday prompts in your inbox).

The ‘rules’ for the Write on Wednesday prompt are: write a rough and ready story to the prompt within  24 hours, post it IN THE COMMENTS and comment on someone else’s. You don’t have to write it on Wednesday, but you’ll probably get the most feedback if you do.

Don’t miss out. Subscribe now!


Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who has talked about StoryADay, taken part, read stories, left comments, sent me an email, or written in secret. It is an absolute honor to have been your ringmaster again this year and I will be bereft … until we do it all again next time!!

[Writing Prompt] An Ending And A Beginning

It’s the end of the StoryADay May 2014 challenge.

But it is just the beginning of the rest of your writing life.

I hope the challenge this year has opened your eyes to how very, very creative you can be; to how well you can write; and how important it is to the world that you keep writing.

Stay tuned for more information on the upcoming Revisions course and do keep in touch!

The Prompt

An Ending And A Beginning


Without wishing to sound like a motivational poster, the end of one thing leads to the beginning of something else. Write your story today in that moment of transition.

Will your character struggle with the idea of the ending, or be wildly excited about the new beginning? Will your character’s expectations be upset? By what?

Every stage of life has transitions. Some are expected (leaving school, getting married, starting a new job) and others come completely out of the blue (a death, the end of a friendship, a job offer, a pregnancy, someone else leaving home). Think about how this affects your character’s reaction.

Go to town on this story. Use everything you have learned this month about: how you write best, when you write best, what length works for you, what tone/style works for you, what kinds of characters speak to you most, the kinds of dialogue or description that you enjoy,  the use of suspense, beginnings, middles, ends, theme, character, conflict, action, the ways you’ve learned to get yourself into the writing zone… Everything you have worked on in your writing this month is a tool you can use in this story, today. Have fun. Let yourself go. Finish the story.

Get up tomorrow and keep writing.


AWOOOOOOOOOOHAAAAAA! We have reached the end of the month. Take a moment to let out a whoop of joy and accomplishment (if you finished even one story then you’re a winner in my book. But if you finished 31? I bow in awe!). Then leave a comment, write a blog, pop into the community. Share your joy. Share what you’ve learned. Share your frustrations. Make plans for the future. Tell us, tell us, tell us, and never stop writing!

Thank you for making this month and this challenge so utterly amazing. The world is a better place for having your stories in it!

[Writing Prompt] 215

There are 215 days left in 2014. What will you do with them?

As the StoryADay May challenge for 2014 winds down, it’s time to look back a bit, forward a bit, and plan how you’ll use the lessons learned in this month of extreme writing. Hop on over to the community hand have a chat about your plans.

But not until you’ve written today’s story.

The Prompt

Two Hundred And Fifteen

Tips Continue reading “[Writing Prompt] 215”

[Writing Prompt] Start A Riot

On May 29, 1913, Igor Stravinsky’s ballet score The Rites of Spring premiered in Paris and sparked a riot!

(Wouldn’t you love to have a short-story-reading public that was so passionate about the art, they were willing to throw punches?!)

The Prompt

Write About A Gathering Of Experts That Degenerates Into A Rammy

Tips Continue reading “[Writing Prompt] Start A Riot”

[Writing Prompt] A Holiday Story

And yes, I do mean the winter/Christmas/Thanksgiving/Hannukka/Samhain/Diwali/Hogmanay/New Year/Kwanzaa/Chinese New Year/Solstice/Saturnalia/Festivus November/December/January type of holiday.

If you ever think of submitting your stories to literary magazines, contests, anthologies, or other publications, you need to know two things:

  1. They are often themed and holiday stories are always popular,
  2. Your story needs to be written, edited, submitted, selected, corrected, and green lit, month in advance of the actual holiday.

Write your December stories now. Time’s running out.

The Prompt

Write A Story Tied To A Holiday That Takes Place In November/December/January/February


  • Evoke the sights, smells, sounds and emotions you associate with that holiday.
  • Put on some appropriate holiday music to get you in the mood.
  • Go beyond the obvious idea for the story associated with your chosen holiday. No saccharine tales of redemption or bitter humbug retellings of A Christmas Carol, for us!
  • Make the characters stronger than the trappings of the holiday.
  • Write the story for someone who has never participated in your holiday traditions. Show them what it’s like to be you at Christmas/Hanukkah/Hogmanay/Groundhog Day.

Need more tips? Here’s a podcast episode that talks you through it:


Which holiday did you choose? What did you do to get in the mood? Do you think you’ll revise and submit this story to a publication? Tell us in the comments or join the conversation in the comments

[Guest Prompt] Debbie Ridpath Ohi – Illustration

Happy Book Birthday to Debbie Ridpath Ohi, whose illustrations are featured in the new paperback editions of Judy Blume’s classic books (yes, Judy Blume!!). The new editions come out today! Today Debbie has supplied us with a visual prompt that made me laugh out loud. What can you do with this?

The Prompt


Debbie Ridpath Ohi writes and illustrates books for young people. Based in Toronto, Debbie is represented by Ginger Knowlton of Curtis Brown Ltd. Her illustrations appear in I’M BORED, a picture book written by Michael Ian Black (Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, 2012) and was selected by The New York Times for its list of Notable Children’s Books.

Her upcoming books include NAKED! (by Michael Ian Black, illustrated by Debbie, coming out from S&S in Summer/2014) andWHERE ARE MY BOOKS?, which is written AND illustrated by Debbie (coming out from S&S in Spring/2015). She is currently working with Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, Harpercollins Children’s and Random House Children’s Books.

[Writing Prompt] It Ain’t Easy, Being…

Today’s writing prompt is a traditional ‘scenario’ prompt. I give you the scene and a character, you run wild with it.

The Prompt

Tonight is the kid’s talent show. Your character is determined to be there. Unfortunately your main character is no run-of-the-mill suburban parent. This time, thought, they’re not going to let that job get in the way. No matter what comes up they’re going to let someone else handle it. They can’t stand the thought of getting that look from the kid one more time…

Tips Continue reading “[Writing Prompt] It Ain’t Easy, Being…”

[Writing Prompt] Date With Destiny

OK, so for most of this month I’ve been encouraging you to write, write, and nothing but write. No thoughts of publication or audience to scare you into writers’ block. But you’ve been at this for 24 days now. I think you’ve probably proved a thing or two to yourself (like a, you’re stubborn; b, not everything you write is garbage and c, you can do this!). So today, just for a moment, let’s remember that part of writing is a desire to connect with other people. We can do that by having our work published in magazines that already have a reading-audience built in.

The Prompt

Find a contest or submission deadline on a theme you like, and write a story as if you were going to submit to that market


  • You don’t have to submit the story in the end (and if you do, you probably shouldn’t submit the version you write today. Put it away for a couple of weeks, show it to writing-friends, revise it, format it according to the market’s guidelines and then send it).
  • You can find market and contest listings at Duotrope.com, WritersMarket.com (subscription), Poets & Writers and many, many other places online. I have subscription to Duotrope and find it to be the best managed market listings site I’ve come across in almost 20 years of using the things.
  • Go beyond the obvious ideas suggested by the theme or guidelines. Try out several different characters and scenarios. Push your ideas into the realms of the ridiculous and beyond, before you ever start writing one of them. Remember, editors are going for receive hundreds of entries for every publishing slot they have. Your best bet is to be original. Part of that is your voice, but part of it is your ability to push past the first, obvious idea you have.


How did writing to spec or with a deadline, feel? Did you find a market that seemed particularly promising? Did you choose a contest with an upcoming deadline? Share them (if you dare) in the comments or the community.

[Writing Prompt] Title Recall

Today we’re stealing from the Beach Boys. Use their title to write an original story

The Prompt

Write A Story Titled “Good Vibrations”


  • You can write a Beach Boys-related story about surfing and California if you want.
  • Think about the ways you could use the words in the title — ways  that have nothing to do with the original song.
  • Write 10 different ideas for plays on the words ‘good’ and ‘vibrations’
  • Write a story about a person who was influenced by (or grew up listening to) the song
  • Set the story somewhere completely unexpected (like 10,000 years in the future, on an alien moon colony), or under the sea.


What did you do with this prompt? How are you holding yup 23 days into the challenge? What do you need to get you to Day 31? Comment or talk about it in the community.

[Writing Prompt] Will’s Words

Today we’re stealing from another master: William Shakespeare.

The Prompt

Write A Story That Incorporates This Quote (or its spirit)

“If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die? And if you wrong us shall we not revenge?


  • If you don’t like this quote, here’s another to play with: “A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.”
  • Consider making the quote the last line (or first line) of your story.
  • How can you incorporate the actual line into your story? What kind of story will you write if you opt to use the spirit of the quote rather than Will’s words?
  • Shakespeare endures, not because we’re interested in Elizabethan life, but because the characters he wrote were so true to human nature. Make your characters similarly realistic.


Which quote did you use? Did you use it verbatim or only in the spirit? How did this prompt help with your writing today? Comment below or join the conversation in the community.

[Writing Prompt] Word List Silliness

This is an extremely silly way to start a story, but it always seems to work — maybe because it removes any pressure you may be putting on yourself to write something “good”. Today you write a story using these words from my Third Grader’s spelling list.

The Prompt

Use These Words In A Story: Lettuce, Happen, basket, Winter, Sister, Monster, Supper, Subject, Puppet


  • Don’t worry too much about this one. Just write something!
  • Don’t forget to give us a character who want something (perhaps a lettuce? A sister? A monster?).
  • Post your story somewhere we can see it (in the comments or in the community) and read everyone else’s stories. Revel in the weirdness!


Did you remember to post your story in the comments or in the community? Did you have fun with this? Was your story, nevertheless, serious? What does that tell you about writing in general?

[Writing Prompt] Non-Linear Tales

We’ve looked at the parts of the story. We’ve looked at point of view. We’ve learned the rules. Now I’m inviting you to throw it all out of the window.

The Prompt

Write A Non-Linear Story

Tips Continue reading “[Writing Prompt] Non-Linear Tales”

[Writing Prompt] Write an Epistolary Story

Breaking with the narrative form again today, after flogging it’s poor dead horse corpse at the beginning of the week. Today we tackle a form for which I have an inexplicable and enduring love: letters!

The Prompt

Write An Epistolary Story (i.e. One Told As A Series of Letters/Documents)


  • Take the term “Letters/Documents” with a huge pinch of salt. Write a story made up of Tweets, Facebook updates, text messages between friends, comments on a Vine video, an author Q&A, whatever tickles your fancy.
  • Write a ‘story’ as a list (think McSweeneys).
  • Write a mock guidebook to some place you know well (or some experience you’ve been through)
  • Write an open letter to someone your character hates/loves/has a bone to pick with. Consider including a response from their object of scorn/affection/correction.


What form did you choose? How did it work out for you? Leave a comment or join the conversation in the community.

[Writing Prompt] Multiple Perspectives

I’ve been going on (and on) about the importance of not ‘head-hopping’ between characters in a different scene, to take things easy on the reader. Today I say: mix it up! Make the reader work for their entertainment!

The Prompt

Write A Story From Multiple Perspectives

Tips Continue reading “[Writing Prompt] Multiple Perspectives”

[Writing Prompt] Third Person, Limited Perspective

Today, it’s back to the tried and true, a format you’re probably much more familiar with than yesterday’s Second Person. Yes, today we write in Third Person, Limited Omniscience, perspective.

All of which means, you get inside a character’s head and stay there.

The Prompt

Write A Story in The Third Person, Limited Perspective


  • As with First Person, there is no head-hopping in Third Person, Limited. The difference is that everything is told in ‘he’ or ‘she’, rather than “I” and the character is not talking directly to a reader.
  • In Third Person, Limited, you still have to stay with the protagonist and what he/she knows. No popping out of character to look behind the curtain. Oh, there’s an example: the Wizard of Oz movie. The audience learns everything about that world at the same time that Dorothy does. The Wizard knows he’s just ‘the man behind the curtain’ all along, but Dorothy — and therefore, the audience — learn it in a big ‘reveal’ near the end. If this story was being told in Third Person, Omniscient, the film makers could have cut away and shown us the sham-wizard before Dorothy even gets near to her goal. That would have made for a different experience for the audience, don’t you agree?
  • The fact that the reader stays with the protagonist is one reason this is such a popular format for thrillers and mysteries. You, as the writer, can keep secrets from audience, only revealing them when it’s important to the character. Because you are pulling the strings, however, you can use your knowledge to foreshadow things that are coming up (if you’re a plotter. Otherwise, you’ll have to go back in and do this in the revision stage!)
  • Use today’s story as an exercise in trusting the reader. Pledge not to use the words “he thought” or “she felt” or “he assumed” or anything like that. Allow your protagonist to make declarative statements in their thoughts, without explaining that ‘she thought’. Here’s an example: “Sykes flops his entire torso out the window and yells, “Hell yes I’m drunk baby and I’m married too! But I’ll still love you ugly in the morning!” This gets the girls laughing and for a moment there’s hope, but Billy can see the light already dimming in their eyes. He sits back and pulls out his cell; they were probably never serious anyway.” (Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk: A Novel by Ben Fountain) It’s pretty clear that “they were probably never serious anyway” is Billy’s thought, isn’t it? But the author never feels the need to tell us this. Try it out in your story today.
  • As an experiment try re-writing your First Person story in Third Person Limited today.


Did you rewrite an earlier story in a new POV? Tell us about it in the comments.

[Guest Prompt] Charlotte Rains Dixon

The Prompt

Write about the best gift your character was given.  Incorporate one of the seven deadly sins (wrath, gluttony, sloth, greed, pride, lust, envy) into the story.


Charlotte Rains Dixon is the author of Emma Jean’s Bad Behavior. She is a novelist, writing teacher, free-lance journalist, ghostwriter, and author. Continue reading “[Guest Prompt] Charlotte Rains Dixon”

[Writing Prompt] Second Person, Awkward

In the Second Person, the story is told like this, “You are walking around in the depths of winter and you find yourself shivering”.

It’s not a format that we see much and as a result it can be tricky to pull off. But it’s worth a try if only to show up the advantages of the other points-of-view available to you. Or maybe you’ll be one of those people, like Jay McInerney, who turns it into a work that is acknowledged as a contemporary classic.

The Prompt

Write A Story in the Second Person Perspective Continue reading “[Writing Prompt] Second Person, Awkward”

[Writing Prompt] Putting ‘I’ First

This week we’re going to be playing with point of view. It’s easy to get stuck writing from the same perspective in every story. To break you of that habit, we’re going to be trying the all this week! Feel free to write the same story over and over again, this week, playing with perspective.

The Prompt

Write A Story Told In The First Person


  • First person is relatively easy because it’s how we tell all our stories in every day life (“Oh, you’ll never believe what happened on the way in this morning! I was standing in the line for coffee, and …”)
  • Because your story is all from the perspective of one person, we can never know what any other character is thinking. We can know what the “I” character thinks another person is thinking, but remember that this is always colored by the protagonist’s feelings about the issue and the other person.
  • Grab a book off your shelf to see how this is done: check-lit and Young Adult are often written in First Person. If you have a copy of To Kill A Mockingbird, Jane Eyre, Gulliver’s Travels or The Great Gatsby, pull them off the shelf and see how First Person was handled by the masters.


[Writing Prompt] Your Voice Is Unique

One of the things newer writers worry about most is originality: how can I have an original idea when all the stories have been told.

Today we’re going to do a little exercise to prove that originality is not about the characters, the even the events of the story. Originality comes from you, writing in your voice, as only you can.

The Prompt

Write A Cinderella Story. Share (At Least An Excerpt) In The Comments 

Tips Continue reading “[Writing Prompt] Your Voice Is Unique”

What People Are Saying About StoryADay May 2014

What strikes me about this, is how often the words “fun”, “happy”, “yes!”, “accomplished” and “glad” come up in people’s comments about the StoryADay challenge.

It’s not to late to join in. Just pick up a pen, and off you go! You won’t regret it!
What people are saying about StoryADayMay 2014

“I have a slew of new things to write that I wouldn’t have thought of if I hadn’t tried StoryADay, so this is pretty great.”

“I’m very much looking forward to spending May with you again! Should be great!”

“I’m so glad I found out about this. Thank you xxx”

“Great post, exactly what I needed…Thank you!”

“I have surprised myself wit the creativity I have produced.”

“I have been looking forward to May for months, now I know why! I love having a new writing experience every day,”

“Haven’t written fiction IN A LONG WHILE, and I’m glad I came up with something!”

“Today’s prompt really helped me get over a block for a scene I needed for a larger work I am writing.”

“I like being forced to get something down…good daily discipline.”

“mission accomplished!”

“I loved this – brought a delighted grin to an old lady’s face…thanks for a good start to a sunny morning.”

“the guest prompt was excellent.”

“…only 706 words, bt I like where that prompt took me.”

“Hooray! I’m having such fun with Drabbles.”

“It’s late in the day, but I got a story done so I’m happy. I feel a sense of accomplishment…”

“yes yes yes. I did it. Woo-hoo!”

“…a good warm up for the other writing on the agenda today.”

“glad I tried it…”

“…not bad for a first draft, I think!”

“I’m not really happy with [this] story…but it was fun to write.”

“Thank you for another good story idea,”

“Very rough, but…I feel good about writing it.”

“So much fun.”

“Missed a few days, but I’m back on track!”

“Loving StoryADay!”

“Happy dance !!!!!!”

Special thanks to all the people who are writing, providing feedback, supporting each other and inspiring me to keep writing!

[Writing Prompt] Practice Your Descriptive Writing

Yesterday’s prompt about dialogue, probably didn’t leave you much room for descriptive writing .Today, on the other hand, is you change to channel your inner Tolkein.

The Prompt

Write A Story Rich In Description


  • The trick to good descriptive writing is to pick which details to highlight and which to exclude. You are like a photographer, framing a shot, not a draughtsman, capturing every detail of a room.
  • Description sets the mood: a dark and stormy night suggests something about the story that’s about to be told. You can, of course, play with the reader’s expectations and set a funeral on a sunny day, but again that sets the mood. The jarring quality of the weather and the occasion tell us something about how the characters feel about the events.
  • A description of a person can tell the reader more than simply what you, the author, sees in the character you’re describing. It can tell them how the character sees herself, or how the character is viewed by the person viewing them. Perhaps you can have two different characters describe the same person, and show how their feelings about the person color their description.
  • Don’t forget to include action and character development in your story. Use the descriptive writing to serve them. Remember, you’re writing a story, not painting a still life!
  • Browse the archives for other articles about descriptive writing, if you’re stuck.


Are you a fan of descriptive writing or do you tend to skip over those parts when you’re reading? Did you find this an easy or hard exercise. Did you learn anything today? Leave a comment or join the discussion in the community.

[Writing Prompt] Give Your Characters A Voice

Today we’re going to focus on dialogue.

Gripping, realistic dialogue can bring a story and its characters to life. Writing great dialogue, however, takes practice.

The Prompt

Write A Story Told Almost Completely In Dialogue


  • Remember that how we speak (what we say and what we don’t say) is heavily influenced by how we’re feeling — what kind of day we’re having; how we feel about what we’re saying; how we feel about who we’re saying it to.
  • Use emotions to dictate word choice, length of sentence (if you’re breathless because the object of your affection is actually talking to you, your sentences are going to be fragmentary. If you’re talking about a your life’s work, you’re going to use big words and jargon and hardly pause for breath).
  • Remember that no-one really talks like they do in plays: no-one listens carefully and answers appropriately, and no-one tells the whole truth.
  • You can use play format to write this (” STAN: I can’t believe you said that! / MOLLY [walking away]: Believe it, bub.”).
  • You can write this is a more traditionally narrative way (“I can’t believe you said that!” / “Believe it, bub” / “Come back, please! Honey?”)
  • You can include dialogue tags and ‘stage directions’ if you feel you need them. This can be helpful if more than two people are talking. (“‘I can’t believe you said that!’ / ‘Believe it, bub,’ Molly said. / ‘You are so screwed, bro.’ Dan shook his head as he watched his friend’s wife walk away, her head held high. ‘I think she means it this time.’ “)
  • Don’t go crazy with the dialogue tags (…she cheered; she exulted… “She said” is usually fine). And watch your adjectives, unless you’re writing a Tom Swift parody!
  • People rarely use each other’s names in everyday speech. Resist the temptation to have your characters do it. Instead, focus on making each character’s way of expressing themselves distinctive. (How often have you heard a story your friend told you, laughed, and said ‘yup, that sounds like something he’d say’? People DO sound different from each other. Use that.)
  • It might be easiest to limit this story to two characters so you can really focus on each of their voices — with maybe a walk-on part from a waiter or a cop or the person they’ve been waiting for, just to mix things up.


What form did you decide on? How did this go for you? Do you usually write a lot of dialogue or was this new for you? Leave a comment below or chat about it in the community.

[Writing Prompt] Lights, Camera, Action!

How did you get on yesterday? Did you post in the comments or the community about your writing? Which proverb or ‘theme’ did you use?

Every story — even the most literary, introspective story — needs action.

Stuff must happen.

Action is the agent of change and your characters must change (even for a moment) or face an opportunity for change,  for your story to interest people. “Stuff happening” is what gives you the opportunity to show that opportunity for change.

The Prompt

Write A Story Wrapped Around An Action Scene

Tips Continue reading “[Writing Prompt] Lights, Camera, Action!”

[Writing Prompt] Gabriela Pereira – Musical Cues

The Prompt

Choose a piece of music from the list below. Listen through it once or twice and get your mind in the mood of the music. Then start writing.

  • Danse Macabre by Camille Saint-Saens
  • Fanfare for the Common Man by Aaron Copland
  • Egmont Overture by Ludwig van Beethoven
  • Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18 (II. Adagio Sostenuto) by Sergei Rachmaninoff
  • The Planets by Gustav Holst (choose one movement)

Gabriela Pereira is the Creative Director and Instigator of DIY MFA, the do-it-yourself alternative to a Masters degree in writing. She creates workshops and tools to help writers get the MFA experience without going to school.

DIYMFA.com logoGabriela holds an MFA in Writing for Children from The New School. When she’s not teaching or designing learning tools for DIY MFA, she enjoys writing some fiction of her own. She especially loves writing middle grade and teen fiction, with a few “”short stories for grown-ups”” thrown in for good measure. Visit DIYMFA.com to learn more about Gabriela and DIY MFA.

[Also, don’t miss the Writer Igniter visual prompt machine at Gabriela’s site. So much fun!]

[Writing Prompt] From Scene To Theme

The theme of a story doesn’t always become clear to a writer until the story is written and revised (and often, ready by others and discussed).

Today, however, we’re going to turn that on its head.

The theme can be summed up as ‘the moral of the tale’, or a proverb, or the overarching lesson in a fable. Let’s take a well-worn proverb and construct a new story to illustrate it.

The Prompt

Choose A Theme And Write A Story That Illustrates It


  • The danger with starting theme-first is that stories can get preachy. Remember to base your story firmly in the character (unless you’re being intentionally experimental).
  • There’s no need to explicitly quote the moral or proverb you based your story on.
  • Try to go wa-ay beyond the first idea suggested by the theme/proverb you pick (no frogs carrying scorpions across rivers, please). Dig deep for a different idea. Try lots before you settle on one.
  • Use the theme less as a lesson for the reader and more as a guidepost to keep you on the right track as you write.
  • Don’t think I’m telling you to start theme-first with every story you write. Use this as an experiment to see what happens, what changes, when you start writing with a fixed theme in place.
  • If the theme is constraining your story too much, throw it out and follow the story where it wants to go (post about this in the comments or the community, if it happens. I’d be interested.)



[Writing Prompt] Setting The Scene

Write A Story Set In A Hospital
(or any other high-tension setting, if you’re not familiar with hospitals)

This week we are concentrating on the different parts of the short story. Of course ALL the elements need to be there, but each of these prompts focuses on a particular element more than the others.

How did your character writing go yesterday? Did you learn any interesting lessons about creating a character with a strong desire, that you can carry forward into your future stories? Did you leave a comment or post in the community?

Today we’re focusing on setting.

The Prompt

Write A Story Set In A Hospital
(or any other high-tension setting, if you’re not familiar with hospitals)


  • You still need to include fully-realized characters, each with specific (and possibly opposing) desires. (For example, your patient might just want to go home. Their doctor probably wants them to stay put for now. Their next-of-kin might have a whole other set of issues and the nurses probably just want to go somewhere quiet and put their feet up for a few minutes…)
  • Make the setting integral to the story. Have events that could only happen in this high-tension setting.
  • Use all your senses to set the scene — everyone talks about the smell and the colors of hospitals, but what about the noises? I heard a news story on the radio recently about the incessant beeping of alarms in hospitals. That was something I wouldn’t otherwise have thought of. And again, someone once told me how it hurt them that their child’s hospital blanket felt so rough. All they could think of was getting a fuzzy blanket for the child. These are the kinds of details that bring a story alive.
  • If this setting doesn’t work for you, check out these other prompts I’ve provided with different (possibly more cheerful) settings.



[Writing Prompt] Character Counts

Woo-hoo! One week into the StoryADay May challenge and you are still turning up. Good for you!

(Seriously. More than talent, persistence is the thing that is going to make writing a fulfilling, successful and worthwhile pursuit for you.)

Take a moment to reflect on everything you learned about your writing last week. Try to keep the things that worked, but stay flexible and open to more experimentation in the weeks ahead.

This week we’re going to focus on different elements of the story, starting today with Character.

The Prompt

Write A Story Where Everything Hinges on Your Character’s Most Desperate Desires


  • If you need some help coming up with things your character might desire, here’s a series of writing prompts based on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
  • Spend some time with a blank sheet of paper, before you write. After you decide on your character and their need, jot down 15 scenarios that could grow from that desire. (Writing 15 different scenarios means that you’ll blast through the obvious storylines straight away, then you’ll get to the weird and interesting ones that will make your story sing. Keep going until you have 15 even though the last three will probably be truly terrible.) Pick the one that interests you most, then start writing.
  • Make the desire all-consuming (for this instance, the duration of this story). Focus on this moment in the character’s life. Mine it for details, humor, horror, whatever you can get out of it.


Don’t forget to comment below to tell us how your writing went (or share an excerpt, or link to your story on another blog) or join us in the community and do your Victory Dance.