Think about the things that make you you: Gender, family roles, occupation, age, body type, religion, hobbies, outlook, genetic heritage. Are you curious, or cautious? Musical or tone deaf? Extroverted or introverted? Content or endlessly searching?
Put this character, who is both you and not you, into a situation that you might run across in your everyday life. Or put them into a situation you would like to find yourself in. For example, I am always dreaming up new business ideas. I don’t have the time or ability to pursue any of them, but I love to daydream about the businesses I could run if I had a thousand lifetimes. Take something that you care about — something that you daydream about anyway — and put your character into that situation
Now, you have to make something happen, so think about the ways that the situation could go spectacularly wrong. This can be funny, like Fawlty Towers, or serious like the TV show 24. It depends on your preferences and what you feel confident writing.
Again, you’re not writing a feature film or novel. We don’t have much space here. So don’t spend much time setting up the situation. You can start by having the character talk directly to the reader. Or you can plunge directly into the action. Or start with something cheesy like “it all started to go wrong when…”. Do whatever you need to do to get you into the story. It can all be fixed in the rewrite. (Or ignored for the rest of your life, this is a story just for you.)
Now that your character’s in trouble, how do they react? Do they react the same way you would? Do they react the way you wish you would if you weren’t so polite? Are they cooler than you? More skilled? More James Bond like? What are the consequences either way?
This is a really fun exercise. It captures all the best things about writing: What if…? The ability to live multiple lives in one life, is the gift of being a writer. It’s the ability to be better than you are, or worse than you are, without any of the consequences. Let loose with this exercise. Have some fun (and yes that does include doing terrible things to people if that’s how your story comes out. Don’t worry that you’re a psychopath. You have my permission to be bad.)
Today’s prompt comes from the Chief Instigator of the DIYMFA program, Gabriela Pereira. Always full of writer-craft goodness, you should definitely be checking out DIYMFA.com, always full of writer-craft goodness, and the wonderful weekly DIYMFA Radio podcast.
Famous Last Words
Most prompts give you a place to start and let you take things from there. Today we’re going to flip the equation. I’m going to give you a last line and you need to write toward it. In other words, your assignment will be to write a piece that leads you to that last line.
The reason this prompt is so useful is that it exercises your brain in a new way. As writers, we’re used to taking a kernel of an idea and running with it, but it’s a totally different proposition to have a fixed ending and finding your way to it.
You may someday find yourself in a situation where you need to use this skill, like if you know your ending but haven’t figured out yet how to get there. This prompt is great practice for doing just that.
Take the last line from your favorite book or choose one from the list below. Now write a short piece that ends with that line.
1. No one has claimed them yet.
2. “Let me tell you about it.”
3. Everything must go.
4. “Make me pretty.”
5. And it was still hot.
These are all last lines from actual books. Can you guess which books they came from? Answers are below.
1) From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
2) Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
3) Feed by M.T. Anderson
4) Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
5) Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
Today you’re going to write a were a story in 100 words. This also known as a Drabble.
Write a story in 100 words
With a story this short, you have about 25 words to open the story and about 10 words at the end to wrap things up. The rest of the words hold the meat of the story.
Often it’s easier to write the story a little longer and cut it down.
Being concise doesn’t mean leaving out detail. You just have to make sure (probably on a rewrite) that every word is doing double duty. If you’re describing something make sure it reflects the mood of the character as well, for example.
Don’t expect this to be a super-quick exercise. A hundred words is not many and it can be difficult to shoehorn a story into such a small space. You are going to need to build in time to revise it.
The good news is that writing a 100 word story and revising it still takes less time than writing a 3,000 word story.
If you need some inspiration check out the site 100 Word Story. Read a few to get the idea of what can be done with so few words.
Post a comment to let us know how you’re getting on, share your story, share tips or ask for help!
Today’s guest prompt is from the legendary Jerry B. Jenkins, co-author of the Left Behind series and many, many other best sellers, and host of the fabulously generous writing resource: JerryJenkins.com. I’ve been poking around inside his new Writers’ Guild (a memership site for writers). It’s well worth a look, and I’ll be posting a review of it later in the summer.
You head the credit union at a company that requires employees to explain needs for loans. One pleads privately for confidentiality, and you talk the the board into his loan, based on their trust in you. You go to your grave without revealing his secret, which is…
Jerry B. Jenkins has written 187 books with sales of more than 70 million copies. He’s had 21 New York Times bestsellers, including the Left Behind series. He now shares his writing knowledge with aspiring authors at JerryJenkins.com.
This is a ridiculous and fun little exercise. Try it!
Here’s another prompt that’s going to make it difficult for you to try to write a brilliant story. We’re focusing this week on productivity, quantity not quality. And here’s the secret, when you’re not too worried about the quality, you quite often find that your writing is better than you expected.
Write a story containing all of these words from a fourth grade spelling list.
This prompt is a great one for the first day because this is a day when you’re probably the most excited about the challenge and your ambitions are high and you’re quite likely to try and do too much.
Write a story in 30 minutes
I would rather you try to do too little and succeed and try to do too much and fai. Hence the limit on timing.
Set a timer. I know you probably have a phone clutched in your hand right now. Tell it to set a timer for 30 minutes. Don’t start it yet.
Every story starts with character. Think of your favorite type of character from somebody else’s fiction. Do you like Jack Reacher? He’s heroic he’s almost impossible to beat in a fight. And yet Lee Child manages to make him an interesting character. Is this the kind of character you like? If not what do you like? Write down qualities of characters that you love to read about, now.
Once you have a character, think about something that this character would never ever do.
Think of a way to back this character into a corner where they must do the thing they would never do.
For example all Harry Potter wants to do is find a place to belong, a place to call home. He finds it at Hogwarts. The last thing he would ever do is risk getting kicked out of Hogwarts. But what does he do in every book? He risks getting kicked out of Hogwarts. He does it to save his friends, to further the course of right, and ultimately to save his world.On a smaller scale in All The Light You Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, the main character is a young blind girl who relies utterly on her doting father. The last thing she would want is to be separated from her father and have to cope with life on her own. But along comes World War II and the Nazis and guess what she has to do? It’s not a big adventure novel there are some explosions (not in a Bruce Willis kind of way), but the tension is very real because were worried about this poor vulnerable girl and what she’s going to do in her circumstances. Pick something for your character that will push them beyond their comfort zone.
Think about this for a little while. It might be best if you think about this while you go off and do whatever it is you have to do today, and then come back to writing later.
think about how late you can start the story. You don’t have to write background, telling us who the character is, what her daily life is all about. That’s for movies. This is a short story. We don’t have the space for that. Short story writers can start closer to the middle of the action — we can start in medias res, the middle of the action. Later, we show the reader the stakes, through conversation or actions. They don’t need to know everything in the opening paragraph.
OK, you have a few ideas? Great! Start your timer.
How to write a story in 30 minutes Write for no more than 10 minutes on the opening of the story. At the 10 minute mark make sure that you’re moving into the main action of the story: the complications, making things worse for your protagonist, making things funnier/more harrowing/more interesting. At the 25 minute mark, start wrapping up: even if the story isn’t completely finished, even if you have to write [something cool happens here], draw a line under the middle part of your story and get the resolution. Wrap it up by the time you hit the 30 minute mark. First draft: done!
This is difficult, and you’re not going to end up with a fabulous polished story. (You might, but you shouldn’t expect to.) However writing to the end of the story gives you a first draft that you can go back and clean up later. The experience of going from beginning to end in 30 minutes proves to you that you can do this. Congratulations! You have a complete story. Now start thinking about what you might write about tomorrow!
JONATHAN MABERRY is a NY Times bestselling novelist, five-time Bram Stoker Award winner, and comic book writer.
Today we’re kicking off StoryADay May 2016 with a prompt from the fabulous Jonathan Maberry. (If you have a chance to hear him speak at a writer’s conference/group/signing, go! You’ll be inspired to run home and write!)
When Terry began scrolling through her phone, none of the photos she found were hers.
JONATHAN MABERRY is a NY Times bestselling novelist, five-time Bram Stoker Award winner, and comic book writer. He writes the Joe Ledger thrillers, the Rot & Ruin series, the Nightsiders series, the Dead of Night series, as well as standalone novels in multiple genres. His new and upcoming novels include KILL SWITCH, the 8th in his best-selling Joe Ledger thriller series; VAULT OF SHADOWS, a middle-grade sf/fantasy mash-up; and MARS ONE, a standalone teen space travel novel. He is the editor of many anthologies including THE X-FILES, SCARY OUT THERE, OUT OF TUNE, and V-WARS. His comic book works include, among others, CAPTAIN AMERICA, the Bram Stoker Award-winning BAD BLOOD, ROT & RUIN, V-WARS, the NY Times bests-selling MARVEL ZOMBIES RETURN, and others. His books EXTINCTION MACHINE and V-WARS are in development for TV. A board game version of V-WARS was released in early 2016. He is the founder of the Writers Coffeehouse, and the co-founder of The Liars Club. Prior to becoming a full-time novelist, Jonathan spent twenty-five years as a magazine feature writer, martial arts instructor and playwright. He was a featured expert on the History Channel documentary, Zombies: A Living History and a regular expert on the TV series, True Monsters. He is one third of the very popular and mildly weird Three Guys With Beards pop-culture podcast. Jonathan lives in Del Mar, California with his wife, Sara Jo.
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