May 26 – Joy In The Mundane

The Prompt

Write a story rooted in the small moments of everyday life.

I studied history at university.

Most people think of history as big lists of dates and kings and revolutions and war. My favorite moments in studying history were when someone directed my attention to the tiny things that allowed me to see how people really lived, what they were really like, in the foreign country of the past: shopping lists for Venetian guilds that provided clues as to which festivals they took part in (and when); journals by minor figures aboard ship in the early years of the European exploration of the Americas; how the plays and literature of a period could tell us about everything from economics to gender politics…

Big things happen in our world every day. I listen to news radio dry-eyed all morning, and yet (every damned week) a three minute segment on Fridays makes me cry. It’s StoryCorps, a project in which ordinary people interview each other about things that have mattered in their lives. It ranges from personal testimonies about 9/11, to an old couple reminiscing about their courtship 50 years earlier.

The Prompt

Write a story rooted in the small moments of everyday life. 

Tips

  • Think of the things that give you pleasure: a beautifully prepared dish of tasty nutritious food; a warm bed; the moment the sun dips below the horizon; the sun shining on a cut lemon on your kitchen counter. Write a story rooted in, starting from, or ending at that moment.
  • Read poetry that celebrates the mundane and relates it to bigger questions: for example, Birches, by Robert Frost or The Flea by John Donne. You don’t have to write poetry to make a small, everyday thing enough to power a whole story.
  • Listen to a StoryCorps interview and use it as the basis for a story.
  • Look around you right now. What can you see? What objects give you pleasure? Why? Imagine a character who gets similar pleasure from that object. Why? How can you make the story more universal? Focus on the tiny reasons for joy and write a story inspired by that.

GO!

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May 25 – Character Fit For Purpose

The Prompt

Resolve the Conflict In Your Story Based on Your Main Character’s Abilities

 

This is inspired by an idea shared on the Writing Excuses podcast. They did a wonderful series of shows about how to make a character more sympathetic without making them inhumanely good/evil. Check out the first of the shows.  

Conflict can be “Oh no! The world’s about to end! How do we stop it/escape?” or it can be “Oh no, my mother-in-law’s coming for the holidays and she’s insufferable”, or it can be “I need to do something I really don’t want to do because…”

One way to create sympathy for a main character and keep the conflict in the story, is to use the character’s abilities (or lack thereof) to show how they are a good fit, a mediocre fit, or a terrible fit for the challenges they face.

The Prompt

Resolve the Conflict In Your Story Based on Your Main Character’s Abilities

Tips

  • Your character can be a good fit for the challenges but hindered by circumstances (Superman and his need to keep his true identity hidden).
  • Your character can be a poor fit for the challenge he faces, but willing to give it a shot (Bilbo, in The Hobbit. He is certainly not the Burglar Gandalf claims him to be, but he gives his best to the adventure, in spite of being a poor fit for the life).
  • Your character is a reluctant hero. He has the skills and the opportunity, but doesn’t particularly want to be a hero (Bruce Willis in The Fifth Element — in fact, Bruce Willis in a lot of roles!). What inner conflict is stopping him from helping resolve the outer conflict? What will change his/her mind?
  • What if your character is really, really good at one thing and is suddenly thrust into a world/situation where all their skills mean nothing…at first? Can they adapt? Can they find a way to use their skills? Can they partner up with someone whose skills compliment their own? Can you find a way to let them use their existing skills in the end, so they don’t seem like a pathetic character?
  • What if your character is the sweetheart who glues together an otherwise incompatible team of highly skilled, irascible experts?
  • Make us root for or against a character by showing how they employ their talents (or fail to).

GO!

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May 24 – Epistolary Stories

The Prompt: write a story in letter form

I have an unexplained and abiding love for stories-in-the-form-of-letters, so if you spend any time at StoryADay.org you’re going to see this one again and again, sorry!

The Prompt

Write A Story In Letter Form

Tips

  • This can be a single communication or a series
  • It doesn’t have to be letters. It could be Tweets, Tumblr posts, office-wide memos.
  • The story can unfold from a single author’s point of view, or you can show more than one side of the story, by using multiple authors.
  • If you need inspiration, read famous letters here, here, here or here

Examples::

Handwritten love letters:

Letters from famous authors to young fans

15 Best Resignation Letters

A list of popular Epistolary Novels

(Just don’t spend too much time reading them!!)

GO!

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May 23 – Limits: Twitter Stories

Yes, it is possible to write a story in as few as 140 characters, but you’ll have to let the reader do some of the work…

The Prompt

Write a story in 140 characters

Tips

  • 140 characters means just that: every space, every punctuation mark, each one counts.
  • If your character is a product of the pre-smartphone era and you want to use ‘text speak’, you can (e.g. Ur gr8!). Personally I never felt the need for that, and have learned to be extremely concise (believe it or not) when I have to be.
  • You can write a single story over a series of Tweets.
  • Stories written this way are gimmicky and often end with a punch, but it’s an interesting experience (not to mention a way to tick the ‘story done’ box on an otherwise busy day).
  • Don’t expect to come up with a refine a 140 character story quickly. You can, however, do it in fragments during a busy day. Keep refining it until you’re happy.
  • Super-short stories like this work well when they have a strong voice.
  • Use some of the features of haiku: juxtapose a small thing with a large thing (object, concern, sight); make a surprising or insightful observation about a common occurrence; use the language at the end to echo the language at the beginning, giving it a feeling of circularity or completion; be impressionistic or surreal or dreamlike; leave a lot to the imagination.
  • If you post a story as a five-part series on Twitter, put 1/5, 2/5, 3/5 etc at the end of each episode, so that readers know there is more coming.
  • If you’re posting your story to Twitter, make it a little shorter and use the hashtag #StADa so we can find it!

 

GO!

 

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May 22 – Time For Something Different

The Prompt

Write a story in a style/tone you never use

When I finished the first draft of a novel, my critique group was fabulously supportive. They told me all the things they loved and all the things that needed work. What surprised me the most, though, was their unanimous howl of despair that I had never paid off the romantic frisson between the two main characters. Not a single kiss! How could I?!

“But I’m not writing a romance,” I stuttered.

Their icy stares haunt my dreams, still…

I don’t write romance. I cringe when I read sex scenes. But being a bit of a prude doesn’t absolve me of the need to let my characters get a little lovin’. Clearly I need to practice writing something that’s outside my comfort zone.

The Prompt

Write a story in a style/tone you never use

Tips

  • If all your stories tend towards melancholy, try writing something utterly goofy today.
  • If you write very descriptively, try writing a piece as all (or mostly) dialogue between two distinct voices. Or vice versa.
  • If you normally write deep literary reflections, try a catalogue-of-errors romp.
  • Rewrite an earlier story in a totally different tone.
  • It might not be a work of art (or even a proper story), but you’ll learn something about lightness, language, rhythm and tone.
  • Don’t worry if you don’t think you could write a whole sci-fi novel, or you don’t know the conventions of a mystery or if everyone has always told you you’re just not funny. Try it. Write something short, sweet and out of your comfort zone.
  • There’s nothing wrong with developing a style. In fact it’s a smart career move. But even within grim realistic contemporary fiction, you’re going to occasionally want a little humor, or horror, or mystery. Writing shorts in different tones can help you vary the tone of longer works (or collections of short works).
  • Branching out not only mixes things up for readers, it helps you to boost your creativity, keep the excitement going, and revitalize your own writing.
  • If you’re having trouble with this, read, watch or listen to something you admire that is in the tone you’re aiming for today.

Me? I’m off to write turn down the lights, drape something in velvet, and write a story that’d make E.L. James  say ‘Steady on, old girl!” Wish me luck!

GO!

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Guest Writing Prompt from Jacob Tomsky

Jacob Tomsky of Short Story ThursdaysJacob Tomsky is a best-selling writer and host of Short Story Thursdays, a weekly email dispatch that somehow manages to be snarky and sweet at the same time. (If you haven’t signed up to receive a story a week from Tomsky yet, do it now).

Read our interview with him, talking about how he moved from a short-story-hater to one of its best champions.

As you can see from the prompt below, Jacob has Opinions. Do not disappoint him.

The Prompt

Story told in first person or third person only. NO SECOND PERSON, GODDAMN IT.

Past tense. You can do current tense or whatever it’s called but that would piss me off too.

Prompt: Main character is being interviewed on television, live, for the first time ever. Story begins at the moment the camera goes live on the main character.

Go!

May 21 – Limits – Real Time

The Prompt

Write a story that unfolds in real time

The Prompt

Write a story that unfolds in real time

Tips

  • If a story unfolds in real time, you can’t have any ‘meanwhile’, or ‘three hours later’  or ‘earlier today’ scenes. Everything must flow chronologically and in as close to real time as possible.
  • If a character puts the kettle on, to make a cup of tea, you’re going to have to give them something to do or someone to talk to for the full two and a half minutes it takes for four cups of water to boil.
  • You can hop from one character’s perspective to another, as long as you stick to the timeline established at the start. If there’s a knock at the door, you could jump into the head of the person outside the door, but only right after they knocked.
  • You don’t have to time everything (like my example of the kettle) and you don’t have to worry about how fast different readers read; just try to keep everything flowing at a reasonably believable real-time pace. (Have you ever watched an action movie set in a city you know? Isn’t it irritating when there’s a car chase down a street that you know is only a few blocks long, yet seems to be three miles long in the movie? Don’t do that.)

GO!

Did you discover any time-shifting techniques that you would usually have used without noticing? Or was this very natural for you?

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May 20 – Limits: Present Tense

The Prompt

Write A Story In The Present Tense

The Prompt

Write A Story In The Present Tense

Tips

  • The present tense grants an immediacy not there in the past tense.
  • This is great for thrillers, because we can’t be sure that the authorial voice (or first person narrator) will survive until the end.
  • You can jump around in time, but each segment must be in the present tense. You can indicate a shift in time by having your characters talk ‘to camera’ or by noting that the sun is now setting or that the morning dew has burned off the grass at last…

GO!

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May 19 – Limits – Two Voices 

The Prompt

Write a story told only in dialogue

The Prompt

Write a story told only in dialogue

Tips

  • This can be a dramatic scene, designed to be read by two actors or it can be a story with ‘he said’ ‘she said’  dialogue tags.
  • With only two voices it should be possible to avoid using any dialogue tags at all, but you’ll need to work to keep the characters’ voices distinct.
  • Try to reflect, in their language, how they are feeling instead of relying on ‘stage directions’ (she said, nodding encouragingly).
  • Show agitation or excitement by making the language choppier. Like this. Really. I can’t believe … how could you?!
  • Allow characters to ramble when they are prevaricating, but try to avoid excessive use of “um” and “er”. Instead, let them go off on tangents, avoid the point.
  • Allow your characters to speechify (speak in a formal, unnatural style) if you want, but be conscious about it and consistent. Hey, it worked for Shakespeare and Aaron Sorkin!
  • Alternately, try to keep the voice of each character as realistic as possible. Remember that people talk at cross purposes, they interrupt each other, they don’t answer each other’s questions directly, worst of all, they often fail to listen to the other person at all because they’re planning their next riposte.
  • Try to pick two characters who reflect different outlooks or ages or stations in life (imagine the Dowager Countess talking to the cook. It’s more than just accent that sets them apart, it’s word-choice, rhythm, relative confidence, expectation, assumptions about life…)

GO!

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May 18 – Limits: Third Person, Omniscient

The Prompt

Write A Story With An Omniscient Third Person Narrator.

Omniscient voice has fallen out of favor recently, which I think is a shame. Then again, I’m a fan of satire and enjoy a bit of Dickens now and then.

Omniscient voice can distance the reader from the characters a bit, and that’s not what the publishing industry thinks today’s readers want. However, it can be a fun challenge, and we’re taking it on today.

The Prompt

Write  A Story With An Omniscient Third Person Narrator. 

Tips

  • In this voice you are never entirely in one person’s head, but you can jump from head to head. It’s best to keep this consistent thought. Stay with one characters thoughts for a while, shift to another and stay there until the next piece of action ends. Otherwise, you’ll give your readers whiplash.
  • If you are not inside a character’s head, the narrator point out what a character is thinking by noting their actions and expressions.
  • Omniscient voice is great for satire, because the authorial voice can comment on the actions of characters, though you  probably want to use this sparingly.
  • If you’re having trouble finding the omniscient voice, imagine the voice-over at the start of the Winnie The Pooh cartoons, or read some Dickens.
  • See if you can pull off Omniscient without sounding like you wrote this in the nineteenth century. (I’m not sure it’s possible. Let’s find out!)

GO!

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