[Write On Wednesday] Speak, Don’t Tell

Continuing this month’s theme of Show, Don’t Tell, today I want you to focus on how you can do that in dialogue. 

Missed the first prompt on this month’s theme? Find it here.

Couple holding hands, image
Photo by Yoann Boyer on Unsplash

The Prompt

Write a story set in a particular time or place and use dialogue to show us where we are, rather than telling us.

Suggested scenario: two characters who know each other well, but one is keeping a secret.

Tips

Don’t simply have characters say “In olden days people didn’t even drive electric cars” to show that we’re in the future. Look at this example from “The Era” by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah.

We’re in HowItWas class

“Well,” Mr Harper said, twisting is ugly body towards us. “You should shut your mouth because you’re a youth-teen who doesn’t know sh*t about Sh*t and I’m a full-middler who’s been teaching this stuff for more years than I’m proud of.”

The Era, Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

You KNOW we’re not in a modern day school, right? The attitudes, the name of the class, the way description of ages…so much “show” and very little “tell”, even though we literally have characters telling each other stuff!

Or in this story when the main character has seen a photograph of her deceased mother in a museum and calls her dad to ask about it.

“She was a looker, wasn’t she? What is it, some kind of—do they call it street photography?”

“No,” I said. I described in euphemism what was occurring int he photo.

“There’s been some mistake,” my father answered, finally, resolutely. “That’s your eyes playing tricks on you.”

Natural Light, Kathleen Alcott

Watch how the father goes from open and generous to shut-down and in denial, without the author have to tell us any of that.

Or in this one, what do you infer about the setting, just from the dialogue?

“Y’all put that gator right back where you found him or I’ll pepper your asses with 177s.”

Hellion, Julia Elliot

Pay attention to how you can use dialogue to tell us things other that what the character mean to tell us.

If you share you story somewhere (and here’s why you might not want to) post a link here so we can come and read it.

Leave a comment to let us know what you wrote about today, and how it went!



Ready For More?


[Write On Wed] The Stories The Books Tell

This post came from my local independent bookstore yesterday, closed for the moment, but imagining wonderful things. (You can support Reads & Co while they’re closed by ordering from them here)

Reads & Company bookstore image "the books keep themselves company, telling each other stories until you return"
Reposted with permission from bookstore owner and writer Robb Cadigan. He says “Hope people have fun with it”, but reserves first dibs on the idea as kids’ book or published story…

The Prompt

What stories do the books tell each other?

Continue reading “[Write On Wed] The Stories The Books Tell”

[Write On Wednesday] Pull Readers into Your Story

This month’s theme at StoryADay is “Show, Don’t Tell”, that pesky little piece of writing advice that sounds so easy and will actually take us the whole month to unpack. It’s more than simply ‘showing’. It’s about using all our senses to immerse the reader in a moment, and it come more easily to some writers than others.

Let’s start practicing with today’s prompt. This week we’ll focus on making the setting immersive. Next week will be about showing through dialogue. The week after that we’ll work on when to ‘show’ and when to ‘tell’.

photo of dining room by matt briney on unsplash.com

The Prompt

Your character walks into a room  and sees something/someone they really, really don’t want to see. How do they solve this dilemma?

Tips

Continue reading “[Write On Wednesday] Pull Readers into Your Story”

[Write on Wednesday] Trouble In Paradise

Relationships are tricky – romantic or otherwise – because at the heart of each relationship are two individuals who have expectations, often unspoken, about what they owe to each other.

Photo by Jessica Da Rosa on Unsplash

The Prompt

Write a story in which two close friends, lovers or family members struggle through a difficult moment.

Tips

Continue reading “[Write on Wednesday] Trouble In Paradise”

[Writing Prompt] What The Greeks Knew About Love

This year during the Superbowl I noticed an ad that used the different types of love, as defined by the Greeks, to advertise their product. And it reminded me that, for those of us without a classical education, it can be useful to review frameworks like this, that underpin our cultural attitudes whether we know it or not. 

eros statue image
Photo by Thomas Vogel on Unsplash

The Prompt

Write a story combining featuring two different types of love relationships from the list. Notice how they interact, how they cause the characters to act, and where those actions are different and similar.

Types of Love

Continue reading “[Writing Prompt] What The Greeks Knew About Love”

[Writing Prompt] 3 Aspects of Enduring Love

This month’s theme is Love: It’s Not Just For The Ladies. I’m going to be looking into all kinds of love and how our characters feel, express and reject it. Starting with this week’s writing prompt.

couple holding hands illustration
Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

The Prompt

Write three, linked mini-stories about two people who love each other.
Each moment illustrating one of the three aspects of enduring love: Intimacy, Passion & Commitment.

Each section highlights a different moment.
The overall story charts their relationship.

Tips

Continue reading “[Writing Prompt] 3 Aspects of Enduring Love”

Write On Wednesday – Poetic Inspiration

This week is the anniversary of the birth of Scotland’s national poet, Robert Burns.  While I’m cooking up some haggis and pouring a whisky in his immortal memory, I have a writing prompt for you that celebrates not just Robert Burns, but all poets.

poetry book and quill

The Prompt

Write a story inspired by a poem

Tips

Continue reading “Write On Wednesday – Poetic Inspiration”

[Write On Wednesday] Picture Prompt

Sometimes it takes a traditional writing prompt to get us writing…and that’s perfectly OK. When you could write about absolutely anything, that’s too much choice, and can be paralyzing.

So this month at StoryADay I’m focused on providing prompts and info to get you to your writing as quickly as possible. Today, it’s a picture prompt.

close-up of person tying walking boot. Outdoors, scarf, grass.

The Prompt

Write a story inspired by this picture

Tips

Continue reading “[Write On Wednesday] Picture Prompt”

[Write On Wednesday] The Not-Writing Prompt

Sometimes ‘writing’ doesn’t meant putting words on the page. Today’s prompt is designed to help you get comfortable with this reality of life as a writer.

(For more on this idea, read “Does Thinking Count As Writing?“)

"Win" illustration

The Prompt

Pick and implement a ‘tiny win’ for today, that doesn’t involve writing new words.

Tips

It’s very important to feel the reality that not everything in a writer’s life is about adding words.

These suggestions are designed to help you carve our time not just for writing, but for ‘writing’ (all the other stuff that goes with it).

Choose from one thing from this list (or make up something similar) and carve out 15-20 minutes to focus on it. Turn off all your notifications and just allow yourself to focus.

Then report back, to let us know what you did, and to celebrate!

  • Find a tiny notebook in your stash (you know you have a notebook stash!) and commit to carrying it with you every day for a week, so you can capture ideas. Start by writing down something you can see, hear, taste, touch and smell right where you are, right now.
  • Read a story by someone else and write down everything you love and hate about it.
  • Go for a walk or get some other kind of exercise that gets your blood pumping. Bonus points for getting out of your usual space. (Your brain is connected to the rest of your body. Take care of them!)
  • Write a review of a book you loved and always meant to get around to reviewing. Bonus points: write a letter to the author, if they’re still with us (you can send it to the publisher listed in their books). Connecting to the rest of the writing world builds your commitment to your craft, and reminds you that authors are just people. Hey, you’re a person! Maybe you DO have a right to write, too!
  • Ask another writer how they’re doing. This can be someone who seems to be doing “so much better” than you. (Connect on Twitter or some other social media site.) Trust me they’ll appreciate it. And again, building your connections with the greater writing world will help you feel more committed, and stop you from slinking off and saying “I could never be a real writer so I might as well not try”. Of course you can be a writer. And having connections with people in the writing world helps remind you of that.
  • Revise a short story or scene that you’ve previously written. Focus on crafting one sentence you really love, somewhere in that piece.
  • Rework a story or scene to cut it down by 10% of its word count. Be ruthless (work on a copy if you have to!). What does that do for the story and your prose?
  • Set a timer and spend 20 minutes (no more! It’s a rabbit hole!) researching publications you might want to send stories to.
  • Doodle or illustrate a story you previously write. You might draw a portrait of a main character, sketch the house they live in, or splash colors on the page to represent their personality.
  • Make a Pinterest board of interesting characters and places you can use in stories (thanks to MoniqueAC for this suggestion!). Again, set a timer, because this is meant to be a tiny win, not a new lifetime project!
  • Go on–or book–what Julia Cameron calls an Artist’s Date. What inspires you? For me it’s often music. For you, it might be art. Can you book an outing now, to an art museum, a live music concert, a play? Can you put a time on your calendar to walk in your favorite park, or call your funniest friend?

What other tiny wins can you think of? What did you try and how did it go? Leave a comment and share your ideas!

[Write On Wednesday] A New Angle

In this month of stealing worlds, characters and ideas (from yourself and others), this prompt encourages you to take another look, from a new angle.

watching

The Prompt

Tell a story in someone else’s universe, from the perspective of a secondary, overlooked, or unnamed character

Tips

Continue reading “[Write On Wednesday] A New Angle”

[Write on Wednesday] Mirror Mirror

This month’s theme for prompts at StoryADay is: playing in other people’s sandbox, or in other words: writing fiction based in somebody else’s universe.

Evil Kirk and Spock

The Prompt

Take a universe you love and write story where the values are reversed: the good guys are bad and the bad guys are evil

Tips

Continue reading “[Write on Wednesday] Mirror Mirror”

[Write On Wednesday] Penny for the Guy?

This month’s theme at StoryADay is the idea of alternative stories: writing new stories in other people’s universes. This can mean fan fiction or it can mean taking folk tales, history, or myth and writing in that. Perhaps you and a writing buddy swap universes for a day and you write about their characters for a change.

Stay tuned each Wednesday this month for more ways to play in other people’s sandboxes.

Penny for the Guy

The Prompt

Yesterday, people in the UK celebrated Guy Fawkes’ Day, a family friendly festival celebrating the gruesome end of a would-be revolutionary. Write a story inspired by that of Guy Fawkes

Tips

Continue reading “[Write On Wednesday] Penny for the Guy?”

[WoW] What We Remember, What Has Been Lost

Today’s Write On Wednesday prompt was inspired by reading Wendell Berry’s story The Great Interruption: The Story of a Famous Story of Old Port William and How It Ceased To Be Told (1935-1978)  in this year’s Best American Short Stories. (Read my review here.)

journals

The Prompt

Write a story from your childhood memories, keeping in mind your audience and what changes there have been since the time of your story

Tips

Continue reading “[WoW] What We Remember, What Has Been Lost”

[Write On Wednesday] Multiple Choice

In honor of all the kids I know who will be spending this morning filling in bubbles on test papers, let’s use the weirdness of the short story form to try something a little different today.

Standardized Test Close-Up

The Prompt

Write a story in the form of a multiple-choice test

Tips

  • It seems to me this would be perfect for a break-up letter. One person could provide questions about the relationship or the break-up, with multiple answers for the recipient (and the reader) to choose from.
  • I’m thinking about writing a murder mystery in this format.
  • A horror story could also be fun
  • You could parody the form. You remember? One answer is always ridiculously wrong, one is right, one could be right and the other one is wrong, but not-as-obviously.
  • Or you could ignore that, and just write amusing/terrifying answers.

I’m not going to write any more tips because I just came up with this prompt and I’m really, really curious to see what you you do with it!

If you share you story somewhere (and here’s why you might not want to) post a link here so we can come and read it.

Leave a comment to let us know what you wrote about today, and how it went!

2019 Day 22 – Word List

How did you get on yesterday? Did you write a story?

Remember, set your own rules, and stick to them. If you miss a day, don’t try to catch up. Just keep moving forward!

The Prompt

Write A Story Containing These Words

distinct, weak, volunteered, slow, coming,
time, duress, suspected, shimmy, listened.

If you’re feeling brave, post the story in the comments, or on your own blog and link to it (like so many of you have been doing already).

Underline or bold the key words, or just let us read the story without noticing them.

This is a silly exercise designed to lower the bar on your expectations. But you may be surprised at what you manage to do with this prompt!

Go!

Check back every day for more prompts, and don’t forget to come back and leave a comment to celebrate your writing successes, every day!

2019 Day 18 – Prose Sonnet

How did you get on yesterday? Did you write a story?

Remember, set your own rules, and stick to them. If you miss a day, don’t try to catch up. Just keep moving forward!

The Prompt

Don’t worry: you don’t have to know anything about poetry and you don’t have to make this rhyme!

Write A Story In 14 Sentences

That’s it!

(Sometimes different forms can be surprisingly freeing so if you hate this idea, try it anyway!!)

If you know about the different types of sonnets (or want to research them) you could echo the thematic ‘rules’ that sometimes apply.

But don’t waste to much time worrying about that. Just write a story in 14 sentences.

Go!

Check back every day for more prompts, and don’t forget to come back and leave a comment to celebrate your writing successes, every day!

2019 Day 16 -The List

How did you get on yesterday? Did you write a story?

Remember, set your own rules, and stick to them. If you miss a day, don’t try to catch up. Just keep moving forward!

The Prompt

write A Story In The Form Of A list

This is part of a week of prompts designed to get you to play with form.

TIPS

  • Use established cultural lists, or your own.
  • Use an imagined list (“the lists my mother gave me when I left home”, or “Mr Renquist’s Classroom Rules”) to tell a character’s story.
  • Pick your favorite of the 7 Deadly Sins, 7 Gifts of the Holy Spirit, 9 Circles of Hell, 5 Pillars of Islam, 12 Labors of Hercules, 3 Rules of Robotics, 3 Laws of Motion, 6 Principles of the Scientific Method…
  • Consider writing a series of stories from these ideas

Remember: short story readers like puzzles and gaps. Let them figure out why they are reading this list, as they go.

Go!

Check back every day for more prompts, and don’t forget to come back and leave a comment to celebrate your writing successes, every day!

2019 Day 15 -Feelings

How did you get on yesterday? Did you write a story?

Remember, set your own rules, and stick to them. If you miss a day, don’t try to catch up. Just keep moving forward!

The Prompt

Write A story in three different moods

This begins a week of prompts designed to get you to play with form.

Short stories are not mini-novels and they needn’t read that way.

Jump around between characters in this one. Jump around in time. Do whatever you need to, to give your story three distinct sections and three different emotions.

Make sure to make your characters sound like real people, not actors on a stage reading soliloquies.

Go!

Check back every day for more prompts, and don’t forget to come back and leave a comment to celebrate your writing successes, every day!

[Write On Wednesday] Can You Remember?

Today’s post comes to us from gifted memoirist Jane Paffenbarger Butler. You can read more about Jane, below, but in the meantime, enjoy mining your memories for Story Sparks! – Julie

When I was a child, my mother and sisters and I spent hours making our clothes at home. The memory of those long quiet days together is etched in my mind because we did it over and over. That makes it a perfect resource for my writing because it is etched in my mind. But even one-time events can be seared onto our brains and serve equally as sources of inspiration.

Because we have kept a memory, stored it for some reason, it holds a significance that may be useful. When I try, I can remember many details and images about that repeating scene of sewing. Recording a memory, in writing, however disjointed or unclear or insufficient, means we capture whatever clarity there is to be observed. The overriding feeling of the sewing room was one of having to focus on the details, such as being sure of our measurements, even in our pinning, and whether the machine was threaded correctly and if we were following every direction. There was little conversation and there was little sound besides that of our movements.

However fuzzy, our memories are infused with feelings that give them an emotional power that can make our writng richer.

I may want to write specifically about sewing, the memories of the creaking old house, the stale state of the space we shared, the silence so thick I heard the buzz of a fly trapped at the window pane trying to escape. But I may prefer to let this description inform whatever other writing I do. These recalled images and ideas are newly acquired and because of their source resonate with authenticity.

Jane Butler and Mom

The Prompt

Unlock Memories to Inform Your Writing

Tips

Continue reading “[Write On Wednesday] Can You Remember?”

[Write On Wednesday] Opening Lines

Our theme here at StoryADay this month is “Openings & Endings” so here’s a prompt to help you with the first of those.

Lily Dithrich

The Prompt

Your opening line is: The chairs, the tables, the pictures on the walls, everything was right where it ought be, but something wasn’t quite right.

Tips

  • This prompt seems like it could be leading you to write a contemporary, realistic, narrative story, but don’t let that hold you back. If you want to write an absurdist, stream-of-consciousness piece with four different perspectives, you go right ahead!
  • Think about who might care about things being right (or wrong) and why?
  • What has happened up to this point in your character’s life to make them so suspicious…or paranoid?
  • Is your character like Columbo or Monk, a person with an obsessive eye for detail? Or is this a room that they know well because they spend a good portion of their day in it?
  • What kind of room has chairs, tables and pictures on the walls?
  • Should the room even be there?
  • Is your protagonist human?

If you share you story somewhere (and here’s why you might not want to) post a link here so we can come and read it.

Leave a comment to let us know what you wrote about today, and how it went!

[Write On Wednesday] Go To Town

I’ve reached the age where people have started to make TV shows about my childhood and teen years (and yes, I know I should be watching Stranger Things; I just haven’t got to it yet…)

It got me thinking about how we capture not just a place but a time as well.

Rob Roy Bar, Govan 1976, I couldn't find copyright info for this picture. If you own it, let me know!

The Prompt

Do an image search for the place you grew up in a year from your childhood. Write a story set in that town/street.

Tips

I didn’t search for the place I grew up but for the part of town my grandparents lived in. (Govan, 1976, when I was really too young to remember it, to ensure it would look as foreign to me as possible).

Part of me thought I might find the exact street I used to walk along with my Gran to get bread rolls for the obligatory after-church bacon rolls. We’d get them from the newsagent’s — the only shop open on a Sunday morning in Glasgow. I didn’t find that street, but I found one nearby, that felt familiar enough.

  • Really look at the picture. What do you remember? What didn’t survive in your memory?
  • Does it look idyllic or more run-down than it is in your memory?
  • What do you see in the picture that a stranger wouldn’t notice? What kinds of stories does it suggest?
  • In my picture I see the Tennant’s Lager sign outside the Rob Roy bar, and the fact that the doorway on the corner is marked ‘public bar’, but I know that what that really means is ‘men only’. (There’s a good chance my own grandfather is in there, now that I think about it, and what a thought that is. My lovely Granda, alive and well, and chewing on his pipe behind the yellow facade in this picture? There’s some emotion I can use in a story!)
  • Look at the shop-fronts, the road signs, the aged cars, whatever is in your picture that speaks of the era.
  • Maybe your picture has a fresh new housing development with saplings in the front yards and a single car in each driveway. What does that neighborhood look like now? What would today’s stranger never know about life on that street when you lived there?
  • Pick a moment and allow two characters to interact. It doesn’t have to be anything earth-shattering, because the third character in this story is going to be your setting. Do everything you can to capture the sounds, sights, smells and tastes of life in that moment.
  • Did everyone still smoke? Was the air quieter because nobody was running an air-conditioner? Did everyone barbecue on a Saturday afternoon? Were the buses more noxious? Was there more litter? Less? Why do the windows look different?
  • Allow your two characters to interact for a moment, perhaps foreshadow the changes coming to the neighborhood, perhaps grousing about a change that they’ve already seen.
  • Short stories revolve around a single moment. Go to town with that today—literally! Your town. Paint me a picture of a moment in the life of your childhood home.

If you share you story somewhere (and here’s why you might not want to) post a link here so we can come and read it.

Leave a comment to let us know what you wrote about today, and how it went!

[Write on Wednesday] Misheard

Today’s prompt is all about a misunderstanding, and comes to us from the writer Wayne Anthony Conaway.

The Prompt

Write A Story In Which One Character Misunderstands Another, With Far-Reaching Consequences

Tips

Today’s prompt focuses on misapprehension – that is, interpreting something incorrectly. Too often, in fiction, every character communicates perfectly. That’s not the way it happens in real life.

Example: award-winning author Harlan Ellison once misheard a conversation at a party. He overheard a woman say, “”Jeffy is fine. He’s always fine.”” What Ellison actually heard was “”He’s always FIVE.”” That inspired the story “”Jefty Is Five,”” about a boy who never grows up.

Alternately, the misapprehension could be visual.

True story: when I graduated college, I moved to a southern town – one of those places where anti-intellectualism seemed to be the prevailing attitude. I met lots of girls there, but I was looking for an intellectual girlfriend. One day, while sitting in dingy waiting room, I saw a pretty girl outside. To my amazement, she wore a tee-shirt with the letters “”SPQR”” on it. SPQR stood for – in Latin – “”The Senate and the People of Rome.”” What kind of woman wore a tee-shirt that referenced Ancient Rome? I had to meet her! I rushed outside, saw the girl…and discovered that her shirt didn’t say “”SPQR.”” It said “”SPORT.”” The final letter was hadn’t been visible from where I sat! (I was so disappointed, I didn’t even speak to her.)

So that’s your prompt: misapprehension, either verbal or visual.

About Wayne Anthony Conaway

Born in Philadelphia, PA, Tony Conaway has written and ghostwritten everything from blogs to books. He has cowritten non-fiction books published by McGraw-Hill, Macmillan and Prentice Hall. His fiction has been published in eight anthologies and numerous publications, including Blue Lake Review, Danse Macabre, Rind Literary Magazine, qarrtsiluni, The Rusty Nail and Typehouse Literary Magazine.

His odder work includes co-writing the script for a planetarium production, and jokes performed by Jay Leno on The Tonight Show. He blogs at http://wayneaconaway.blogspot.com/ He was recently a guest on the Indy Writer Podcast, talking about writing short fiction.

[Note from Julie: if you want to know how to wow an audience at a reading, check out Tony’s advice here. I’ve never seen an author do better than Tony!]

[Write On Wednesday] Got the Patter?

Last night my local writing group held a Reading Night. It was a wonderful thing.

For one thing the participants got to read their stories to an appreciative audience who simply wanted to have fun (as opposed to sending their story to an editor or a critique partner who is looking for things to reject).

And for another, there were some experienced performers in the group, who gave feedback and tips on the actual performance part of the reading. Invaluable stuff.

Reading your work is something you’ll be called upon to do as published author, so practice the skill (very different from writing!) as often as you can!

Last night’s reading prompted this, er prompt, because so many of the characters came alive when they had a distinctive voice, a distinctive patois. One story featured a rising politician, who used all the kinds of phrases you might expect of a rising sleazebag politician.

Another story featured a 1968 California Happening dude, who talked just like you would expect (expertly performed by a man who looked the right age to have been there.)

These stories, more than all the others, stuck with me because of the authenticity of the character’s voice. And that’s what I want you to practice this week.

MISO

The Prompt

Give Your Character A Distinctive Voice

Tips

  • Make your character have a job or a background with a specific set of jargon (for example: a stock broker would sound very different from a tuned-in, turned-on dude from 1968 Haight-Ashbury)
  • Get them into conversation with another character as soon as possible and see if you can keep their voices so distinct that you rarely have to write ‘he said’.
  • Concentrate on the rhythms of speech and the special phrases or jargon your character might use.
  • How would your character deliver their lines? Tentatively? With lots of preamble? Stridently? Rather than using these adverbs, let your characters use words that capture the content of their character
  • If you need more inspiration watch a supercut of Robin Williams as the genie in Aladdin and try to capture that kind of vigor in the words you put in the characters’ mouths! (But set a timer, so you don’t end up disappearing down a YouTube rabbit hole…)

If you share you story somewhere (and here’s why you might not want to) post a link here so we can come and read it.

Leave a comment to let us know what you wrote about today, and how it went!

[Write On Wednesday] A Rewrite Game from Marta Pelrine-Bacon

Today’s prompt is a guest post from StoryADay founding participant, Marta Pelrine-Bacon. I’m thrilled to share this complex and fruitful exercise for you this week. And do yourself a favor and check out Marta’s writing and art in the links at the bottom of the page.

The Rewrite Game

art by marta pelrine-bacon

Write a scene or a short story.

Continue reading “[Write On Wednesday] A Rewrite Game from Marta Pelrine-Bacon”

[Write On Wednesday] Talk Talk Talk

This month at StoryADay 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.

Talking

THE PROMPT

Write A Story Told Almost Completely In Dialogue

TIPS

Continue reading “[Write On Wednesday] Talk Talk Talk”

[Write On Wednesday] Your Character’s Voice

Today we’re going to play with making your characters sound distinctive.

Voiceover Microphone

The Prompt

Write A Story With Lots Of Dialogue That Teachers Us About Your Characters

Continue reading “[Write On Wednesday] Your Character’s Voice”