This month’s theme at StoryADay is about finding support in our writing lives, and that has me thinking about connection.
I have this thesis that writing is all about connections: connecting with another person (your reader)’s brain; connecting with the writers who inspired you; connecting with other people working in your genre; connecting with your past and future selves; connecting with the great web of human experience on this planet.
So today I want you to write a story that touches on some of these things.
Write A Story About Connections
This story could be about one significant connection (or missed connection) or it could be a series of interlocking or parallel connections.
You might write a story like the movie “Sliding Doors” where multiple possibilities hinge on the decision of a moment.
You might write three different people’s stories, all of them making different kinds of connections, and examining how each decision impacts their futures (or pasts, if it’s that kind of story).
Use your brainstorming time to think about the kinds of connections you value and how you get support from the people in your life. How does each type of connection make you feel? What do you miss? How can you convey the emotions that come up, in a story?
For bonus points, post in the comments here and find a friend to write a joint-story with. You could alternate lines, or brainstorm together, or each take one section of the story.
If you’re writing for publication, it’s important to be aware of lead-times, (i.e. the time between when an editor says ‘yes’ to your story and the date the publication goes live). They can be long, so if you’re writing a seasonal story, you need to be submitting months in advance. That’s why today’s prompt is for October’s National Adopt A Shelter Dog month. Write your doggie story today and start pitching it now!
Have you ever been part of a Writers’ Group? There’s good (Solidarity! Feedback! Deadlines!) and bad (Jealousy! Bitchiness! Blowhards!). This week I invite you to write the story of a writers’ group.
Imagine a writer’s group. Write a story about one of their meetings (or a series of meetings
This ground seems ripe for satire and farce, to me, but perhaps that’s just the way my mind works. (I refer you to @guyinyourMFAclass for inspiration!)
Put a writer (like or unlike) yourself into the group. Have a clear sense of who your protagonist is, what they want, what they don’t want, and what internal struggles cause them potential problems with other characters in this group. What, in their background, caused this internal flaw and how does that play into how they react to other people?
Go to town, pitting your protagonist against people who appeal to them or who play on that internal struggle (knowingly or otherwise).
Don’t forget to bring the story to a head over one incident, one moment, and show us how the protagonist deals with it.
A new year is almost upon us. News sites and shows and all your favourite blogs are urging you to think about resolutions and goals and all the way in which Next Year will be Better than every other year that’s gone before.
Of course, that’s not exactly how it works, is it?
Write About A New Beginning
Pick a character who needs a new beginning, or who wants a new beginning, and write about the moment they make that decision or embark on the new thing.
Or, pick a character who had no interest in beginning again and force them into a situation where they must.
This story could be tragic (new beginnings are often triggered by tragedy, because new beginnings are often too disruptive to be embarked on by choice), or it could be comedic, hopeful, dark, or joy-filled. It depends on you, your mood, your writing preferences and the character you picked.
Make sure to show us your character’s journey thorughout the story. Let them develop If they begin the story wary and unwilling, show us a moment of hope, where things might go well (even if you decide to go dark in the end).
Remember to make the reader (and yourself) FEEL something for the character and the struggles they’re going through. That feeling might be as difficult and safe as humor, or it might be a sentimental weep-fest. Or it might just be that glimmer of hope.
Think about a new beginning you experienced. What emotions did you feel? How did they manifest in your body and your mind, and in your actions? What can you take from that and put into your story?
Leave a comment and let us know what you wrote about, and how it went.
Today’s prompt is a kind of carnival game, a tombola, a random lucky dip.
When I was a kid, I loved going to church bazaars and village fetes and Christmas Fairs.
Aside from scanning the cheap paperbacks and making a beeline for the bakery stall to see if Carol-Anne’s dad had made his famous tablet, I loved nothing more than the Lucky Dip.
Hand over a coin and plunge your hand into a huge barrel of cold, scratchy sawdust, trying not to get any stuck under your nails. Try not to think about the unfortunate association of the smell of sawdust with all the times somebody threw up at school and the janitor came by with his trusty bucket of the stuff. Rummage around until your fingers find the smooth crinkle of something wrapped in cheap, thin paper. Pull it out and lo! you have a gift. No idea what it would be. It might be something ‘meh’, or it might be something cool like a spinning top or a plastic penny whistle, or one of those little puzzles with the balls you have to roll around until they are all in the right divots; something I could play with all afternoon then shove it in a drawer and re-discover periodically over the next few years.
Whatever I got, it was something I hadn’t expected. And it was mine, all mine!
Below, you’ll find a lucky-dip of sorts, a prompt from the archives of over 500 prompts at StoryADay. It has been generated especially for you!
Don’t forget, the end of the month is approaching. It’s the perfect time to check out your writing commitments from last month, and start planning your commitments for December. There’s still time to do a few more things this month to reach your goals!
There’s a concept that there are avid readers and ‘reluctant readers’ (boys often get lumped into this category). It is pronounced as if it’s somehow the reader’s fault that they get bored with books. I firmly believe that anyone can be turned into a midnight-reading-story-zombie if we just find (or in our case, write) the right kind of story for that reader.
It might seem odd to challenge you to write a short story for someone who doesn’t want to read one, but this exercise will keep you focused on making your story as compelling, action-driven, and engaging as possible.
There’s no feedback like the honest feedback of trying to hold the attention of a squirmy kid. This week I want you to try (or imagine) reading a story you’ve written to a kid under the age of 8. They are too young to worry about your feelings and they WILL let you know if the story is dragging! It’s great practice for holding the attention of former-kids too!
This evening I’ll be going out to another short story reading event, and it’s got me thinking about the audiences we write for.
Tonight’s story is adapted from one I wrote a while ago. I’m very happy with how it reads on the page, but when it comes to reading it aloud, I found I needed to cut a lot of description, tighten up the examples, lose some of the more languid language.
This month all the prompts will encourage you to try writing (or adapting) a short story with a specific audience in mind.
This month I’ve been encouraging you to write short stories in unusual forms and genres.
Since I’m spending today trekking back and forth to NYC to see the new Frozen musical with my kid’s school (I know, such a hardship, right?), I decided to urge you to write an outline for a musical today.
This is a bit of an odd one and if you’re not such a theater nerd as me, pick your favorite genre of movie, and imagine you’re writing an outline of all the sequences in your movie (there are probably about 8, with a big dramatic turning point at each quarter mark).
Write An Outline, or the Song/Scene List for a Dramatic Presentation
This isn’t going to read like a traditional narrative story
Imagine you’re looking at the program for a musical: it has a list of the scenes/songs you’re going to hear. Recreate that for your fantasy musical.
Here are some of the beats your two-act musical should hit:
Big opening number that introduces the characters, setting, theme & tone.
Character song – introduces your main characters desire and obstacle
Introduction to the love interest/problem/antagonist
Set back (probably a big chorus number)
Comedy song (featuring a minor character, to relieve the tension – ‘Brush Up Your Shakespeare’, or ‘Gaston’)
A serious ballad that restates the problem
A decision song. The main character is going for it, assembling their team
Set up for the big action of the second half. Cliffhanger! (Definitely have all characters on stage)
Another song restating the desire and obstacles of the main character
Big number setting up for the climax, featuring multiple characters
Final struggle song
Quick charming song resolving the action
Finale, a powerful song bringing back all the characters, even the dead ones. Probably has a similar title to one we’ve heard before.
So that’s it. Decide on a premise for your pretend musical. Figure out who your main character is, their desire, their obstacle and their antagonist. Then go to town creating song titles that fit the outline above. Have fun with this! Come up with a title for your musical and feel free to add notes to your ‘program’ with character names, suggestions for interval drinks and snacks, and perhaps even sponsorships by local businesses!
inspired by the fact that I’m reading at a Noir event tonight, I’m challenging you to write an atmosphere laden, tragedy-laced noir story today.
Write A Noir Story
Otto Penzler, owner of Mysterious Books and editor of the annual Best American Mystery Stories anthology, has this to say about noir.
“Most mystery fiction focusses on the detective, and noir fiction focusses on the villain…The people in noir fiction are dark and doomed—they are losers, they are pessimistic, they are hopeless. If you have a private eye, the private eye is a hero; and he’s going to solve the crime and the bad guy will be caught. That’s a happy ending, but that’s not a noir ending.”
Now I don’t think it’s entirely true that a noir story can’t have a happy ending. It just has to be an imperfectly-happy ending.
Your hero might escape, but it’s by doing something terrible. Or he leaves a trail of devastation in his wake. Or the bad guys still achieve their ends.
Your hero and their love interest can achieve a measure of personal happiness at the end, but it’s not an uncomplicated, Disney-esque happy ending.
Noir stories tend to be heavy in atmosphere and imagery, and have a distinctive narrative voice.
The villain’s motivation is something you can explore more in a noir story than in a traditional mystery.
Life is never simple or sweet in a noir story.
There should be a crime, attempted crime, or mystery in the story.
Explore the seedier side of life, and don’t forget to use all your senses, and exploit all of your characters’ passions.
Today’s prompt kicks off a month of Write On Wednesday short story prompts that focus on odd or very specific formats of stories.
Remember when Elaine from Seinfeld got a job writing for the J. Peterman catalogue? Every entry was a tiny short story, usually ridiculous, about the fantasy character who would wear/carry each product.
That’s what I want you to try today.
Write an imaginary entry for a pretentious, high-end catalogue
Think about the character who might use the piece you are highlighting
Think about the image you’re selling to the reader
Take the characteristics or details of your imaginary friends, and amp them up to outrageous levels
Make yourself laugh
Be as over the top as you like
Include a description of the object that contains sensory details
Keep the ‘story’ to around 200 words
Once you’re finished, look at your little story and see what you could learn from it, when you’re writing character or setting descriptions in the future.
Could you use some of the techniques you employed here, even if you dial it back a little?
Leave a comment and let me know the product you described and the character you chose. What did you discover in your writing today?
This month I’m giving you prompts that work in different ways to support your long-form fiction/novel writing. This week we’re looking at the micro-cultureS in your novel’s world.
Write a story that explains how the culture of your novel’s setting evolved
Even if you are writing contemporary fiction, don’t assume that the culture of your novel’s world is known to all your readers. There are what I think of as “micro-cultures” in every community, every family, every workplace. Just like in gardening, there are microclimates—I can grow tomatoes agains my house’s south-facing wall, but they would utterly fail if I tried to plant them on the cooler, shaded north-facing wall. My property isn’t very big, but it still has micro-climates!
Think about your fictional world’s culture in the novel. What does your main character feel they have to do, ought to do, would be shunned for doing?
How did those attitudes develop?
Write that story.
For example, in the movie “Steel Magnolias”, family and community are everything, and life revolves around the beauty shop. Why? Because a until very recently, women like them had very few choices in life. They found husbands, had children, entertained, and gathered at this ladies-only retreat where they could, for once, let loose and trade confidences. Write a story of the older women in that movie, when they were young. That will help the town and those secondary characters feel very real to your audience.
Conversely, in “When Harry Met Sally”, family plays no role at all. Harry is full of flaws, misbeliefs and self-harming psychological behavior, but we never see where it came from. It’s possible that Rob Reiner didn’t need to know Harry’s backstory because he was Harry, or at least knew a lot of guys like him, and knew enough about their behaviors to make him seem real. But if you want to be able to branch out and write characters who aren’t like you, it’s useful to explore the culture they came from. What was Harry’s family like growing up? What was the micro-culture in his neighborhood. What makes him so divorced from the family structure, relying only on a small group of friends?
Likewise if you’re writing in a more alien culture, it can be useful to write backstories about the early days of the prevailing religion or of the minority cultures that your secondary characters come from (surely no world is utterly homogenous?!).
Writing these backstories is useful for more than just research. You can use them to intrigue readers (give away a free story to get people on your mailing list and introduce them to your writing and your world). You can submit them to publications, and use those publishing credits to prove to agents and publishers that there is a built in audience for your novel. You can collect them and sell them to fans of the first book while you’re writing the sequel…
Write the story of the childhood event that scarred your character
If you haven’t already, get hold of a copy of Lisa Cron’s Story Genius and read all about character misbeliefs. Re-read it, if you own a copy!
Every character has to have a flaw. Maybe you decided that yours was commitment-phobic, or that she was overly-honest, or that she couldn’t hold down a job. There are lots of ways that could be fun in a novel, but a deeper question is: Why?
What happened to your main character at an earlier point in their life, that caused them to begin acting this way?
Once you know that, the subtle ways she reacts will change. She won’t just be commitment-phobic, she’ll get unreasonably angry when anyone promises to take her on vacation, because when she was nine her dad promised to take her on vacation but instead blew the money taking his new girlfriend to Vegas, and your main character never had a real relationship with him again after that.
In Story Genius Lisa Cron asserts that harmful adult behaviors originate in behaviors that were actually protective, at some point. So, by not trusting her Dad again, your main character protected herself from getting hurt by him. But that pattern of behavior stopped serving her at some point (probably right around the time your novel starts) and she has to learn to overcome it. Knowing what caused her to begin acting that way is extremely useful.
Digging into your character’s past gives you news ways to show their flaws in your novel.
Over the past few weeks I’ve been encouraging you to write stories for special occasions to make sure you are writing year round, but also as a way to attract the attention of editors.
And that is started to make me feel a bit uncomfortable.
StoryADay has always been about the early stage of the process…the creative work, not the publishing and selling part. Sometimes friends ask me why I don’t publish anthologies or run competitions here at StoryADay.
It’s not by accident.
I passionately believe that you don’t do our best work when we’re thinking about who might buy a story or what a judge might think.
We do our best work when we are writing for the love of it, or for ourselves, or for one person we think will enjoy this story.
(That’s not to say that we shouldn’t pursue publication or that there is anything wrong with wanting that. It just pays to focus on the work first.)
So this week I’m encouraging you to set aside all thoughts of editors and publication credits and write for the love of writing and for the love of someone special.
Write A Birthday Story for Someone You Love
This doesn’t have to be a story about the person you’re writing for. Just imagine amusing or moving or entertaining them, as you write.
You don’t have to ever show it to them.
Try to imagine how touched they would be, if you did show it to them, to know that you wrote this story for them.
Pour your affection for them into this little story. Love it. Be nice to it. Treat it as something precious and delightful, like your friendship, not like a foe to be vanquished.
Get to the end of the story within 24 hours if you can, to keep its spirit pure.
Consider making this an annual habit. Put it on your calendar for their next birthday, too.
If you try this exercise I would LOVE it if you would come back and leave a comment. How did the writing go? Did the process feel different from other stories you’ve written? How did you feel about the story itself?