Day 2 – Quick Story Formula

Yesterday’s awesome prompt was written by one of the authors who contributed to the Signature’s 2018 Compact Guide To Writing Short Stories. I can’t recommend it enough.

Signature Short Story Guide

For Day 2, here’s a sneak peak of what you’d be seeing all month if  you were a StoryADay Superstar. Join us! 

(For the rest of the month, the prompts here will be text-only and not as detailed)

Superstars get videos like this, a private forum, guided meditations and a weekly video hangout. Join us?

The Prompt

Use this story formula to to create an interesting character, give them a desire, kick off some intriguing action and plan the kind of resolution you want.

Once you have that skeleton, you can start filling in colorful details…and soon your creative brain will be demanding you start to write!

A _______ (adjective) ________(noun), who _________(verb) ___________(subject), then _________(related verb) __________(resolution)


  • Using these kinds of limits short-circuits your inner editor and makes ‘writing a story’ seem much more manageable. Just take it step by step.
  • Make sure you give your character an adjective that implies some desire (e.g. ‘ambitious’ not ‘young’; or ‘contented’ – which implies that their desire is for the status quo to remain unchanged)
  • Use the middle set of blanks to kick off the action (use a verb that implies change: “discovers”, “uncovers”, “decides”, “is forced to”, “commits to”, “resists”, “invents”, “journeys”)
  • Use the final set of blanks to define what kind of ending you want. Will it be a happy ending? Will it be bittersweet? Will your character achieve their desire or lose it? Will they learn something or not?
  • Paint the big picture first (e.g. A “dissatisfied woman”, who “uncovers something about a rival”, then “uses that knowledge to get what she wants”, or “discovers she has everything she needs, all ready”)
  • Now add some details and desires. Think about what would be fun/exciting/engaging for you to write about (e.g. “An ambitious mommy-blogger”, who “finds out her biggest rival has been lying on her blog”, then “uses that knowledge to ruin her rival and make her own blog successful”, or “realizes how shallow her ambitions had been and decides to refocus”)
  • Next, add even more detail, with desires, needs, colorful details. You don’t have to fill in any details of *how* the resolution comes about, just the overall thrust of it.
  • Don’t worry that your story will be formulaic. The originality comes in the details you choose, the characters you create and the situations you dream up for them. You and I could both use my mommy-blogger idea and I guarantee you our stories would be wildly different.
  • Try writing different options for each of the sets of blanks. If you don’t love your first ending option, try something different. If your character’s adjective makes her unappealing to you, try a different one.
  • Going through this exercise helps keep your story on track. If you know, at the start, how you want the story to end (even if you don’t know the details of how you’ll make that happen), it limits your choices, and lets you choose between three or four sets of action for your character. Knowing whether you want it to be a happy ending or a bitter one, makes it much easier to decide on the types of choices you make (N. B. Neither is inherently better. It all depends on what you enjoy reading/writing and what kind of audience you want to attract).
  • Don’t be afraid of this, if you’re a ‘pantser’. This is not a restrictive outline that will constrain your creativity. Rather, it is a set of guideposts that will get you where you want to be (i.e. at the end of a satisfying story).

Leave a comment to let us know how you got on!

26 thoughts on “Day 2 – Quick Story Formula”

  1. It worked fine with the idea I have come with just the previous day, while I was yelling at the TV. Now, this story has two times the amount of words I was expecting (and I wasn’t expecting a small wordcount), and my hand was crying for rest by the time I ended the second writing session (and the story).

  2. Ok, I’m playing catch up this week, so I know I’m rushing these prompts, but i do have pen in hand!
    I am taking the tragic humor route with an accident prone character who overcomes disaster and finds himself in the role of anonymous hero while his loved one’s never see beyond his faults.

  3. One of the reasons that I always participate in this month long challenge is all the gems I get out of it. Each year I find myself creating new characters that I return to later or accidentally creating worlds or bigger storylines from these prompts that I can return to later. This prompt helped me create a witch who will definitely have more adventures for me to write about later.

  4. My story ran long! I really like it, though. I took my time drafting the first part, and then kind of sort of rushed through the second plot point and the resolution, in the name of going to bed. The thing is, it’s got a beginning, middle and end. A bit of a haphazard / unsupported end, but this is what revision is for, right? (RIGHT?)

    I combined the prompt with a much cheesier and more specific idea from a horror prompt site. The story ended up being about the flexible nature of childhood memories, a sibling who is also a bully, and, I suppose, comeuppance.

  5. I ended up with way too much story. I’ve skipped parts and gone to the ending, so at least I know how it all works out. I’m glad to see tomorrow’s prompt is for something short. I’ll need to work on that!

  6. Day 2! It took me a while to find my character. Turns out he was sitting in a rose garden 😉 My story is about an aging gardener who is about to move into an assisted living facility. The problem is, he will have to leave his garden behind – and his wife, who he secretly buried there sixty years ago.

  7. Mine’s inspired by our national sport:

    A fed-up wife secretly prays for her husband’s hockey team to lose the play-offs so they can get on with their lives, then discovers she actually loves the sport more than he does.

  8. I’ve been pressed for time today, so I shamelessly stole the mommy blog idea. Also I have a three-week-old at home so I felt like I could leverage some real-life experiences 🙂

    In a nutshell, my ambitious mommy blogger and her nemesis had completely different approaches to parenting. Through a series of events they end up meeting in person and realize they’re not that different after all, and the nemesis is going through a lot of personal issues at the moment. The protagonist is changed; she scraps a post she’d been working on that was meant to hurt the other blogger, and the story ends with her writing a more compassionate entry.

    Also a thought just occurred to me – does anybody else find themselves going back wnd revising their story as they try to describe it in the comments section? Happened to me twice now.

    Thanks for the prompt!

    1. Aw, congrats. And steal away!
      Sharing the story in any form tends to result in a moment of “oh, but I should change that” for me too. It’s a great exercise to try to summarize our stories.

  9. Day 2 story is drafted. It is not as complete as yesterday’s piece.

    SaD #2: Flames and Wishes
    Story Formula: A grieving widow who desperately wants to make contact with her deceased husband through every means necessary (tarot cards, spells, seance) is deflated when no contact is made…until there is.

    Once I started I realized I had a partial story that wasn’t working that would perfect for this storyline. I cut out a large chunk that was truly a piece that didn’t belong in either plot either!

    White noise helps me focus my process!

  10. I thought I had already commented here, but my comment seems to have vanished. Possibly I didn’t hit submit. Or maybe I posted it in the wrong place? But if it shows up, my apologies for repeating myself

    In any event, I said I was going to give this prompt a try even though I’m a pantser. It helped that I woke up this morning with an idea already. For what it’s worth, here’s my sentence.

    An dissatisfied but curious student, who discovers a secret of the school she attends, then learns some secrets are best kept unrevealed and what she’s learning does have meaning.

    1. Ah, you commented on the secret Superstars version of this post too. Sorry about the confusion! But this sounds like a great start for a story, and not too constricting, right?

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