[Write on Wednesday] The Ways We Talk

This week, I’m recycling a writing prompt from a couple of years ago, all about slang, because it fits so wonderfully with this month’s theme of ‘backstory’.

(Also, because I’ve been on vacation and …)

Invented languages, or slang, are wonderful ways of establishing culture in your novel and of making sure your dialogue feels like dialogue and not ‘speechifying’.

I talked about this on the podcast recently. Check it out.

Read the full prompt here, then come back and leave a comment to let me know what you think. Did you read the linked article? Did it spark any ideas for you?

112 – Backstories & Integrity

Firstly I talk about some people who are making short and long fiction work for them: Mary Robinette Kowal, whose new novels The Calculating Stars grew out of a short story, The Lady Astronaut of Mars; and Diana Gabaldon, who writes short stories in her Outlander universe to keep her readers occupied while she’s working on the longer novels.

I also talk about slang:

Writing prompt: https://storyaday.org/wow-invented-languages/

Escape Pod episode: Me, Meg & The Thing by Gian-Paul Bergeron – http://escapepod.org/2018/08/02/escape-pod-639-me-meg-and-the-thing/

Prompts for this month: http://stada.me/backstory


The second part of this podcast is a pep talk about living up to your writing commitments in the face of life’s urgent tasks and why it’s so important … and not just to you.

Another new episode of Write Every Day, Not “Some Day”


Good morning, good evening, good afternoon. This is Julie from StoryADay here back to talk with you for another 15 minutes or so about writing. Have you been writing to the writing prompts of Story A Day this month? Have you been writing backstories for a longer work exploring the affection world that you have created before?

I have been thinking more about this and I have just recently finished a book called “The Calculating Stars” by Mary Robinette Kowal. I talk about her a lot because I admire her in many ways. Largely her writing and also the way that she makes a living as a writer. This book, The Calculating Stars, is an alternate history of the 50s in America and the NASA Space program. It’s not called NASA in her work but she has done a lot of research and it’s really great. It’s right up my alley: it’s history, it’s science fiction, and it’s  space travel; hitting all my geek buttons.

The first thing that she wrote in that universe or the first that she published in that universe was a short story called the Lady Astronaut of Mars which is a great title.  You  know from that title that it’s set in the 50s because we don’t refer to people as Lady at his or Lady that any more, but she wrote this story about this woman who has had a career as a lady astronaut. “The Calculating Stars” goes back and explores how she became that lady astronaut and it’s a whole novel, explains the whole world, explains her life, puts a whole cast of character around her who were obliquely referred to in the short story. There’s a second novel coming in the same universe. I believe that all of that came out of a short story.

So when I talk to you about writing short stories that explore the backstory of a fictional universe it’s not just research. It’s not just wasting time, it’s not just notes. It could really grow into something important whether it’s a series, a short story setting in the universe or whether it’s a two book dealing with Tor.com. You really can’t go wrong I don’t think, unless you are wasting time and not finishing the stories and procrastination finishing the longer work.

I think that writing and crafting short stories in the universe is always going to be a good thing.

So go back and look at the August writing prompts and find one that encourages you to write the backstory of your character or the culture in your world and other stuff there. Don’t forget to check at the bottom of the page for some of the Suggested Similar Posts.

I came across a prompt that I completely forget I had written which was about slang and exploring the slang of your world which is interesting because I just read a story this week. It was on a podcast and it may have been Escape Pod and it was written in a completely almost unintelligible slang until you realize that, until you tune in to how the characters talk and then it becomes very clear, very quickly what they are talking about. But in the actual opening of the story, it’s read with such confidence by the narrator that you just think this isn’t gibberish. But the whole thing is using consistent futuristic slang based on where these characters live their lives. It’s actually fascinating, it’s hard work but it’s fascinating. It’s an interesting exercise in thinking about how you can talk when you are not concerned about sharing information with people who are outside their little world. That’s what slang is. It’s a way of showing that you belong to this group and excluding outsiders. So it’s very interesting in terms of dialogue.

I started talking about the Lady Astronaut because I was thinking about  people who have done short story collections in the last few years. One of them is the fabulously successful Diana Gabaldon, who has her Outlander series, which is not only a series of something like seven doorstop books full of research and magic containing time travel and heaving bosoms and muscular Highlanders. It’s also a TV series and she has been writing these since like 1997 so it’s really become a big thing for her.  In between her big doorstop books she writes short stories to keep her readers happy because you can’t turn out a thousand page novel into 5 minutes so she writes stories in between books and she has collected them into various collections.

So that’s another reason to write short stories in your fictional world because it keeps your readers happy in between novels and you can keep income coming in as you put together short story collections in between novels. I could go on about how it’s useful to have lots of titles coming out frequently if you are going to self-publish  but not everybody is interested in self-publishing so I won’t.

There is one other thing that I wanted to talk about before I wrap up this week’s podcast. That is more of a pep talk about you and your writing time.

I have been following a food plan. I have been talking about it for about a year and I have been following it really well for  the first 9 months  7 months and then things got ugly and I started slipping and recently have got back on the plan. It’s kind of an all or nothing plan and I have to tell you it feels great to actually live up to my commitments. I have a support group and we all talk about whether we start to have a plan today and it sounds a little cultish but we all need support, right? It’s having that little group of people who is waiting to hear how you got on this month. It really starts you thinking about did I make my commitments to myself? That’s what I want to talk about right now is how important it is to prioritize your commitments to yourself?

Currently, I am planning a vacation and I am planning for StoryADay September and both these things are on the calendar and they are approaching, they are marching towards me whether or not I do anything about it. Whether or not I am ready September the first will roll around. So the work that I have to do for those two things—the packing, the priming of emails, prompts, all that stuff, the telling you about it—that stuff all has to happen on a schedule. So it’s very easy for me to prioritize that work and say I am going to work on prompts this morning, I’m going to do my laundry this morning and find my suitcase and it’s very easy for me to say my fiction can wait because there’s no deadline there. My short stories that I was going to write this month, they can wait because I really have to get this other stuff done because it’s urgent and its happening.

And yes that is true, but every time that we put our story writing, our fiction writing,  our art on hold for the more urgent things in life, we train our brains to say that this stuff is not important because it’s not urgent, it’s not important. I am here with a plea today and I know some of you out there in this community have got this and most of the time your meeting goals, you are doing thing and you turn up with the SWAGr group and you say I did this, I wrote this story and you are the people who are getting published, you are the people who are meeting your writing commitments and sharing your writing with people and living that writers life. I just want to remind the rest of us who maybe aren’t as accountable to our own goals, or  who are more easily swayed by the needs of others or by the march of time on the calendar to emulate those people, emulate the writers around you who say “you know what I need to sit down and do my writing.” It’s not urgent in a calendar kind of way but it’s important and it is urgent in a living my life way.

This is your one shot at life. Writing is important to you. Its part of who you are, it helps you become more who you are, it makes you a better person, my guess is it makes you easier to live with because it certainly does that for me. I want to challenge you this month, this week, this day to do the things that are urgent and that are on your calendar and the other people who are relying on you for, other people whose faces you know. But remember that your fiction is important not just to you but it is important to the people who rely on us to tell the stories. It’s amazing to me when I meet someone who tells me  a great story and I say you should write that and they look at me like I’m crazy.

Sometimes we forget that not everyone is a writer. Other people are readers, consumers of stories, lecturers of stories. They need our stories. We may not know their faces the way they know the faces of the people at our houses and our work, who are demanding things. But readers are out there. They need us and they need our stories. Quite beyond the fact of what writing does for you. You have a talent, you have a skill, you have a message to share, you have characters to share and you have an audience waiting to be entertained, to be moved, to be taught by you.

This week Patrick Stewart announced that he was coming back to Star Trek. Not just to Star Trek but to   Jean-Luc Picard. The reason he said he wanted to come back is because he has heard stories about how the Next Generation moved people and their lives.  I grew up watching Star Trek Next Generation. He said that he is excited to come back to that world and that character, that approach to life and to see what Jean-Luc Picard can bring in what he described as “these dark times”.

Writers have always written in dark times. Think of Alexandra Soltzhenitzyn, all those writers who were exiles…People have always written when things are difficult. Sometimes they write dark moving stories and sometimes they write wild satires and sometimes they just write comedy and they try to create a world they want to live in. That’s a pretty important thing, that’s a pretty important role that we have.

I am encouraging you to remember today, this week, this month, this year that your writing is important to you. It’s a priority but not only will you get that kick from living up to your goals from investing in your talent, from treating your craft with respect but you will be built with a better world. You will be creating visions of the future, visions of the world that could be for readers to read it. That’s what I am going to leave you with this week. Have a great writing week and keep writing.

[Write On Wed] Culture Club

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.

Boy George,Culture Club

The Prompt

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…

Photo credit: Eva Rinaldi

Have I I convinced you to dig into your novel’s backstories yet? Leave a comment to let me know what you’re thinking and what you’re writing.

[Write On Wednesday] Your Character’s Damage

This month I’m giving you prompts that work in different ways to support your long-form fiction/novel writing. Today’s prompt digs deep into your protagonist’s past.


Photo credit: GôDiNô

The Prompt

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.


Photo credit: GôDiNô

What did you write about? Leave a comment!

111 – The Joy of Writing (Backstories)

Writing a longer work like a novel can get a bit overwhelming. Today I encourage you to use short stories to explore areas of your novel’s world that you might not have dug deeply into. This can help unblock the writing process and get you back to a place where you’re enjoying your writing.



Write on Wednesday prompts: https://stada.me/wow

Another new episode of Write Every Day, Not “Some Day”

[Write On Wednesday] Invented Languages

This week’s prompt is inspired by this article on lost American slang. There is such richness and yet a foreign feel to the language in the quotes, that I couldn’t stop thinking about using this as a way to spice up my own writing.

(The examples in the piece remind me of both Harold Hill  — The Music Man’s pop-culture references were meticulously researched — and Mr Burns from The Simpsons! It also made me wonder if Disney intended Bambi’s “Thumper” to have a double-meaning for older viewers.)

The Prompt

Write a story in which your characters have their own slang, dialect, similes and metaphors tied in to their time/place/culture.


  • Feel free to make up the slang. No need for historical accuracy here. Just be consistent within your world.
  • Think about how your characters see life. Are they agricultural? Sports-obsessed? (When I moved to the US I was bamboozled by political articles in newspapers that relied heavily on sports analogies that meant absolutely nothing to me). Are they engineers? Are they space-based?
  • Play with current expressions and change them to fit your characters. In a space opera “How on earth?” becomes “How in the twelve orbiting satellites of Juno?”; the fable of the grasshopper and the ant is transformed into a fable about worker droids and love-bots; etc. In my speculative-fiction novel-in-progress, my atheist-mechanics use expletives like “Great Gears!” where we might use profanity.
  • You can use slang to distance one generation from another (my husband and I are constantly having to explain our bon mots to our children, who are growing up on a different continent as well as a different millennium!)
  • Have fun with this.



[Writing Prompt] World Building

Writing a story is more than just throwing some characters into a situation and seeing what happens. A good writer builds a whole world around the story of the characters.

This is more than setting: it’s also the soundtrack, the slang people use, the color palette of the rooms, the social hierarchy hinted at…

The Prompt

Spend Some Time Painting A Realistic World Around The Edges of Today’s Story

The most obvious place to find examples of this ‘world-building’ is in science-fiction (especially futuristic or space stories) and fantasy. Each of these genres has to define everything for the reader from social structures to the shape of the vehicles, to the way gravity works in this world (think Harry Potter’s wizarding world and its unconventional public transport, or Star Wars vs. Firefly in how they handled the sound of space ships.)

But every story needs a certain amount of ‘world-building’. In a Hercule Poirot story we are in a world of drawing-rooms and exotic locales, and a certain class strata. In 50 Shades of Grey, we are introduced to a world where certain people define the shape of their relationship with detailed contracts.

Pay attention to the details of your world today.


And when you have written your story, log in and post your success in The Victory Dance group or simply comment on this post and let the congrats come flying in.