[Write On Wednesday] – What A Girl Wants

I used to get hung up on The Big Idea: having something to say; writing a story that was somehow meaningful.

It wasn’t until I tried to write a story a day for the first time, back in 2010, that I realized: the idea doesn’t come first.

The idea (the theme) often doesn’t come until the end of the story when you suddenly realize what it is your characters have been yapping on about for the past few pages.

The character — what the character wants, what the character doesn’t have, and why — are where the story happens.

The Prompt

"Danglies" by Keera Russell
  • Today, come up with a character (could be based on someone you know).
  • Think of one thing the character really wants and doesn’t have. (It doesn’t have to be a life-changing thing. It could be a pair of diamond earrings.)
  • Make this ‘want’ the central motif of the story.  I think you can learn a lot about a person by how they deal with what they don’t have.
  • Tell the story of a moment, a day, an incident in the life of this character.

The Rules:

1. You should use the prompt in your story (however obliquely you use the ‘want’, it should be there in the character and all their reactions).

2. You must write the story in one 24 hr period – the faster the better.

3. Post the story in the comments — if you’re brave enough.

4. Find something nice to say about someone else’s story and leave a comment. Everybody needs a little support!

Optional Extras:

Share this challenge on Twitter or Facebook

Some tweets/updates you might use:

Don’t miss my short story: What A Girl Wants  #WriteOnWed #storyaday http://wp.me/p1PnSG-zy

This week’s #WriteOnWed short story prompt is all about what your character wants #storyaday http://wp.me/p1PnSG-zy

Come and write with us! #WriteOnWed #storyaday http://wp.me/p1PnSG-zy

See my story – and write your own, today: What Your Character Wants #WriteOnWed #storyaday http://wp.me/p1PnSG-zy

[Prompt] May 31 – Best Friends and Endings

Today is the last day of StoryADay!.

I don’t know about you but I’ve had a blast – not just writing but meeting up with old friends and making new ones. And now the challenge is ending. So I decided to make the prompt celebrate both those things:

Write a Story Featuring Your Best Friend


Give It A Kick-Ass Ending

This can be a fictional version of your real life best friend, or it can be a story about best friends, but make us love the hero as much as you love your very best friend ever.

Put problems in her way, kick him when he’s down, then let him rise up towards a kick-ass, crowd-cheering, fist-pumping ending. Make us care and make us cheer. Imagine the best, funniest, more heart-warming, most satisfying ending you would want for your real-life bestie, and let your character live out the dream.


(But don’t forget to come back and for StoryFest,  to read a whole bunch of StoryADay short stories. Bring your friends!)

[Prompt] May 13 – What Your Character Wants

Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

-Kurt Vonnegut

A concrete way to ensure that you are writing a story — not a scene or a character sketch — is to make sure your character wants something. Give your hero a want or a need, then move them towards or away from that thing. Et voilà! You have a  story.

There isn’t much room in a short story. You can’t afford to give your main character two or three things she wants (unless it’s two things that are diametrically opposed). She will have other things that matter to her, of course. It’s just that now — at this moment in her life, the one we’re spying on — she has one overriding want or need that she must resolve.

Secondary characters have wants and needs too, but you don’t have much room to talk about them. If your secondary character is the antagonist (or villain) you can spend more time on their ‘wants’ since exploring them is probably part of explaining why your hero isn’t getting what she wants yet. Otherwise, mentioning their dream in one sentence can be a great way to flesh out secondary characters.

Make Your Characters Want Something

Today, write a story in which you give a character a very specific want or need (you don’t have to spell it out at the start). Move them towards their goal, put rocks in their path, grant or deny their wish.

Give every secondary character a specific need too – even if it never makes it into the story, be sure you know what that person’s dearest wish is.

For more inspiration on this subject, check out Nathan Bransford’s post on the subject.

[Prompt] May 12 – Other Than Human


Can you write a non-human character without making it react like a human? How would a table/tree/robot/alien think? How would it speak? How would it react compared to the reactions of someone born and raised in the West in the 21st Century?

Can you write a truly non-human character?


[Prompt] May 11 – Delayed Appearance


Sometimes it’s a problem to create enough suspense in a short story to keep the reader engaged. An interesting way to do this is to delay the appearance of your main character until quite far into the story. This follows on from yesterday’s prompt where you kept your protagonist off-sceen. This time, however, you can build them up and then allow them to take the stage.

How does this feel? Better? Did you keep the tension going even after the character appeared?

Keep Your Main Character In The Wings


[Prompt] May 10 – Offstage


Write a story in which the main, most interesting character never actually appears ‘on-stage’.

Everything the reader learns about the character should come in opinions, comments and conversations between other characters in the story. What do we learn about them? How important do they become? How difficult is it to keep them ‘off-stage”?

The Hidden Protagonist


[Prompt] May 9 – Chatty Cathy


Tell a story where everything we learn about the character comes from the things they say.
Does what they say match up with what they mean? Iin what ways do they lie about themselves when the speak? How do people react?)

Tell Us About Your Character Through Their Voice


[Prompt] May 8 – Character From Your Past

This week all the prompts are going to focus on Character. Here’s the first:


Pick a character, a real person, from your past. Put them into a story. Be as kind or as cruel as you like (you might want to change their name…)

Use a real character.


Tuesday Reading Room – Brooksmith by Henry James

from Fifty Great Short Stories (Milton Crane, Ed. Bantam Classics reissued 2005)

I don’t know much about Henry James, though I have struggled through more of his short stories than I have novels. I’ve never formally studied his writing, so don’t know what the prevailing literary criticism theories are…but I can tell you this: I dislike his characters and I dislike his outlook and I always end up, as I did at the end of this story, wanting to punch at least one of the characters in the nose.

Which is, I suppose a kind of a compliment to the writer.

Brooksmith by Henry James

As much as I say I don’t ‘like’ Henry James’s stories, I do recognise the work of a master craftsman. (I wonder if I would have liked him any better if he had been writing today [1. Probably not.])

The first thing I admired about this story was the way he pulled me in right from the first sentence. You might not think of the slow-paced Henry James novels as belonging on the same shelf as Ian Fleming or James Patterson, but there is, nonetheless, plenty of suspense to keep the reader hooked:

We are scattered now, the friends of the late Mr. Oliver Offord, but whenever we chance to meet I think we are conscious of a certain esoteric respect for each other.

Who was the late Mr. Oliver Offord and why do his friends only ‘chance to meet’ and share a ‘certain esoteric respect’ – and what does that really mean?

James continues to ratchet up the suspense in the very next sentence,

“Yes, you too have been in Arcadia,” we seem not too grumpily to allow.

Why was it “Arcadia” (and why would they ordinarily be grumpy with each other)?

The story turns out not to be about Mr Offord at all, but about his butler, Brooksmith and the perils of allowing the servant class to rise above their station.

I’m not sure which side Henry James would really have taken on the issue of class and station, but his narrator has a very fixed, extremely anti-egalitarian viewpoint that makes him supremely unsympathetic to the modern reader.

He is, however, so unrelentingly shaped by his societal norms that he is absolutely believable and ‘true’ – and loathsome, I might add.

It really struck me — after putting down this book with a sneer on my face and a punchy urge in my fist — that my writing could benefit from a bit more loathesomeness. I’m really a very nice person, trained in life to be fair and tolerant and to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. But being well-brought-up can create a tendency to be too nice to my characters, too forgiving.

If I want to create characters as ‘true’ and real as Brooksmith‘s unworthy narrator, I have to risk creating characters that someone 111 years from now might want to punch.

What do you do to make your characters ‘real’? Please do leave a comment!