Like the list story, this prompt encourages you to break the narrative rules. Let the story unfold through a series of updates, memos, social media posts, a technical manual, or some other document that creates gaps the reader must fill in.
Remember that each memo will be written in real time, reporting on an event, before the character experiences the next ‘episode’ and writes about it.
This prompt idea came from an episode of Valley 101, a podcast about Arizona This episode was about who writes their funny highway signs, the history of them and what sort of messages they deliver. The idea of constraints appealed to me, often it drives creativity in unexpected directions.
Arizona’s highway sign messages are three lines long, with up to 18 characters per line. You can have commas, spaces, apostrophes, and dashes, which all count toward the 18 character limit. Now 18×3 characters isn’t long to tell a story, but it is long enough to deliver an important message. So the prompt is this:
Your character is in the middle of doing something mundane when they see a message that causes them to change course. The message could be something they see on a highway sign, a sign on the window of a store, a dashboard displayed in an office, or even a text message, but the limit is 18×3 characters and the message causes the character to change what they were doing/going to do.
On this day in 1972 John Young and Charles Duke were the 9th and 10th humans to land on the moon. They weren’t the first crew to touch down, nor were they the last (that was the mission after theirs). What they did was still mind-blowingly complex, but didn’t garner nearly as much attention.
Write about a character (or duo) who is doing something new and difficult, but they’re not the first to achieve it. What does that do to their attitude to the task, to their relationship with each other, to their relationship with the people around them?
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.
Write a story in the form of a multiple-choice test
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!
Use two or more voices, or let us see only one side of the conversation.
The ‘letters’ can be email exchanges, text messages, Facebook updates, or imaginary hand-written correspondence from sweethearts separated by war, an ocean, feuding parents…whatever makes sense to you.
Try to introduce some mystery, some misunderstanding, or some desire on the part of one of the participants. Frustrate us, tease us, keep us guessing about how it’s going to turn out.