Write the story that accompanies this ending line:
I clicked off the safety, swearing that if she showed her face here today, my room would be the last one she ever entered.
Becca Puglisi is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others. This is one of her reasons for writing The Emotion Thesaurus, The Positive Trait Thesaurus, and The Negative Trait Thesaurus. A member of SCBWI, she leads workshops at regional conferences, teaches webinars through WANA International, and can be found online at Writers Helping Writers (formerly known as The Bookshelf Muse).
[Here’s another scenario ripe with opportunities for character development, comedy, tragedy…in other words emotion — that thing that all readers are looking for! – JD]
Your protagonist opens the door and finds an unexpected guest–a friend from high school who hasn’t been heard from in many years.
This friend has fallen on hard times and wants to stay with your protagonist a few days. As your protagonist and friend sit in the kitchen, the friend reminisces about the old days…and stirs up trouble by recalling some unhappy teen moments, too.
How does your protagonist react and what are those good and bad times in the past?
Elizabeth writes the Southern Quilting mysteries for Penguin/NAL, the Memphis Barbeque mysteries for Penguin/Berkley, and the Myrtle Clover series for Midnight Ink and independently. She blogs at ElizabethSpannCraig.com/blog, which was named by Writer’s Digest as one of the 101 Best Websites for Writers for 2010-2013.
Shame is a powerful emotion, and one of the most wounding experiences a character can face.
Write a story where your character does something that they feel shame for (maybe a failure, making a mistake [through one’s own carelessness or by accident] that hurts someone else, or letting someone down, poor treatment of someone, refusing to help, etc.) and how they redeem themselves in the aftermath.
Angela Ackerman is a writing coach and co-author of the #1 bestselling resource, The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression as well as the bestselling pair, The Positive Trait Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Attributes and The Negative Trait Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Flaws. When she isn’t teaching or building innovate tools for writers, she writes Middle Grade and Young Adult mysteries represented by the Jill Corcoran Literary Agency. You can find her at Writers Helping Writers, a hub for all things description.
[Ooo, I’m particularly excited about this one. This is a challenging prompt but one that should yield some great stories, since character and conflict are at the heart of the story – JD]
The Energy of Passions & Obsessions
You become what you think about all day long.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
Passions and obsessions are great starting points for stories. So what if a character has a passion or obsession but the character has extreme difficulty fulfilling that dream. For example, a character could have an extreme passion with exotic birdwatching, but he can’t fulfill his greatest wish because he is a poor child living in a big city. What does the character do to fulfill his obsession? What happens to the character when he can’t? What does the fulfillment of the obsession or passion mean to the character?
Heidi Durrow is the New York Times best-selling author of The Girl Who Fell From the Sky (Algonquin Books) which won the PEN/Bellwether Prize. She is the founder of the Mixed Remixed Festival, an annual film & book festival in Los Angeles.
Work the words vermillion and musky somewhere in the next 250 words you write.
Mary Robinette Kowal is the author of the GLAMOURIST HISTORIES series of historical fantasy novels, and the 2011 Hugo Award-winning short story “For Want of a Nail.” Her short fiction appears in Clarkesworld, Cosmos and Asimov’s. Mary, a professional puppeteer, lives in Chicago. Visit her online at maryrobinettekowal.com.
THERESE WALSH is the author of The Moon Sisters and the cofounder of Writer Unboxed. She lives in upstate New York with her husband and two children.
Imagine your protagonist has just opened a large magnetic poetry kit. Which words call to him/her? Will s/he put these words on the refrigerator in a random scattering or compose a sentence? Share your words and sentences here.
- If you don’t have a magnetic poetry set (what?!) you can play online
- You can write a whole story based on the words you select or you can show the scene where they select words.
Welcome To StoryADay May 2014!
To kick off our 5th Year of writing a StoryADay in May, I have a special treat for you: a guest prompt from the fabulous Neil Gaiman.
On the day I contacted him he was, sadly for him, stuck in an airport. The prompt he suggested for us was pretty heartfelt:
The Prompt from Neil Gaiman
- This is a wide-open prompt. You could use it to write tragedy, comedy, satire, slapstick, sci-fi, fantasy, realistic fiction….anything you want.
- Think of a character desperate to get home. What is stopping them? What is their most basic reaction? (Frustration is a wonderful way to strip away a character’s layers and show us what they are like at their core. In Mr Gaiman’s case I would suggest that he is basically a generous and decent human being. Instead of responding to my request, he could just as easily have cursed, deleted my email and put me on a list of spammers… What will your character do?)
- For the first day of StoryADay May I always suggest writing a really short story. It’s a great way to warm up, and it’s all too easy to get lost in the beginning of a story and find yourself heading into a 3,000 word behemoth. You’ll never be able to sustain that pace for the whole month, so start small. Start with a victory.
- Aim to write no more than 1200 words. That gives you 300 words to establish the scene and your character, 700 words to make things happen, complicate things, create a crisis/climax, and 200 words to wrap it all up.
When you finish your story today, leave a comment below, or join the Victory Dance group in the community and share you thoughts about the first day, there. (Haven’t joined the community yet? Join here
Thanks again, Mr Gaiman. I hope you got home all right…
Today we have a guest prompt from aspiring-to-be-published writer and StoryADay participant, Cat Lumb. Thanks, Cat!
Your character wants to find the source of a strange noise they can hear. Tell the story of how they find out what that sound is…
Cat Lumb started her blog in 2011 as means to be accountable for her writing dreams. She is currently editing one of her two first draft novels and writing short stories.
Check out her blog: www.nowrittenwords.wordpress.com or link with her on Twitter @Cat_Lumb
You can read all of Cat’s Story a Day in May stories through her blog at: http://nowrittenwords.wordpress.com/a-story-a-day-2013/
Today’s prompt is from writer, illustrator and all-round good egg Debbie Ridpath Ohi, who shares one of her Daily Doodles with us today to help inspire a story. Thanks, Debbie!
It Wasn’t Me!
Tips from Julie
- Use the words or picture in any way that seems right to you
- If you’re not an animal person, you don’t have to use the dog.
- If your’e not an animal person, you should consider using the dog anyway. (Hey, this is about stretching yourself, right?)
Debbie Ridpath Ohi (http://DebbieOhi.com) writes and illustrates books for young people in Toronto, Canada. She is the illustrator of I’M BORED by Michael Ian Black, published by Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, chosen by The New York Times as a Notable Children’s Book. Debbie has current and upcoming book projects with Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins and Random House. More info about Debbie and her projects: http://debbieohi.com. Her blog for writers/illustrators:http://inkygirl.com. Twitter: @inkyelbows.
Today’s guest prompter is novelist Phil Giunta. Thanks, Phil!
Natalie arrives home from work and is perplexed that her dog is not there to greet her as usual. In fact, he is nowhere to be seen or heard. Even more disturbing is the semi-automatic pistol sitting on her coffee table and the sound of running water from the kitchen.
- Natalie could live in a city, suburb, or rural area. House or apartment. Single or married.
- It also doesn’t matter what type of dog she has.
- I did not indicate whether the gun belongs to her or not. Perhaps it’s normally hidden away. How did it get onto her coffee table? If the gun is not hers, then to whom does it belong?
Phil Giunta’s first novel, a paranormal mystery called Testing the Prisoner, debuted in March 2010 from Firebringer Press. His second novel in the same genre, By Your Side, was released in March 2013.
His short story work includes “There Be In Dreams No War” and “Root for the Undergods” featured in the anthologies ReDeus: Divine Tales and ReDeus: Beyond Borders from Crazy 8 Press.
Phil is currently editing a short story collection titled Somewhere in the Middle of Eternity for Firebringer Press and working on the paranormal thriller novella, Lineage. He is the narrator of an audio version of Testing the Prisoner, which can be heard for free at Podiobooks.com. The audio version of By Your Side is forthcoming on the Prometheus Radio Theatre feed: http://prometheus.libsynpro.com. Visit Phil’s website at http://www.philgiunta.com.
Continuing our Guest Prompt week, today’s prompt comes from novelist and teacher Gregory Frost. Thanks, Greg!
Unusual Ways of Seeing
Imagine a person with a very idiosyncratic way of seeing the world (for example, a low-end drug dealer who’s perpetually paranoid because he’s sure everyone wants to steal his stuð; or an accountant for whom everything is numerical and anally precise)—anyone who, because of mental challenges, profession, or self-medicated state, negotiates the world in a distinctly peculiar, complicated, or unhinged way.
For this prompt, have your character witness a traumatic event that does not directly involve him or her (a traffic accident, a robbery, an explosion, etc.).
Narrate the event from this character’s first-person POV, incorporating the idiosyncrasies of this invented personality.
If you need examples from literature, look at George Saunders’ “Tenth of December” which includes both the portrait of a deteriorating mentality and the interiority of a child’s imaginings, or Jonathan Nolan’s “Memento Mori,” or Donald Barthelme’s “Game.”
- The narrative should be focused upon the observed event, whatever it is.
- The background/ biographical elements of this individual should be limited, which is to say implied rather than presented outright in the core of things. You know who they are. Get that across to us without resorting to our narrator saying something like “I’m a junkie.”
- The details presented about the event–especially how they’re presented–should suggest everything about our narrator.
Gregory Frost’s YA-crossover SHADOWBRIDGE duology (Shadowbridge & Lord Tophet) from Del Rey (Random House) was a finalist for the 2009 James Tiptree Award and named one of the year’s four best fantasy novels by the American Library Association. His Nebula-nominated science fiction novel, THE PURE COLD LIGHT is now available in ebook formats from Book View Cafe (as is his first novel, LYREC)
Today’s prompt is from best-selling novelist and popular writing teacher James Scott Bell. Thanks, Jim
The Prompt from JSB
Write about your antagonist’s life at the age of sixteen. What were the events that shaped this character back then, and still haunt today?
James Scott Bell is a best-selling author of books for writers and thrillers like Deceived, Try Dying, Watch Your Back, and One More Lie (International Thriller Writers Award finalist). He writes frequently for Writer’s Digest magazine and blogs every Sunday at The Kill Zone. You can find some of his books for authors here.
Tips from Julie
- Choose the antagonist/villain of a previous story.
- Or choose the antagonist of a work-in-progress or the novel you’ve been planning to write but can’t get a handle on.
- Remember that an antagonist isn’t necessarily the villain — just the character that gets in the way of your hero’s dream
To engage your readers and hook them in from the first line, it’s a great idea to start in medias res, which means into the middle of things. So…
Kicking off the next few days’ Guest Prompters is StoryADay past participant Simon Kewin, who provided this great prompt. Thanks, Simon!
To engage your readers and hook them in from the first line, it’s a great idea to start in medias res, which means into the middle of things. So, instead of opening with long descriptions of background and prior events, jump straight into the action. This is immediately more engaging for the reader. The trick for the writer is then to drip-feed into the narrative information about prior situations the reader needs without it becoming too intrusive and, well, boring.
The following prompts are opening lines of stories that start in medias res. See where they – or something like them – lead you…
- Nate plummetted to the ground, screaming Kate’s name as he fell.
- Amanda Frobisher stood in front of the entire school, only to find no words would come out of her mouth.
- Jamie stood in the wreckage of his ransacked house, trying to take it all in.
- Max had one bullet left. He had to make it count.
- “So, will you marry me or not?”
Simon is a UK writer and a previous StoryADayMay participant. He has two novels appearing this years: Engn, to be published by December House in July and Hedge Witch, to be published by Morrigan Books on Hallowe’en. He can be found at http://simonkewin.co.uk
This prompt was inspired by Marta Pelrine-Bacon who posted the other day about writing a story about a character she didn’t like. It’s not something we all do often so today: write a story featuring an unsympathetic main character.
Some tips: give your unsympathetic main character something the reader can identify with or find attractive (think Hannibal Lecter who was fantastically clever and insightful; Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor…)
[Update: Dec 2021: coming back to this prompt, 10+ years later, I was pleased to see that I hadn’t actually stolen this method of adjusting your character’s attractiveness from the Writing Excuses podcast, which, three years later would do a great series of episodes on this kind of thing with a very elegant explanation.)
Huge thanks to StoryADay-er @cidwrites for today’s prompt.
They Said It Couldn’t Be Done
Cid has created an imaginary book cover at her own StoryADay site, and invites you to use it as a writing prompt.
If the graphic doesn’t work for you, you can still use the prompt by writing a story that contains the line “They said it couldn’t be done.”
Writing prompts are optional, but do leave Cid a comment if you use hers!