Day 10- Stick With Me by Julie Duffy

Writing in the present tense provides immediacy, as this writing prompts, and its tips, demonstrate

The Prompt

Tell a story in the present tense that starts when your character enters a new environment and ends when they exit.

This story could be a single episode from a larger quest, that illuminates something about your character (useful for those of you who have a longer work-in-progress on the go), or it could be a standalone story.

I’m encouraging you to tell the story in the present tense because it makes the story so much more immediate AND leaves the possibility open for absolutely anything to happen at the end of the story.

Want your character to drift off into space uncertain of their fate? Want them to die at the end? Want to keep the reader on the edge of their seat? These things are all easier to pull off when your story is in the present tense.

If you start your story “I’m walking down the middle of the road, traffic roaring past in both directions on either side of me, pulling the folds of my long gown this way and that, like hands grabbing at my dress…” the reader has no idea if this character is going to survive or not.

If the same story was told in the past tense, (“I was walking down the middle of the road…”) there is an implied ‘later’, an older version of the character who survives to tell us the story.

You don’t have to be out to murder your character, to use this perspective, but it can be very useful in stories where you want to ratchet up the suspense and the sense that anything could happen.

It’s also good practice to mix up our natural inclinations from time to time.

If you’re feeling resistance to any of these ideas, remember: I’ve lost count of the number of writers who told me they hated (HATED) a particular prompt, and write to it anyway, only to have it turn out to be the most interesting (and often published) story they wrote that year.

StoryADay Bingo Day 10
Here’s your Bingo token

Julie Duffy

Julie Duffy is typing this prompt on an ergonomic keyboard. The large maple tree outside her window is being buffeted by spring storms, reaching its branches towards her windows as if it wants to come inside. Wait, what was that noise?

Join the discussion: what will you do with today’s prompt OR how did it go? Need support? Post here!

[Write On Wednesday] Going On A Journey

This week’s writing prompt: Take Your Character(s) On A Literal & Figurative Journey

Enjoy the journey, not the destination.
Yesterday, I wrote about Richard Matheson’s classic short story Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.

It got me thinking about journeys as a vehicle (sorry!) for a story. In his story, Matheson included tons of detail about the plane travel in the early ’60s. The claustrophobic feeling of the setting wasn’t accidental: it mirrored the character’s internal issues beautifully.

Today I’m inviting you to do something similar.

The Prompt

Take Your Character(s) On A Literal Journey


  • Choose a mode of transportation that you can write about in detail. (Have a lot of time for research? Sure, write about Mary and Joseph on a donkey in Roman-occupied Palestine. Short on research time? Use the last trip you took as source material).
  • Think about the mode of transportation you have chosen. Does it represent freedom or escape? Is it comfortable or torturous? Is it difficult or easy? (Horse back riding sounds like fun, but if your character is facing his third day on a horse in freezing drizzle and you have a different story!). Is your character driving or at the mercy of others (literally and figuratively?)
  • What does your character want/need? How can you use a literal journey to pad out the significance of that?
  • What changes in the middle of the story? Can you use the vehicle/travel to raise the stakes? If the bus breaks down or the horse bolts, or the passenger tempts the driver to break the speed limit what are the implications for the character? How can you make it worse? Don’t be afraid to go deeper/further/more whacky (you can always scale back in the revisions if it seems too crazy).
  • In the end, does your character end up where he wanted to go? Literally? Figuratively? Did your character end up where they needed to be? Are those the same things?
  • Think about the imagery and language you use (see yesterday’s Reading Room post, about how Richard Matheson chose his words to enhance the tone of the coming story).
  • Write a quick first draft.
  • Go back through the story and see if you can heighten the sense of place with different senses, different word choice. See if you can make things worse (or better) for your character.
  • If you’re brave enough, post your story in the comments (but not if you’re planning on submitting it anywhere else).


[Writing Prompt] Journeys

steam train
photo by K. J. Duffy

I’m reading an autobiography written in the 1830s — when steam travel was the new big thing. The author (a mother of small children) just gave a vivid and opinionated account of a trip she took from Philadelphia to Baltimore. With very few words she conjoured the layout of the carriages and the hot, smoky atmosphere inside — heated as it was by a coal-fired, iron stove in the middle of the carriage (no health and safety, clean air regulations in the 1830s!). She told an amusing story of an encounter with a fellow passenger, while she was at it. I feel like I was ON the train with her.

The Prompt

Tell The Story Of A Journey

Use any transportation technology you can dream up, but include details to allow us to see, feel and perhaps even choke on the atmosphere.

Don’t forget to make something happen, and then resolve it (or leave it unresolved).

Give us a character we can root for (or against).

[Prompt] Picaresque

I first came across the term “picaresque” when I was about 13 and assigned “Catcher In the Rye” to read for school.

It meant, I learned, a story about a journey: literal or figurative, or ideally both.

Today I’m traveling to New York for Book Expo America 2012 and while I’m taking a literal journey, your assignment is to

Write A Story In Which Your Hero Takes A Literal And Figurative Journey