Set your timer…today’s StoryADay writing prompt forces you to focus!
Set a timer for 40 minutes and then retell a story that you know well.
The story might be a fairy story or fable, or perhaps you just wish that series you watched had a better finale, and you fancy rewriting the last half of that episode. (Remember, fanfic is fine as long as you’re not selling someone else’s ideas and characters as your own!)
To write a 40-minute story, I propose this timeline (and I’m serious)
0-5 minutes: use the Short Story Framework to brainstorm your character and their need, and the first action they will take to move towards it.
5-15 mins: Write the opening of your story based on those notes
15-35 mins: brainstorm and write 1-2 ‘and because of that’ actions your character takes, which take them towards the conclusion of the story.
35-40 mins: write a quick ending when you have answered the question of whether or not the character gets what they wanted.
40-43:20: do a victory dance (seriously, put on some happy music and dance around your room. Celebrating your wins is important!)
This week, you might have noticed, all the prompts have built-in limits. There’s a reason for that.
Historically, writers get very excited in the first week of StoryADay, and that leads them to get a bit over-ambitious. Stories start to balloon into novel ideas, and it’s hard to finish a story like that every day. With so many ideas lying around unfinished, it’s an invitation to burn out.
So, in recent years, I always start the challenge by pulling back on the reins a little, and asking you to enjoy the creativity that comes from limiting the possibilities for your daily writing practice.
Julie Duffy is a writer and founded StoryADay in 2010. She finds it very easy to get lost in her writing. She maintains that nothing in her life would get done without timers and calendar alerts. Her husband agrees.
Here’s your next Bingo Piece. Download the pic, print it out and paste it onto your bingo sheet. Then share a picture of it on social media with #storyadaybingo
Join the discussion: what will you do with today’s prompt OR how did it go? Need support? Post here!
This lesson is particularly useful going into StoryADay May, as some days you’ll need to get your story written quickly. I don’t give you a topic, but I do give you a method for getting your story written. Combine it with the Short Story Framework!
Write A Story In 40 Minutes
Audio Only Version:
Use the short story formula from yesterday to help you brainstorm.
Set a timer!
Spend 5 minutes, for brainstorming
Spend 5 minutes writing an opening.
Spend the next 20 minutes complicating your character’s lives. Look at every individual action your characters takes, and imagine what’s the next domino that would fall because of the action they took or the thing that they said.
At some point during this 20 minutes your writing will begin to flow and you’ll start to understand what this story wants to be.
At the end of that 20 minutes, begin to write your climax and resolution. (You may have to type ‘[transition to ending]’ and move along, if you’re running out of time and haven’t written everything you wanted to write.
You’ve been working on this story for 30 minutes! You have 10 minutes left.
Now think about how you want the story to end. Do you want it to be a happy ending or a sad ending? If the character achieves their goal, it might be a sad ending, but not necessarily. If the character desired something that was wrong for them, and doesn’t achieve it, that could be a happy ending!
Make sure there is a moment in the story where the character makes a big choice that exemplifies the change that they’re making through this story.
Spend 5 minutes wrapping up the story in a sentence or two, then spend the final 5 minutes thinking about your opening and ending lines. Do they feel like they belong to the same story? Can you tweak them now to hint at the theme?
Then take the rest of the day off!
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Leave a comment to let us know what you wrote about today, and how it went!
Today you’re going to write a were a story in 100 words. This also known as a Drabble.
Write a story in 100 words
With a story this short, you have about 25 words to open the story and about 10 words at the end to wrap things up. The rest of the words hold the meat of the story.
Often it’s easier to write the story a little longer and cut it down.
Being concise doesn’t mean leaving out detail. You just have to make sure (probably on a rewrite) that every word is doing double duty. If you’re describing something make sure it reflects the mood of the character as well, for example.
Don’t expect this to be a super-quick exercise. A hundred words is not many and it can be difficult to shoehorn a story into such a small space. You are going to need to build in time to revise it.
The good news is that writing a 100 word story and revising it still takes less time than writing a 3,000 word story.
If you need some inspiration check out the site 100 Word Story. Read a few to get the idea of what can be done with so few words.
Post a comment to let us know how you’re getting on, share your story, share tips or ask for help!
If a story unfolds in real time, you can’t have any ‘meanwhile’, or ‘three hours later’ or ‘earlier today’ scenes. Everything must flow chronologically and in as close to real time as possible.
If a character puts the kettle on, to make a cup of tea, you’re going to have to give them something to do or someone to talk to for the full two and a half minutes it takes for four cups of water to boil.
You can hop from one character’s perspective to another, as long as you stick to the timeline established at the start. If there’s a knock at the door, you could jump into the head of the person outside the door, but only right after they knocked.
You don’t have to time everything (like my example of the kettle) and you don’t have to worry about how fast different readers read; just try to keep everything flowing at a reasonably believable real-time pace. (Have you ever watched an action movie set in a city you know? Isn’t it irritating when there’s a car chase down a street that you know is only a few blocks long, yet seems to be three miles long in the movie? Don’t do that.)
Did you discover any time-shifting techniques that you would usually have used without noticing? Or was this very natural for you?
The present tense grants an immediacy not there in the past tense.
This is great for thrillers, because we can’t be sure that the authorial voice (or first person narrator) will survive until the end.
You can jump around in time, but each segment must be in the present tense. You can indicate a shift in time by having your characters talk ‘to camera’ or by noting that the sun is now setting or that the morning dew has burned off the grass at last…
This is the second of our recurring “limits” posts. As the month progresses you’ll come across all sorts of limits: time, word count, point of view, structure. If you get stuck, try rewriting an earlier story in a new way, using these ‘limits’ posts.
Write a story in 640 words
Why 640 words? It’s the length of a traditional newspaper opinion column. It’s long enough for a set up, some flavor and a parting shot, but not much more.
Limit your intro and ending to about 50 words each, leaving yourself 540 words to set up and deliver an interesting moment in time for a fascinating character.
Overwrite and then cut, if you must. Think about every word, every description. Does it need to be there. Do your descriptions also tell us about the character’s state of mind? Is every piece of dialogue weighted with things unspoken, double meanings, misunderstanding?
If you need to cut words, can you get away without dialogue tags? There’s no need to say “he said” if you’re following it with the stage direction “John slammed his mug onto the formica counter and turned away”. Can you start the story later in the scene? Can you hint at or imply something that you have explicitly told the reader, with a word or a glance?
If you have finished your story and not yet reached the word limit, what can you add without bloating the story? Is it clear where this story is taking place from the noises, smells and sights the characters notice? It the timeframe or period clear? Do your characters give away the subtext of what they’re saying with unconscious body language? Can you add a few sentences of a different length, to change the pace? Like this?
Psst! Did writing a short-short story take less time than writing a 2,000-word story? No? I didn’t think so!
Freedom is horrible. If you are free to do anything, write anything, then there is an infinity-minus-one of ways you could do it. That’s a lot of words, ideas and characters you have to reject just to get something on the page.
This is the power of limits (‘write a sonnet; here are the rules’) and challenges (‘write a story a day; of course some of them will be rubbish, do it anyway’).
Today we are exploring time limits. By limiting the amount of time you have to write this story, you will be forced to make quick decisions and not second-guess yourself.
Write a story in 40 minutes
Remember this story is a first draft. It does not have to be perfect. It must, however, have a beginning, a middle and an end that you can revise later.
Use the first ten minutes to write an opening and think about your characters. Use the next 20 minutes to write the meat of the story. You’ll start to get an idea of where it’s going about half way through. You’ll also start to have ideas for complications, digressions, a full-length novel. Great. Jot them in the margins or put them in square brackets, and drag your story back to the point. Use the last ten minutes to construct an ending and read over the whole thing for mistakes.
By all means make notes as you read over your completed draft, but do not revise it today.
If you like the story, put a date on your calendar for next month, to revise it.
If you don’t like the story, take a few minutes to figure out why? Is your main character flat? What flaw can you give a hero tomorrow, to spice up that story? Did you take too long to get to the point? Maybe tomorrow’s story should start in the middle of an action scene.
Don’t waste a lot of time coming up with a story for this exercise. If you must, retell a story you’ve written before, or tell a bedtime story, a fairytale, a fable, a Greek myth, a Norse myth, a reimagining of “Atlas Shrugged” if the characters were bunnies and the railroad were a new super-warren…