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.
Today, your task is to make a list. A literary list, that is.
Grocery lists, to-do lists, or goals lists written with the effect of showing a person’s life, their struggles, their failures, etc, are terrific pieces of flash.
They test the reader’s inferential powers.
Your challenge: provide a list of items from a luxurious bedroom, an overstuffed garage, or a refrigerator. Use specific concrete details. Reveal a sketch of a person’s life through these items. Imply something.
Windy Lynn Harris is a prolific writer, a trusted mentor, and a frequent speaker at literary events. Her long list of short stories and personal essays have been published in literary, trade, and women’s magazines across the U.S. and Canada in places like The Literary Review, The Sunlight Press, and Literary Mama, among many other journals. She is the founder of Market Coaching for Creative Writers, a program that teaches writers how to get their essays and short stories published in magazines, and she works as a developmental-editor-for-hire, specifically for short creative prose. Windy also teaches the craft of writing online and in person. Visit her website for publishing information and writing inspiration: www.windylynnharris.com.
How did you get on yesterday? Did you write a story?
Remember, set your own rules, and stick to them. If you miss a day, don’t try to catch up. Just keep moving forward!
write A Story In The Form Of A list
This is part of a week of prompts designed to get you to play with form.
Use established cultural lists, or your own.
Use an imagined list (“the lists my mother gave me when I left home”, or “Mr Renquist’s Classroom Rules”) to tell a character’s story.
Pick your favorite of the 7 Deadly Sins, 7 Gifts of the Holy Spirit, 9 Circles of Hell, 5 Pillars of Islam, 12 Labors of Hercules, 3 Rules of Robotics, 3 Laws of Motion, 6 Principles of the Scientific Method…
Consider writing a series of stories from these ideas
Remember: short story readers like puzzles and gaps. Let them figure out why they are reading this list, as they go.
Check back every day for more prompts, and don’t forget to come back and leave a comment to celebrate your writing successes, every day!
This month I’m pushing us to write short stories in odd forms, lists, conversations, letters, all kinds of things.
Short stories can be told in narrative form, like mini-novels, but they don’t have to be. Part of the fun of being a short story writer is the ability to twist people’s brains, surprise them, make the familiar unfamiliar. You can do that with your images, but you can also do it with a story’s form.
a list of grievances addressed to your character’s boss/children/spouse;
a shopping list;
a McSweeney’s style list;
a list of steps you are advising someone to take,
any other type of list you like.
The title is hugely important. You might need to write it last. It should perhaps have a double meaning: it might mean one thing to the reader before they read the story and yet peel away a layer once the story is in their brains.
Don’t be afraid to let the reader work. Leave things out. Imply much, explain little.
The twist in this kind of tale, comes because the form betrays the meaning: a list is a utilitarian, ephemeral thing. The more important/dramatic the issue your character takes on in the list, the more impact the story will have (this can be dramatic, funny, ridiculous, dark, or anything else!)
Breaking with the narrative form again today, after flogging it’s poor dead horse corpse at the beginning of the week. Today we tackle a form for which I have an inexplicable and enduring love: letters!
Write An Epistolary Story (i.e. One Told As A Series of Letters/Documents)
Take the term “Letters/Documents” with a huge pinch of salt. Write a story made up of Tweets, Facebook updates, text messages between friends, comments on a Vine video, an author Q&A, whatever tickles your fancy.
This idea for a story is ripped from the song “Them’s The Vagaries” by Half Man Half Biscuit (thanks, guys!). The narrator says, near the start of the song, “Now we’ve kissed I’ve prepared this list, I thought you ought to know…” and goes on to tell his new love about all his quirks starting with “I’ll not sit backwards on the train” and proceeding down to the most bizarre of pet peeves.
Write a story that begins “Now that we’ve kissed, here are some things you ought to know”
Write this as a monologue or a dialogue, whichever works for you.
This has the potential to be funny or tragic.
Feel free to write this as a list (like the McSweeney’s lists) or as a series of tweets, or as an oral history (which will make it more like a traditional short story in form).
Even if you go with the non-traditional forms (lists etc) there is still a lot of scope for the beginning, middle, end structure.
Only the journey you take your readers on will be emotional, rather than literal (from flippant to poignant; from innocent to creepy…).
Think of the most colorful people you have ever met or the worst date you were ever on. Imagine one of those people writing this.