May 10 – Agony Aunt

You’re a writer, which probably means you’re at thinker, which probably means that a fair percentage of your friends come to you for advice on a regular basis. And you probably give this advice in a thoughtful, reasoned, I-don’t-want-to-hurt-your-feelings kind of way.

Not today.

The Prompt

Write a response from an advice columnist with an attitude

Tips

  • Pick a problem that friends having brought to you in reality (you can promise yourself you’ll never, ever publish this story, if that helps).
  • Or make something up. It can be about relationships, cars, gardening, careers, diet, family, or something weirder.
  • Think about your advice columnist. What kind of attitude will you give him/her? (Maybe your answer will depend on the kind of problem you picked. If it’s something that irritates the snot out of you, let your columnist be as angry or snarky as you never can be. If it’s something you feel great compassion for, allow your columnist to be more empathetic and mushy than you ever could be, in person.
  • If you need an example of a witty-but-caring response to a dating problem, read this answer from novelist Maureen Johnson.
  • If you want weirder examples, you probably already know where to find them…

GO!

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Guest Prompt from Gregory Frost

Today’s prompt is a real treat: a writing exercise from author Gregory Frost. (Side note: his classes are the kind that writers only tell their best friends about … and then only after their own application has been accepted!)

Here he shares a prompt that seems to be about setting but turns out to be all about character. Flex those writing muscles, people!

The Prompt

Character through Setting

There’s a tale that John O’Hara once wrote a story in which all he did was describe the contents of a room, and by the end you knew that the occupant had committed suicide. No person appears in the story. It’s all done by inference.

For this exercise, select a character. Think about who they are and what you think you know. Then pick a setting. It can be a room, a landscape, the interior of a car…

Now describe the setting in in very specific detail: Use as many senses as you can, as are appropriate. The person you are telling us about is not present in this setting, but by the time you’re done, we should know the important aspects of him or her.

One more thing…

O’Hara also said that getting the details of a character exactly right is critical—especially the detail that is wrong.

So for this setting, add one element that does not belong there (one of these things is not like the other), and see what sort of story that wrong element suggests.

-gf

Gregory FrostAbout Gregory Frost

Gregory Frost is a fantasist, author of adult and young adult fiction (SHADOWBRIDGE, LORD TOPHET, FITCHER’S BRIDES, TAIN, etc.). He has been a finalist for the World Fantasy, Nebula, Hugo, Theodore Sturgeon, and James Tiptree Jr. Awards among others. He is Director of the Fiction Workshop at Swarthmore College.
For more:
Web: www.gregoryfrost.com
Twitter: @gregory_frost
Facebook: gregory.frost1

May 9 – Lists

A lists can be a whole story in itself, but lists can also provide a framework for a series of stories. Today, give some thought to list-making. It might help you later in the challenge when your idea engine is running on fumes. Pick your favorite idea today, and save the rest for later in the month

The Prompt

Use a list to generate a story idea or twelve.

Tips

  • 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…
  • Write one story or think about how you might use each item in the list to generate a story. The series might feature different characters, the same protagonist, or might take a supporting character from the previous story and make him/her the protagonist of the next.
  • Make notes on this today, to help you later in the month.

GO!

Post a comment at the blog to let us know you’ve written today, or join the community and post in the Victory Dance Group.

May 8 – Fairy Tale Redux

Congratulations! You’ve written for seven days straight! If you’re anything like me, things are both easier and harder now. The writing might be becoming a priority in your day: something of a habit that you’re making time for. Sitting down and starting might come easier with all this practice. After coming up with seven new stories in as many days, however, maybe you could use an easier day today. So you have my permission to steal a plot:

The Prompt

Re-tell a classic story in your own way

Tips

  • Folk tales and fairy stories are best for this, because you don’t run into any copyright issues, but if you aren’t planning on publishing this, then feel free to rewrite the end of The Sopranos or resurrect a character from a Joss Whedon show and give them a happier life.
  • Try placing the story in a different time from the original.
  • Change the main characters’ genders or ages or skin color or country of origin.
  • Change the ending.
  • Make it funny or ridiculous or poignant.
  • Use the structure of the original story and use your creative energy to imbue the characters with greater depth.
  • Tell the story of a side-character or reverse the characters’ roles (as in Gregory MacGuire’s Wicked) or tell the story of the servants who have to sweep up after the ball, or run all over the countryside trying to find out who the glass slipper belongs to…

GO!

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May 7 – The Object of the Story

The Prompt

Look at a museum’s website. Find an object. Or an object in the background of a painting. Think about its significance to the culture it belonged to. Write a story about a character in a culture that values such things (real or imagined).

Tips

  • If you know a lot about a particular historical culture, you can write about a real culture. Otherwise you’d probably better setting this in a fantasy/futuristic/galaxy far, far away type setting, so that you don’t waste all your writing time researching Incan customs or some such thing.
  • If you’re stuck, write about the culture you know best: yours. What if someone from outside your group (from another societal group, or from the far future) found an object you hold dear. What might they infer about you from that object? Is there a story there?
  • This could be a funny story: if you’re a Doctor Who fan, there’s a lovely moment in one of the Christmas episodes, where the supposed tour-guide instructs his guests on Earth’s Christmastime customs. He gets it hilariously wrong.
  • This could be a tragedy: think of Pompeii…
  • Look at the object. Is it something our culture still values? Why? Why not? What might drive someone to value a huge urn, or a tiny carving of an elephant, or a blue plate with a spiny fish glazed onto it. Does that seem reasonable to you? Why? Why not? Is there a story there?
  • And, not to distract you, but this might be interesting if you’re stuck: Adam Savage on why he’s fascinated by objects.

GO!

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May 6 – Ripped From The Headlines

The Prompt

Steal a story from another source, and use it as inspiration

Tips

Great places to look for stories like this include:

  • News sites. Subjective sites like TMZ and Unworthy give you more editorial and emotion to work with. Harder news sites like The New York Times or the BBC, or the front page of Wikipedia, will give you more facts and less interpretation. Depending on your personality, one or other approach might be more inspiring to you.
  • Obituaries and alumni magazines are great places to find character studies. Obits give you a person’s life, summed up and including the one or two personal details someone else thought were the most interesting. Alumni magazines offer an insight into character in a different way: what kind of person updates their alumni magazine on ‘what I’ve been up to’? What kinds of things do these people think are worthy of report. What does that say about them?

GO!

Post a comment at the blog to let us know you’ve written today, or join the community and post in the Victory Dance Group.

May 5 – Setting

First: a little Day 5 pep talk. If you’re finding it hard to write every day; if you’ve missed a day; if you’ve just found us and are wondering if it’s too late to join; if you’ve been here since April and and wondering if it’s time to quit…To all of you I say “don’t worry, just keep turning up. From today until May 31,  just sit down, think up interesting characters, give them annoying problems, and write as much as you can. If you miss a day (I mostly don’t write on Sundays, so I’m not going to be doing 31 stories this May), just accept it and move forward. Deal? OK, on with the writing prompt!

Setting can be as potent as an extra character in your story. It can affect every aspect of the story from the way people talk and dress, to the imagery and metaphors that you choose.

The Prompt

Write A Story With A Strong Sense of Place

Tips

  • “Setting” can be a place, a time or a culture.
  • Don’t tell us about the setting. Weave details into the story to strengthen the tone, mood, or the actions of the characters.
  • For example, if your setting is in a pre-industrial culture, your landscape might contain things like hitching posts for horses, small vegetable gardens at every home, rutted cart tracks, coppices of trees, wells etc. Mention them by having your characters use them while they’re talking/thinking about other things.
  • Think about how your setting affects your choice of words: if your setting is bucolic, perhaps your language will be more flowery than if you were telling a story set in a sterile, scientific setting.
  • Think about how setting can affect the mental state of characters. Do they get more jittery or more energized if it’s loud? How about if it’s dark? Quiet? Cluttered? Enclosed? Wide open?

GO!

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May 4 – Heroes

Today we’re focusing on the heart of any story: the characters. We often refer to the protagonist as the ‘hero’ whether or not he/she is heroic. Today, however, we’re going to take that word literally:

The Prompt

Write A Story With A Heroic Protagonist

Tips

  • A hero is not necessarily someone with a cape and superpowers. A hero can be someone who is exceptionally talented in one or more areas and who uses those talents.
  • A hero can be great at one thing and ordinary (or clueless) in other areas: Adrian Monk is  almost incapable of living a normal life, but his OCD and his fears make him an exceptional detective; Elizabeth Bennett is not rich or beautiful or titled, or any of the other things that mattered at the time, but Jane Austen’s famous heroine endures because she is witting and quick and funny; Slippery Jim in Harry Harrison’s Stainless Steel Rat is a rogue, but a charming rogue.
  • Think about characters you love from fiction. What is it that you like about them? Are they funny? Smart? Brave? Brooding? Tortured?
  • Think about characters you dislike. Why? Are they whiny? Angry? Glib? Uncaring?
  • What raises the feature you love about that character to the next level?
  • Think about people in your life that you love or abhor. What features and characteristics do they have that you envy/loathe?
  • How could you create a character that has a stand-out characteristic (one that you love) that shows the reader the best of humanity? That gives the reader something to aspire to?
  • What mannerisms will your character have? What expressions will they use? How will they talk?
  • What single adventure could this character have in a story that highlights their most heroic feature?

GO!

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May 3 – 640 Words

Day 3 – Limits: 640 Words

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.

The Prompt

Write a story in 640 words

Tips

  • 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?

GO!

Psst! Did writing a short-short story take less time than writing a 2,000-word story? No? I didn’t think so!

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May 2 – Other People’s Memories

Day 2 – Other People’s Memories

Every family is full of stories. Some are told (and retold). Some are secret. Some are a surprise that is only revealed years after you ‘should’ have known about them.

Your friends have stories they tell and retell.

Your colleague and strangers on the bus have stories.

Everyone is telling stories all the time.

Today we pilfer their experiences.

The Prompt

Write a story inspired by family folklore (or a story someone has told you that ‘happened’)

Tips

  • My grandparents have a remarkable and romantic courtship story. One day I might write that story. Or I might take their story and transport it to a futuristic setting where the characters may face similar obstacles. What stories exist in your family that could inspire a tale or two?
  • Be wary of  realistic retellings of stories that don’t belong to you, especially if the people are still alive. But feel free to use anyone’s story as inspiration, a jumping-off point. Change details, explore other possibilities. Treat your sources with gratitude and respect.
  • Start with a family story that is often told and ask ‘what if’? What if Grandad had been in a modern war, not Vietnam? What if Dad’s first interview had gone better? What if Uncle Sal had never got on the boat?

GO!

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