[Write On Wednesday] Can’t And Won’t

Does a story have to have conflict? Does it have to have a beginning and a middle and an end? Perhaps not.

Lydia Davis’ story “Can’t And Won’t” is pages of complaints about life:

My sheets get all twisted in the dryer.

The carrot cake was a little stale.

When I toast the raisin bread, the raisins get very hot.

The bridge of my nose is a little dry.

I’m sleepy, but I can’t lie down.

The sound system in the examining room playing folk music.

I don’t look forward very much to that sandwich.

There is a new weatherman on the radio.

Now that the leaves are off the trees we can see the neighbors’ new deck…

There is no ‘happening’, no crisis, no rising action, but do you get a sense of character? I do.

What is a story if not a portrait of a character or characters?

The Prompt

Write A Non-Narrative Short Story That Allows The Reader To Experience Another Character’s Life


  • You can copy Lydia Davies’s idea and write a story of complaints. Make sure all the complaints belong to one, very specific character. (They can be like you, or unlike you. It can be a secret portrait of your annoying coworker, your ex-mother-in-law, your little brother…) [remember, this is an exercise. If you decide to publish this, you might want to credit Davis as the inspiration!]
  • Write a List (like they do in McSweeneys)
  • The “character” doesn’t have to be one person. It could be an institution: write the Standard Operating Procedures of a big firm.
  • Write about a collection of objects (e.g. The Things They Carried) and allow the reader to infer what they will about the owners.
  • Come up with your own way of writing a non-narrative short story.