Day 23- A Catalogue of Complaints by Julie Duffy

Settings are important in today’s prompt

Write a list of complaints. Focus on the voice of your character, and what the particular complaints tell the reader about that character.

Things To Consider

You can write this as an exaggerated version of yourself and your own complaints about the world—but be wary of doing this if you are not blessed with a strong sense of the ridiculous, or if you’re feeling particularly dark about the world right now. The point of this exercise is NOT to validate your complaints, but to communicate to a reader certain human commonalities.

Start with a character and think about what stage of life they are in, what their hopes are, what their experience of life might have been. Try to write the list the way they would, with an eye to providing context clues for a reader.

You might model your character on someone in public life who frustrates you, inspires you, or confuses you. What would a fabulously wealthy heiress have to complain about (it won’t be nothing). How do those complaints reflect on her? What would an admired philanthropist still grouse about, privately? How would that change a reader’s perspective from the start to the end of the story?

Use the title to tell us whose list of complaints we’re reading (for example, it might read like an advice article in a glossy magazine: World Champion Ice Dancer Melody Swope shares Fourteen Things to Prepare Your PreTeen Ice Queen For When They Go Pro; or How Famed Naturalist Sir Danny Arbuckle Packs For A Trip To The Wilderness, A List of Grievances by Olivia Snyder, Aged 12 1/4).

Write the list as if your character wrote it for their eyes only, because you want to get to the honest parts of the character, the parts they wouldn’t necessarily air on purpose.

Remember to provide a sense of discovery for the reader–they will be searching for meaning, so take them on a journey.

It doesn’t have to be a list of complaints, but do try to pick something that allows you to dig into a particular character and take the reader on a journey.

Be brave. Leave lots of gaps. See what happens.

Julie Duffy

Julie is the creator of StoryADay May. She tries not to complain too much. If you’d like to receive writing lessons and prompts from Julie throughout the year, consider signing up for the StoryAWeek newsletter.

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Day 22- If You Were Not You by Julie Duffy

Today’s prompt has us looking at character

The Prompt

Dig out your Short Story Framework again, and this time let’s plan a story that features a character who might be you, but very much isn’t. Let them react in ways you never would, never could, to whatever obstacles you throw at them.

  • When trying to get inside the head of this person, it can be useful to think of someone you actually know who is very different from you. Think of someone who does things that you would never do, that you despise, or that you secretly admire. Start with their external actions (what do they do when someone cuts them off in traffic that is so different from what you do, for example.) Backtracked from there to try to figure out what is going on in their head and their heart in that moment.
  • Put this character in a situation where there is conflict or stress and where their reactions are going to be really different from how you would react. Write the reactions, and as you’re doing so, unpack the story behind this person.
  • Don’t worry about trying to have a clever plot in this story. It can be something as simple as: this person gets cut off in traffic and how they react. The point of this exercise is to investigate the psyche of somebody very different from you. There’s a danger in always writing characters that are too sympathetic or similar to yourself.
  • Writing about somebody you dislike or someone unlike you can be very difficult. To make them more sympathetic, give them something there really, really good at. They might be charismatic. They might be really good engineering. But everyone has some areas where they are competent even if they are incompetent in every other sphere that matters to you!
  • This is not an exercise in writing a villain. This is an exercise in writing someone very different from yourself. It could be someone you admire.

Julie Duffy

Julie is the creator of StoryADay May. She created the challenge in 2010 when she realized she was spending so much time daydreaming about ways she could have lived different lives that she might as well write some of them down as stories!

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Day 21- If You Plant It, They Will Come by Michele E. Reisinger

Settings are important in today’s prompt

The Prompt

Write a story in which a garden plays a central role, whether as setting, character, source of conflict–or any combination of those three elements.

WHAT kind of garden is it? Flower, vegetable… Unicorn? Is it flourishing or fallow? Sprawling or skimpy? And what kind of nourishment does its harvest require? Is that nourishment easy or difficult to acquire?

WHO owns/plants/cultivates the garden? Are they the same person?

WHY do they garden? Pleasure? Revenge? Magic? Obligation? Or why do they refuse/delay/squirm at the prospect? Are they too old, young, squeamish, busy, distracted, sick?

WHERE is the garden located? In the protagonist’s backyard? In a community plot at the over-55 development? On the space station? Atop a soaring skyscraper? Beside the cottage? Behind the castle? Lost in the multiverse? At great-aunt Lulu’s?

WHEN does the garden exist? In memory, 1236 BCE, a week from now, during the Plague, during the war, during the famine? And when does it bloom? Predictably or never or only when the Blue Moon shines?

HOW does the garden connect to the protagonist’s deepest, darkest fear, want, need, desire? How will they feel/act if the garden fails? Succeeds? Remains unharvested? And how does the garden impact the protagonist’s relationship with other characters? Other creatures?

Need more ideas?

Claim an extant garden–a real one, or one from literature or film–and set your story there. BUT, change at least one significant detail about its composition.
OR, borrow characters or historical figures and place them in your newly invented garden. Bonus points for genre mash-ups.

OR, retell a garden story from a different POV… like the worm’s.

Michele E. Reisinger

Michele is a writer and StoryADay Superstar living in Bucks County, PA, with her family and never enough books. Her short fiction has appeared in Across the Margin, Stories That Need to be Told, Sunspot Literary Journal, Dreamers Creative Writing, and others. Find her online at

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Day 13- Disappointment & Delight by Meghan Louise Wagner

Let’s get emotional with today’s prompt from Meghan Louise Wagner

The Prompt

Imagine a character who is older (interpret that as you like!) who returns to a place they visited once when they were younger.

There should be some emotional importance to the place, but this prompt works best if it’s a place the character only went to one or two times (not anywhere they’re super familiar with).

Start the story with the character returning to the place. When they arrive and see the place in its present state, have them either be:

a) greatly disappointed or

b) greatly delighted.

Then weave in memories of the place (or memories associated with the place) from when they were young.

Try to jump back and forth between them in the present and the past. By the end of the story, try to show a change in how the character views the place, either in the past or present. (for ex: if it started with them being delighted, have the story end with them being disappointed–or vice versa.)

Meghan Louise Wagner

Meghan Louise Wagner lives in Northeast Ohio. Her work has recently appeared in such places as Nashville Review, Cutleaf, Story, AGNI, Okay Donkey, and The Best American Short Stories 2022. More about her can be found at:

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Day 7- Opening Old Label Scars: Setting and Character Prompts From Closed Stores and Restaurants by Amy Barnes

Amy Barnes wants you to fill in the gaps

The Prompt

Old Label Scars: Setting and Character Prompts From Closed Stores and Restaurants

Think about your favorite childhood store, attraction or restaurant. Did you sing the Woolco song and chase “blue light specials?” Did you cheer the drums and ice cream at Farrell’s? Can you spot a Whataburger a-frame building even when it’s been turned into a bank? A Toys-R-Us turned into an electronics store with the familiar front intact but painted over? A more recent Payless Shoes that is empty but still has remnants of the sign. A wooden roller coaster standing guard over a city with no visitors.

With many businesses closing due to Covid and entire malls being abandoned across the country, there are often “label scars” where businesses have left, leaving only the shadows of their names behind. As you shop or eat, watch out for those label scars that may trigger memories of shopping or food locations that are newly or long-gone.


  1. Write about your childhood memories of stores and restaurants that are no longer open. Did you visit a Stuckey’s on a family vacation? Eat at a Woolworth’s lunch counter?
  2. Write about your first job working retail or as a restaurant server in a place that isn’t open anymore. What do you remember about the experience, good and bad? What did your uniform look like?
  3. Imagine the employees and shoppers at the same places. Invent characters based on those people. Write about their interactions. Does the manager fall in love with an employee? What was the bestselling item when you worked there?
  4. Make a list of the sensory details you remember from these closed businesses. The smell of Wicks and Sticks. Tastes from food court stores that don’t exist anymore. Colognes in department stores. The sound of those Farrell’s drum beats. The smell of mall bookstores. Sounds of mall piano stores or dogs barking in the pet store. Shoe stores where they x-rayed your feet and fit your shoes.
  5. If you find a label scar on a storefront, take a picture of it and create your own ekphrastic prompt. Write about the emotions you feel when you see it. What decade does the remaining font shadow feel like it belongs to? Who hung the sign? Who took it down? Was it a family business that failed?
  6. Do some research. Go online and see when/how the business closed. For example, the history of Chi Chi’s closing is well-documented but you might learn about your own regional favorite shuttered store. Write about how the community felt when the business closed. Did a little girl cry because Chi Chi’s wasn’t there with a sombrero and fried ice cream for her birthday?

For further research, visit online sites that explore dead malls and abandoned stores. Write about those locations by imagining what happened to them.

Amy Barnes

Amy Barnes is the author of three short fiction collections: AMBROTYPES published by word west, “Mother Figures” published by ELJ, Editions and CHILD CRAFT, forthcoming from Belle Point Press in September, 2023. Her words have appeared in a wide range of publications including The Citron Review, JMWW, No Contact Mag, Leon Review, Complete Sentence, Gone Lawn, The Bureau Dispatch, Nurture Lit, X-R-A-Y Lit, McSweeney’s, SmokeLong Quarterly, Southern Living, Allrecipes and many others. She’s been nominated for Best of the Net, the Pushcart Prize, Best Microfiction, long-listed for Wigleaf50 in 2021 and 2022, and included in Best Small Fictions 2022. She’s a Fractured Lit Associate Editor, Gone Lawn co-editor, Ruby Lit assistant editor,and reads for Retreat West, The MacGuffin, Best Small Fiction, The Porch TN and Narratively. You can find her on Twitter at @amygcb.

Mother Figures:
Child Craft: preorders May, 2023:

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Day 2 – AT Greenblatt Wants You To Go Somewhere New

The Prompt

writing prompt from AT Greenblatt

Write a story or a scene in a setting you have never used before. It can be somewhere you have been or somewhere you have always wanted to go. It can be real or imagined.

The goal is to try something new.

The Author

A.T. Greenblatt is a mechanical engineer by day and a writer by night. She lives in Philadelphia where she’s known to frequently subject her friends to various cooking and home brewing experiments.

She is a graduate of Viable Paradise XVI and Clarion West 2017. Her work has won a Nebula Award, has been in multiple Year’s Best anthologies, and has appeared in Uncanny, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Lightspeed, and Clarkesworld, as well as other fine publications. You can find her online at and on Twitter at @AtGreenblatt

Read A Book, Support An Indie

Reads & Company Logo

This year’s StoryADay May official bookseller is Reads & Company, a privately-owned indie bookseller in Pennsylvania. Any purchase from the site this month supports Reads & Co.

Leave a comment and let us know how you used the prompt, and how you’re celebrating!

Sumptuous Settings – a writing prompt

Today I encourage you to make your prose as purple as you like, in a quest to find out how much description you really need.

The Prompt

Write a story (set in your novel’s world) that makes sensation a priority. Use all five senses.


  • Don’t be afraid to write ridiculously floral prose today. You can always dial it back, but it’s fun to find new ways of describing things.
  • Don’t worry too much about pacing or characterization. This is an exploration of your world and the sensations a character might experience, walking through it.
  • Get outside, if you have to. Listen to things. Smell the world. See what you can feel. Then come back inside and write.

Don’t forget to leave a comment or do your Victory Dance!

Paint A Vivid Setting

And now for something completely different!

The Prompt

Write a story in which the setting is key


  • Choose a setting for your story based on a real place that you know intimately. You can change details, of course, but this just makes it easier to summon up images in your mind. You can change it to be it futuristic, or historical, or on another planet, but base your buildings on building as you know, base the weather on whether you understand. Use your experiences to make this story shine.
  • Sometimes we worry too much about plot and forget the story is NOT just about the things that are happening. A reader wants to be sucked into the story. They want to be able to see and feel everything the characters are seeing and feeling. Having a strong setting, a strong sense of where they are in space and time, can really help with this.
  • In a short story we don’t have a lot of space. It’s important for every element of the story to serve multiple functions. Setting can provide atmosphere. It can echo or heightened emotions, and it can tell us a lot about the time, place, characters, and mood of your story.
  • Think about your grandmother’s house and how it was decorated and furnished. Didn’t that tell you a lot about who you were going to find living in that house? Think about the houses in Architecture Digest magazine. Who would you expect to find living in one of those houses?
  • Atmosphere, weather, climate, all of these things can enhance or echo your character’s situation and emotion. Storms speak of peril. Humidity makes things feel oppressive. If the trees are bare we know it’s winter.
  • Simple details like whether or not there are weeds growing up through the paving can tell is a lot about the neighborhood in which your character finds themselves.
  • Don’t worry about creating a complicated or original plot in this story. The exercise here is to practice using setting to enhance the simple story that you’re telling. Choose a character, give them a simple mission, and build the reader’s experience into a feast.
  • Use all five senses. “Cinematic writing” can be good, but it means you’re only using your eyes. Use sounds to hear things, use the feel of things, the smell of things, the taste of things — even if the person isn’t eating, the tang of something-in-the-air can tell us whether we are near the sea, or near a decomposing body, or whatever it is that your story needs. Using all five senses will make your reader unable to separate themselves from the story, which is what you want.

Leave a comment and share what kind of setting you used. How’s the challenge going? Got any tips for the rest of us? Share them now!

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


  • “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?


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.

[Writing Prompt] The Fair

Today you’re going to rely on memory to conjure up a vivid setting for your story.
We went to the Kimberton Fair

The Prompt

Tell a story set at a country fair


  • Use all your senses to place us at the fair, right at the start of the story
  • Paint a picture and include a character walking through that setting, his/her mind set on doing something (winning a prize perhaps? Meeting a particular someone in a particular place?).
  • Hint that there might be more to their desire than can be simply explained (he wants to be a big shot at the coconut shy; she wants to meet a boy). No, there is a deeper reason they want to do the thing they’re pursuing as we, the reader join them.
  • After you have squarely painted the fair scene for us, transition away from providing many details of the fair, and instead concentrate more on character.
  • Don’t forget to bring in something from your setting, near the end, to bring the reader full circle.

Yes, it sounds formulaic, but remember:

  1. It’s only an exercise and
  2. I’ll award a big fluffy panda to anyone who ends up writing something exactly like that of another StoryADay writer, by accident just because you’re using a formula!


[Writing Prompt] Set At A Wedding

This week I’m giving you some more traditional prompts, where one element of your story is dictated by me. (Oh, the power!)

The Prompt

Write A Story Set At A Wedding


  • The conflict in this story can be micro-scale (a guest reflecting on a deeply personal challenge, brought into the light by this landmark occasion) or dramatic (a headline-worthy bust-up, with generations of family tension erupting in a hot, molten mess).
  • Weddings are often the scene of comic stories because of the solemnity inherent in the occasion. But I was at a super-fun wedding recently. A story set at that wedding would lend itself to a solemn moment as an abrupt change of pace.
  • You can say a lot about your characters without beating the reader over the head with it, by describing which traditions your wedding principals and guests choose to honor (or flout). You can get rich cultural mileage out of this setting.
  • You can choose another culturally significant/religious event to write about if weddings really aren’t doing it for you.


[Daily Prompt] May 5 – Shindig!

It’s Cinquo De Mayo and everyone loves a party! Except when they don’t.

Parties are a great setting for stories because they bring together people who have no business being in the same room; they put stress on relationships; they often involve booze and a consequent loosening of inhibitions…in other words, all the elements you need for a climactic moment in someone’s life.

Write A Story Set At A Party, Shindig, Fiesta or Gathering


[Daily Prompt] May 3 – Be A Tour Guide

Write A Story With A Strong Sense of Place

A lot of short short stories focus on character and twists and surprise, because it’s a great form for exactly those things.

But I don’t want your descriptive muscles to get all flabby.

Why not write a story with a strong sense of place? At some point in the story, imagine you are a tour guide, pointing out the landmarks and notable features of your setting to me, your eager audience.

Be a tour guide to your story’s setting, for the reader


Daily Prompt – May 15: Amusement Parks

I’m spending the day at an amusement park with the kiddies.

I love watching all the different people and types, from the loud, dramatic teens, to the young parents, the kid-free couples, the grandparents, the happy ones, the cranky ones…it’s great fodder .

Write a story set at an Amusement park

It’s a setting ripe for drama, mystery, horror, poetry, action, joy and sorrow.


Daily Prompt – May 14: Skylab

Write a story using space or sci-fi elements

On this day in 1973, the US launched the orbital space station Skylab.

Write A Story With  Space/Science Fiction Elements

Even if you’re not a big fan of science fiction, this doesn’t have to be a difficult assignment. Sci-Fi isn’t all about techno-babble or rockets.

Two of my favourite episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation are:

1, Captain Picard is left on a planet, by a malevolent force, with the captain of a ship from a culture that communicates so strangely not even Star Trek’s wonderful translators can handle it. They are in peril and must work together. Gradually Picard figures out that the alien captain’s language is based on metaphors, but he doesn’t share the same culture so how can he find metaphors with which to communicate? It’s basically a stranded-on-an-island, must-work-together-to-escape-peril story, all about linguistics. In space.

2, Someone from Starfleet wants to take the sentient andriod Data back to HQ and take him apart to figure out how he works, for the greater good of the service (a fleet of Datas? We’d be unstoppable, Great!). Picard demands a tribunal at which he attempts to prove that Data is an individual not merely a piece of equipment. A wrinkle? Picard’s second in command and Data’s buddy, Riker, must act as prosector, and try to prove that his friend is merely a machine. This one is called “Measure of a Man” and is a long, fascinating philosophical argument about what it means to be human. Set on a spaceship.

Another example: the movie Moon, which came out last year. It is a psychological thriller set on the moon. It uses a sci-fi setting  to create an isolation you couldn’t realistically create in a story set on our planet these days. And it uses some sci-fi tricks to mess with the hero’s mind and throw obstacles in his path, and none of it is extraneous.

What kind of story could you write, that uses as space or futuristic setting? A mystery? A romance? A morality play?