This week is the anniversary of the birth of Scotland’s national poet, Robert Burns. While I’m cooking up some haggis and pouring a whisky in his immortal memory, I have a writing prompt for you that celebrates not just Robert Burns, but all poets.
Write a sketchy first draft today. Tear through it. Get the story written.
Then go back and craft an opening line that contains a strong sense of who is telling the story, when it is set, where it is set and what kind of story it’s going to be (Is it going to be a murder mystery? Get the body into the first line. Is it a historical romance? Give me gas lamps and corsetry!)
Next, work on your ending. Echo the opening scene with a similar-but-different scene, symbolizing your character’s growth/change. Or leave us with an open-ended question, but make sure we know enough about your character to have an idea what their next action might be. Or use a poetic line that sums up the theme of the story.
Finally write a title that doesn’t tell me what your story is about but intrigues me with an unusual idea, phrase, pun or twist on an old saying or song title. Remember the title is the sizzle that sells the story.
Some of my favorite short story titles:
Vampires in the Lemon Grove
Baby’s First Kill
‘Gator Butchering for Beginners
An Open Letter To The Person Who Took My Smoothie From The Breakroom Fridge
Stop — because if you’re paying attention, it represents two different meanings of the word
The Lady Astronaut of Mars
A Perimenopausal Jacqueline Kennedy, Two Years After the Assassination, Aboard the M/Y Christina, off Eubeoa, Bound for the Island of Alonnisos, Devastated by a Recent Earthquake, Drinks Her Fourth Bloody Mary with Mrs. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jr. — a fine example of how to circumvent the word-count limit in flash fiction!
Afterthought, Aftermath, Aftershock
The Worshipful Society of Glovers
A List of Forty-Nine Lies
I’d love it if you’d leave your opening and ending lines and title, below!
Leave a comment and let us know how it went today.
Flash fiction writers often miss a fabulous opportunity by leaving a quick, ‘working’ title on their story.
That’s like selling a product by telling people how hard you worked on it, instead of selling them on what the it will Do For Them.
Here’s the thing:
Title are not usually part of the required word count, so you can go as long as you like!
Titles are the sizzle that sells the reader on the steak of your story.
Titles can add a whole new layer of meaning to the story, when the reader is finished.
Write a 300–500 word story,
Then, spend an equal amount of time writing a title that is at least 3% as long as the story (that is, 9 words long for a 300 word story, 15 words for a 500 word story)
It is completely acceptable, for today, to use a flash story you’ve written in the past and just re-title it. (And yes, it can be a longer story, just remember I want you to make the title proportional to the story length, so this could get kind of crazy. Good crazy…)
If you’re stuck for ideas, write a story based on a Story Spark you’ve gathered, a character you’ve already created, or an issue that makes gets you excited (for good or ill).
Read through the story and pick out the theme.
Play with puns, double-meanings, and common proverbs.
Remember that your aim is to catch the eye of a potential reader and pull them in, intrigue them enough that they’ll want to read your story.
Write a title that is at least 3% as long as the story (word count divided by 100, multiplied by 3) 300 words=9 words, 400 words=12 words, 500 words=15 words, 1000 words= 30 word title! (For the rules-lawyers: you may round up or down as you feel appropriate. This is just an exercise!)
Try to make it have a deeper meaning, after the reader has read the story (or to add something to their understanding)
Bonus points: Post your title in the comments and see if we’d be intrigued to read it.
Extra bonus points: post on someone else’s title to say whether or not you’d read it.
Examples of Long Titles
Clearly Lettered in A Mostly Steady Hand by Fran Wilde, nominated for a Nebular Award for Short Story in 2018. Isn’t that an intriguing title. Why does ‘clearly lettered’ matter and why is the hand only ‘mostly steady’?