[Write On Wednesday] Make It Flash

This month at StoryADay we’re all about Flash Fiction!

Flash Fiction image

Flash fiction is loosely defined as being between 250 and 1200  words long, but it is so much more than that.

The best description of Flash Fiction I’ve ever seen goes like this: Continue reading “[Write On Wednesday] Make It Flash”

[Write on Wednesday] Through The Keyhole

This month at StoryADay, I’m focusing on Flash Fiction. Be sure to check in  regularly and follow me on Twitter.

A novel invites the reader to explore an entire house, down to snooping in the closets; a short story requires that the reader stand outside of an open window to observe what’s going on in a single room; and a short short requires the reader to kneel outside of a locked room and peer in through the keyhole.

Bruce Holland Rogers
(2013-02-25). The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction

Let’s take Bruce at his word.

The Prompt

Imagine you’re looking through a big, old-fashioned keyhole, into a room. Write a story of fewer than 1000 words, about what you can see

Tips

  • Think of this as a way of reducing the events of whatever is going on in the room to the moment.
  • Use powerful imagery and strong verbs to narrate the story and make it ‘flash’.
  • In a story this short you probably only have room for one or two characters.
  • A story this short can only focus on one moment/event.
  • Use dialogue to convey information. Hint at backstory with tone and word choice.
  • When you have finished your first draft (and therefore know what the story is about) go back and work on your opening lines

Leave a comment below, letting us know how you got on with this prompt, or what ideas it sparked for you.

[Writing Prompt] Don’t Fight With Strangers On Social Media

Fighting creativityA few days ago, I commented on a Twitter post about a hot-button issue. I don’t normally do that, but I thought I was making a neutral, expanding-the-argument kind of comment.

You can tell where this is going can’t you?

Yeah.

Someone read my comment and assumed I was saying something I wasn’t; pigeon-holed me as someone from the completely different end of the ideological spectrum; and proceeded to make snarky, personal comments every time I tried to defuse the situation.

I had that hot-and-sweaty, blood-pounding-in-my-face, pit-in-my-stomach sensation we all remember so well from the injustices of being a misunderstood 12-year-old.  I wasted hours constructing careful answers and psyching myself up to open up my Twitter feed, wondering if I would find an olive branch or a minefield.

It wasn’t fun.

It sucked all the creativity out of my day.

It was such a waste of time.

And the irony of it was, I had, that very morning, reposted Austin Kleon’s advice not to pick fights with strangers on social media!

The Prompt

Find an issue that you COULD have a fight with someone about on social media and instead, write a story.

Tips

  • Make it something you really, really care about.
  • Have a protagonist and an antagonist who feel strongly about either side of the argument.
  • Give the antagonist a legitimate reason to feel that way — don’t make them a cardboard cut-out/cartoon villain.  (This might be hard, but will result in a better story, and a better you!)
  • You don’t have to be sympathetic to the opposing point of view, but you do have to grant some humanity to the person who holds that view. Grace them with some nuance. It’ll make for a better story, and it’ll intrigue the reader.
  • It will make your story and its outcome surprising and  memorable.
  • Consider leaving the story slightly unresolved. Life usually is. Maybe there is a moment when one (or both) characters have a glimmer of understanding (or of seeing the other person as a real human), or maybe they miss that moment entirely.
  • When working with two sides of an issue, you can show how the ‘good’ character could easily become the ‘bad’ character if only they…{insert the line your character will not cross here] and vice versa.
  • Because this is a short story, focus on one angle of an issue, one comment, one moment in the character’s lives.
  • Maybe let the exchange play out on a simulated social media exchange.
  • Maybe have the characters in another time and place, debating face to face, or through some completely different medium.

 

I promise you that, if you write a story instead of picking a fight with a stranger on social media, you’ll have a better day than I did last week 😉

 

[Write On Wednesday] Four-Part Story

I’m currently fascinated by a short story experiment being run by Penguin Random House.

They’re running a series called “The Season of Stories“. You subscribe, and they send you a story every week.

But that’s not the interesting part.

The interesting part is that they serialize the story.

Every day, Monday-Thursday, you receive part of a story.

It’s how short stories were read in publications back at the start of the golden age of short story writing, and it’s something we’ve moved away from. Instead of making them bite-sized treats, we sell short stories by weight, packaged into collections. Then we try to sell them to readers who have been trained on novels.

(No wonder short story collections don’t sell well!)

With a novel, you, the reader, carve out some time to plunge yourself into a story world, allow yourself to be pulled along by cliffhangers, spend time getting to know the characters.

Short stories aren’t like that.

Readers, in general, don’t know what to do with a short story collection, but anyone can open their email and read a quarter of a story. Especially one that has been well-crafted.

Today I want you to practice crafting a story that will keep bringing a reader back for more.

Stories naturally break into four parts: inciting incident, rising action, midpoint shift, then climax/conclusion/resolution.  Each part must end with a kicker that leaves the reader wanting more (yes, even the end).

The Prompt

Write a story that can be read in four parts. Focus on creating mini-cliffhangers at each quarter point.

Tips

  • The Seasons of Stories shorts have ranged from 600-1900 words per installment. You can choose a length that works for you.
  • This is a great way to promote your other writing. PRH’s emails come with a ‘if you enjoyed this, read more in this book’ ad at the end. But it never feels ‘salesy’ because they’ve given me a free sample and are simply letting me know where I can find more, if I liked it. Sometimes this link is to a novel by the same author. Sometimes it is to a collection of short stories containing stories by the author. (Now that they’ve trained me to read shorts, they can sell me their collection!)
  • Don’t forget to raise a big story question at the start (remember: you can do this in revisions), that won’t be addressed until the climax/end. Do this in addition to the mini-cliffhangers at the end of each section.
  • If you need some examples, check out The Season of Stories. It’s free.
  • I heard about this from Daniel Pink’s newsletter. If you like this, consider subscribing to that. It’s a short read and he shares interesting stuff like this, every other week.

Now, go and write your story.

Come back and tell me how it went!

 

Settings – A Writing Prompt from Josh Barkan

Writing exercise: (20 minutes)

Choose a place that you know well, which you have strong feelings about. Describe that place, first when you are in a happy mood. (10 minutes) Then describe the place when you are in a sad mood. (10 minutes)

What difference did you note?

Writing exercise: (30 minutes)

What is described in a particular setting often depends upon the point of view of the story. Describe a real park you have visited, first in the first person point of view through the eyes of a young man or young woman in love (15 minutes), and then through the eyes of an old widow or widower (15 minutes).

What differences in setting did you notice, even though it was the same park?

 

Tips:

The purpose of these exercises is to realize that setting is never neutral. Setting descriptions are subjective. So your setting should always evoke a mood. Think of your setting as another character. The setting should help us feel the mood of the scene you are describing. If there is conflict in the scene, then the setting should be described harshly, in a way that evokes the harshness of the moment. If the scene is a warm scene, with love, then the setting should reveal that warmth.

 

About Josh Barkan

Josh Barkan is the author of MEXICO. Josh Barkan has won the Lightship International Short Story Prize and been a finalist for the Grace Paley Prize for Short Fiction, the Paterson Fiction Prize, and the Juniper Prize for Fiction. He is the recipient of a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, and his writing has appeared in Esquire. He earned his MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and has taught writing at Harvard, Boston University, and New York University. With his wife, a painter from Mexico, he divides his time between Mexico City and Roanoke, Virginia. For writing advice from Barkan and other top-notch short story writers, download Signature’s Compact Guide to Short Story Writing.

 

[Writing Prompt] Turn A Trope Upside Down

Writing Prompt LogoIn James Blish’s Surface Tension (which I reviewed recently), the author took the idea of space travel and did something a bit different with it: instead of humans arriving on a new planet and terraforming it to suit themselves, they genetically-engineer versions of humanity that would thrive on the planet.

Now that’s what I call ‘subverting reader expectations’. But it’s still a satisfying story that sticks to the rules of an off-planet adventure story (lots of ‘wonder’ and new environments, inter-personal conflict, conflict with the environment, bad guys, a struggle to unite the ‘good’ forces and to survive. Even a little romance.)

The Prompt

Write a story that subverts reader expectations but still works in genre Continue reading “[Writing Prompt] Turn A Trope Upside Down”

[Writing Prompt] Interrogate A Character

InterviewToday’s writing prompt is ripped straight from my 6th Grader’s homework folder, but that doesn’t make it any less relevant. 

I’m steeped in (as well as 6th Grade homework) Lisa Cron’s fabulous latest book Story Geniusin which she makes the compelling point that you cannot begin to tell your character’s story until you know about their past.

It’s a delightfully obvious (and surprisingly overlooked) observation that ought to be front and center in every writing class. So here we go.

The Prompt

Interview a character from one of your stories. Find out as much as you can about their past and what formed the character they possess on Page One of their story. Continue reading “[Writing Prompt] Interrogate A Character”

[Writing Prompt] It’s Time For Holiday Stories

It’s Write On Wednesday Day! (That’s really clumsy. I’m going to have to never do that again!)

Thanksgiving dinner decor
Photo by Karin Dalziel


The Nov/Dec/Jan holiday season is fast approaching. I know you don’t want to think about it, but if you’re interested in putting out a short story for the holidays, this is actually kind of last minute.

Publications have long lead times for date-specific stories, so if your holiday stories aren’t already written, now’s the time. Magazines and online pubs LOVE themed stories (Christmas stories; New Year issues; Thanksgiving horror stories!).

Or perhaps you’d like to create a story for friends and family to say thanks for all their support (or: na-na-na-na-na-na-you-see-I-wasnt-lying-around-watching-daytime-TV-all-year).

The Prompt

Write a story tied to a Nov/Dec/Jan holiday

Tips

  • You can use this to flesh out characters from a longer work in progress.
  • You can include characters from your real life.
  • You can use this as a calling card/thank you note/Christmas letter if you send holiday greetings cards
  • Mine your own memories, but don’t feel you have to write memoir. Take an incident from one of your family holidays and recast it on a steampunk airship or a city made of living bone towers or at the Tudor court.
  • Don’t feel it has to be a narrative story. One of the delights of the short story form is that it can be much more than that. Consider writing a list of holiday gifts your character has to buy, complete with passive-aggressive commentary; or a series of increasingly frantic tweets from the Thanksgiving dinner table…
  • Create a compelling character and set them in a ridiculous situation, or a ridiculous character and put them in a banal situation.

Have fun with this. Amuse yourself. Remember, nobody ever has to see this story, so you can be as cruel or as kind as you like!

[Writing Prompt] Seek Beauty

Following this month’s theme of Refilling The Well, I’ve thrown some pretty unusual writing prompts at you, including Don’t Write Anything and Rip Off Another Writer.

In that vein, I’m bowing down to Julia Cameron today, and borrowing her concept of Artist’s Dates, popularized in her book The Artist’s Way.

The Prompt

Seek out something beautiful/inspiring today.

Tips

  • You don’t have to write a story inspired by the thing you find. Just seek it out. View the world with curiosity and try to find something that makes you go ‘wow’.
  • You might want to take a trip to an art gallery or a movie theater, or you might simply want to lie under a tree and look up at the sky through the leaves.
  • You might want to listen to live or recorded music. Or watch your baby for half an hour while she sleeps.
  • Breathe. Soak it in. Notice all the details of the Thing and of your reaction to it.
  • Wallow.
  • Then go back to life, refreshed.

Go!

[Write On Wednesday]

In honor of Groundhog Day, today’s prompt encourages you to tell a story over and over and over again…

In honor of Groundhog Day, and one of the best films ever made about an obscure holiday, today’s prompt encourages you to milk one simple plot for all it’s worth.

The Prompt

Write A Very Short Story About An Incident In Your Character’s Day, Then Make Them Relive That Incident

Tips

Continue reading “[Write On Wednesday]”