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!

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.

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!

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 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!

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 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!

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.

[Write On Wednesday] Effin’ Elf

Elf on the Shelf
My Facebook feed and RSS reader are full of posts from angst-ridden parents who already—three days in—hate their stupid Elf On The Shelf[1. A craze that took off a couple of years ago and is like the Tooth Fairy crossed with an advent calendar, and a nightmare for parents].

People seem to be held hostage to this thing at the same time that they are plagued[2. thanks to Pinterest postings from uber-mommies] by a sense of inadequacy and overwhelm.

The Prompt

Imagine a character who is trapped in a situation beyond their control for a finite amount of time. Write their story.

Tips

  • What is the situation and why is it so torturous for THIS particular character?
  • How do they react on Day 1. How does that change by Day 15?
  • What is the crisis point? What brings things to a head?
  • What hilarious (or terrifying) events happen at the climax?
  • What fallout does this have for the character and the people around him/her?
  • What lessons are learned at the end? What vows are made?
  • Think about something that drives YOU crazy. Create a character who is also driven crazy by this thing, but make them more extreme. Amplify everything. Make the lows lower than they ever get for you. Make the highs higher.

Go!

 

[Write On Wednesday] Overwhelmed

The Prompt

Write a story about a character who is, in the moment the story takes place, completely overwhelmed.

Tips

  • This story can be dramatic, comedic, or both!
  • Perhaps your character is, oh I don’t know, preparing for a big family holiday on top of all their normal commitments. How do they feel? What are their triggers?
  • Give the character a moment of crisis that forms the kicking-off point for the plot of the story. Then think about how he/she would react on a good day, and how differently they react under stress. Show us that reaction.
  • Brainstorm three or four things that could be the tipping point for your stressed character and choose your favorite.
  • Start right at the tipping point and then make things much, much worse: if your character is planning for Thanksgiving dinner, let her always-better-then-her sister call to say she’s inviting a food critic as her date. Then break your main character’s oven. Then let Grandma get a surprise pass from the nursing home, and have her turn up in full foul-mouthed-rebellion-mode; give your character hives; there should probably be a point at which the police turn up…that kind of thing 🙂

 

  • Go!

[Write On Wednesday] – Write A Letter

dear joe
Photo by Meredith Harris CC Some Rights Reserved

Today’s prompt was suggested by the story I read yesterday, Incognito by Susan M. Lemere.

The Prompt

Write a story in letter form

Tips

  • Use two or more voices, or let us see only one side of the conversation.
  • The ‘letters’ can be email exchanges, text messages, Facebook updates, or imaginary hand-written correspondence from sweethearts separated by war, an ocean, feuding parents…whatever makes sense to you.
  • Try to introduce some mystery, some misunderstanding, or some desire on the part of one of the participants. Frustrate us, tease us, keep us guessing about how it’s going to turn out.

Go!