[Writing Prompt] Sleight of Hand

Yesterday I reviewed Shakedown by Elizabeth Gonzalez, a story that doesn’t seem to be able to make its mind up whether it wants to be about the renovation of an old steam train, or about a fiesty old man in a Pennsylvania mountain town. It’s a wonderful example of a quiet climax: no car chases or bullets flying, but a satisfying story climax nonetheless.

Of course, the two storylines blend, towards the end, revealing something both about the character of the old man, and the purpose of the restoration efforts.

Because we’ve observed a lot about both ‘projects’ by the time their stories intersect, it takes the author very few words to reveals all kinds of hidden motivations and emotions, when they do.

The Prompt

Write a story in which two, seemingly unconnected storylines intersect, giving the reader deeper insight into both.


  • This probably won’t be a quick project, unless inspiration strikes hard.
  • Use something that connects them in a seemingly emotion-free way (like setting both stories in the same town) to reassure the reader that they ARE reading one story that’s going to come together somehow.
  • You might try writing two threads like in Gonzalez’s story — one thread is very mechanical (the engineer taking apart the train, working without sleep to meet the deadline, worrying he won’t get finished), and one thread is very emotional (the grandfather is a firebrand: threatening people with his pistol, driving like a maniac, handling hoodlums outside his store).
  • Your climax should come when the two threads intersect and your character(s) react in a new way, a way that suddenly makes everything that came before make sense.
  • If a character has been angry all the way through the story, use the moment of intersection to show a vulnerability (or the cause of the anger).
  • If a character is struggling with a challenge, use the moment of intersection to show how they can succeed (or why they haven’t been).
  • This doesn’t have to be a quiet, literary story. This could be about a space pilot who is struggling to get their ship back on course, interwoven with the story of a dying star, reminiscing about its eons-long existence and experiencing the transformation into supernova/black hole. The two stories come together when the pilot realizes it’s not a mechanical problem; they’re on the verge of the star’s event horizon. You could finish the story with that realization, or you could start the story there and show us how the pilot gets out of trouble…
  • In a Romance, you could tell the story of the impoverished star-crossed lovers and also the story of a business man who is winding up his affairs as ill-health takes its toll. One journey is beginning, one is ending. The stories could intersect in any number of ways (the rich old man leaves his fortune to the illegitimate son he never acknowledged — who is, of course, the young lover; or the young woman turns up to clean the rich man’s house and discovers his body, draped over a pitiful, Scrooge-like will, and rushes home to the boy she’d been refusing to marry because of his earthly poverty…)
  • And I don’t even have to tell you Mystery writers how disparate story lines can intersect with interesting results, do I?



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

The StoryADay

I, WRITER Course


A 6-part journey through the short story.

Starts July 28, 2023