It was the great Ray Bradbury who said: “Write a short story every week. It’s not possible to write 52 bad stories in a row.”
Chris White at A Writers Den posted a lovely picture quoting him.
I’ve been writing a short story each week, posted on my blog on Fridays, since May 2013. I was going to say two years, but it’s three and a half already! I started taking it easier last summer, reblogging an earlier story at the end of the month with the Flashback Friday meme.
I couldn’t have done those stories without without a prompt.
I found a guy called Chuck Wendig, who has been posting prompts for around 1400 followers each week, who then added links to their efforts the next week.
Chuck’s blog is not for those that shy away from rants and bad language, but his take on all sorts of things, especially the writing process, is worth thinking about. He’s a great inspiration. He now takes panels at the big writing conferences, and wrote one of the new Star Wars adventures.
What Chuck did with prompts was to give us a prescription to write our short stories – usually 1000 words but occasionally shorter (500) or longer (1500 or 2000) – using roughly the following categories.
At one stage, Chuck would give us two lists, and we had to randomly pick one word from each to make a title, like (The) Thirteenth Snowflake. Then he found a website or two which generated said lists, then which generated titles. I like Random Title prompts. I think I write better plots for them. If you don’t want to flick through a dictionary for two words, try these websites:
In a similar way, you can have just lists of words or phrases that must be included in your story. One twist Chuck did was to ask us to post a complete sentence in the comments, then we’d pick one (posted by someone else) to include in our story for the following week. I found these quite difficult, although making up a weird or highly tense sentence was fun. I think it led to one of my best stories, though.
Probably my favourite prompt, where you have to mix together two genres for your story. It’s definitely stretching because you should be writing outside your comfort zone. I often had to look up what these sub-genres were – wikipedia has a good explanation of different genre families. Chuck generally gave us two lists to randomly pick from to mash them together, and I kept them to refer back to when we were prompt-less – my recent Superclaus Catastrophe came from the mash-up of sub-genres Superhero and Heist.
Chuck has a penchant for Dungeons and Dragons or Role Playing Games – D&D and RPG – which I know little about. He found a character generator which was great fun, although I had to look up the underlying purpose or skill set of most characters. This can also be done with lists – “Glum Empress“ came from one of them, and that led on to a whole series starring a minor character (Sir Woebegone) from that first short story.
Random items that must be included in the story – a favourite of writing courses. You can do this by picking things at random yourself, or delving in a dictionary, or finding lists. I enjoy this challenge – putting a diamond ring, a leather-covered book, a mobile phone and a tank of tropical fish together without them sticking out like a sore thumb!
Story X meets Story Y
A bit like the Sub-genre Mash-up, but this time taking specific books or films and write something new that mashes them together, like you often see on book covers. Think of a classic and something contemporary – say, Winnie the Pooh meets Inception – and see what happens. My mash-up of Casablanca and Star Wars was the start of my Viridian System series!
theidiomatic mashes up idioms, such as ‘a fair exchange is wasted on the young’. Use as a title or a must include sentence.
Search through Chuck’s Friday posts for lists, or check my blog where I’ve reposted some of the prompts and lists I’ve used.
Pick up phrases you see and write them down for future use – especially quotes, like a Peanuts one I used about life being like a ten-speed bike.
Use dreams. I never used to dream, or at least not remember them. These days I’m plagued with them!
I usually get the challenge ‘organised’ on Friday so I can let it simmer in my brain over the weekend. ‘Organised’ means picking the random words or understanding the sub-genres, or whatever.
When I get some sort of idea forming I give myself an hour to get a basic 1000-1200 word story written. I find that just sitting down and getting on with it forces the imagination to take over. Then I see how much I’ve written (although I’ll spot whether I’m way short while I’m writing), read it through to see if it works okay, and start editing.
The good thing about a fixed word count is it really sharpens up your editing skills. Sometimes cutting those last 35 words is really painful, but really, I’m sure the story is better for it.
Then I double check the grammar and spelling, schedule it on the blog for the Friday, and get back to other writing projects, although I always read it again on Thursday night to look for the errors I’ve missed!
So, whether you are a published author, a journeyman writer, or just wish you had the nerve to write something, why not start doing a short story each week?
Join in with memes – there are lots of flash fiction groups around.
Why not add ones you know to the comments below?