Dec 1, 2017

The Write-A-Story Calendar Day 1: The Big Idea

December's here, and so are advent calendars. I thought about doing a book one this year, but then decided to try something a bit different: a calendar that will help people write a short story by Christmas.

I know a lot of you have just finished Nanowrimo and just want to kick back with a pint of Cherry Garcia and a Stranger Things marathon, but what about everyone who didn't finish? I've tried Nanowrimo a couple of times, and it just isn't for me. I can't write that fast and come up with anything half-decent. So, think of this as Nanowrimo light.

The sweet spot for a short story is around 3 -5k words, so that's what we'll be aiming for. The idea is to do prep work first and start the actual writing on day 11, which would mean about 350 words per day until Christmas Eve, with a few days off factored in. I'll be breaking up the prep into nice, bite-size pieces, so it'll be 90 % pressure-free.

You in?


Okay, so first you'll have to come up with a dazzlingly original story idea with a thought-inspiring message and characters that jump off the page.

Okay, you've probably got one, let's go.

Just kidding!

Don't worry if you're drawing a blank. Despite what some writers say, not everyone can pluck a story idea out of thin air at a moment's notice. It's called brainstorming for a reason. Sure, lightning can strike from a clear sky with no warning, but sometimes you need to chase the storm.

For a good short story you need multiple ideas, and you need to be original. Yeah, yeah, everything's already been written, there are only like five different stories, etc., etc. I'm not saying anything's off limits, just that mixing a few story ideas or twisting a trope can give you something that feels fresh. So writing a zombie story or a Harry Potter clone is probably a bit boring. But what if you mix them up and add a different setting? Harry Potter in space with zombies? I'd read that.

The process of sparking ideas can vary a lot from writer to writer. Chuck Wendig's flash fiction challenges are a good place to look for inspiration, especially the X meets Y type ones and the ones where you pick an image from Flickr for inspiration. Or you could do a Google image search for something like "weird weapons" or "bizarre Victorian ghosts" and go from there. There are also random story title generators and websites full of story prompts, and anthology calls are practically writing prompts in disguise, a good choice if you're aiming to submit the story (just give yourself enough time for editing).

For originality, don't go with the very first idea that comes to mind. If it's a trope, twist it a bit or add another element. What would make it original and unexpected?

Okay, see you tomorrow for the next step.

If you have any tips and tricks for coming up with story ideas, do post them in the comments.


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