5-day Short Story Challenge – Day 1

Day 1: Getting Started

From Tania Hershman

The question for our first day is: how do you get going? You may already have an idea for what you’d like to write about, which is great, but you might like to try something different; my philosophy has always been that you never need to start from the blank page.

Here’s today’s task: first get hold of five or six books from around the house: 3 poetry collections, 2 instructions manuals for any device or gadget, and a recipe book. If you’re short on these kinds of books, try these: find a few poems at random on Poetry Foundation, trawl for one or two instructions manuals at Manuals Online and pick a recipe at random on Epicurious.

What I’d like you to do, without thinking too much, is to pick a short phrase, not more than six or seven words long, from three poems by different poets, from each instruction manual and from a recipe, so that you end up with a set of six prompt phrases. Don’t choose ones you think might fit – it’s the collision of random elements that really gets the creative juices flowing.

Write these prompt phrases in a list at the top of your page. Now, set aside 20 minutes to write and read through your list and see which phrase jumps out at you and inspires you to start. Then keep going, incorporating as many of the phrases as possible, ideally all of them. You can use them in any order and you are allowed to tweak them slightly – substitute “I” for “she”, say, or put something in the past tense instead of the present.

Keep in mind that you need a main character as well as something that makes this day different.

My biggest tip? Don’t feel in any way constrained by reality or the need to make sense, let your imagination loose and follow where these phrases take you. By the end of the 20 minutes or so, you will have something that didn’t exist before, a scenario, a character that something might happen to or some spark you want to follow. Well done!

The prompt phrases are the scaffolding for you to build on, and have gotten you to your story. Now that it’s here you can take those phrases out, if you like. If you enjoyed doing this, do it again, with six new prompt phrases and see what occurs. Many of my short stories were written this way!

Tomorrow, we’ll start listening to your character.