The Prompt That Launched 1,000 Stories
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The Secret of My Pushcart-Prize Nominated Story
Last month I shared with paid subscribers my Playboy-Contest-winning short story, “Clicker.” This month, I’m sharing what I consider to be my second most “popular” story, “Living Room.”
“Living Room” was published in Sand Hill Review and nominated for a Pushcart Prize (the most honored American literary prize for short stories and essays). It was also published in The Best of the Sand Hill Review.
When I was in college I worked at a high-end children’s clothing store. The sort of place that sold smocked dresses and hundred-dollar Christmas sweaters for toddlers. The owner of the store was one of those seemingly-perfect women. She had perfect hair, perfect clothes, a perfect house, a perfect family. Not that I was jealous of her, because I wasn’t. I sensed in her a deep insecurity that she kept hidden by all her outward perfection.
Years later, when I was getting my MFA, I decided to write a story about a woman who seems perfect from the outside, but is flawed and insecure on the inside. Naturally, I made her the owner of a beautiful children’s boutique. She is the main character of “Living Room.”
The Prompt That Launched 1,000 Stories
I was a math and psychology major in undergrad, but my senior year I took a Creative Writing class. One of our assignments was the following prompt:
Create two characters who are complete opposites of each other. Write a story in which they are forced to interact.
I used this prompt to write a story called “Goddesses,” which later went on to win 3rd place in the Richmond Style Magazine Fiction Contest. I used the prompt again, several years later, to write “Living Room.” I already had my perfect-on-the-outside children’s clothing store manager. So I created a second character who was her opposite and made them co-workers.
I don’t know if this prompt has actually launched 1,000 stories (I suspect it’s been the seed for many more), but it has helped me create two published and prize-winning stories.
Compelling fiction often shows the reader a dichotomy; two ends of the spectrum. Want instant conflict? Make two opposites collide. Here are some writing prompts with an eye towards dichotomy:
Write about a horrible thing happening in a beautiful place (or a beautiful thing happening in a horrible place).
Write a fish-out-of-water scenario in which a character is placed in a situation that is completely foreign to them, or in which the character is forced to do something they would normally never do.
And, of course, write about two characters from opposite ends of a certain spectrum (social class, wealth status, intellect, age, etc.) being forced to interact.
I wrote “Living Room” a long time ago, and to be honest, I’m not sure what I think of it now. I still like it, but it may be a little over-the-top “literary.” I’ll be curious to know what you all think.
It’s not too late to do the Cultivating a Regular Writing Practice email course! Paid subscribers to my newsletter will have access to all four lessons of this course, no matter when you sign up. This do-it-on-your-own-time course will help you create a writing routine that works for you and keeps you writing regularly for the long-term. And coming up in May is the second course for paid subscribers: Getting Started on Your Novel.
TONIGHT: "Marketing for Indie Authors" talk with Leila Siddiqui, a book marketer at Simon & Schuster, presented by Pipeline Artists Symposium.
Wednesday, April 13th, 7pm - 9pm (ET) on Zoom. (Cost: $35)
Want to get paid to write from the comfort of your bed? Freelance writer Ashley Broadwater has lots of resources for you, including:
A resource set: How to get into big pubs like HuffPost, BuzzFeed, PopSugar, etc, as well as coaching opportunities, editorial contacts, insider tips, and much more
A Medium guide: How to write solid articles that Medium writers want to read, and make thousands of dollars in the process
A writing opportunities newsletter: A weekly newsletter that has tons of paid writing jobs and pitch calls, plus general writing tips and encouragement
A compilation of writing articles: Almost 60 articles with writing tips, pitching guides, and more
Ashley has written for HuffPost, BuzzFeed, PopSugar, Men's Health, HelloGiggles, and many other publications. She's made a full-time living working part-time hours and wants to help you do the same at a free (or fair!) price. You can see her portfolio here and the resources above here.
Are you a querying writer? Then mark your calendar for these upcoming spring Twitter pitch parties. And be sure to read my article 13 Things to Know About Twitter Pitch Events.
Looking to work on your manuscript with a writing mentor? The Rogue Mentor mentee submissions will be open from April 22-25.
Finally! After years of virtual conferences, we’re starting to see some in-person ones. Check out these upcoming summer conferences:
Chesapeake Writers’ Conference: June 19-25 at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. A week of craft talks, lectures, panel discussions, readings, and daily workshops in fiction, poetry, songwriting, or creative nonfiction.
Killer Nashville International Writers’ Conference: August 18-21 in Franklin, Tennessee. This conferences brings together forensic experts, writers, and fans of crime and thriller literature. They also offer discounts and scholarships.
For more writing conferences, check out this list.
NYC Midnight’s 100-word Microfiction Challenge kicks off on April 22. You’ll be randomly assigned a genre, action, and word with which to write a micro-short-story in 24 hours. Winners in each group advance to the next round and write another story. It’s a lot of fun, and you’ll be surprised with what you can come up with when the pressure’s on. The final day to register is April 21.
Globe Soup is offering a £1,000 prize to the winner of their Short Memoir Competition. Write a memoir of 3,000 words or less on the following theme: places that have made me, changed me, or inspired me. The contest deadline is May 17, but early bird pricing ends tomorrow! You can sign up now and submit your entry later.
This year the Writing Day Workshop “How to Get Published” Conferences will be held virtually. I attended one of these conferences in person a few years ago in Philadelphia, and I thought it was fantastic. I can’t vouch for the virtual version, but there are some benefits: recorded classes, no travel expenses, attend in your comfy pants. Plus, you can sign up for Zoom pitch sessions with agents for $29 a piece. Check out the upcoming conferences (and remember, anyone can attend from anywhere; just keep the time zone in mind).
Philadelphia Writing Workshop: May 6-7, 2022
Chicago Writing Workshop: June 10-11, 2022
Live in the DC area? Mark your calendar for the FREE Gaithersburg Book Festival on May 21. A celebration of books, writers, and literary excellence with workshops, speakers, a children’s village, and more!