Daily Writing Tip 66 of 100, Exploring a Story’s Meaning And Purpose

For one hundred days, I’m going to post a writing tip each day. I have a whole bookshelf full of writing books and I want to do some reading and increased studying of this valuable resource. This will help me keep track of anything I’ve learned, and help motivate me to keep going. If anyone has a favorite tip of their own to add, contact me. I’d love to put it up here.

Today’s tip – Exploring a Story’s Meaning And Purpose

Source – Developing Story Ideas by Michael Rabiger

Structural and effectiveness analyses only begin to uncover a story’s meaning. These further questions will help you decide how a story acts—or might act—on its audience:

  • What genre is this story and under what rules does its world usually run?
  • What patterns can you see that might be significant to the story’s meaning?
  • Who is the point of view (POV) character (meaning, through whose feelings and viewpoint do we mainly experience the events)?
  • What forces does the story make this character (or these characters) confront, and why?
  • What are the qualities of the main characters and what can we expect of them at the outset?
  • Does anyone in the story develop (that is, learn, change, or grow)?
  • When you compare the story’s end with its beginning, what major changes have taken place and what do they signify?
  • Does the story stay within its genre or does it break out of that genre in any way?
  • Taking the story as a whole, How does it want to act on us?
  • What does it say about the individual in relation to the way the world works? (This is often expressed as “the individual in relation to the laws of the universe”).
  • What is the story’s premise (that is, what is its content and purpose expressed in one or two pithy sentences)?
  • What is its theme? (That is, what embracing truth does it seek to establish? Examples: “Crime doesn’t pay” or “Women don’t make passes at boys wearing glasses.”)

There are these and so many other questions that need to be asked and answered in the story crafting process. I think it is very important to not ask these questions until the first draft is finished. Otherwise, at worst you will be intimidated into never writing the damn thing – at best spontaneous creativity will be suppressed.

Remember – writing isn’t writing, editing is writing. Save all this boring crap for the second through tenth drafts.

Daily Writing Tip 48 of 100, First Aid for Plots

For one hundred days, I’m going to post a writing tip each day. I have a whole bookshelf full of writing books and I want to do some reading and increased studying of this valuable resource. This will help me keep track of anything I’ve learned, and help motivate me to keep going. If anyone has a favorite tip of their own to add, contact me. I’d love to put it up here.

Today’s tip – First Aid for Plots

Source – How Fiction Works by Oakley Hall

  1. Remember that plot is character in predicament.
  2. The protagonist should be the initiator of the action rather than the victim of it, active rather than passive.
  3. Is there a use for a Ticking Clock?
  4. Give the protagonist a compulsion. Consider the compulsions in The Wizard of Oz. Dorothy wants to get home to Kansas, the Tin Woodsman wants a heart, the Scarecrow a brain, the Wicked Witch the ruby slipper.
  5. Consider unities and contractual obligations. If the novel begins in Santa Ana, California, maybe it should end in Santa Ana. If Ralph appears on page 10, maybe he should reappear before the end of the novel. If there is a bear trap hung on the wall in the first chapter, maybe it should be actuated in the last.
  6. What is at stake?
  7. Is the ending inevitable yet surprising?

Inevitable yet surprising? – I think that only a writer can fully understand how this is possible… not only possible, but common and maybe even necessary. Comprehending subtle realities like that makes all the work and frustration worthwhile.

Daily Writing Tip 46 of 100, The Border of Actuality

For one hundred days, I’m going to post a writing tip each day. I have a whole bookshelf full of writing books and I want to do some reading and increased studying of this valuable resource. This will help me keep track of anything I’ve learned, and help motivate me to keep going. If anyone has a favorite tip of their own to add, contact me. I’d love to put it up here.

Today’s tip – The Border of Actuality

Source – Elements of Fiction Writing – Plot by Ansen Dibell

Plot is the things characters do, feel, think, or say, that make a difference to what comes afterward.

If you once thought about dying your hair pink but never acted on the thought, that tells something about your psychology, but it’s not a potential story plot. If you really went ahead and did it, that not only tells about your psychology but creates repercussions, like a stone tossed in a pond. That might become the basis for a story like Fizgerald’s “Bernice Bobs Her Hair.”

Thought or emotion crosses the line into plot when it becomes action and causes reactions. Until then, attitudes, however interesting in themselves, are just potential, just cloudy possibilities. They’re static. They’re not going anywhere. Nothing comes of them.

No thought, in and of itself, is plot. No action, however dramatic, is plot if the story would have been about the same if it hadn’t happened at all. Any action, however seemingly trivial, can be vital and memorable if it has significant consequences and changes the story’s outcome.

Plotting is a way of looking at things. It’s a way of deciding what’s important and then showing it to be important through the way you construct and connect the major events of your story. It’s the way you show things mattering.

That’s a nice distinction – about when thoughts become plot. I wish more writers would take her advice and cut out the stuff that doesn’t matter. Life is too short.

Daily Writing Tip 40 of 100, Testing and Deepening Your Characters

For one hundred days, I’m going to post a writing tip each day. I have a whole bookshelf full of writing books and I want to do some reading and increased studying of this valuable resource. This will help me keep track of anything I’ve learned, and help motivate me to keep going. If anyone has a favorite tip of their own to add, contact me. I’d love to put it up here.

Today’s tip – Testing and Deepening Your Characters

Source – Writing the Short Story, A Hands-On Program, by Jack M. Bickham

Readers often ask whether writers start with plot or with character in developing stories. It’s the kind of question most writers can’t begin to answer because plot ideas tend to spring forth with characters already in them and characters usually spring out of the imagination with some of their plot problems already nagging them.

To put it another way: Good plots involve vivid characters, and good characters are always involved in a plot that tests their mettle.

This makes a lot of sense. Over the years I have had folks talk about making cards with ideas on them – plot cards, character cards, theme cards, setting cards…. The plot and character cards were the hardest. I think the mistake is to separate them like that.

So maybe I need to think about plot/character hybrid cards? Or one step further – plot/character/conflict cards.

Yeah… that might be the ticket.

One Hundred Short Story Basic Ideas


Call Me Ishmael

George Polti put the number at 36. He insisted that there are exactly thirty-six dramatic situations.

1. Supplication (in which the Supplicant must beg something from Power in authority)
2. Deliverance
3. Crime Pursued by Vengeance
4. Vengeance taken for kindred upon kindred
5. Pursuit
6. Disaster
7. Falling Prey to Cruelty of Misfortune
8. Revolt
9. Daring Enterprise
10. Abduction
11. The Enigma (temptation or a riddle)
12. Obtaining
13. Enmity of Kinsmen
14. Rivalry of Kinsmen
15. Murderous Adultery
16. Madness
17. Fatal Imprudence
18. Involuntary Crimes of Love (example: discovery that one has married one’s mother, sister, etc.)
19. Slaying of a Kinsman Unrecognized
20. Self-Sacrificing for an Ideal
21. Self-Sacrifice for Kindred
22. All Sacrificed for Passion
23. Necessity of Sacrificing Loved Ones
24. Rivalry of Superior and Inferior
25. Adultery
26. Crimes of Love
27. Discovery of the Dishonor of a Loved One
28. Obstacles to Love
29. An Enemy Loved
30. Ambition
31. Conflict with a God
32. Mistaken Jealousy
33. Erroneous Judgement
34. Remorse
35. Recovery of a Lost One
36. Loss of Loved Ones.

Foster-Harris said there are three – “Happy Ending” – “Unhappy Ending” – and the “Literary Plot”

Jessamyn West listed out seven.

[wo]man vs. nature
[wo]man vs. [wo]man
[wo]man vs. the environment
[wo]man vs. machines/technology
[wo]man vs. the supernatural
[wo]man vs. self
[wo]man vs. god/religion

Ronald Tobias says there are twenty master plots.

The Riddle
Forbidden Love
Wretched Excess

As for me, these are interesting ideas and a great starting point to come up with inspiration, but not really practical when the deadline is looming and the mind is empty and the panic is rising.

So, in my “Spare Time” I have started to make a list of short story ideas or plots or basic structures or prompts or whatever. I decided to come up with a number first instead of doing the list first and then counting. Makes more sense to me.

I picked a nice round number – one hundred. So, in my notebook(s) that I carry around, every now and then I’ll think of a new one, write it down and give it a number. I’m only up to sixty six now, so I better get crackin.’

1 Revenge Story – must have downtrodden victim taking revenge on the person/people responsible for keeping him down.

2 Love Triangle – Requires a somewhat passive follower – yet very desirable- character has to choose between 2 pursuers.

3 Someone isn’t what they seem. On the surface a benevolent character turns out to be a monster underneath.

4 Wakes up to the man. Someone, probably a youth, realizes the hopeless, soul-crushing nature of existence – rebels. Successful or not.

5 Unreliable Narrator. – First person narration point of view. As the story progresses the reader realizes the narrator is lying and is not the beneficent person they portray (and believe themselves).

6 Revenge Story 2 – Someone done wrong but NOT downtrodden, takes revenge on a victim that does not expect it.

7 You might be done with the past, but the past isn’t done with you. A long-ago incident – secret- comes back to haunt a person in a secure well-established position.

8 Petty Crime Goes Bad – Someone steals something (notebook? Laptop? Phone? IPOD? Digital storage card or thumb drive?) and it turns out to have something unspeakably evil and dangerous associated with it.

9 (related to #8) Ordinary Object contains evil. Gift? Bought at thrift stop? Item has power but also terrible danger.

10 Fractured Fairy Tales – Take an obscure (or well known) fairy tale and set it in modern day. Kick things up a notch.

11 Rosebud – Filthy Rich self-made man – his fortune can’t cure a hurt left over from his childhood or he can’t rescue a loved one – or both.

12 Memories of Childhood nightmares. – fear of atomic attack, making noise, or other mostly irrational fear – maybe it comes true (just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean they are not out to get you).

13 An ordinary dystopia – A terribly ordinary day is told in all of its horror.

14 Requiem for a Dream – The hero’s constant struggle for a goal, for fulfillment, is turned by a fatal flaw – dreams turn to nightmares. The core sin is that of blindness to one’s true nature – and/or ignorance of one’s love’s true needs.

15 Mediocre athlete – a person aids a naturally gifted person – that is a fraud. The mediocre person ends up relaxing and winning himself.

16 – Expert helps downtrodden – an elite unexpectedly sacrifices a bit of his own success to aid someone not as elevated.

Sixteen down, eighty four to go. Leave a comment if you have any ideas, that would be cool.


17  Blast From the Past – A person meets someone that was a key influence in their distant past.

18 Mysterious Pest From Beyond – a hellish parasite arrives from an unknown location and attaches to the protagonist

19 Monkey’s Paw – Dream comes true, turns into a nightmare (similar to #14 – but different tone)

20 The Opposite Of Doomed Love – What if Romeo and Juliet said to each other, “I love you but this isn’t going to work out, what with the family and all.” What tragedy would ensue.

21 Military in Need – Opponents on the battlefield are thrown in with each other and must cooperate to survive.

22 What we were and have forgotten – The world from a child’s point of view. We don’t remember the fear.

23 Take a story you like, re-write it as your own. Steal Shamelessly.

24. Character undergoes a rare injury. Discovers wires underneath.

25. Take a memory from the past and pair it with an incident in the present. Flashback.

26. Make a list of jokes. Write a scene where the characters say the jokes.

27. Pick a spot and place a couple arguing there. Write the backstory. Write what happens in the future.

28. Desperate child after his village is destroyed by the revolution. How does he/she survive? Revenge? Childhood redirected to hate.

29. How I met your mother. How I met your Grandmother. Has to have a twist.

30. Crazy neighbors.

31. An accident on the freeway.

32. A crash on the road – on purpose.

33. A man begging with an unusual sign.

34. A relationship dissolves in alcoholism and insanity.

35. Fan fiction – controversial episode.

36. Write about a simple story in a world very unlike the one you live in.

37. Hitchhikers picked up by someone very unusual.

38. Someone is given a prophecy of the future that he can’t understand

39. Aliens abduct a loved one. What happens when he returns different.

40. Trapped by a fire.

41. Think of an insane future scene.

42. Combine a wise teacher with a scene from a horror film

43. Take a favorite painting. Write the story within.

44. Some reading an unusual “Idiot’s Guide to” book.

45. Something loud happens at the library

46. Expensive security system – owner has to disable.

47. Have to help a friend dispose of a body

48. Everyday item – version built by aliens.

49. Mismatched couple at a restaurant

50. Unusual version of an ordinary item.

51. Man sees something from the window of a commuter train.

52. City person finds himself in wilderness with a person that lives there.

53. Busy city scene at a deserted time. Why?

54. Unusual Addiction

55. Trapped in a cave. Trapped in an elevator. Trapped in a locked room. Trapped outside the house.

56. Look through Journal entries. Pick a story and write in third person. Kick it up a notch.

57. Commuter sees something unusual on the highway during rush hour traffic.

58. Look through odd headlines (Weekly World News)  for story inspiration.

59. Pick a brain teaser that involves a story problem. Write it as if it really happened.

60. A good person is forced to kill.

61. Future dystopian life in a large, crowded hotel.

62. Protagonist finds an unusual fossil

63. Sweet and sour –  a protagonist that has had something terrible happen but finds himself in a beautiful spot in nature.

64. Scars – explanation – lies, maybe?

65. Working at a large, complex factor. Security guard?  Finds something unexpected.

66. Bad day, everything possible goes wrong. Why?