Prompts, Comps etc

Writing Prompts and Exercises for February 2019

  1. If you are motivated by having a first line, then here’s a good website. You click the button and a first line appears. If you don’t particularly like that one, just keep clicking.
  1. Go through one of your stories and underline all the adjectives and adverbs. Are they necessary? If they really are necessary, are they the best ones? Or try to find better nouns and stronger verbs.
  2. Does your story start in the right place? Or does the reader have to plough through backstory before getting to the heart of the matter? Try re-writing your opening paragraph, starting your story in the middle of some action.
  3. Try something you’ve never done before, like going to a different hairdresser, or a different café, or going in a shop you’d normally never go in, or going to work a different way. I recently had my very first Tarot reading. Well! At least it’s given me ideas for a story! And a new experience might do the same for you.
  4. Write a story set on Valentine’s Day, when everything goes wrong.
  5. It’s 50 years since the plane crash that killed American rock and roll musicians Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper. Take the title of one of their hit songs and write a short story based on that title. That’ll be the day; Peggy Sue got married ….and so many more.
  6. How many New Year Resolutions have gone by the board already? Write a story, or poem, about someone struggling to keep one particular resolution.
  7. You’re on holiday and you’ve arranged to meet friends in the Red Lion pub in a local village. You arrive on time, but your friends fail to show. But when you get home and see them, they swear they were there, but where were you?
  8. Make up the background story to a fictitious celebrity: a pop singer, athlete, politician. What was it that drove them to their success?
  9. Write a page of dialogue between two people, using only questions.

Website recommendation:

KM Weiland’s blog on whether it may be better to use a single POV rather than multi. There’s also a podcast if you’d prefer to listen. Click here.


Click on the coloured link for all the details. These should certainly keep you busy!

  1. The Bridport Prize. Up to 5000 words, entry fee £12, first prize £5000, closing date May 31st.
  2. The Bath Short Story Award. Up to 2200 words, entry fee £8, first prize £1200, closing date April 15th.
  3. Bristol Short Story Prize. Up to 4000 words, entry fee £9, first prize £1000, closing date May 1st.
  4. Manchester Fiction Prize. Up to 2500 words, entry fee £17.50, first prize £10,000, closing date mid-September.
  5. Frome Festival Short Story Competition. Between 1000 and 2000 words, entry fee £8, first prize £400, closing date May 31st.

New Year prompts

  1. Look at last year’s writing resolutions. If they were completed – CONGRATULATIONS! If not, try to work out why they weren’t. That’s the first step on deciding on …
  2. … Your Writing Resolutions for 2019. Up to five, but make sure they are REALISTIC, MEASURABLE and TIMED.
  3. Do you have a writing file or several? Now is the time to go through them and see what’s there. Throw out any magazines, articles, papers that you really don’t think you’ll be using.
  4. If you don’t have a picture file, start one.
  5. Sort through your books. Are you really going to read War and Peace again? Libraries, writing and reading groups, schools, friends and family are all worthy recipients – and they might just get read!11217987976_62985d7a22_b
  6. The same with magazines and newspapers. I know so many writers who confess to having piles of unread magazines. Is that you? I know I glance through a magazine as soon as it arrives in the post. Then, it stays in my in-tray for weeks if not months before I find the time to really read it. Go through your stack and be ruthless – read or discard!
  7. Find something new for 2019, something to do with writing. It could be a visit to a different writing group, attending an author event, trying a new genre, entering a new competition, introducing a friend or family member to writing, offering to be someone’s writing buddy.
  8. Do you have a collection of short stories or poems? Make it one of your resolutions to learn about self-publishing to produce your own book. This does not have to be for public consumption: they can just be for your own use, for family and friends. Or, if you do want a wider audience and an income, you can publish to Amazon for free. Start doing some research this month and then formulate a plan for your own book. Perhaps get together with a writing buddy with the same resolution – two heads are better than

New Year competitions

1. Margery Allingham Short Story competition: Up to 3,500 words on this brief – your story must fit Allingham’s definition of a mystery: “The Mystery remains box-shaped, at once a prison and a refuge. Its four walls are, roughly, a Crime, A Mystery, An Enquiry and a Conclusion with an Element of Satisfaction in it.”
The winner walks away with £500, a selection of Margery Allingham books and two passes for international crime writing convention CrimeFest in 2019. There is an entry cost of £12. Deadline: 6pm, 28 February 2019.
Details here

2. My thanks to Celia Brayfield on Facebook for this link – to 34 short story competitions. Many are for American competitions (check the rules) but there are plenty of UK competitions to keep you busy! Check the closing dates too – a few near the end of the list are already closed.

3. The 2019 To Hull and Back competition: Are you a comedian? Can you write funny? Here’s a very rare opportunity for humorous short stories. There are two deadlines: April 30th 2019 (cheaper entry fee of £11) and then July 31st 2019 (entry fee £13). Stories of up to 2500 words (they are very strict – 2501 words will be disqualified!). Details here

Writing Book Recommendations from 2018

Steering the Craft by Ursula K Le Guin
Ursula K Le Guin was an American novelist who died in January 2018, at the age of 88. She wrote fiction, fantasy, children’s literature, poetry, drama, criticism and translation. In 2016, the New York Times described her as America’s greatest living science fiction writer.
Steering the Craft came out of a five-day workshop she taught in 1996 for experienced writers who were “afraid of semicolons and likely to confuse a point of view with a scenic vista.”
If you like reading about how to write, then I would recommend this book. It’s definitely not for beginners and does go quite deeply into things like point of view.

The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing
This book has charts and numbers and lists and formulae – and I know these are not to everyone’s liking! But if I’m stuck at any point, I can usually find something in this book that will clear the way and get me going again – not a bad recommendation! I use their section sheets for everything I write now as they give me a very clear purpose for each section or chapter that I’m planning: goal, action, conflict, outcome, new goal.

Bestseller by Celia Brayfield
An oldie but still well worth reading. Popular novelist and university lecturer Celia Brayfield provides a clear and detailed path to follow for would-be novelists. How stories work, your readers, research and turning pages are some of the chapter titles. 

The Weekend Novelist by Robert J Ray and Bret Norris
If you don’t know how to start or you’ve got stuck in the middle, this book will help identify your problems. Plotting, characters and rough drafts are all covered. Includes examples and exercises. 

Cracking the Short Story Market by Iain Pattison
This is great for beginners but also excellent as a refresher course, just to dip into whenever a particular problem arises. The most important aspects of story writing are covered e.g. plotting, viewpoint, characterisation etc with a really useful checklist at the end of each chapter. 

Make a Scene by Jordan E. Rosenfeld
This book advocates thinking about your stories as a series of scenes. It explains what the purpose is of each scene, what the core elements are, different scene types and more.