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How to Write, Finish, and Submit a Story in a Single Day

Challenge: Write and Submit a Short Story in the Next 4 Hours

Here's the challenge: write a complete 3,000-word short story from idea to finished copy and submit it to a professional market within the next four hours. I've created this guide to help you succeed with the challenge. Have fun!

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30 minutes | Writing Your Opening Scene | 0 to ~500 words

Writing Your Opening Scene

Write the opening of your story. Start with your character in a setting, facing a problem or situation. It doesn't need to be the main problem of the story.

Don't worry if you don't have a fleshed out idea! Dive into your character and write about their immediate problem and setting through all of their senses, with their opinion and voice.

30min

Set Your Timer and Start!

Keep writing for 30 minutes. Aim for 500 words that introduces your character, setting (all senses and opinion), and the initial problem.

 

5 minutes | Take a Break

Take a Break

It's important to take breaks. If you're sitting at the computer get up and stretch. Walk. Take a drink of water. Take care of yourself so that you can continue to write.

5min

Set Your Timer and Start!

Don't look back over what you've written! We're moving forward with the story.

 

Next 30 minutes | Complicating Your Character's Life | ~500 to 1,000 words

Complicate Your Character's Life

If the initial problem wasn't the main problem of the story, it should be introduced by now if you haven't yet.

Faced with the story problem, your character makes an intelligent attempt to solve it.

And Fails!

The character discovers the problem doesn't have an easy solution. Their attempt to solve the problem makes it more complicated.

30min

Set Your Timer and Start!

Keep writing for 30 minutes. Aim for 500 words that develops the problems and complications.

 

5 minutes | Take a Break

Take a Break

Time for another break! Move. Stretch. Look into the distance. Meditate for a few minutes.

5min

Set Your Timer and Start!

Don't look back over what you've written! We're moving forward with the story.

 

30 minutes | Things Get Worse | ~1,000 to 1,500 words

Things Get Worse

Now your character knows that the problem they face doesn't have an easy situation. They recover from the initial failure and come up with a new (intelligent) attempt to resolve the problem.

And Fails!

 Fails, and their attempt to solve it makes the problem worse. Things don't look good!

30min

Set Your Timer and Start!

Keep writing for 30 minutes. Aim for at least another 500 words.

 

5 minutes | Take a Break

Take a Break

Time for another break! Move. Stretch.  Stay off social media, email, and all of that. Get away from the computer.

5min

Set Your Timer and Start!

Don't look back over what you've written! We're moving forward with the story.

 

30 minutes | The Situation Turns Dire | ~1,500 to 2,000 words

The Situation Turns Dire

Ever attempt your character made to solve the problem has made things worse than ever. Even so, they rally, dig deep and attempt to solve the problem again.

And Fails!

For the third time the character has failed and things are worse than they ever imagined. All paths seem closed off.

30min

Set Your Timer and Start!

Keep writing for 30 minutes. Aim for at least another 500 words or so. Be sure to keep the reader anchored and the emotions high.

 

5 minutes | Take a Break

Take a Break

Time for another break! You probably don't want to take a break at this point. Do it anyway. Step away and rally your strength for the final push.

5min

Set Your Timer and Start!

Don't look back over what you've written! We're moving forward with the story.

 

30 minutes | Final Attempt | ~2,000 to 2,500 words

Final Attempt

This is it! Your character takes the only option left, all cards on the table, the last big push to resolve the problem

And Succeeds!

The final attempt, the character's last heroic effort succeeds in solving the problem.

30min

Set Your Timer and Start!

Keep writing for 30 minutes. Aim for at least another 500 words. Put all of the emotion and detail on the page. Don't stop!

 

5 minutes | Take a Break

Take a Break

It feels like the story is done, but not quite yet! Take a quick break and come back refreshed to finish the story.

5min

Set Your Timer and Start!

Almost there, you're doing great!

 

30 minutes | Resolution and Validation | ~2,500 to 3,000 words

Resolution and Validation

Your character succeeded in solving the problem with their final attempt. This last scene wraps up the outcome of that resolution.

In the very end, provide a validation which tells the reader that the story is over.

30min

Set Your Timer and Start!

Keep writing for 30 minutes. This may not run a full 500 words, but be sure that you provide the reader with validation.

 

5 minutes | Take a Break

Take a Break

Final break before you dive in to finish up the story and submit it to an editor.

Get away from the computer!

5min

Set Your Timer and Start!

You've written the story! Take a final break before the last sprint.

 

30 minutes | Clean Up and Submission

Clean Up and Submission

Many writers struggle with this part of the process. The fear of sending out the story keeps them coming back at the story, editing it until they strip out anything original about the story.

Spell check. Go back and fix anything that you noticed that needs quick corrections. Make sure you use proper manuscript format.

Then send it out to a market!

30min

Set Your Timer and Start!

Right now, this is the hardest part of the challenge. Don't hesitate. Submit the story. If it makes you feel better, take another look at it if it comes back, but submit it before your time is up!

 

Conclusion

Conclusion

Congratulations on getting through the challenge!

You've written a complete ~3,000-word short story in 4 hours, cleaned up the manuscript, and submitted it to an editor. Great job!

I'm sure that there are questions. I've answered a few below, ask more in the comments!

240min

Questions

What if I want to write a story shorter or longer than 3,000 words?

Great! Go for it. The challenge isn't meant to suggest that a story needs to be that length, or that it needs to be written in 4 hours! It's a challenge meant to help writers overcome blocks that prevent them from completing a short story and sending it out to editors.

I can't send my story out without spending more time editing it!

You can. You're afraid to send it out but I doubt anyone is preventing you from doing so. If you completed the challenge trust yourself and send it out. Nothing terrible will happen. If it doesn't get accepted you can look at it again with more distance.

Quadrangle

Don’t Talk to Me About Ideas

Where do you get your ideas for stories? Do they come in the mail along with other assorted junk destined for landfills? Or maybe the muse's breath tickles the fine hairs on your neck with whispered inspiration? I've heard that some ideas are inhaled on the misty vapors of a hot shower. A man I knew in New York swore that he got his best ideas while eating big, crisp, dill pickles as long as his hand.

Don't Go Hunting for Ideas—Target Characters Instead

Ideas don't matter. An idea isn't a story. Here's an idea:

An asteroid hits the Earth.

It's happened before and it will happen again. Arthur C. Clarke used it in the opening of his classic book Rendezvous With Rama. Other writers have created numerous other tales about impact events in books and movies. It's an old, well-used idea. Does that mean you can't use it? Of course not!

Just decide who you want to write about because it's their story that matters.

Compare Seeking a Friend for the End of the World with Armageddon. Very different takes on the idea because the characters are different! The story emerges from the character.

Pick on Your Characters—It's Your Job

Characters exist somewhere, in a place. And they exist in some sort of situation. They have a life that exists before the first page of your story. That situation or problem may not (probably isn't) the main problem of the story. It could be related. Unfortunately for your character, things are about to get much worse. Almost as if there is someone deliberately making things hard for them. Oh, wait, there is! We don't read stories about characters where everything goes terrifically well all the time for the character. Things get worse for the character. They try to solve one problem and fail. That ‘try-fail' cycle repeats. Each time they do their best but things keep getting worse until they either succeed or fail for the last time.

Damon Knight describes the Quadrangle: Character, Setting, Situation, and Emotion in his book Creating Short Fiction: The Classic Guide to Writing Short Fiction.

Story Quadrangle described by Damon Knight

I like this visualization of the concept. It neatly captures the character, situation, setting and adds an important factor—emotion into the mix. He explores each of these factors (and much more) in his book. It's well worth reading!

Where do you get your ideas?

What do you turn to for ideas? Do you agree that ideas don't matter? Let me know in the comments!