The Great Substack Story Challenge
This should be interesting. Not necessarily in the usual way.
I am participating in the Great Substack Story Challenge. Thirteen writers. One story. No plan.
The first writer will start from a prompt and write the first chapter. The other writers won’t see the chapter until it is published. It is then up to the next writer to advance the story. There is no outline, no agreed upon genre or plot. It is up to each of us to develop the story and hand it on to the next writer. The aim is to produce a coherent story that people will actually like to read.
Wish us luck. Or watch in fascination to see if we crash and burn. Your choice!
The list of writers has been determined by random draw. Here it is:
To get the story from the beginning, start by subscribing to Arjun Agarwal’s newsletter before May 21. Then subscribe to each of the others in turn (links here). (You can always unsubscribe later, but you might find some newsletters you like.)
Here is what I find interesting about this challenge. Stories have a structure. It’s not a rigid thing, but the story overall is not going to work unless each of us does what is needed to lead the story through a satisfying arc of rising tension, climax, and resolution. For this to work, we not only have to take what we have been given and make up more stuff, we have to be conscious of the overall development of the story.
Going second, it is pretty clear what I have to do. I have to take the situation and characters set up by Arjun Agarwal and begin to develop them, creating lines of tension and conflict.
Someone from Jackie Dana through Nick Mazmanian is going to have to bring the protagonist to their mirror moment, the moment in a story where the character asks themselves fundamental questions about who they are. Somewhere between Adrian Conway and Alex S. Garcia we are going to need a climactic conflict that tests the character’s resolve. And then Megan Voulo is going to have to tie up the lose ends and Geoffrey Golden is going to have to bring it all to a satisfying conclusion.
At least, if it turns out to be that kind of story. Maybe it won’t be. Maybe Arjun Agarwal will set it off in a different direction. I will still have some influence over its direction, but Anthony Lora and Mark Starlin will have to take the early direction we set and develop it in a way that will set it on a path to the central crisis.
And we are going to have to do this without any kind of planning or advanced notice.
It is an exercise in craft and invention, and in working quickly and decisively. It should be fun to watch.