Exercise #4: Creating a Nontraditional Narrative

There is a literary theory that posits that story is what happens inside the mind of the reader.  Storytellers provide details and guide the story, but in the end the audience is the one that really connections the details to weave a story.

georgeYou think Martin likes to kill characters?  Wait until you read this story from Papa Hemingway.

Ernest Hemingway was a master of this type of story.  His most infamous list story is a mere 6 words long, but the details push the reader into create a sad story from these details.  For sale: baby shoes, never worn

baby shoes

Objective: Create a story using non-traditional narrative via the list story method.


  1. Set your kitchen timer for fifteen minutes.
  2. Ponder a basic plot scenario.  Avoid thinking about the rise of action in the plot.
  3. Write down as many details about that scenario.
  4. Once the timer is set, organize the details and see if the details themselves can tell a story to an unexpected reader.


I’ve used this exercise a number of times.  I have two examples for you to review.

“Tender Morsel” and it sold to Daily Bites of Flesh 2011: 365 Days of Horrifying Flash Fiction (Pill Hill Press, November 2010).  You can read it here. (Trigger warning: this story is foul and the weak of heart should not read this.)

I also wrote “Memo to the Prosecution”.  You can read it here.  This story used the example in the details from the list story in the format of a lawyer’s letter.


Something about this exercise makes me thing of serial killers.  My wife Lisa wrote a fanatic story about an evil Queen in a fairy tale that collected toys from all of the step-children that she murdered.  Take a look at the details you have generated.  Can you turn that into a list story?  It can be complex like Hemingway’s baby shoes story or it can be something complex as you can imagine.  The trick is getting at those details that inform the story you want to create in your audience’s mind.

This exercise was inspired by something I read in What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter.  I highly recommend it.

Did you enjoy this exercise?  Trying another one on the Creative Writing Exercises page.

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