Writing a story in 15 minutes (or less)

The criteria given for my writing task. Eek!
The criteria given for my writing task. Eek!

At my writing group this week we had a unique challenge presented to us. We were to create a piece of short fiction with a specific format & theme, and five words that must be included. Melanie gave me the criteria on the left. And all this in 15 minutes or less – it’s like the 48hour Film Fest all over again, and left me realising that I’m capable of more than I thought I was. Awesome feeling.

Umm, why? You see, we are hosting a table at the West Auckland Books & Writers Festival (September 7th, for anyone in Auckland who can make it), and we our selling our souls stories – on demand.

Customers will have control over some aspects of the story (see the photo for more details), and then we’ll have about 15 minutes to get a story, poem, or something completely different out.

Usually, I have an idea and I get a bit of a brainstorm down. Then I run through ideas and scenarios in my head over the next few days (which may or may not include talking to myself in the car, supermarket and other public places), and revisit the brainstorm. I link up ideas, flesh them out, and explore a little. Back to my head to develop a beginning-middle-end, and it’s finally ready for paper.

There’s a whole bunch of edits happening as I write, then I type it up and change another lot of words, so by the time it’s on my computer it’s a week later and already been ‘edited’ three times!

Now, this just ain’t gonna happen in 15 minutes, which is why we were all super stressed and anxious and tense during the writing sesh. When we shared our pieces we had a good discussion about the difficulties of the challenge, and here are some of the solutions:

  • Brainstorm

    • Get all the ideas in your head down, not worrying about whether they’re wrong or right, then use them to refer back to as you’re writing. It’s like the camping version of a full-blown house plan.
  • Flowchart

    • Look at the keywords, and put them in order of how they might ‘happen’. For example, sitting in front of the FAN –> the SUNSHINE is beating down on the conservatory glass window–> has a hole in it from mum having a breakdown at her TUPPERWARE party –> chucking the CUCUMBER out the window –> the PYTHON came in.
  • Thesaurus

    • Have a thesaurus with you. Or an equivalent app, or Shift+F7 on Word. Whatever works, but when you can’t quite get the right word, a thesaurus is your best friend.
  • Good enough is good enough

    • The hardest thing to do is push through an idea you’re not 100% happy with, knowing you won’t have time to edit properly. If your piece is a story it needs an orientation, complication and resolution. If it has these it is good enough. If your piece is a poem it needs imagery, whether physical or emotional or something, and if it has this it is good enough.
  • Picture it

    • Get a really strong image of what you’re writing about – just one event or moment in time – and hold it in your head throughout the process. I think this was possibly the best advice shared that night, and important for all good writing.

What writing challenges have you done that have pushed your boundaries?

11 thoughts on “Writing a story in 15 minutes (or less)

  1. I second coffee!

    Something else that challenges me is being given a theme or a sentence and going from there.

    I also got some magnetic words recently after about ten years without some and separated out the nouns. I pick a couple at random and see if I can use the imagery.


    1. I love the idea of using the magnetic words, Trev. I taught 9-10 year old’s last year, and one of the creative writing tasks was along those lines.

      I printed out a bunch of nouns, laminated them, and they would pick out 3-4 in groups and come up with a narrative. I will look through my old teachery stuff and see if I’ve still got it somewhere.

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts, Trev 🙂


  2. Eke, I just don’t do well with challenges. Or deadlines for that matter. I had been in a critique group but couldn’t continue because of pressure. That being said, I’m doing better with prompts.


    1. Hey Glen. I have work that I like to do thoroughly at my own pace, too, like my novel.

      I’ve found the challenges from my online & offline writing groups great for kick-starting, exploring ideas I wouldn’t normally, and thus discovering new directions that my writing may take.

      Prompts are just a different kind of challenge 🙂 Did you find benefits to being in a critique group as well?


      1. Zee, I didn’t find much value in critique groups. What is often the problem are the critiquers have trouble critiquing what they have in front of them. There are always questions about what they haven’t read, which troubles someone like me because I write in small snippets. There were far too many questions that didn’t have answers because it wasn’t presented. CGs need to have strict rules I feel.


        1. Fair enough. I find that if I ask for a critique from a friend with a specific question that helps me, but it really depends on the group – we don’t all get along with everyone, especially for something as personal as writing. I’ve heard many say that critique groups just aren’t for them.

          I think the way that we are set up works for me. We don’t have to bring work in to critique, it’s more about creating and sharing, with some constructive criticism.


      1. I must admit… More often than not.. my brain can be found, or at least last seen, in the same place.. “at the bottom of a mug of coffee”. Truly enjoying your blog very much..!! 🙂 No, I’m not a writer by any means.. and what I work on is solely.. my survival. Physically & mentally..!! LoL http://mrcatsoe.wordpress.com/about/ Thank you so much for the follow.. 🙂


        1. Oh yeah, reading the about page would be useful lol – and if you write, you’re a writer. I enjoyed your piece about the humanness of your dog Gracie.


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