Today's story, Tell Me a Story, follows the life of a born storyteller
Today's prompt was pulled from thin air while setting aside time for writing break. What better topic for a short story than a look at how stories can give color and meaning to our lives?
More about Susan Quilty
Susan Quilty mainly writes novels, including two standalone novels and her current YA series: The Psychic Traveler Society. Susan's short stories for Freely Written are created during quick writing breaks and shared as a way to practice her narration skills before she dives into recording audio versions of her novels.
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Below is the transcript for Season 1, Episode 73 of Freely Written, a podcast by author Susan Quilty:
Welcome to Freely Written where a simple prompt leads to a little unplanned fiction.
[Light piano music]
Hi, friends! I’m Susan Quilty and today’s prompt is Tell Me a Story.
Today’s story is about telling stories… hmm… a little on the nose, but okay. This prompt just popped into my head when I was adding time to my schedule for podcast writing.
Clearly, I love impromptu, free-flowing stories since that’s what I do on this podcast. I sit down with a prompt and write whatever comes to mind, with no planning and very little editing, and then share that story with you.
It’s a great complement to my usual, novel-writing style, which is to spend months or even years carefully researching, outlining, writing, rewriting, editing, more rewriting, etc. before the book is finished.
Sometimes, it’s fun to let all of that go and just spin a tale and trust where the words will lead.
Here’s how that went this week:
Tell Me a Story
When Janice was a little girl, her parents told her bedtime stories. Sometimes they would read those stories from books. More often, they would make up stories of their own. The stories wandered over many topics. There were tiny elves that changed the numbers in her digital clock, dogs and cats that were the best of friends, and a funny little man who had adventures up on the moon.
Bedtime stories were a given, but stories flowed through many moments of Janice’s young life. When she was scared, bored, or couldn’t sleep, she would curl up with one of her parents and say, tell me a story. When they were hiking through the woods, she would hold her parents’ hands and say, tell me a story. The stories were a comfort, an entertainment, a treat.
As Janice grew up, she told stories of her own. Late night at a sleepover or sitting around a campfire, her friends were sure to say, tell us a story, and she would. In college, she told stories in dorm rooms or lounging in the quad. Sometimes, she’d even tell stories on stage at her favorite coffee house.
The stories were simple and sweet, fiendishly creepy, or clever and quirky. Whatever captured the mood.
Janice’s friends pushed her to write them down. To sell them to the world. But Janice didn’t think her stories were the kind to be bound in a book. They were living stories that breathed in the moment. The words passed through her lips but were pulled from the air surrounding her listeners. They were shaped by bright eyes and eager smiles, bitten lips, or gathering tears.
Her stories were never told the same way twice. They shifted with each retelling. Dropping a description here, adding a character there. They evolved as she grew into an independent adult.
And then her stories fizzled to a stop. There wasn’t time for stories at the office. Not the stories Janice told. There were anecdotes swapped over coffee. Facts, sometimes embellished, about the experiences her colleagues actually had in the world. No space for talking garden gnomes or nearsighted unicorns.
Janice adapted to her new surroundings. The grown-up world where stories were for kids. It happened gradually, naturally, and she told herself it was part of being an adult. She went to work and did her job. Writing reports and taking notes in meetings.
She did well at her job. She went to lunch with coworkers and kept up with office gossip. She didn’t notice when the light went out behind her eyes.
On her first date with Greg, Janice traded the getting-to-know-you niceties. They sipped wine over dinner and shared the highlights of their lives. It was a repeat of every other first date, but with something different. Something Janice couldn’t quite explain.
They went for a walk through a park after dinner. Shoulders nearly brushing, hands swinging temptingly close. The moon was nearly full. The air was crisp and dry, catching the scent of fallen leaves. Soft lights glowed along the path and spiraled through occasional trees.
Their talking faded to a comfortable silence. Their feet crunched on the stone path.
Very softly, Janice said, tell me a story.
Greg smiled and said, “There once was a beautiful princess who went to dinner with a witty and somewhat handsome prince. The prince was nervous before the date but was so charmed by the clever princess that he felt entirely at ease as they took a walk through a wooden glen. Unfortunately, the trolls had been waiting for his defenses to be down and chose that moment to attack!”
His story spun on, relating a fearsome battle where the princess proved to be as brave as she was beautiful. They fought the trolls using ingeniously improvised—and rather silly—weapons and celebrated their victory with flagons of mead.
By the time the tale had ended, they were holding hands and sitting close on an iron bench. There was a soft light gently gleaming in Janice’s eyes.
On the night of their wedding, as they glided around the dance floor, Greg held Janice close and said, tell me a story.
Janice smiled and conjured fairies that would meet them at the airport, asking their help on a special mission that would begin as soon as they landed in Paris. But the fairies didn’t know the trolls were already waiting for them on the plane.
Greg twirled her, with a smile toward the photographer, then pulled her even closer to hear how they would foil the trolls and save their fairy friends.
A few years later, their daughter’s birth didn’t go as planned. As she was monitored by doctors and nurses, Greg sat by Janice’s bed and held her weak, trembling hand. He began to tell her a story about a wood nymph and a magic golden apple, but Janice stopped him, saying, “Not now. Not yet. Not until you can tell us both.”
In the early years of their daughter’s life, Greg and Janice told her many stories. Stories to help her fall asleep. Stories when she skinned her knee, waited for dinner, or had a friend over to play. They taught her to tell stories to her baby brother, and the stories multiplied as their family grew.
When the car was unpacked, and the goodbyes were said, Janice walked out of her daughter’s dorm room, watching her husband and son walk a few steps ahead. The air was sweet with fresh cut grass. The sun was glinting off pale brick.
Greg turned back, waiting for Janice to catch up. Their son ambled along, his eyes on his phone, texting a friend.
Janice held Greg’s hand and looked up at his smiling face. Tell me a story, she said, as they moved toward their parked car and a new phase in their lives.
“There once was a beautiful young princess,” he said. “She grew up with two loving parents and a brother who was sometimes annoying and other times her best friend. Their family told many stories during her life. About fairies and trolls, talking mushrooms, robot dogs, and so much more. Until one day, the young princess had heard all the stories. So, she went on an adventure to find more stories of her own.”
“And she comes back to share the stories with her family?” Janice asked, hearing the tremble in her voice.
“She comes back to share the stories,” Greg agreed. Then added, “Most of the stories. Some of the stories were better kept to herself, because we all have stories we share and stories we keep, and going out on adventures is the best way to find whole new crops of stories.”
Janice thought about that as neared the car. She watched their son climb into the backseat and thought of their daughter back in her dorm. She looked at Greg, remembering a first date, a first dance, too many firsts to count.
“That’s a good story,” she said. And Greg agreed.
Thanks for listening. If you enjoy the stories here on Freely Written, please share them with your friends! You can also write a review wherever you listen to podcasts and connect with me through social media.
To learn about my novels, please visit my website: SusanQuilty.com. You can also support me and get some bonus content through Patreon.com/SusanQuilty. Links are in the show notes.
Until next time, try a little free writing of your own. Let go of any planning and see where your imagination takes you.
[Light piano music]