Bonus episode today! Instead of sharing a new story, Susan is sharing her thoughts on the stories she told in episodes 21 to 24.
Check back for new stories every Tuesday. Every fifth episode (like this one) will offer bonus commentary on the previous 4 stories. To avoid spoilers, listen to those story episodes before this one!
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.
Below is the transcript for Season 1, Episode 25 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. In this bonus episode, I’ll be sharing thoughts on episodes 21 through 24 of Freely Written.
To avoid spoilers, you may want to listen to those episodes first.
Here we are with another bonus commentary episode. I like sharing a few thoughts about the stories in previous episodes, but I also find myself repeating one shared element in all of these stories: I have very little idea where they will go when I start writing.
That’s the beauty of free-writing. There’s a subconscious element involved when you just let the words pour out without a lot of direction. That being said, I’ve also been writing long enough, that I can also consciously shape the story a bit as the thoughts come out.
It feels sort of like herding cats. I let the ideas loose, then try to corral them into some semblance of direction and nudge them toward a place that feels like an endpoint.
It’s a very different process than the careful outlining and research I use when writing my novels. Though, when I stop to think about it, there is an element of free-writing in my novel-writing process as well. The difference is in having an outline with plot points I’m trying to hit… which is a pretty big difference to writing from a prompt with no goal… but there are still times when the characters in my novels lead me in unexpected directions and I end up changing my outline to fit the growth that came more organically while I was writing.
I recently attended my first public event since before the pandemic. – Shout out to Comic Logic’s Lot Con 2021! – It was great to meet readers in person again, even if it was outdoors on a very hot July day!
One of the people I talked to asked if I’m a “pantser” or a “plotter” when I write. If you don’t know, a pantser has a more improv approach, writing by the seat of her pants, while a plotter plans out every detail.
The question threw me because I never think of myself in those terms. To me, writing is an organic blend of both improv and planning. At least when I’m writing a book. I need a basic outline to guide my story, and I need improv to let my characters breathe.
Yet, I think what I love about the short stories for this podcast is the freedom in letting go of the bigger picture and simply letting the improv take charge. I don’t think I could do that for a novel, but it’s fun for a small piece of fiction.
That being said, let’s get on to some specifics about episodes 21 through 24…
Episode 21, Unicorns and Rainbows, was inspired by a mini bubble wand that happened to be sitting on my desk. The bubble wand is purple with a cap that has a picture of a unicorn with a rainbow mane and tail. When I caught sight of it, my brain immediately thought “unicorns and rainbows.
It’s a fun prompt because it’s a phrase that’s become a sort of modern idiom for something happy, sunny, or cheery. Like, I might say, “It was hard to stay in a bad mood when Sarah was all unicorns and rainbows.”
I could have used the prompt that way, maybe taking it further to write about someone who was sickeningly upbeat, but it seemed more fun to go with actual unicorns and rainbows. Unicorns belong in the realm of fantasy, so it made sense that they’d be part of a rainbow farm. Well… it made sense in my mind, hopefully in yours, too!
This story feels a bit dreamy to me. I didn’t want to take away from that with a complicated storyline, so I focused more on describing the setting. Since something had to happen, I wrote in a new unicorn on Arwyn’s rainbow farm and a glimpse of what it’s like to harvest rainbows.
I really like the idea of there being no physical boundaries on the farm and no set ownership of the unicorns. Actually, I like the whole idea of Arwyn’s rainbow farm and would love to visit it myself someday! If only I could…
The prompt for Episode 22, Weak in the Knees, doesn’t have a particularly interesting origin. It was just the first phrase that came to mind when I thought of common expressions. And then my mind went blank.
Usually, story ideas come to me quickly, but sometimes—like this time—I just had nothing coming to mind. When that happens with a writing prompt, I tend to go literal. What literally happens when a person’s knees go weak? Well, if their knees are weak enough, they’d fall to the floor. And that thought got my fingers typing.
It seemed a little on the nose to have a story about someone going “weak in the knees” over a crush, but I also liked sticking with that obvious point because I think collapsing at the sight of a crush is more of a Hollywood thing, not something that happens in real life.
Or, at least, not something that happens often. But I do think people frequently do embarrassing things when they’re around a crush, which makes this a silly but relatable story.
Speaking of embarrassing moments, have you ever seen party games or conversation starters where everyone’s asked to share an embarrassing moment? That seems so ridiculous to me. Sometimes sharing an embarrassing moment with a close friend helps to get over it, but do you really want to trot those stories out at parties?
If you find yourself in one of those moments, I vote for making up a silly story instead. Or just use this Weak in the Knees story as your own. I won’t tell on you!
For episode 23, Spaghetti and Meatballs, I think I just had food on my mind. It was one of those days when spaghetti and meatballs was sounding like the perfect comfort food. But… I have some food allergies and issues, so that dish is a bit different these days than when I was a kid.
Food issues are something I’ve managed my whole life. I do think it’s gotten somewhat easier as people have become more aware of food allergies and how food can affect various medical conditions. But it’s still a pain to navigate, and I often wonder what it would be like to be able to eat anything I want without getting sick.
In this story, I wanted to show a couple planning a dinner party and having to modify for their guests. That’s all I knew going in, but I like the supportive dad angle that came up as I wrote. I think it can be hard for people who want to accommodate food limitations but aren’t sure how to handle it. I like this dad’s swing from casual acceptance to overthinking and panic.
Food is complicated in our society, especially when it comes to inviting people over for a meal. For many people, sharing food is their love language, and I think it can be really uncomfortable when that way of expressing love is limited by accommodating food allergies and sensitivities.
For what it’s worth, I think the best thing anyone can do for someone with a limited diet is to focus on the non-food part of a social gathering. Let them tell you what they can or can’t eat, or if they would prefer to bring their own food. If you can’t show hospitality through food, you can show it through acceptance and saying their company is what’s important to you.
Episode 24, Muffin a Month, is pretty bizarre. I guess it’s a good example of an improv story that veers into a strange and unexpected place. The prompt came from seeing a random ad for an actual Muffin a Month Club. I thought it would be funny to use that phrase as a prompt and have the “muffins” in the club turn out to be something other than actual muffins.
That was my only thought when I started typing, so I launched with a phone call where the conversation could be vague enough to fit any kind of twist. I did think Muffin is an obvious dog name so maybe that would work into the story.
Early on, I thought it might be a service that rented cute dogs for single people to use to meet potential dates in the park. Which is why I had Derek think the call was from a woman he met in the park while talking about dog groomers. But that seemed a little too simple.
As I made Derek more nervous about someone overhearing his conversation, I decided it would be weirder to make it about a no-commitment service for getting a new puppy each month, all conveniently named Muffin. It seemed like a rather shallow person would sign up for something like that, so it was fitting that Derek would cancel when the puppies that showed up were not as cute as he expected.
But as I wrote into that idea, I felt bad about there being a company that would offer that service, so I tried to flip it again into a dog fostering service that used quirky advertising. Honestly, I’m not sure how well this one landed. But that’s what happens with free-writing, sometimes the stories get away from you.
I guess that pretty well covers my thoughts on episodes 21 through 24.
Thanks for listening each week or whenever you get a chance to pop in. By nature, Freely Written offers short stories in a wide range of styles. Hopefully, you enjoy these bits of fiction and are maybe even inspired to write some of your own.
I’m happy to use your suggestions for writing prompts. You can contact me through social media or my website, SusanQuilty.com. If you’re looking for a new book, please check out my novels, and if you want to offer more support, you can also subscribe to my Patreon page.
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]