Bonus episode today! Instead of sharing a new story, Susan is sharing her thoughts on the stories she told in episodes 26 to 29.
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 30 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 talking about the stories I wrote for episodes 26 through 29.
To avoid spoilers, you may want to listen to those episodes before this one.
And here we go… This batch of stories all have one thing in common: each of their prompts came from one of my friends. Which is fabulous!
As I’ve explained before, when I don’t have suggestions from others, I find prompts myself in a number of random ways. That can be fun, too, but I really like it when I can riff off somebody else’s prompt. It feels a little more challenging, and, more importantly, it brings more interaction between me and my listeners.
Now, some friends have told me they don’t know how to pick a “good” writing prompt. If you worry about that, too, I promise it’s not as hard as you think.
Basically, I’m looking for any word or short phrase, keeping in mind that this is a family-friendly podcast (or perhaps PG-13). It could be a favorite saying or just a word you like. You could close your eyes, turn your head, and name the first thing you see when you open your eyes. (That’s one of my typical ways of choosing a random prompt.)
Beyond vulgarity, the other thing I’d avoid using is a brand name or trademarked phrase. Simply to avoid any legal complications. Otherwise, I’m open to using pretty much any word or phrase, and I’d certainly give you a shout-out for suggesting it.
Enough about that, let’s move on to some inside info for episodes 26 through 29.
Episode 26, It’s Soggy Out, pulls from three different sources. First, I needed a writing prompt, and I didn’t feel like choosing one at random, so, I texted a couple of friends and begged for suggestions.
My friend Jen Pool was the first to respond, telling me she has a friend whose kid says “it’s soggy out” whenever it’s humid or foggy. She thought that was cute—and I agreed!
That gave me my writing prompt, but I still had to decide where to take the story…
Luckily, I’d recently been on a wooded wander with some friends at a nearby reservoir. It had been a beautiful morning with perfect weather. Instead of being “soggy out,” it was pleasantly mild with a cloudy sky and gentle breeze.
We’d spent some time sitting on rocks by the reservoir and were really taken by the pond skaters skimming the surface of the water. Though the weather didn’t quite fit, I really wanted to write that setting into the story.
The last piece I needed was characters to live in that setting. Using a parent and child seemed too close to the actual source of the prompt, so I opted for friends who might argue over whether “It’s soggy out” is a well-known phrase.
And that was my third bit of inspiration: I decided to bring in the best friends from my choose-your-ending book, Audrey and Esther Geekify Greenville. Knowing Audrey and Esther’s vibe, the rest of the story tumbled out from there.
My plea for suggestions also brought me the prompt for Episode 27, Squirrelly. Knowing I was looking for ideas, my friend Wendy McMullan sent me this prompt along with a video. The video was of a squirrel playing with a small stick the way a dog might. It was tossing the stick and rolling around to catch it, then starting over again.
Wendy saw the squirrel playing and thought it could inspire something fun. She was right!
If you haven’t listened to Squirrelly yet, it’s set in a community council meeting. Spoiler alert: as the story unfolds, it soon becomes clear that this community is a meeting of squirrels. The squirrels are gathered because their community council is concerned that too many squirrels are forgetting how to be traditionally squirrelly.
I’ll admit, I giggled to myself a lot while writing this story. It’s silly and gave me a chance to hint at some of my favorite YouTube videos: squirrels overcoming obstacles to get to bird feeders and other treats. If you haven’t seen Mark Rober’s squirrel mazes, look them up on YouTube! His recent design—“Backyard Squirrel Maze 2.0 – The Walnut Heist”—is amazing!
Though this is mostly a silly story, I tried to pull it together with a subtle (or not so subtle?) message of balancing tradition with progress so a community can evolve, and individuals can thrive. Also… Squirrels.
The prompt for Episode 28, Hurkle-Durkle, also came from a friend, though more indirectly. While scrolling through Facebook one day, I saw my friend Jenn Brown had posted a meme with the definition of “hurkle-durkling,” which, apparently, is an old Scottish term for lounging in bed after it’s time to be up.
I instantly knew I’d found my next writing prompt! Partly because it’s so fun to say hurkle-durkle, and partly because I’m so very good at hurkle-durkling.
Before I started writing, I did take a minute to google the term and find a few more sources confirming its meaning. It seemed legit to me, so I dove in.
This story is pretty straight-forward. Sam is a teenager who’s lounging in bed mid-morning when he hears the term hurkle-durkle from his frazzled mom. When he learns its meaning, he does what I wanted to do when I learned it… he lounges in bed some more!
Of course, all good things come to an end eventually. I wasn’t sure how to bring Sam’s story to an end, so I wrote my way toward it with a text from a friend and an invite that would tempt him out of bed. As I typed, Sam (and I) stumbled into a bit of daydreaming that made the hurkle-durkle lose some of its charm!
Though only in that moment… I’m quite happy to hurkle-durkle any morning. Though I might be careful about how I use that phrase in casual conversation.
The prompt for episode 29, Ball Jar, came from my friend Gretchen Schutte. While chatting during a coffee date, Gretchen was telling me about a recent trip and the tomato plants she’d brought home. Suddenly, she interrupted herself to excitedly say, “Ball jar!” It took me a second to realize she was suggesting a writing prompt, and we had a good laugh over it.
Ball jar is a great prompt. It’s both a familiar term and a funny one—especially if you don’t know that a Ball jar is a glass mason jar used for canning.
Although, coming up with a story for a great prompt can still be tough. Partially because my mind quickly split between several options. Friends laughing over Ball jars during a canning lesson... A magical store where bouncing balls grow in Ball jars… A child who stores her high-bounce ball collection in a Ball jar…
So many possibilities. I try not to spend too much time planning these stories, so, after a few minutes, I forced myself to just start typing. I had a vague idea of pulling some of those first ideas into one story, and it kind of worked out that way.
Though, by the end, I did feel like I was rushing to wrap it up. If this were a planned story—instead of a bit of improv—I would have either paced it differently or let the story be longer.
I really wanted more conversation between Alicia, her mom, and grandma around the balance of reality and imagination. But I also could see my page count growing and I do try to keep these stories to around 10 minutes, give or take a couple of minutes.
That’s the tough part of freewriting. While it is a “free” approach in the sense of not planning, it also adds constraints since I’m sticking with the stories as written and only lightly editing for things like typos or misworded phrases.
Still, for an improvised piece, this story came out fairly well.
Okay, I think that wraps up my thoughts on episodes 26 through 29.
Thanks for joining me for this bonus commentary and for choosing Freely Written whenever you have time for a short story break. As you can see, I love getting writing prompts from other people. Please reach out if you have an idea!
You can contact me through social media or my website, SusanQuilty.com. Beyond enjoying these quick stories, you can check out my novels in both paperback and ebook editions. You can also support me—and get exclusive content—through 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]