Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Guest Post: Liberty Hall, Writing a Story in 90 Minutes

Today we have a special guest post from Lee Hallison about Liberty Hall, a writer's community where prompts are given and members write a story in under 90 minutes! If you're ever in need of your weekly (or monthly) W1S1 story idea, Liberty Hall is a great place to check out.

Without further ado, here's Lee:

Imagine Writing A Story in 90 Minutes!

Is it possible to create interesting characters and a plot arc in only 90 minutes? It takes practice, but can be done. Since August 2010, I have participated in flash challenges every weekend at Liberty Hall, a SFF-writer's website. I can now draft a story in 90 minutes –a great help in meeting my W1S1 goals.

How does it work? For each challenge, two prompts go up. Writers have all weekend to trigger them – but once they do, a timer starts. Using one or both of the prompts, each writer must submit a story within 90 minutes. On Monday, the stories are posted, critiqued by participants, and aspects of each story are voted on. No names – unless you'd like to 'fess up afterward (there's an optional guessing frenzy).

Every year, writers are successful with the stories they start at Liberty Hall. Mary Robinette Kowal's Evil Robot Monkey (a Hugo nominee) began as a Liberty Hall flash. Hugo, Sturgeon and Locus award nominee (and recent Nebula winner) Aliette deBodard had many Liberty Hall stories published, as did Nebula nominee Tom Crosshill. Regulars Damon Shaw, Michael Haynes, C.L. Holland, Pamela Wallace and yours truly have polished up quite a few flash challenges for ultimate publication. W1S1's Stephen Ramey has also been spotted at Liberty Hall.

  • Prompts can be photos, lines from songs or random phrases. A recent challenge offered either the phrase "finding the missing piece" or a photograph of a hand holding an oil lantern. Vintage photographs, fantastical designs, or poetry excerpts about important human themes often trigger clever or emotionally meaningful flashes.
  • Critiquing first drafts is fast and simple: did the writer manage a full story arc, and/or did the writer intrigue you with an idea or a character, or is there something to polish? People often critique their own story too, both for the discipline and to mask their story.

Writing flash under time pressure has taught me to not freeze up when looking at a blank screen – I can write something. I've learned how to spin off from prompts that don't immediately trigger a story, and doing the flash challenge week after week has significantly sped up my writing. Seeing other people's first drafts has given me both an appreciation for those people who can draft well, and an understanding that it is OK to have a first draft that, well, basically sucks. Receiving and giving crits when you know everyone only had 90 minutes (90 minutes!!) is relatively painless. If you don't enjoy speculative fiction, there is a sister site for literary efforts – but we do see lit stories at LH, and no one minds.

The group also does occasional short story challenges (over a 2 week period) where the critting is more in depth, and polish challenges, for stories almost ready for publication.

But the flash challenges are unique and fun, and give you great practice in creating story arcs. The site's owner, Mike Munsil (who hosts for free), asks that new members have a sponsor. If you're interested, please email libertyhallwriters AT gmail DOT com and let them know you are a participant at Write1Sub1, and someone will arrange a sponsor for you. Once you begin flashing with us, you will find it well worth your time.


  1. Tweeted and shared!

  2. In a bit of fortuitous timing, I can proudly brag... errr... testify to the fun and profit of doing the Liberty Hall challenges. My Liberty Hall story "An Alien Named Tim" (from one of my first Flash Challenges, as I recall) sold to Nature and is online as of this afternoon!

  3. Very fun story, Michael! And a great market - hurray!

  4. It's a great site (and congrats, Michael).

  5. That's a fantastic scheme - I'm not sure I ever get 90 minutes free at one stretch in a typical weekend, but I just might try...