Short Story Writing Challenge 2018

Followers of my Facebook page will know that I have signed up to write 12 short stories this year as part of a short story writing challenge. You can find out more about the challenge here. I’ve written a few short stories but I’ve never really felt like I’ve cracked the art of writing them so I decided to sign up to this challenge to make myself do it, and hopefully, get better at it as the year progresses. When I’ve finished, I will then have 12 stories to publish together in an ebook, which will be an added bonus!

The first story came out on Wednesday last week, 24th January. The prompt this month was ‘The Bridge’ and the limit was 1200 words. You can write in any genre. Being a musical kind of person, I went for a musical link to that prompt. I asked people on my Facebook page to see if they could guess what I’d written about and it turns out that they know me quite well! Most people guessed that I’d choose something musical and some even said I’d write about the bridge in a piece of music. No-one knew though that the bridge in songwriting terms can also be referred to as the Middle Eight, meaning the middle eight bars that link back to the original verse/chorus style. Often they’re unsung but not always. You can look at pretty much any song by The Beatles for a good example of how this works.

When we post our story for this challenge, the idea is that we comment on four other stories so by return, I have had a good bit of feedback on mine so far. This month, I’m going to post my whole story here for you to read. I won’t do this every month because I’d like to keep a few back for when I publish but I would really welcome your comments on this first story to see if I can improve it. Remember that fulfilling the story arc in just 1200 words is not as easy as it sounds! And next month, we have only 1000 😉 Thanks for reading and good luck with your short story writing too 🙂 Until next time.

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Middle Eight by Julie Stock (All Copyright Reserved)

Josie stared at her notepad willing inspiration to strike so she could finish the final eight bars of her song. She’d been staring at the paper for several hours now and she still had nothing to go with, not a single note, let alone a bar. She threw the pad down on the table in front of her and stood up, stretching out the kinks that had developed in her neck as a result of sitting in the same position since lunchtime – hunched over with her hand poised above the page for when the first seed of an idea appeared.

She made her way to her kitchenette, realising she hadn’t had a drink for hours which might explain why she was so parched. She poured herself a long, tall glass of water from the fridge and downed it in one. It was a steamy hot summer’s day and she’d been stupid not to rehydrate herself throughout the afternoon. That was the last thing she needed when she was due in the recording studio first thing tomorrow to start laying down the tracks for her new album.

She’d never experienced a block like this before. She’d written a catchy chorus and several verses which told her story so well but she just couldn’t find the contrast she needed for the eight bars that would make up the bridge. She wanted lyrics as well as chords, and she had some minor chords in mind but she simply couldn’t find the words to say what was on her mind. She usually had no problem deepening the emotional impact of her songs in those middle eight bars; in fact, she thrived on it. But she was starting to worry she might be losing her touch. She looked wistfully at her battered old acoustic guitar. She loved it like a member of her own family. It had seen her through all the good times, as well as the bad. But today the magic was missing.

She decided to go out for  some air. Maybe she just needed some time to think away from her notepad, her guitar and the confines of her small apartment. She picked up her purse and keys, slipped on her sunglasses and headed out.

She made her way down to the river bank, her favourite place to think when she was struggling musically. She sat down on the parched grass and stared out at the water bubbling over the rocks on the river bed. The flow of the water soothed her spirit and her eyelids began to droop as the calm washed over her. She lay back on the grass, looking up at the cloudless sky – such a beautiful day. In no time she was asleep. The next thing she knew, something wet was nudging her arm and as she came to, shielding her eyes from the afternoon sun, she saw a small dog had appeared next to her.

‘Hey, where’d you come from?’ She reached out her hand and the dog sniffed it and gave her a lick, encouraging her to stroke his sleek, red coat.

‘Brandy! Where’ve you gone, boy?’

A man emerged from behind a tree and stopped in front of her. His intense, dark-brown eyes appraised her and she didn’t know what to make of his scrutiny.

‘Hi there. Is this your dog?’ She went for the friendly stranger approach, rather than ‘I was about to kidnap your dog and you caught me.’

’Sure is, I’m sorry he bothered you.’ The man smiled revealing a set of almost startling white teeth.

‘No bother, he’s lovely. Brandy, was it?’

‘Yep, not very original, I’m afraid.’ They both laughed then. ‘Well, I’ll let you get back to your day. Bye.’

Josie watched as he went on his way with his energetic little dog, and she missed them at once. She stood up and brushed the grass off her dress. She needed to get back and she wasn’t sure she had found any more inspiration down at the riverside. The air grew heavy as she made her way home, a sure sign that rain was on the way. As she approached her apartment block, she felt the first raindrop and picked up speed to avoid getting drenched when the inevitable downpour came. She ran the last few yards but when the raindrops fell, it was so refreshing to feel the water on her skin that she stopped, allowing the rain to soak into her. She turned her face up to the now overcast sky and gave herself to the elements.

Josie was up early and into the recording studio long before she expected anyone else to be there. She’d brought her guitar with her so she could do her final practice on her own. By the time the sound engineers and the rest of the band turned up, she was more than ready to start laying down the tracks for her album.

‘Hey, Josie, how’s it going?’ Her manager, Brad, was the most positive person she’d ever met and whatever her mood, he was always upbeat.

‘I’m so good today, you won’t believe it when you hear,’ she replied with a conspiratorial grin.

‘D’you finish that final song you’ve been struggling with?’

‘Sure did.’

‘Well, I can’t wait to hear it.’

The morning passed quickly as they laid down the songs telling the story of her life. By lunchtime, Josie was tired but happy with the progress they’d made. She went to speak to Jed, the chief sound engineer, to see what he thought of what they’d done so far.

‘You should be real proud, Josie. You sound fantastic out there. I don’t say this to many but yours is one of the best début albums I’ve ever heard.’

She blushed at Jed’s praise knowing she must have really earned it for him to speak so highly of her work. She touched him lightly on the arm to convey her thanks, and went back to the live room to lay down the final tracks. They’d made a conscious decision to go with the first take of each track without revising it at this stage. They’d listen back to the album as a whole before deciding whether to make any changes.

It was finally time to sing the final track, the one she’d struggled with for so many days – until she’d met Brandy. She’d been so hung up on finding the right words for her middle eight but as Brandy had come bounding into view, the burbling river providing the backdrop to her story, she’d realised that words weren’t necessary. Her guitar did the rest, and although it had taken her most of the previous night to note it down, she’d known in her heart that she’d cracked it. She only hoped Brad agreed with her. As she played the last note, she looked up into his eyes. When he didn’t give any indication of his feelings, she glanced over at Jed, before looking round at the rest of the band. Silence. Silence, followed by rapturous applause.

‘That one’s a winner, Josie. For sure.’ Brad beamed at her and so did everyone else. If only Brandy could see her now.