Starting From Scratch: The Clown Challenge

NEWSFLASH: This weekend I will be at Geek Girl Con in Seattle. My publisher (Hydra House) has a booth (#309) and I will be presenting “Imaginary Worlds for Kids” in Rm LL3 Sat at 11 AM & Sun at 3 PM and doing a signing Sat at noon wherever signings are. Probably by the book tables.

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Up for the Clown Challenge? Where do I Start?


I love a good challenge. Especially a writing challenge. I’ve completed NaNoWriMo twice, dozens of “10 day challenges” (writing a short screenplay, short story, or poem each day for 10 days), or doing themed challenges. It’s how I wrote my first (and only) literary zombie story. I saw a challenge. I saw a way to push myself in a new and unexpected direction.

While I was procrastinating researching today, I found a journal I was unfamiliar with:

This speculative fiction journal focuses on some odd and interesting topics/themes: entomology, cryptography, and a rotating 3rd theme. For the next issue: Coulrophobia.

Coulrophobia is the abnormal fear of clowns. Which instantly reminds me of Poltergeist, a movie I loved as a kid.


I know many people dislike clowns, who find them sad or creepy, but I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone with true coulrophobia. I immediately decided I needed to jump on this one. Why? It gives me an excuse to do something I wouldn’t have done otherwise. 

According to the Unlikely guidelines:

… open to anything involving clowns in some significant way … think Sacred Clowns and Holy Fools. Horror, humor, existential angst, and tears of, we’re open to all that and more, in any combination. Heck, why not see how many different genres you can fit into a piece of flash fiction?

As if that didn’t sound like challenge enough, a recent tweet from the magazine mentioned that ALL submissions so far had been from men. They need more women to submit. How could I pass that up?

It’s a flash fiction issue (1038 words max) and the deadline is Nov 1.

So, how does one go about facing such a challenge? Here’s ONE way:

Your Workout:

Even if you’re not interested in writing about clowns, you can still use this workout to begin a story, any story. I’ve used it at least three times and each time come away with an interesting short story, and ideas for a dozen more.

1) Write 50 opening lines.

Write them in one sitting as fast as possible. Put the image of a clown (or any other image if clowns don’t interest you) in your mind and then just GO. Don’t think too much about each first line. Just jot them down. Don’t judge them or edit them. These are potential first lines for a story. (in this case, a flash fiction story)

If you can’t get 50 first lines down, do as many as you can until your brain stalls or melts. I do recommend pushing through to the end if you can. If nothing else, you’ll have 50 first lines to possible stories.

2) Pick your top 5 first lines and write 5 opening paragraphs.

If you can’t decide, share with your writing group if you have one (or friend, spouse, kids) and let them pick their faves. Just whittle the list down to the 5 most inspiring lines, then write 5 opening paragraphs from those 5 first lines. Again, without thinking too much, and certainly without editing. Do this as fast as you can, whatever flows from the pen (or keyboard)

3) Pick your top paragraph and go from there…

It’s that simple. From 50 first lines to the idea for a story to the story itself. It’s a numbers game, really. With 50 first lines to choose from, one of them is bound to inspire you and send you in a new and unexpected direction.

Surprise yourself! And feel free to share your five first lines below.

Have a great weekend and perhaps I’ll see you at Geek Girl Con! 



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