December 31: Flash Fiction Challenge

Written by Charli Mills

Charli Mills, a born buckaroo, makes literary art accessible at She writes about the veteran spouse experience and women forgotten to history.

January 1, 2015

Carrot Ranch Flash FictionThe beauty outside my window is almost incomprehensible. White snow, chandelier ice cycles, blue sky. Colors that the Rocky Mountains flaunt so well that if the expanse were a celebrity, he’d grace the cover of People Magazine as the World’s Most Handsome Man. It’s a Frank Sinatra kind of beautiful day that boldly sings, “I did it my way.”

And I can end my year on that note. I did it my way.

Last week writers tackled visions. From the grand to the practical, from the remembered to the hopeful, a vision is what guides us. We hold it in our imagination and often refer to it as our dream. In business, we say that a vision is an organization’s north star. It guides growth and transition. Goals are therefore the tools by which we orientate to that north star.

I’ll readily admit that I’m a pantser as a writer (meaning, I prefer to write by the seat of my pants). Pantsers can be found in other businesses, too: the baker who loves to make cookies; the jeweler who collects his own stones from the beach; the pilot who lives to soar above the earth. People who are passionate about what they do aren’t always successful at it for a living.

The baker may shy away from dealing with people and neglect the front-end of her business. The jeweler may not know how to sell his beautiful beach-found jewelry. The pilot might not make enough money to keep his plane in the air. The writer might have a vision of finished books, but have no idea how to shape the stories into a book.

Goals can help.

I’m not talking about a planning process formulated by corporate drones and followed like doctrine. I’m talking about looking at your vision in a practical way and creating steps to get you closer to actualizing what it is you can imagine. Goals can be invigorating, and even pansters can plan.

Consider FAST goals. FAST: flexible, actionable, sound and timely. Start with your vision, that big dream. Like a good story it needs to be fully detailed. Last week I wrote a flash fiction that was a partial glimpse at my own vision. It included turquoise boots that said, “You’ve arrived, Writer.” But the turquoise boots are not a goal. Publishing a book is.

To make my book publishing a FAST goal, I would detail it like this:

  1. Publish my finished manuscript by first securing and agent or publisher; if not, then seeking a small press or considering independent publishing (flexible).
  2. Create an action plan that includes querying agents or publishers; seeking industry feedback; redirecting the process in light of feedback (actionable).
  3. Learn as much as possible about publishing options and what readers are interested in reading in an over-saturated market (sound).
  4. Give the query process a six-month try before considering other options, including a possible revision (timely).

What’s important is that writer’s goals be flexibility because there are cumbersome factors in this industry. Rewrites, feedback, queries, rejections and enough indie options to boggle the mind of mathematician. A goal is going to require action. I’m not going to wake up one morning and find that a magic goose laid a golden book on my desk. I have to work my goal. And it has to be sound in the sense that it doesn’t bore or overwhelm me. I know what all else is at stake in my life so I’ll make the goal fit who I am as a writer and what my circumstances are. Time is sometimes a guess. I always think it will take less time than it actually does, but still, it’s necessary to set deadlines or else it may stay in limbo as year after year passes by me (and my goal).

As trite as New Year’s resolutions are, it’s good to set goals when it feels like the right time to refresh. And maybe this is not the right time for you. For example, you might be a teacher and that fresh start is when the school-year ends. Or perhaps the rhythms of your personal life don’t jive with the turning of the New Year. That’s fine. But do try to find time to reflect annually, adjust and carry on with what it is you want to achieve as a writer.

Of course, you can have multiple goals. I certainly do! If you have more than five, pull back on the reins and take stock of which goals are most important. Too many goals can compete for your time and energy. Take a holistic look at how writing fits into your life, too. One of my goals is to make enough income from writing (business and freelancing) in order to work on my novel writing. Because I work at home, I also include a personal fitness goal to walk, get sunshine and talk to people face-to-face.

So where does planning goals lead us this week? To the mysterious (or otherwise) staircase. We have to take steps on our writer’s journey, so let’s consider stairs and where they lead.

December 31, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about steps, stairs or a staircase. Where do they lead? Who is walking or avoiding them? Are they clearly defined or ancient? Why are theses steps important? Lead us on a 99 word discovery!

Respond by January 6, 2015 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here.


The Ascent by Charli Mills

Nothing was going right. The driveshaft that fell off Elvin’s 1991 Ford spiked the grill of the Prius behind him. He let his insurance lapse the week before because he got laid off from the mill. His girlfriend left for Seattle and the coyotes ate his cat. Elvin sucked air and examined the smooth quartzite wall before him. He began to see steps, some no bigger than toe-holds. In his mind he mapped the perfect ascent and in no time he reached to summit that overlooked Lake Pond Oreille. Now if only he could find the steps in life.


Climbing (91)

You May Also Like…


  1. rogershipp


    Rusty, come back here!” exasperation hitting as Samuel and I struggled against the thick brambles. Rusty, our cantankerous beagle, was off rabbit-ing. And we were late in getting home.

    With multi-thorned beasts impeding our progress, we finally stumbled into an unexplored clearing. Rusty was belligerently bellowing at an opening in the side of a knoll.

    “Thank God, he’s just mouthing off,” laughed Samuel. ”Hate to have to crawl in drag him back home.”

    “Why didn’t he go in after it?” I stammered as I pushed my way past Rusty to look down the hole.

    “Samuel, there are steps here?”


    I am as anxious-as you are to find out what is down there, but I ran out of words! If you remove this, I will not be offended!

    • Annecdotist

      Hi, Roger, the end is nicely tantalising – perhaps you and the rest of us will find out what’s down there with the next prompt.

    • TanGental

      like Anne, I await the next stage; good Stuff, Roger

    • Charli Mills

      A hole or cave is mysterious, but add stairs to it and we wonder who and why? My dogs are hunters (well, in lineage, in reality they lounge by the fire) so I understand the nose leading to trouble. I like the idea that as a writer, you don’t know what Rusty has stumbled upon either. Follow it! We’ve had several serial flash fictions emerge here. No way would I remove this! Great writing!


      Oooooooooh, I can’t wait for the next instalment 🙂

  2. rogershipp


    “Good-night!” and the door slammed. Reverberations echoed all the way down the stairs into my study.

    Life as usual, now that Alice has passed. She had understood the girl. She had a way with her.

    Me, … not so much.

    I knew that this kind of behavior could not go on without repercussions, but I also know a man has to pick his fights.

    “No Fight Tonight,” I thought. “She’s not really in a listening mood anyway.”

    After finishing the briefs, I quietly go upstairs. I pass her room. The door is ajar?

    “Maybe tonight,” I think. I knock.

    • Charli Mills

      You’ve also discovered the double flash impulse that often hits writers at Carrot Ranch (including me, last week)! What I enjoy about your two stories is how different the stairs feature in each. One is the focus of a mystery and the other a backdrop in a setting. Great variety in interpreting the prompt.


      what I enjoy is the suspense as the word count runs out twice just as I really want to read more …

  3. Sarah

    I hadn’t heard of FAST goals. My acronym for goals has been SMART: specific, measurable, actionable, reasonable, and timely. Flexible is a good one to add in there. I am in the midst of setting my 2015 goals but one of them is to be more disciplined about writing!

    I had some fun with the prompt tonight.

    • TanGental

      I love the sense of elegance and desperation combined

      • Sarah Brentyn

        Yes. “Elegance and desperation” are a perfect combination in this.

    • Charli Mills

      SMART goals work well in business and even academics, but I’ve learned that writers need more flexibility. In part, writers are doing other things. And even if writing is our full-time thing, there are so many variables and the need to allow room for art within the frame. When I think of discipline, I think of the barre work that a dancer does. Writing flash fiction is like working on plies. 🙂 It warms us up for the greater combinations. So I think discipline does have a place in writing as much as flexibility. Best to you in crafting those goals! I’m glad you had fun with the prompt!

    • Norah

      I like SMART goals too. What a clever acronym. FAST and SMART. I like them both! 🙂

      • Charli Mills

        I can imagine that you like goals, Norah! SMART certainly fits with education!

      • Norah

        I have big goals and little goals, but I don’t tend to write them down. I do just keep working towards them though – one step at a time. Sometimes it’s that old two-step thing: one step forward, two steps back! 🙂

      • Charli Mills

        Yep! That’s the familiar dance!

  4. Annecdotist

    You seem amazingly organised with your New Year resolutions and I do hope they come off. I certainly like the idea of keeping those goals Flexible, as we never know what might come up.
    Regarding the query process, however, I’d say six months might not be long enough. If you get a uniform “no” in that period, then I guess you can take that as a message to try other routes. But if you get a few requests for the full manuscript you might not get an answer in that time period. But hey, these are flexible goals, and six months is certainly a good time to review where you’ve got to and whether the strategy is working.
    Now to your clever flash, so glad Elvin managed to find his way up the rock; perhaps that will give him the impetus to find solutions elsewhere in his life.
    Funny how these prompts feed off each other: I did a staircase flash, you might remember, in response to the “school” prompt:
    But here’s a new one. The title of the post is Stairway to Heaven but the staircase in my flash doesn’t seem to be heading that way:

    • Charli Mills

      I well recall your stairway flash from the school prompt as I thoroughly enjoyed it and was intrigued by the idea of separate staircases. Since, I’ve been reading up on the Victorian era (for my WIP, to determine how influential England was on America during that time period) and while many things translated across the pond, other things remained distinctly different. For one, I read about those dual entrances and staircases, yet we never caught on to the same here. Now, your other staircase is leading not to heaven at all, I think. Frightening, yet the early characterization (in 99 words) give us a gaze from the gatekeepers perspective.

      Thank you for the Sound check on the six months query process. Yes, my writer’s soul is yet untrampled by the traditional process in regards to books. I certainly learned the freelancing ropes and was at it long enough to see print publications change dramatically, but I also learned how to seek what satisfied me as a writer. I hope to discover that in books, too. Flexibility is vital and unlike business, writers need to dance within the flow of change in our industry. Like Elvin, I hope to apply solutions to all aspects of my life this year. That quarzite is not going away. 🙂

      • Annecdotist

        Charli, I do see you as like Elvin and I’m sure you navigate a path to your gem.

      • Charli Mills

        Thanks, Anne!

    • Pat Cummings

      I liked your flash, but I have a taste for the dark underneath of things! More, I enjoyed your review of the Michael Faber novel; it has prompted me to buy it even though I’m not sure when I’ll find time to read it.

      • Annecdotist

        Thanks, Pat. Yes, those dark areas can be fascinating.

  5. Pete

    Great post Charli, as a fellow pantser I too often find myself overwhelmed! Great list of goals, good luck getting there…be back with my flash!

    • Sarah Brentyn

      Pantsers unite! I’ll be back with mine, too. I’ll try not to have someone push someone else down the stairs. 😉

      • Charli Mills

        Stairs are turning out to be dark lurking places! And yes, pansters grab your pants and link arms! 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Pete! The biggest pantser challenge I face is slowing down to organize what’s in my head. Yes, it can feel overwhelming at times! 🙂

  6. Pete

    Milo Makes His Case…

    Biting his lip, Milo measured again. After placing second in last year’s stairing contest, he’d been careful not to make the same mistakes.

    He followed the standards: 7” riser height, 23” stair width. Fast Eddie made his case in fewer steps, and Fancy Francis spiraled her way up. But Milo did things by the book, and his case reflected that.

    One last nail. Milo paused, savoring this final step. He’d stuck to his craft, practicality over flash—even as fads came and went. He hit the nail head square and sure. Tomorrow it would take him to the top.

    • TanGental

      Great Pete; the tortoise and the stair – masterful

    • Charli Mills

      Fabulous! A stairing contest! And Milo sounds like a planner. 😉

    • Pat Cummings

      I love the pun in the title! And having recently replaced two sets of stairs at the front of our house, I can testify that there is lots of science and skill involved. (I had the expert help of two in-laws!)

  7. susanzutautas

    Charli, I hope that Elvin finds his way back and his life improves.

    • Charli Mills

      I think Elvin is learning to climb beyond his circumstance. 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      This left me breathless! What happens next?

    • Sarah Brentyn

      And the story continues… Let that be a pet hamster or something.

  8. Pat Cummings

    Hi, Charli! Great way to start the New Year, as my blog post and FF story both point out. First Step is at

    You may be interested to realize, as I was, that FF posts on my blog average TWICE the reads of my review posts. Only the 3D Printing discussions get more traffic.

    Just the hidden benefit of getting enticed into your flash challenges!

    • Charli Mills

      That’s good to hear, Pat! There is a dynamic synergy to this group, including both writers and readers. Off to read your post and flash!

      • Pat Cummings

        It began as a FF about the mermaid, the one who sits at the harbor of København, of whom Robert A. Heinlein wrote: “She sits on land, where she has chosen to stay … and stares eternally out to sea, forever lonely for what she left… and she’s everybody who ever made a difficult choice. She doesn’t regret it but she must pay for it; every choice must be paid for. The cost is not only endless homesickness. She can never be quite human; when she uses her dearly bought feet, every step is on sharp knives.”

  9. Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

    Great goals Charli and being a pantser seems to work for you. I don’t know about the States but one publisher I submitted to had a lead time of 6 months before getting back to you and I was advised not to put out to everyone or if you did advise that you have done so. It’s a long waiting game. Mind you a friend submitted to a publisher and was told three months lead time and she was advised of her success in two weeks. You just never know.
    Here are my stairs this week.

    • Sarah Brentyn

      Love this one, Irene! Fantastic. 😀

    • Charli Mills

      I think this is likely of must people–we identify panster or planner, but apply the other from time to time. Occasionally, I do like to plan! Yes, I’ve read various experiences from others, industry advice and I’ve been reading submission guidelines for over a year to submit to places that match up to what I wrote. It’s a time-consuming process and I’m ever optimistic of time, but I’m also in it for the long haul. I feel like I’m parachuting into an overcrowded marketplace, but it’s a jump I’m excited for. Of course, I’ve also dubbed this process the Great Rejection Rodeo, so I know I’ll face plant many times before I get my 8 second ride. But I’ll keep at it until I do. off to read…

      • Norah

        I love the images you have used here: parachuting into an overcrowded marketplace, Great Rejection Rodeo, face plant … You do it so well.
        My hub and I used to rate my rejection slips, generally good or bad was as far as we got before I tucked them away! Rejection Rodeo okay – get ready for a rough ride!

      • Charli Mills

        I face-plant well. 😉 Here’s to spitting dirt on the rough ride ahead! I’ll remember your rating technique and will come up with something fun to do with the rejection slips.

      • Norah

        Maybe you can be more inventive than just good, bad or give up! 🙂

      • Charli Mills

        Indeed! Perseverance is found in the inventive parts.

      • Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

        The secret is to keep gettting up. The Great Rejection Rodeo – love it. Many have successful rides and yours may be one of them.

      • Charli Mills

        Thanks, Irene! I hope to have one of those 8 second bull-rides somewhere along the way. 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      I’m headed over that way, stepping my fingers across the keys…:-) Somehow, hamster bones came to mind!

    • Charli Mills

      Oh, good! Glad you found it inspirational. At least I like the time to reflect and adjust what I’m doing toward those eventual goals. I hope you have a happy New Year, too! I’m off to read your flash…

  10. Charli Mills

    Happy to introduce a new writer at the ranch:

    The Stairway by Phil Guida

    The note simply said take the second door on the left and follow the stairway. To where the stairway was leading was of minimal concern as I was lost among the growing revere of aging with some angst settling in. I decided to take the chance and followed directions up the winding staircase with nothing more than needing some excitement in an otherwise boring day. I had been thinking of doing this for the past two months but was always finding something else to be trapped by. Much to my curiosity the stairway has led me to the Ranch.

    • Charli Mills

      You found your way to the Ranch, Phil! I’m so delighted to have you here!

  11. Norah

    I like the idea of your FAST goals. Sticking to them is a way of making them fast (fastening them) too. You have a lot of good advice to share. Each step is important. As it was for Elvin’s ascent. One would wonder how anything else could go wrong, or why someone so seemingly able would be so disorganised in life. Those questions portray the realities and inconsistencies of life. You have shown it well. I’ll (hopefully) be back tomorrow with my flash!

    • Charli Mills

      A-ha! I like the additional idea of fastening! As for Elvin and others, we have strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes we have to study that “wall” before us and figure out our own individual holds to ascend.

      • Norah

        That so true, Charli. Great words of wisdom there!

      • Charli Mills


  12. rllafg

    Steps for Success by Larry LaForge

    The business consultant was very smooth and polished. The acronyms rolled off his tongue like melted butter. Four steps for this; twelve steps for that. Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats. My head was spinning.

    The seminar participants ate it up. They mobbed the speaker at every break, asking for more detail about this step or that step in the latest management craze.

    By mid afternoon, I couldn’t take it. I think he was on the eighth step for quality improvement when I bailed.

    I pulled the hotel valet parking ticket from my pocket:

    “Four steps for picking up your car.”

    The 100-word version of this story is posted at larrylaforge100words on Flash Fiction Magazine:

    • Pat Cummings

      Ahgh! I think I’ve attended that seminar!

      Seriously, why do so many public speakers need to number their points? I have even caught myself doing this; it must be something built into the subconscious, or trained into our brains before we are aware…

    • Charli Mills

      Oh, yikes. This is both funny and painful to read! Add organic food to business and you take this story to an even goofier level. We referred to our business as a three-letter acronym part of a four-letter association and led by a two-letter leader. I didn’t have an acronym, but I was duly noted as the MarCom Mgr, champion of the SWOT, steps and planning. We were smooth as USDA organic grass-fed GF butter with no GMOs and from free-range cows that practiced yoga in a LEEDS barn made in MN. And it took three binders of steps (one for production, another for distribution and a third for retailing) to sell said butter, not to mention that it featured somewhere in a promotional step in the MarCom Plan. I fled too!

  13. Norah

    Hi Charlie, Here’s a link to my flash – If only …
    Thank you for guiding these steps on my learning journey. 🙂

    • Pat Cummings

      Recognizing the solution to a problem when it floats past is just as crucial as dreaming up solutions!

      Your education post made me think of the Orders of Knowledge:
      First Order: You know it yourself, in your own mind.
      Second Order: You don’t know it yet yourself, but you know where to “look it up” or how to derive it from what you do know.
      Third Order: You know who to ask, who has it as First Order Knowledge.

      • Norah

        That’s great information, Pat. Thank you for adding to the discussion and my learning. The Orders of Knowledge are indeed very important, as is the ability to recognize a solution as it floats by.

    • Charli Mills

      Aw, that’s sweet, Norah! We all get to learn from one another on this journey!

  14. Charli Mills

    Your rambles are why I like to read your blog, Geoff! Sorry I’m showing up late…off rambling among my files. I guess I really did get bit by the organizational bug. 🙂


  1. Spiral Staircase | Fiction As Life - […] This week’s prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about steps, stairs or a staircase. […]
  2. A few steps at a time | TanGental - […] so to the reason for this ramble: Charli Mills and her prompt which this week […]
  3. 99 word flash fiction: Stairway | Reflections and Nightmares- Irene A Waters (writer and memoirist) - […] response to Charli’s 99 word flash fiction challenge: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about steps,…
  4. Quick Descent | Sarah Brentyn - […] December 31 Prompt: Stairs (Write a story that includes steps, stairs, or a staircase) Flash Fiction Challenge over at…
  5. I can do this – one step at a time! | Norah Colvin - […] The discussion of steps to learning tied in very nicely with the flash fiction prompt set by Charli Mills…

Discover more from Carrot Ranch Literary Community

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading