February 20: Flash Fiction Challenge

Written by Charli Mills

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

February 21, 2020

Clickety-clacking rings across the house as guest-dog, Monte, prances on the hardwood floor. It’s been silent and I welcome the sound of canine life. His humans have left for an extended weekend out of state, and we get to enjoy the company of this nine-year-old Dautchund. He curls up on the couch next to the Hub, who rubs his head and calls him, “Big dog.” It’s hard to adjust to not having the big dogs around.

We also have a visiting tabby cat — a prowler caught on NOAA’s satellite. From 23,000 miles up in space, the weather image captured fuzzy plumes of lake-effect snow across Lake Superior, and it looks like a hunkered tabby cat. If you check out the NPR story here, scroll down to see the plumes in action. That tabby has been a frequent visitor, only it looks more like fluffy white kittens from our perspective.

Domestic animals aside, I’ve also conquered a wild beast. Last Sunday, I turned in the first draft of a plot outline to my proposed novel thesis. Last term, I completed a plot following Snyder’s Beat Sheet. In case you are wondering, a plot and a plot outline are not the same. One is telling the story of the plot, and the other maps what happens when. Turns out, I have seven plots and subplots — who knew? Well, that’s the problem. You don’t know until you are forced through the sieve of mapping a plot.

My W-storyboard is getting a workout. Just because I have a plot outline does not mean it is the novel’s final structure. Index cards and sticky notes rearranged on the board will provide the blueprint as I write. My inciting incident is due in another week. Having an outline forced me to contain my ideas, which is similar to what happens when I write a story in 99 words. It’s made me rethink my beginning.

I’m not even going to say how many times I’ve written the beginning to Miracle of Ducks. If my outline holds, this novel will be nothing like the first draft I wrote. However, my original opening was closer to a proper inciting incident than any subsequent one I wrote. What is proper? Something that gets the reader reading — a character who compels, action that excites, a mystery that begs resolution.

My professor made an astute observation. He told my cohort that we are also competing against technology for readers’ attention — Netflix, YouTube, streaming, social media, video games. Not only do we need to stand out among books, but we also have to get readers away from different screens. It’s daunting to think about in those terms. That’s a lot of pressure to place on an inciting incident.

Another consideration is that I’ve mapped my inciting incident deeper into my book. It does not occur on page one. I’ve designed a trap for my protagonist called “Danni in a box with a knot.” The box includes four different plotlines that emerge to squeeze down on her. The knot is the fragility of her need to belong. She thinks life is good and she has what she has longed. Except, it comes with a cost, and she’s about to get delivered the bill.

What excited me in mapping out the plot outline is that I realized the inciting incident. The box traps Danni, but it is one particular incident that moves the story toward its trajectory of growth, specifically, Danni’s growth. If I hadn’t (been forced) to complete a plot outline, I would have missed this incident. While painful for a pantser to knuckle under and learn, I feel more confident as a writer. Instead of committing to XX number of words a day, I’m now setting specific goals for what to write.

We can debate when, how much, and why we should plot. The most important point to keep in mind is that each one of us must find the process that works. I signed up for two-year writing boot camp, so I have to execute processes that are not my first (or fiftieth) choice. I’m finding out that the pain is worth the gain. At some point, a pantser has to plot, and a plotter has to write into the draft. If you think you can get away with not plotting, you’ll learn differently by the time you get to writing a synopsis.

You’ll be faced with defining your structure at the beginning, middle, or end.

On Twitter, Sherri Matthews posted an interesting article, When ‘Situational’ Writing Works Better Than Plotting. The author quotes Stephen King in regards to being a situation writer, coming up with a situation that is the story. The advice is to keep the momentum going by writing, what next? And then, what next? He also says that writers can be hybrids. I think what we call a hybrid is a plantser!

With snowcats and situations in mind, I thought it would be a fun and informative exercise to write 99-word stories based on a situation. You’ll start with the situation and add what next, what next, what next until you arrive at “until finally.” In 99 words, of course.

February 20, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a library cat named Rainbow who escapes. Use this situation to write what happens next. Where does this e=situation take place, and who else might be involved? Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by February 25, 2020. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

Submissions closed. Find our latest weekly Flash Fiction Challenge.

Rainbow Makes Her Move by Charli Mills

Rainbow faked a yawn, stretched a declawed mitt toward a shelf of new releases in fiction, and calculated the distance to the door. She had made several tests runs the day before and knew how long the door opened before shutting. Preening her calico fur, Rainbow waited to blow this boring book joint. When a group of homeschoolers entered the library, she made her move on the open door. Swerving in and out of gangly legs like a feline slalom racer, she won the race and made it outside. Shivering beneath plumes of lake-effect snow, Rainbow calculated her reentry.

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    • Charli Mills

      A great start to Rainbow stories, Reena!

      • Reena Saxena


  1. Anne Goodwin (Annecdotist)

    Glad you’re getting to grips with both plotting and pet-loss, Charli, I look forward to reading the next version of Miracle of Ducks. Your professor’s point about wordsmiths having to compete for attention not only with other writers but also with other distractions of course isn’t new, but given what I said last week about/against using film as a model for fiction it made me stop short – does it imply we need to make the novel more like a movie or to celebrate the difference? Or both? Something for me to ponder at least.
    I did enjoy your flash and smiled at this opening – stretched a declawed mitt toward a shelf of new releases in fiction – won’t get many and thens when all she wants to do is to get back in!

    Today – tomorrow in relation to when you posted the prompt – is International Mother Tongue Day, which I have marked on my blog before but had forgotten until drafting a review yesterday of a recent read which refers to the Bangladeshi independence struggle. IMTD commemorates the students killed in 1952 for protesting against the imposition of Urdu as the national language of what was then East Pakistan.

    So my flash pays tribute to this, with – if an online translator can be trusted, which it probably can’t – a title in both English and Bangla:

    Rainbow leaves the library / ?????? ????????? ????? ???? / R?madhanu l?’ibr?ri ch??? y??a


    If you want to hear what ?????? hears when she goes out into the street, there’s a link on my blog which I’m including here also:

    • denmaniacs4

      Beautiful and powerful, Anne…

      • D. Avery @shiftnshake

        But now I scan the video for the cat caterwauling along with the music. (Hey… you should get a cat! They can do some of the same things as dogs and take up less space)

      • Charli Mills

        Anne, I think fiction in film can be easier to “see” and measure its “beats” however, film and novels should be celebrated for being different mediums. While both might compete for attention, those who read know that a good film can never replace a good book. The tricky part for the writers of books is how to convey a story, message, inner growth, or entertainment in such a way that engages readers who have many distractions to choose from. Recently, I learned that a novel I’ve been reviewing in class was made into an HBO mini-series and they were so different that the story changed in the film version. It bothered me, but I suppose, each has its own audience. I wonder what the author thought of the difference.

        Thank you for sharing music to accompany ?????? on the streets!

    • Jules

      Anne – this was lovely. Too many who escaped to other countries for ‘freedom’ like my grandparents refused to teach their children and grandchildren their ‘Mother Tongue’ – They were American’s now and they were going to live and breath so.

      It is unfortunate that this goes on today. My SIL was helping (through some organization) a refuge family move – So my hubby and I also joined in. The family was kind enough to share a video they had made of a religious celebration as well as a traditional meal. But when we got to talking they said they weren’t going to teach their children or grandchildren anything to deep especially language. They were free here and where going to leave as much as their past behind.

  2. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Do Ya Like Ma Hat?

    “Kid, why’s thet ten gallon hat ya got fer yer half-pint head skiddin’ towards the door?”

    “Why, there’s a cat in the hat! Must be from the library.”

    “Ya picked up The Cat In the Hat at the library?”

    “Took ma hat off when I was there, musta put it over their Rainbow.”

    “And accidently kept the library cat under yer hat the whole way home? Thet’s an unlikely situation Kid.”

    “It’s ma story an’ I’m stickin’ with it, Pal.”

    “I kin tell ya what happens next. Yer takin’ thet cat back!”

    “Or… we keep it!”

    “Go, Kid, go.”

    • Susan Zutautas

      LOL, Great story D!

      • D. Avery @shiftnshake

        With a tip of the hat to Dr. Seuss and to P.D. Eastman and maybe even the Wizard of Oz. Thanks, Susan.

    • Charli Mills

      Don’t Hop on Pal, next! It’s never a good idea to smuggle out the library cat. I think that could rack up some fines from the librarians. 😉

    • Lisa A. Listwa

      Definitely reminded me of that book “Go Dog, Go!” with the hat scene. One of my all-time favorites!

    • eLPy

      Ha ha! I like your take on Rainbow’s story. 😀 Makes you wonder who was in cahoots with who. 😉

  3. Liz H

    Loved that VERY cat-like twist in the end! ?????????????????

    • Lisa A. Listwa

      Yes! Very typical of cats. 😀

    • Charli Mills

      Like a cat! My daughter’s cat tries to get out all the time — even in winter. It’s so funny to watch her paw the snow and spin back toward the house.

      • Lisa A. Listwa

        Must be something wrong with ours – they never try to get out. Too spoiled, I suspect. Or lazy. 😀

  4. denmaniacs4

    Lor’ Luv a Duck! Library Ball ov Fat. Know What I Mean?

    Blimey! “Rainbow, me arse. Books! Books! Park me a trash can any day.”

    Here she comes. Ain’t she da proper lady. A friggin’ catnapper but who’s ter know. Bin so long. Can’t barely remember da day. Still pret’y young, I was. Free. Collarless. It ‘ad rained da night befawer an’ I ‘ad snuck in’er a coal shute.

    When da sun come up next day, I was aaaht an’ abaaaht when dis fancy car rolled up. She scooped me up in ‘er fur-draped arms an’ sped away.

    Ain’t ge’in’ any younger. Bird Lime ter get a crackin back ‘ome. OK?

    • Anne Goodwin (Annecdotist)

      Fun flash. Where did you get that accent? Borrowed it from the library did you?

    • Charli Mills

      You can take the cat off the streets but you can’t take the streets out of the cat! That’s an impressive use of dialect, Bill.

    • eLPy

      I agree, an impressive use of dialect no doubt. Well done!

    • Anne Goodwin (Annecdotist)

      Ha, fun flash, Susan. She’ll have to choose better next time.

      • Susan Zutautas

        Anne, thanks, and yes she will 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Susan! I had a laugh too when I thought what an escaped cat would do — want back in. You are on a roll, writing.

      • Susan Zutautas

        My Rainbow will probably end up back in the library too 🙂 Sometimes I can write and write and then as you know go for quite awhile with nothing.

    • Charli Mills

      Might be a wise cat!

    • Jules

      I really liked this telling 😀

  5. Jim Borden

    thanks for all the details on the writing process, I find it quite interesting. and congrats on completing your plot outline! and it looks like Rainbow has learned that the grass isn’t always greener!

    • Charli Mills

      Thank you, Jim! I’m glad you are enjoying the writing process details, too. It’s multilayered, this fiction writing business. Ha! Rainbow found out it was indeed better indoors.

      • Jim Borden

        I guess I took fiction writing for granted, that someone just sat down with an idea and started writing… it’s a lot of work!

      • Charli Mills

        One of my professors said that the hardest thing for a writer to learn is that the story in their head does not come to the paper the same way. Thus the work begins.

    • tedstrutz

      I liked your story! That Library must be in Chicago.

      • Charli Mills

        Glad you had fun with the prompt, Ted! The library certainly could be in Chicago. Any library on the lee side of the Great Lakes would do.

  6. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Hey Charli;
    Does your library have a cat? There is a book called Dewey about a library cat. While I enjoyed your descriptive and effective flash, with its catlike ending, you can imagine the eye rolling angst at this particular prompt. I’ll be curious to read (later) to see how the stories differ when there are so many specifics given in the prompt. I’m thinking situational writing is what I do, starting something and having no idea where it ends, which is what I did with Rainbow, just one line and then another. I’m not very crafty.
    Congratulations on your writing progress and growth that you share here. Question. What about the ending of MOD, has that changed or is it pretty much the same through all the pantsingploddingplottingknotting outlining?
    I’ll be back to read everyone’s stories later in the weekend. Miles to go today.

    • Charli Mills

      The Houghton Library does not have a cat (and Hancock does not have a library). When I was in high school, there was a library on the Nevada side of the border with two big Scottish Fold cats. Neither was named Dewey (or Rainbow).

      It is indeed a craft to put one line in front of the other. It will be interesting to see if the specifics were too specific but I have faith in creativity and diversity.

      Oh, this MOD is not that MOD. Huge changes — beginning, middle, and end. The final book will not resemble the original manuscript or its harried revisions. It’s been such a learning ground for me. And may writing continue to be.

      Safe journey back to the ranch!

  7. explorereikiworld

    Thrilled by your progress and boy when you’ll have your final one ready, you’ll have these drafts to look back upon and snicker 🙂

    I am appalled by your professor, “He told my cohort that we are also competing against technology for readers’ attention — Netflix, YouTube, streaming, social media, video games. Not only do we need to stand out among books, but we also have to get readers away from different screens.”

    Now, that’s a challenging situation. It’s got me thinking on my WIP MS 😛

    In the mean time my take: https://abracabadra.blogspot.com/2020/02/the-library-cat.html

    • Charli Mills

      Ruchira, I will also look back at my drafts and realize — that was a lot of growing! Yet, I think we all have that kernel of what makes our writing uniquely ours at every stage. Here’s to polishing our craft!

      When I went to Vermont last summer, it was so refreshing to be around people who still prefer to read a book over all the other distractions available. And I was thinking about that, and about what my professor said. Even when we read for entertainment, we are not distracted. Reading is not mind-numbing. Quite the opposite. Perhaps our hope as authors is in engaging people, waking them up to a full journey to want to do it again. What do you think?

      You explored the idea of distractive reading in your flash, though — comics!

  8. Jules


    I always will have to wonder why I make things difficult for myself. The piece is a Tautogram poem – thus some words were repeated and perhaps it isn’t quite a full story… enjoy

    Reluctant Rainbow Rebounds

    Rainbow rabbeted, ran right, ran rough
    Ricocheting rallying roars; “Return! Return!”
    Rants rippled, reformed, repeated.
    Rainbow remained rapidly running.
    Rainbow replicated rough ruses.
    Rounding readied roadblocks,
    Reaching rabble-rousing republicans
    Rainbow resisted raw rhetoric.
    Rainbow ran ragged roads
    Reaching red roofs, rested.
    Rescuers responded, rummaging ropes.
    Rainbow refused rescue, resumed racing.
    Rainbow ran Rupert’s raised red radish rows.
    Rainbow roamed Rita’s rambling rose range.
    Radiant Ramona remained, reorganized
    Research regarding rambling Rainbow’s reunification.
    Resisting ruinous retaliation rumbles.
    Romanticizing; Ralph recited regulations.
    Ruminating Raymond responded reluctantly.
    Rank racers rode rusted ramblers remaining rueful.
    Rainbow recalled Ramona relaxing…
    Recalculated resplendent reassurances; returned.


    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Taut with tension, total turn around- terrific!

    • Charli Mills

      Oh, Jules! Your tautogram is a wondrous feat of rolling r’s! hat an adventure Rainbow and her rescuers had and in the end she simply returned. Resplendent ‘riting!

  9. Liz H

    Inspired by my own black cat, who loves to hide in bookshelves.

    Library Cat

    Ms. Lillian’s shoes padded down the archived stacks, overhead lights cooling to darkness in her wake. “Here Rainbow kitty! Time to go. There’s a bowl of kibble at home with your name on it!”
    [Continue ]

    • Charli Mills

      Liz, black cats have had a special place in my heart. My childhood cat was Blacky. Bookshelves can be a great hiding place!

      • Liz H

        He disappears behind the books, green eyes glowing in the dark.

    • Jules

      I saved a black cat from some nasty boys once. Then after saying we could keep it… my parents “left the door open”…

      • Liz H

        🙁 Born free, as free as the wind blows. Maybe a happy ending for that little guy, thanks to a break with your timely rescue!

  10. Jennie

    Well done!

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Jennie!

      • Jennie

        You’re welcome, Charli!

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Joanne!

  11. Norah

    I love the humour in your flash, Charli. How many times is the other side greener? Or, in this case, the outside whiter? Let’s hope some more homeschoolers arrive soon or the ones inside choose quickly and head home.
    While I’d seen the prompt, I hadn’t realised the background to it. I thought it was just another cat story. But it is an immensely interesting situation. I’ll sleep on it overnight and hope the rainbow cat visits in my dreams and refuses to escape in the morning. We’ll see.
    I’m pleased you are getting so much out of your course and that it is helping you dig deeper into Danni’s story, making it richer. I look forward to its publication on conclusion of your course. What a reward that would be.

    • Norah

      Hi Charli,
      I did manage a little story in verse. Here’s the link: https://wp.me/p3O5Jj-1Ah.

      Here’s the story:

      The Library Cat
      The library cat is fatter than fat.
      She sits by the door on the welcome mat.
      She greets the readers as they come in —
      Nods her head with a welcome grin.

      Sometimes she’s in. Sometimes she’s out.
      She’s especially quiet when a reader’s about.
      She sits so still you can see her purr
      When the reader strokes her rainbow fur.

      She’s heard every story there is to be told.
      Even the classics never grow old.
      But read her stories of adventures rare
      She twitches her whiskers, “I’ve been there.
      No need of a cape. Reading books is my escape.”

      Best wishes, N

      • D. Avery @shiftnshake

        Gotta love a cat with a message. The little ones will love this, Norah.

      • Norah

        Thank you, D. 🙂

      • Jules

        Rainbow or is that cat the Cheshire from Wonderland?
        Nicely told 😀

      • Norah

        Thanks so much, Jules. 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      Ha! Yes, the colors are always brighter elsewhere until we get there. I’m glad you caught the humor, Norah. And I love both the structure and the content of your story — an appreciative cat, for books, that is. Oh, yes, what a reward after all the work is done to finally have a manuscript for publication. Thanks for joining in this week! Always good to see you!

      • Norah

        Thank you, Charli. It’s always good to ride the range with you.

  12. Hugh's Views and News

    I hope you don’t mind me having an attempt to include your weekly prompts into my continuing story of Doug, Sophie and Mike, Charli? I thought I was going to bow out of this week’s challenge, but something finally came my way as I typed away at the keyboard over the weekend. At the very least, I’m having a great time directing the story the way your prompts are taking it. Who knows, by the time I’m finished, I may have a novel on my hands? This is far more fun than NaNoWriMo.


    Another big thank you for challenging my creative mind.

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Oh my! That you are having fun with your continuing story is obvious. Contagious even.

    • Charli Mills

      I absolutely love what you have going on with Doug, Sophie, and Mike! It’s so intriguing that you are developing three POVs each week. I’m certainly having fun anticipating what next! Your mind is in a creative bloom, Hugh!

      • Hugh's Views and News

        Thanks, Charli, although it’s all with your help, of course.

  13. susansleggs

    I’m glad you got to babysit Monty. I’m sure he brought some smiles. I finished “The Wolf in the Whale” and have a much different view of gender now. Thank you. The story reminded me of “Clan of the Cave Bear,” and the refresher on mythology was a fun read. I wish I had Omat’s resilience and drive.
    Congratulations on finishing your plot outline and finding out what you didn’t know. I don’t think I understood before that a story plot-driven, is different than character-driven. So much to learn. On to the prompt…

    Rainbow’s adventure

    In high spirits, the veterans loaded the van after finishing their inaugural concert at the library. No one noticed Rainbow, the resident library cat, scoot out the door, jump into the van and hide under equipment.
    After stopping for a leisurely meal, when opening the van door, Rainbow leaped into a surprised Tessa’s arms. “You little sneak! We’ll have to take you home.”
    Rainbow sat like a queen on Michael’s lap looking out the window on the return drive.
    The staff was relieved to see her. “Odd, she’s never done that before. She must have liked your patriotic music.”

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      If you love your vets, take your freedom… thanks for a fun tale!

    • Charli Mills

      Sue, we had a wonderful weekend with Monty. It felt whole to have a dog in the house again. I’m so happy you read the “Wolf in the Whale”! I thought the author did a good job developing the character of Omat and questioning what gender is. I also enjoyed the intersection of spiritual beliefs, too and in the end, Omat learning her greatest gift could be used to weave back what had been lost. Omat certainly had resilience and drive through difficult and demeaning situations.

      I feel like the more I learn, the more there is to learn! I’m now writing an opening scene but it has to be written with specific elements. It gets me writing in different ways and feeling more comfortable with drafting and re-drafting.

      Ha! Rainbow has good taste in music and new friends!

  14. Colleen M. Chesebro

    I learn so much from you, Charli. Thanks for all you do. Here is my story for this week: “Rainbow’s Escape”

    Jimmy gathered his belongings. “Now, remember Rainbow, stay hidden,” he whispered to the calico cat hunched inside his backpack. “Mrs. Walters will never miss you for one night.”

    Rainbow purred as the boy pushed through the main doors of the library. He ran toward home.

    “Grammy, you awake? I’ve got a surprise for you.” Jimmy slipped through the door and opened the backpack. An orange streak of fur darted down the hallway.

    Grammy lay in her bed, cuddling the cat. “Thank you, Jimmy. After today’s chemo, seeing Rainbow again is what I needed. Thank you for bringing him home.”

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      This cat has a knack for being where needed. (With a little help) Nice.

      • Colleen M. Chesebro

        Thanks, D. Rainbow deserves a longer story I think. 😀

    • Charli Mills

      It’s helpful to share as I learn new things, Colleen. I Think Rainbow has a history with Grammy and a future, too. This feels like a bigger story, but what a wonderful gift of healing comfort.

      • Colleen M. Chesebro

        Aww, thanks, Charli. Some of these stories just bloom out of us with a life of their own. ??

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Padmini!

  15. eLPy

    Really great post. Thank you for sharing this. I’m a pantser turned plantser who needs to spend some more time as of late plotting. You’ve motivated me to go ahead and look up plot vs. plot outline and do some of both. 😀 I can definitely see that it would help as it has you.

    You raise a good point as well that there’s a lot of competition out there with regard to media and entertainment in general. I am a connoisseur of books, movies & TV. I will admit that if I’ve seen the TV/movie and learn it’s based on a book chances are good I will not go back and read the book. There’s so many books I want to read it’s hard to spend so much time doubling up on one. Not to mention I’m supposed to be (AM) writing my own (lol). That said I will watch a show based on a book I’ve read. 😉 In fact last year I watched A Discovery of Witches after having read the whole trilogy (by Deborah Harkness, really really enjoyed it). I was entertained but also disappointed in the show. Not only was I not happy with some of their cast choices but they added a story line or two that just weren’t in the book. It was a little confusing.

    I’m glad you got some time with a fur-buddy, bittersweet no doubt. I hope you guys are doing alright.

    I know I didn’t make the deadline but I did try my hand at your prompt. Thanks so much, it was a fun challenge!

  16. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Donna!

  17. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Brought together by books, such a happy cat tale.

  18. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Marje!

  19. Charli Mills

    Thanks, Teresa!


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