August 22: Story Challenge in 99-words

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.

August 22, 2022

Shame is among the most difficult feelings a human can experience. Fair warning: this week’s challenge can provoke any writer. But it will be worth the effort to explore our shadow selves — the darkness of the human condition.

Experts explain what makes shame different from guilt is the focus of the emotion outward versus inward. Internalized, shame can isolate people to the point of longing for the death of self. That’s heavy. As writers, we craft with emotion and explore the depths of what we experience, observe, and imagine.

Even though most people experience shame to varying degrees, shame is so painful, it can be difficult to articulate. We’ve all heard the expression, “Shame on you.” Often, the emotion is used to correct behavior in families and social groups. Yet those three words can leave lasting scars. Shame, because it is internalized, can be a dark pool of despair to mirror our worst thoughts and beliefs about who we are.

However, social standards are shifting, and more people are talking about the impact of being shamed for their differences. More than ever, as a worldview, we are more open to understanding shame. If we are to heal the world’s trauma, we must first heal our own. Shame is a guidepost to where the scars hide.

By the way, it takes tremendous courage for those to speak up regarding their shame. Why be so vulnerable? Healing. While Dr. Sean Ginwright’s book, The Four Pivots, is not about shame specifically, he understands that without healing, we will fail to grow into our possibilities. Shame can prevent us from pivoting, which can stifle creativity.

But this current challenge isn’t about healing as writers. It’s about capturing stories of shame. It’s about honing our creative craft through braving dark emotions and experiences. It doesn’t mean all shame stories will be bleak fodder for horror, drama, or tragedy. Shame stories can open up common ground between enemies (consider contemporary stories of developing empathy for villains because of their painful pasts). Such stories can be adventurous, uplifting through overcoming, and even humorous.

The one thing emotional stories seek to achieve is verisimilitude, the creative writing technique for making fiction appear real. Shame must feel real, relevant, and relatable. That’s another reason why this challenge will be challenging. You have to go into the dark to bring back an authentic light.

Why am I all about the shame this week? Well, it was a chance viewing of the 2014 Kennedy Center Honors which included Sting. I was surprised to learn he wrote one of my favorite Johnny Cash songs, I Hung My Head. The title alone embodies the feeling of shame. It’s a western-style gun ballad about a youth playing with his brother’s rifle to feel the power of death over life. Talk about a whopper of a shame story. You might argue that the character in the ballad felt guilty for his action, but you can’t deny the overwhelming sense of shame in the repeated lyrics, “I hung my head, I hung my head.”

When I watched the clip, the audience moved me. We get to see Sting’s reaction to Bruce Springsteen’s performance. We see the audience nodding, listening, and reacting to the music. That is verisimilitude in musicality. No such story exists. But it could. And everyone in that audience understands the overwhelming feeling at the heart of the song. The end result is cathartic.

To me, this video clip represents what we aim for when we write. We aren’t telling people how it is; we are slinging stories that remove people from their moment into ones we are sharing through art. If you write because you feel something in your stories, aim for your audience to catch the feeling, too.

August 22, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story exploring shame as an emotion or theme. Consider how to use shame to drive a cause-and-effect story. How does it impact a character? Is there a change? Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by August 27, 2022. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. The Collection publishes on the Wednesday following the next Challenge. Rules & Guidelines.
  2. Carrot Ranch only accepts stories through the form below. Accepted stories will be published in a weekly collection. Writers retain all copyrights.
  3. Your blog or social media link will be included in your title when the Collection publishes.
  4. Please include your byline which is the name or persona you attribute to your writing.
  5. Please include the hashtag #99Word Stories when sharing either the Challenge or Collection posts in social media.

Submissions are now closed. Find our latest challenge to enter.

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  1. Gloria

    Quite a different prompt this week Charli. A challenge for sure.
    I do think the the word shame/ ashamed is often thrown around loosely.
    You hear a lot of people saying things like: you should be ashamed of yourself, I’d die of shame, the shame he/she brought on the family.
    Yes, people do terrible things but often it’s not that terrible at all.
    Maybe shame is an emotion we should feel when our actions warrant it. Then we feel regret, apologetic, the learn from it and move on. I suppose it’s not always that easy!
    Huge topic.

    • Charli Mills

      Yes, different prompt this week, Gloria! Sometimes I like to share challenges that take us out of our comfort zones.

      And sometimes people don’t do terrible things but feel deep shame because they think there is something so wrong with them they feel the need to hide it from others. Skin color, body size, and mannerisms can be physical factors. Survivors of sexual abuse or combat can feel shame no one else sees. People with different beliefs from the “norm” can feel ashamed of their thoughts, feelings, or beliefs. As writers, there are many ways can mine this painful area of dark humanity.

      What caught my attention in the article I linked about the difference between shame and guilt is that guilt demonstrates empathy. In other words, when we regret our actions or apologize we feel guilty. And we can make amends. But with shame, we often have no action to learn from and move on. Complex, and never easy as you have noted!

      It’s a tough one and I look forward to the approaches and ideas. And no shame for trying, lol!

      • Gloria

        That makes a lot of sense Charli.

  2. denmaniacs4

    Powerful performance…thanks…

    • Charli Mills

      It’s one that sticks with me! Glad you watched it, Bill.

  3. suespitulnik

    Thank you for sharing the video of Bruce Springsteen. What a powerful song full of emotions. I’m not sure I could have explained the difference between guilt and shame as well as you did. I have both as most people do. Neither are easy to admit.

    • Charli Mills

      That’s a good point, Sue–neither are easy emotions to admit. I had caregiver mental health check-in on Monday and my counselor had a new emotion wheel hanging in her office with an entire wedge of emotions derived from “ashamed.” We had a good conversation and she said there is a lot of debate regarding the difference between shame and guilt, including whether or not shame is an emotion. If the experts find it difficult to differentiate, it’s complicated. So, a complex challenge this week!

  4. Nicole Horlings

    It’s been a while since I last participated in the weekly prompt. Life has been busy, and my laptop went caput. I’m finally able to come back here while making do with an old Window’s 7 laptop that cannot be safely connected to the internet, a USB key, and my brother’s computer with internet access.

    Here’s my story:

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Hello Nicole, welcome back to the Ranch! I sure hope you get your laptop woes straightened out, I know how frustrating that can be.
      As I know Charli is traveling just now, I’ll remind you that to have your story published in the weekly collection you’ll have to put it into the collection form at the end of her post. Links to our own sites come with the posting of the collection. (And maybe you did do that, just want to make sure.)

      • Nicole Horlings

        Thanks for the reminder 🙂

  5. Anne Goodwin

    Haven’t done mine yet but shame is my topic, so a lot easier than the last couple of prompts. How I learnt to differentiate guilt and shame is that they might arise from the same behaviour but guilt is feeling bad about hurting the other person whereas shame is feeling one’s whole self is bad to have done such a thing.

    • suespitulnik

      An excellent explanation of the difference, Anne. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Jules


    Personally I feel shame for those who attempt to teach good lessons but don’t follow their own advice…

    I’ve been a tad busy this week. I hope to listen to and read more but for now at least I’ve got my link in.

  7. Norah

    Thought-provoking post and prompt, Charli. The difference between shame and guilt is interesting. I’m surprised they are not both easily considered emotions. I feel both. I’d probably say that both are inbuilt, but shame for being and guilt for actions and their effects, real or imagined. I’m not sure if that’s right though.
    Thanks for sharing Bruce singing Sting’s song. The emotion shared by Bruce and the audience, especially Sting, was palpable and contagious. I was surprised I hadn’t heard it before and had to listen to both Sting and Cash sing it too. Maybe because I heard it first, I enjoyed Springsteen’s version best. What a song. What a story. But is it guilt or shame? Or both?

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