Announcing the TOUGHEST Flash Fiction Challenge Ever: 4-Way Dialog (AND a special surprise!)

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Your humble host saying Bwahahahahaha!!

We’ve discussed how difficult it is to write good dialogs. We’ve talked about avoiding dialog tags. We’ve talked about using “beats.”

But have we really put that talk into action?

Now we will.


Write a conversation between four characters.

What, that’s it?

Hey, it’s harder than you think. Heck, it’s difficult to write a conversation between two characters that follows the rules of interesting dialog (which is to make it interesting. Tough rules.)

Four characters in the same room/same setting (not over the phone) will have a conversation. Each must speak at least twice, and none can speak for a 500-word soliloquy. It’s a conversation.

SEXES: You will take four characters, both male and female, doesn’t matter how many of each; they all must speak (so the guy can’t be dead and the women mourning him, unless he’s a ghost.) You can have three men and one woman, you can have two and two, or one man and three women, whatever you want. You get to name them, you get to create their back stories.

EACH character must speak at least twice. No 500-word monologues. I’d prefer they each speak more than twice, but that’s your call.

SETTING: You get to choose the setting but all four characters are present to each other, so they are gathered in a limited setting like a bar or a lifeboat or a college dorm room or a workplace, hostages locked in a bank vault, friends visiting a graveyard, a family reunion at a park and they are gathered under the shelter while the kids play softball, driving in a car, whatever. They cannot be on the phone talking to each other. They need to be relatively contained, as in, they don’t all get up and run away. They can be sitting in a stadium watching the Super Bowl but they can’t be coming and going, they’d have to be sitting in a row or maybe they could be players in a huddle, but not players spread out all over the field, okay?

DIALOG TAGSVerboten – to an extent. As your characters converse, you can’t use dialogue tags like “she said” or “he cried” or “Bill said” or “Mary exclaimed” or “Jane said slyly.” You CAN use a few tags – a few – because you may have to, but try use beats (small pieces of action) instead, with potential he/she/name attached:

Clark took a sip of his beer. “That’s how we do it, honey. We’re the Griswolds.”


Ellen patted Audrey on the back. “Kids, when this is over, your father may be going away for a while.”

That kind of thing.

ADVERBS: One per 1000 words, especially if it ends in “ly.” So, you can have one. Because

WORD LIMIT: 1000 words. (And you probably don’t need an adjective in just a thousand words.)

That’s it!

Thrill us with your skills!

Having four people converse, making them all interact in the conversation in a meaningful way, NOT letting them get up and run away or otherwise move much… that happens all the time in life! But we rarely see it done in stories, and even more rare, see it done well. Here’s your chance.

Do a good job.

(Hey, what was the special surprise? Oh, that’s not today. That’s tomorrow. But you’ll like it, I think. At least I hope you do. I’m excited about it. 

Check the fine print. It says announcing a special surprise. I announced it. There’ll be one. Tomorrow.)

You know the drill:

  1. Describe your setting – or don’t. Your call, but it should be obvious from reading your piece.
  2. Write a story up to 1000 words that is obviously utilizing four characters in a limited setting. You pick the genre.
  3. EXTRA POINTS if you make it funny.
  4. Post your story below in the comments with a link to your blog.
  5. You also post it on you blog (No blog? Just copy paste the whole thing here.)
  6. Mention me and what the heck this is so people don’t think you’ve gone bonkers.
  7. Read and comment on OTHER people’s entries. That makes it fun. Allegedly.
  8. You have one week. Noon Friday a week from this posting date (beautiful, sunny and warm Tampa, Florida, USA time.)

SUBSCRIBE TO MY FREE NEWSLETTER! Get a FREE copy of “25 Great eBook Marketing Tips You Wish You Knew,” FIRST SHOT at new stories, and exclusive behind the scenes access! We have some really great stuff coming for you in the mid-February letter.

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Your humble host

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Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the hilarious upcoming novel “Poggibonsi: an italian misadventure.” Click HERE to check out his other works.

Published by Dan Alatorre AUTHOR

International bestselling author Dan Alatorre has 17 titles published in over a dozen languages. From Romance in Poggibonsi to action and adventure in the sci-fi thriller The Navigators, to comedies like Night Of The Colonoscopy: A Horror Story (Sort Of) and the heartwarming and humorous anecdotes about parenting in the popular Savvy Stories series, his knack for surprising audiences and making you laugh or cry - or hang onto the edge of your seat - has been enjoyed by audiences around the world. And you are guaranteed to get a page turner every time. “That’s my style,” Dan says. “Grab you on page one and then send you on a roller coaster ride, regardless of the story or genre.” Readers agree, making his string of #1 bestsellers popular across the globe. He will make you chuckle or shed tears, sometimes on the same page. His novels always contain twists and turns, and his nonfiction will stay in your heart forever. Dan resides in the Tampa area with his wife and daughter. You can find him blogging away almost every day on www.DanAlatorre or watch his hilarious YouTube show every week Writers Off Task With Friends. Dan’s marketing book 25 eBook Marketing Tips You Wish You Knew has been a valuable tool for new authors (it’s free if you subscribe to his newsletter) and his dedication to helping other authors is evident in his helpful blog.

54 thoughts on “Announcing the TOUGHEST Flash Fiction Challenge Ever: 4-Way Dialog (AND a special surprise!)

  1. 4 way conversation challenge..

    Lenny, Rick, Pat and Ryan served together through the roughest times of their lives but this was the worst.. Lenny, who sported an eye patch these days, had no idea how they’d get through this one but he was their leader and had to boost moral..
    ” This isn’t impossible, it just takes putting our heads together”, tapping his temple for effect”. ” Pat held up his bleeding hand for ‘Rick the Medic’ to clean and bandage the deep gash on the back of his hand, ” We’ve been at this for an hour and nothing but my blood to show for it ! ” Ryan too was at his breaking point, “It’s too much of a risk and too much at stake, we have to get a message to someone for help !”

     “Sure Ryan, they’ll run right on in, wave a wand, mission complete and Pat’s hand will be healed too”.
     “Not funny, my hand’s bleeding right thru, fix it, PLEASE and quit agitating him, he’s got a wife, we don’t.”

    “You three knuckleheads, how is it that I got you thru the worst dinner rushes with teamwork at Clucky Chicken but can’t get you to focus together to figure out the damn instructions for this crib !  ” ?

    “You’re right boss, now that I’m done patching Pat up, toss me the instructions and I’ll look for a help number to call”..

    “Owww ! That cut my lip !”  “This little project is leaving scars all over me !”

    “Oops, sorry”

    Lenny’s recent eye surgery left his depth perception and aim off.

    “Wow guys, I didn’t know this would be this hard. Thanks for being here, my wife’s anxious about our first baby coming and I just want to have stuff ready so she doesn’t have to worry about it. I owe you guys”.

    I hope I did this as per instructions and that its fun to read.. I had fun writing it.. 😊

        1. And thanks to you
          Dan ! Looking at the 2 stories that followed mine so far, makes me wish I wasn’t so hasty to post without a more in depth story.. It’s fun and impressive to read people’s stories while we all struggle to keep within the parameters you set..

      1. Wow, I was just hoping I did it right.. I’m not always so good coloring inside the lines 😄
        Thank you very much..
        I’m up for having my mistakes pointed out too.. Its part of how we learn..

          1. Hey Dan, I just realized a glaring mistake I made when I popped in for some story reading.. The sexes.. But its an easy fix 😂
            Pat is a woman and his hand is replaced with her hand, in reference to that character and her statement changes from “we don’t” to “you guys don’t”

            I don’t know how I missed that when picking my characters 😕

            The next posted story is funny, so I think Joy should get extra points..

  2. I found something I already had in progress that already had four characters, and had been lying around as a very rough not-even-draft-yet for months. Thanks for the motivation to finally get around to finishing it!

    I broke your rule about length — it’s closer to 2000 words than 1000 — but it has five people in it! (Okay, the fifth one only has one line.) I don’t normally use speech tags anyway, so that was easy. Let me know if I passed the Dan’s Dangerously Difficult Dialogue test. 😉

    1. I wish more people would use these challenges to showcase their existing material or create something new. If you have something in the aresenal, use it. A segment of a WIP? Sure! Show off your amazing writing!

      1. I never have anything in the arsenal ready to, er, shoot off (or they would be shot off already). But I do have several dozen half-baked ideas for short stories in my file that are waiting for me to find the time and get inspired to go back and really write them. This one, for instance, was originally conceived as a much shorter, light and humorous piece about how funny it would seem to us that someone’s kid is turned into a pig by a witch and the parents act like that’s totally normal. I didn’t have much dialogue and it wasn’t told from the father’s POV. But when I went back yesterday with a fresh eye, suddenly this whole story emerged about the father’s relationships with his sons. (Which was intimidating for me, being not only not a father but not a mother either — so I hope the parenting feelings came across as realistic.)

  3. Dialogue. Please give suggestions.

    Suzanne grabbed two beer out of the fridge and slammed the door. Backing up, she tripped over Dusty, lounging on the rug in front of the kitchen sink. One of the beers bounced off the dog’s ass end.
    “Shit.” She picked it up and closed her eyes, switching the two beer back and forth in her hands until she didn’t know which was what. Smiling, she headed to the bedroom and handed the one on the left to the first guy she saw.
    John popped his beer. Foam spilled over the edge.
    “Flash, heads up.” He tossed a beer to Bruce. “Your girlfriend shook them.”
    Suzanne laid back on the bed, arms behind her head. She didn’t shake them on purpose. “Sorry.”
    It’s wasn’t like they needed more beer. The weekend had been one long binge drinking marathon. She hadn’t seen the light of day in over 30 hours.
    “Move over.” Bruce nudged her. He climbed onto the bed. “I need to lay down.”
    “Don’t puke on my bed. Fuck.” Crawling across the floor, John grabbed Bruce’s ankle and tried to eject him. “I’m serious, man. I don’t want to have to wash sheets.”
    “Sleep over there.” Bruce pointed toward the other bed.
    Suzanne rolled over and faced the wall. Did life even exist outside of this room? As if in answer, door creaked open.
    “I don’t want you guys fucking in my bed either.” John’s empty beer clinked onto the pile. Cigarette smoke filled the air.
    “You just don’t want them fucking.” Angie stepped into the room. The door swung shut behind her.
    “Angie.” Suzanne untangled her self from Bruce’s grip, propping herself on her elbows. Yes. Evidence of the outside. Other people still existed. “Want to go somewhere? Anywhere?”
    “Na. It’s forty below out there.”
    Sighing, Suzanne glanced at Bruce. He snored beside her, trapping her between himself and the wall. Was it her imagination or was the room vibrating?
    John had sat on his hunches. He peered at the snoring lump on his bed. “Did Flash crash out?”
    “Doesn’t he always?” Angie twisted her ankles under her. “It’s freezing in here.”
    Suzanne’s vision lifted from Bruce. She studied John as he leaned on the bedside. He exhaled a smoke ring, his gaze drifting from Bruce to her. The ring disintegrated above her head. Hercheeks warmed under his scrutiny and she pushed the blanket off her legs.
    Angie groaned. “Come on you guys. It’s been five years.” She raised an eyebrow at Suzanne. “Please drop Bruce and go out with my brother.”
    Studying her knees made it easier to ignore Angie’s comment. The clock on the wall chimed eight. Eight o’clock. Five years. Two days of drinking. The numbers hurt her head. The passing of time became a suffocating device, an oppressive entity. She needed out of the room. She needed to fill her lungs with real air. Stumbling off the bed, she dashed to the door.
    The door stuck, the handle refused to turn. In a moment of claustrophobic panic, she yanked on the knob. The handle detached in her hand. She turned around to the blinking expression of her friends.
    John stood. He handed his beer to his sister. “Baby. You’re freaking out. Calm down.”
    Within a second his arms wrapped around her, holding her against his chest. “Angie, put the handle together and get a glass of water.”
    Angie pried the handle out of her grip. “I’ll get you some aspirin.”
    The clicking of the door knob being reassembled filled the room.


    1. I think you do a good job overall. If you want, mix it up here and there – which you do anyway:

      “You just don’t want them fucking.” Angie stepped into the room. The door swung shut behind her.

      can become

      Angie stepped into the room. “You just don’t want them fucking.” The door swung shut behind her.

      or that with a short description if we need one

      Angie stepped into the room, curls of smoke drifted from the cigarette dangling on her lip. She jerked her head back to move her hair from her eyes. “You just don’t want them fucking.” The door swung shut behind her.

      That sort of thing. But really I think you did a good job as it is!

  4. Suzanne only used 1 dialog tag, and considering the amount of dialog and that it was easy to keep track of who said what, I’d say that’s impressive.. I’m curious as to what E6 means at the end..

    1. Thanks Pan. If you have any advice, please throw it at me.
      E6 is a user name I submit chapters under.

      1. Sometimes my typos are funnier or more brow raising than the correct version.. I once posted a comment on a social site,
        “Let me tell you about the house and the ho” and then accidently hit go and it posted.. The post was about an online friend in our group that I had just met in real life, who had renovated a very dilapidated house and made it a home. Before I could follow up with a new correct and complete comment, the rest of the group had hysterical comebacks posted about it.. It was a good intro to the real story 😂

  5. This was really hard for me to write. Usually these challenges just come pouring out, but not this time. Please excuse the quirkiness of this story. I finished it after waking up at 2 am, something that happens a lot because I work nights and my sleep schedule is always a mess. Anyway, here it is. I hope you enjoy it.

    The second bottle of wine was nearly gone when the lights went out. A quick glance to the window told me it was at least the whole street if not the neighborhood. No one was panicking. The other two across from us were oddly silent. Jon, my boyfriend of six months touched my arm. “Are there any candles?”
    “One, maybe. In the bottom drawer.” I gestured to the kitchen as if he could see me.
    He got up and fumbled around, making noise. His brother, who sat opposite me, shifted in his chair and his girlfriend beside him picked up her fake cigarette that made a little whooshing noise before it let out the vapor.
    “I can’t find the candle.” He sat back down and placed his mobile phone next to him illuminating the table, but not much.
    Whoosh. “Well, this makes the evening interesting.” She tipped her wine glass to her lips amid the vapor.
    Jon’s brother used the same word in every sentence. When he opened his mouth, I listened for it as a matter of course.
    “It was already interesting.” Pause. Where was it? “Actually.” Right, I knew it.
    “My phone should last until the lights come back on.” He nudged my elbow.
    Whoosh. “How do you know?”
    I fanned at the vapor.
    “Actually, I don’t mind. It makes the atmosphere more intimate. I feel like telling all of you my secrets.”
    Whoosh. “What secrets? How you think your brother is better looking than you are?”
    “He is. I accept that. It doesn’t bother me at all, actually.”
    Someone bumped my leg with their foot. I moved it but the foot was persistent. Toes wrapped around my ankle, then started to travel up my calf. I pinched my boyfriend but he recoiled. The foot kept going. I was reminded of the time Mr. Actually went through his brother’s phone and found a picture of me with very little clothes on. I kicked the foot.
    Whoosh. “Ouch.”
    I turned toward her. “That’s bad for you. Puts holes in your lungs.” I picked up my wine glass. Did she know it was me?
    Now someone was touching my knee. I wanted to kick all of them out, retrieve my dog from the neighbor’s apartment and go to bed… alone. I took a sip and replaced the glass. I pinched the hand, hard, cursing the too small table under my breath. I knew this wasn’t a good idea.
    “Ouch. I dropped my napkin, actually.”
    The only person not molesting me, my boyfriend, pressed buttons on his phone. “A power line is down. It says it will be at least two hours.”
    Whoosh. “It will be impossible to get a cab.”
    “Actually, you’re right.”
    Jon put his arm around my shoulders. He was always touching me, even when my subliminal messages said don’t. We would have to work on that. “Let’s just open some more wine and relax then.” His fingers pressed the side of my neck.
    “There’s a bottle breathing on the counter.” I turned my head in the general direction.
    Whoosh. “Breathing. That’s funny.”
    “Not for the wine.” The tone of my voice was lower. I felt a little light headed. Too much wine? Not enough meaningful conversation? Maybe both.
    “I’ll get it. You lovebirds stay put. It’s no trouble, actually.”
    Lovebirds? He called me the ice queen in one of the texts I intercepted by accident. Well, not really by accident.
    Jon kissed my neck just underneath my ear. He knew I liked that, just not here, in front of everybody. Did the blackout give them all permission to act like idiots?
    Whoosh. “Jon, what’s the time?”
    “Twelve thirty.”
    Sigh. Whoosh. “It’s late. Do you mind if I stretch out on your couch?” She leaned forward so our heads were almost touching. “I’ve had too much to drink.”
    “Not at all.”
    Jon let me go and retrieved the bottle of wine. He poured the three of us a glass.
    “Actually, she’s tired. It’s been a long day for her. Are you all right, darling, on your own over there?”
    Whoosh. “Don’t worry about me.”
    The two of them drank deeply from their glasses. It would be hard to get rid of them if they finished that bottle. They looked different in the nearly dark, softer, and the resemblance was stronger. They had the same forehead, and nose. I had never noticed that before.
    “She’s right, actually. You are better looking.”
    “Of course I am.” He put his hand over mine. “But you’re smarter.”
    “Yes…actually, I am.”
    “And you make more money.”
    “Maybe, but actually Mom likes you better.”
    I could tell where this was going. I squeezed Jon’s hand, not hard this time, then caressed the top of his thumb and fingers. This was not going to turn into a sibling fight for supremacy.
    “Why don’t all of you spend the night here? You can’t wander around in the dark. The chair next to the couch reclines.”
    Whoosh. “Thanks so much, and for the dinner.”
    I stood up, quite unsteadily. “Jon, can you get the dog please?”
    His brother took the hint and carried his glass with him to my small living room. He sat in the reclining chair and sighed. I left the plates on the table and made my way slowly to the bedroom door. I really was tipsy. “Good night you two.”
    No more whooshing, or actually. They must have passed out fast.
    I couldn’t find my pajamas without the light and I wasn’t an organized person that had everything in the same place, so I fumbled in my overstuffed drawers for something to put on. I settled for yoga pants and a pajama top that was on the floor. My head was spinning. I turned on my back and closed my eyes.
    My next sensation was the dog licking my cheek. I smiled and put her down at the foot of the bed. Rustling noises, then Jon’s body pressed against my back. His hand touched the curve of my waist but his movements were awkward and heavy. No finesse. Too intoxicated. Those type of encounters were short, unsatisfying, not worth the effort, and out of the question with his Mr. Actually and Miss e cigarette listening in the next room. I took his hand and tucked it under my chin.
    “Good night, Jon.”

    1. I like it!

      I asked my five-year-old daughter a question when she got home from school one day, something simple like “Did you draw this picture in class?”

      She replied “Yes,” continuing on her way to the kitchen table for a snack, then stopped. “Actually, we drew two, but I gave the other one to my friend Ella.”

      I was like ACTUALLY???

      Because I say it all the time, I guess.

      At least she didn’t go whoosh.

      Nice job with this story. Seems like you get better every week.

      1. I liked your description of what was going on under the table. You painted a very vivid picture that let me see the scene, or should that be feel the scene. Great job. Shirley

  6. Thanks Dan. I was trying to make the narrator kind of bitchy, self centered, arrogant, kind of like me. Saying one thing and thinking another. Hope that came across. Thanks for making me think.

  7. Awesome Annette !!! You did something only a great writer can do.. You got your reader invested in the story.. I was wanting to jump in the story and drive whoosh and actually back home 😂
    I stopped reading a moment when I had that thought and laughed at myself, realizing I was reacting to the story as the narrator was.. Then I continued enjoying your story right to the end.. This could be turned into a fun novel or even a really good sitcom, as mostly narrative.. The Wonder Years and Everybody Hates Chris worked well doing that.. Yours could be say,
    Things Jenny Won’t Say (Outloud)
    The only thing missing, was more.. SUPER JOB.. 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

  8. The Estate
    By Shirley McLain

    Cherry brought the other three people into the den with four overstuffed chairs sitting in a semi-circle in front of the fireplace. “I’m glad the three of you joined me. I think it’s time we sat down face to face and discussed Uncle Edgars trust. Since we are the only one’s involved with it I didn’t know of any reason to invite the rest of the family.”

    Everyone picked a chair and sat down except Miranda. Since Cherry asked her to put her cigarette out, she’s been on the sensitive side. “I don’t want to be here. I’d rather be home in my house doing what I want to do.”
    “Miranda, sit down and be quiet for once.” Maureen’s tone towards her daughter got her point across so Miranda sat down and slung her legs over the arm of the chair. Maureen instantly leaned over and knocked Miranda’s feet off the arm. “You will sit like a lady.”

    “Everyone this is Mr. John Matherson, he’s Uncle Edgars Attorney and will be handling the estate trust.” Cherry introduced each family member to Mr. Matherson. Everyone except Miranda was cordial.
    “I want everyone to call me, John. This informal meeting is to familiarize you with some of your Uncles or in your case Miranda your Grandfathers wishes towards his estate.”

    Cherry was the first to speak up. “Right now we are in the dark. Edgar was a private man and didn’t share his plans with any of us to my knowledge. There were rumors, but no one knew for sure.”

    “I will disclose most of what his trust entails tonight but with only a few particulars dealing with actually money amounts.” When John mentioned the cash, everyone’s radar went up, and they paid attention.

    “Excuse me, John,” Maureen injected into his conversation. Are you saying that the three of us are getting money?”

    “No, Maureen, you are here acting in the interest of your minor daughter, Miranda. As Edgar’s only great grandchild she will be receiving the bulk of the estate including the ranch. When she reaches age twenty-five, she will handle her finances.”

    Miranda sat up straighter in the chair and glared at her mother before she spoke to John. “That’s a long time away. I don’t want my mom telling me what I can and can’t do with my money. You can change that part.”
    “I’m sorry, the trust was set in stone. For the next eight years, Miranda, your mother will oversee your money and property.”

    “Cherry, you are the oldest of his nieces and the only one he mentioned in his trust. As you said, Edgar was a very private man and did not do any explaining. You are to inherit the oil and gas royalties and pick out four of the rent properties as your own and a monthly allowance of $1500.00. Everything else stays in trust to do what must be done to maintain the ranch and pay taxes on the estate.”

    “What? Why would he leave her so much money? She was never around him. Edgar told Miranda his family would have no involvement in his trust. Now you’re telling us this. We will see about that. Miranda come on, we’re leaving, now.”

    After the two had stormed out of the room, Cherry had an embarrassed look on her face as she spoke. John, I’m so sorry about Maureen. The last thing I expected was her to cause a problem. I’ve got no control over her or anyone else for that matter.”

    “Don’t worry, there is nothing they can do to the trust. Edgar set it up that if you do not have heirs, then your part would revert to the trust for upkeep. Miranda will receive no more than what she has now.”
    As Maureen and Miranda walked too, their car Maureen fussed under her breath. Once they got in the car, Maureen told Miranda, “I’m going to talk to your stepfather. He will know a way for you to get all the money and property even if it takes killing Cherry. She can kiss it all goodbye. “

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