A Chat story is a story on steroids. Think of it as an escape that delivers 5 to 7 minutes of reading pleasure.

It's intense, fast-paced, and full or suspense and twists. The dialogue is forceful and compelling, such that it grabs the reader's attention, and keeps it throughout the story; at the beginning, during the transitions, and upon conclusion.

Unlike novels which have the luxury of paragraphs to convey context, setting and emotional depth, Chat stories are extremely limited in the amount of text readers are willing to read before they leave the story.

Below are several KEY points to note when writing a Chat story.

Story Writing Mechanics

  1. A minimum of 50 messages per story.
  2. A maximum of 150 messages per story; recommended 120.
  3. A maximum of 10 - 12 words per message. If a character has a lot to say, split it into consecutive messages.
  4. A minimum of 70% of the story should be dialogue between characters.
  5. The first 3-5 messages must hook your reader's interest.
  6. With every 6-10 messages, provide something new, fresh, captivating, or suspenseful to your reader. (e.g. twists, new information, new emotional reactions, images etc.)
  7. We recommend limiting your story to no more than 6 characters, to allow for sufficient character development, given the short length.
  8. Before you submit, read your story to someone, and ask them to honestly tell you which areas that make them zone out, or leave them confused.

The Story Plot

  1. The plot MUST be catchy and compelling, so that a reader's immediate question is "what happened?" Of course we know, an excellent writer can take a mediocre plot and bring it to life with fascinating dialogue between characters. However the work of engaging the reader becomes much easier with a catchy plot.
    See an example
    Weak Plot

    A doctor discovers his side-chick is pregnant. Because he doesn't want his wife to know, he tries to convince the side-chick to abort the baby, but she refuses. The doctor then attempts to sabotage the pregnancy by prescribing medicine, and by giving advice that would result in a miscarriage. The side-chick begins having pregnancy complications.
    The doctor's conscience pricks him and he remembers he swore an oath to do no harm. He then relents, and does everything in his power to rectify the complications, thereby ensuring a successful pregnancy, even though he knows his marriage would be over once his wife knows of his infidelity.

    Issue: The doctor's challenge, "should he use his medical knowledge to commit malpractice", is not presented in an urgent and compelling enough way to make a reader immediately want to know what choice he makes. And even if the reader decides to give the story a chance, this type of plot will drag on for far too long and the reader may abandon the story.

    Strong Plot

    A doctor leaving the hospital is going home to confess to his wife that he's been cheating on her. Suddenly a patient who just had a horrible accident is rushed into the hospital and requires an emergency operation. He is pulled in to help, and discovers that the patient is his pregnant side-chick. As the operation is risky, he sees an easy way out of his dilemma, since he can claim the baby died while he was trying to save the lady's life.
    He comes close to ending the pregnancy during the operation, however decides against harming the lady and baby, even though he knows his marriage would be over once his wife knows of his infidelity.

    Here, the same challenge: "should the doctor use his medical knowledge to commit malpractice" is presented in an urgent, graphic, and much more dynamic way. And a reader will definitely want to know the decision he makes in the operation room.

  2. The plot should address a specific incident at a specific point in 'present' time. We advise against narrating an event that occurred in the past. Rather use flashbacks, and write the "past" as though its the present and the characters are currently experiencing the events in your story. This way, you can present the drama in a way that heightens the reader's experience.
    See an example
    Weak Plot

    The story starts with Nafiu as a kid being beaten by his parent, and bullied by his classmates at school. Over time, he grows up with low self esteem, and this is evident in his boss and coworkers disrespect him at work. Once in the office parking lot when Nafiu was being disrespected by his coworkers, a really beautiful girl stood up for him. Nafiu fell in love with her, and tried everything to win her heart, but because of his low self esteem, he never took that final step, and thus he lost what he thought was the love of his life, until he realized she was a mami-wata (mermaid).

    Issue: While useful for character development, Nafiu's childhood is irrelevant and should not be a scene itself.

    Strong Plot

    Nafiu stumbled into Adunni on a hot day in Lagos. Mesmerized by her beauty, he tried everything to capture her heart, only for him to mess up, each time, at the last moment. Little did he know that the same lack of confidence which has always failed him, actually saved him from Adunni's secret; she's a mami-wata.

    This plot is straight to the point and focuses on the crucial aspects of the story. Elements of who Nafiu is, his insecurities, will be reflected through his actions, thoughts and interactions.

The Beginning

The beginning of the story MUST be catchy. In fact, the first 3-5 messages must immediately draw your reader into the story. Readers may not have wait for a story to gradually build up. Rather than tapping to load the next message, the reader may tap to exit and find another story that gives them the emotional satisfaction they crave. So put your best scenes forward as you write, because the job of the beginning is to give your reader a reason to read.

The Transitions

  1. The scenes MUST proceed at a brisk pace. Because readers have to tap the screen to see the next development, when a scene drag on for too long with mundane details, you risk losing your reader. Always ask yourself two questions: "what are the key issues in the scene?", and "are the details I provide fundamentally relevant to developing the key issues"?
  2. The flow of the story MUST be logical and consistent. Just because you eliminate superfluous dialogue does not mean that the story's progression should feel disjointed. Ensure you provide the necessary context that makes it easy for readers to follow the story's progression, because the job of the middle (and transitions) is to deliver on what was promised at the beginning.

The Ending

NEVER let your story fall flat. Many great stories have been brought low by a sub-par ending. As you conclude, leave your reader in a heightened emotional state. You may choose to intensify the emotions you have built up throughout the story, or you may introduce twists that are logically consistent with the plot you've laid out, in order to leave readers with a different set of emotions. Regardless of what you do, always remember that the job of the ending is to exit gracefully.

The Dialogue

  1. The chat story MUST contain a considerable amount of dialogue. Let the context and drama of the story unfold in the dialogue, and only use narrations sparingly to provide key context that is impossible to write as dialogue.
    See an example
    Weak Dialogue

    As the shortest and fattest boy in the class, I was an easy target for bullies.
    And the fact that I wore glasses much too big for my face made it even worse.
    On a good day, my classmates will tease me, or throw paper balls at the back of my head.
    On a bad day, the bullies would pull my hair, spill Ribena on my shirt, and even hit me sometimes.

    Issue: Too much narration. The point here is to show that the boy was bullied. Write out the scene as a dialogue with the bullies and let the details unfold as your reader experiences the character's pain.

    Strong Dialogue

    Jack: Kick him!
    Akpan: No! Please no.
    Akpan: I will do anything, just don't stain my shirt.
    Jack: Hahaha.
    Akpan: Mama will beat me if my shirt is dirty. This is my only shirt.
    Jack: And what do you think we will do?
    Jack picks up the cup of Ribena, and pours the purple liquid on Akpan's shirt.
    Akpan: Noooooo!
    Akpan: You've gone too far this time.

  2. The dialogue MUST be authentic and relatable. Readers do not want to feel like they are reading a story. They want to "be the character" in the story, and experience the character's feelings. When writing, become the character, with his/her unique personality, and in the specific situation, then write each message in that character's voice. This requires doing character development for each person in your story, and is a crucial part of storytelling.
    See an example
    Weak Dialogue

    Simi: Babe, I'm so scared.
    James: I know, I'm scared too.
    Simi: But you can't be. You have to be strong for both of us.
    James: I know, I'm trying. I wish I can do something.
    Simi: What if you get out and try to flag a car down.
    James: I don't think that will work.
    James: We're on a deserted road, and it's dark and rainy.

    Issue: If people are scared, chances are that they will be a bit irrational, their emotions will be all over the place, and will not have a peaceful conversation. Also Simi is supposed to be a timid person, whereas James, is frustrated; but with this conversation, their personalities did not come through.

    Strong Dialogue

    Simi: James, I'm scared. What can we do?
    James: ...
    Simi: James I want to go home. Do something.
    James: You think I want to be here!
    Simi: I don't like it here...
    Simi: James... James are you listening?
    James: Ooo! Leave me alone.
    James: Can't you see I'm trying to figure out a solution.
    Simi: What if you get out and try to flag a car down.
    James turns to give Simi a disbelieving look.
    James: You want me to get out on a deserted road...
    James: In the dark... in the rain... and flag a car down?

  3. The dialogue MUST NOT feel normal and dull. The very nature of chat stories is dynamic, so ensure that the dialogue is full of emotions. Use expressive language to convey the mental state of your characters. This will keep your reader hooked throughout the story.
    See an example
    Weak Dialogue

    Diana is visibly upset and she screams angrily at Olisa.
    Diana: Why did you do that, Olisa?
    Olisa: I didn't mean to kill him.
    Olisa panics and drops the gun.
    Upon hitting the floor, the gun goes off a loud bang, making Olisa scream loudly in fear.

    Issue: By describing the character's mental state, rather than letting the character's words/actions reflect it, you lose the opportunity to immerse your reader in the character's feelings.

    Strong Dialogue

    Diana: Arrrgh! Olisa!!!
    Diana: What the hell did you do?!
    Olisa: I... I didn't mean to ki.. kill him.
    Olisa panicks and drops the gun.
    The gun goes off loudly upon hitting the floor.
    Olisa: Aiiiiiieeeeeeeeeeeee!
    Olisa screams in fear.

  4. Every scene, narration and dialogue MUST BE relevant to the progression of the story. Any line that can be easily removed without affecting the desirability of the story should be removed. Remember, your job is to keep your reader on an adrenaline rush, so don't lose your reader's interest with extraneous content.
    See an example
    Weak Dialogue

    Scene - Robbing a bank
    It's almost 5pm, 10 minutes before the bank closes.
    People are having conversations in the bank.
    Bank teller: Hello customer, long time no see.
    Customer: Yes o, my brother. I've been so busy with life.
    Bank teller: Eeya, I can understand. Even me, I've barely had any time outside work.
    Customer: Well the bank pays you the big bucks for your time.
    Bank teller: Which big bucks? In fact they are owing us 2 months' salary.
    At this point, the robber walks into the bank, pulls out a gun, and shoots twice.
    Robber: Get your hands up bitches, this is a robbery!
    People scream at the sound of gunshots.

    Issue: The small talk between the bank teller and customer is irrelevant to the main point, the bank is being robbed.

    Strong Dialogue

    Scene - Robbing a bank
    10 minutes before the bank closes.
    People are having conversations in the bank.
    Two men with masks suddenly barge into the bank.
    Robber: Get your hands up bitches!
    People scream at the sound of gunshots.

  5. The dialogue MUST BE clear, concise and direct. The essence of chat stories is simple vivid language in small increments. Your reader must immediately understand three things with each message they read: (a) the message being conveyed, (b) the emotional state of the character conveying the message, and (c) how the message relates to the current scene and entire story.
    See an example
    Weak Dialogue

    Abena: You are unappreciative. Despite all the financial assistance I provided for your education these past 5 years, now you treat me like this?

    Issue: Sentence is too long, and contains too many big words, making it hard for the reader to understand.

    Strong Dialogue

    Abena: You... YOU UNGRATEFUL PIG!
    Abena: 5 years! I paid your school fees for 5 long years.
    Abena: And what do I get... insults!

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