[Writing Prompt] Regrets, I’ve Had A Few

With Our Eyes Wide Open...This week’s writing prompt is completely stolen from the first story in the 2016 edition of The Best American Short Stories (edited by Junot Diaz)

In the story, a man visits his elderly parents. A chance remark reminds him of an incident in his childhood where he was clearly in the wrong, and someone else suffered.

Without being heavy handed, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie allows her character to reminisce, taking us through a bright moment in a child’s life, before showing the act the man would later regret. There is very little commentary, just lush scene-painting and evocation.

The Prompt

Write a story inspired by one of your regrets

Tips

  • Write this story using a nugget from your own past: an act or words of which you were later ashamed.
  • Alternatively, combine a story you heard from someone else with the emotions you felt when you did something wrong.
  • Don’t use this as a vehicle to feel sorry for yourself, now. Rather, use your experiences to conjure up for the reader the feelings, the physical experience of your shame.
  • Don’t write this autobiographically (unless you really love memoir). Give your feelings to another character.
  • Consider giving the feelings of shame to a character who is very unlike you, and see how they would react to facing the consequences of their own actions.
  • Try to not consciously teach the reader a lesson. Instead, explore the experience and let them draw their own conclusions.
  • Try to evoke the experience of doing something you know to be wrong, getting caught, or getting away with it but regretting it anyway, in ways that a reader might recognize from their own experience (that’s why I suggest focusing on the physical reactions).
  • If the point of storytelling is to connect with other readers, sometimes its our worst experiences that give us the vivid emotional memories that allow us create a vivid story.

[Write on Wednesday] Regret

I’m not big on regrets. Everything experience contributes to the person we become, so there’s not much point in wishing to change the past.

But everyone has regrets.

And what good is a character in a story without a few regrets?
Regret - Contrast

The Prompt

Write A Story Centering On A Character Wrestling With A Big Regret

Tips

  • Think of a character (do this exercise: adjective noun; e.g. nervous housewife; tired teacher; suicidal businessman; carefree duke)
  • Give that character one thing in their past that they regret.
  • Think about how this thing has affected where they are today.
  • Ask yourself what would this character do if given a chance to act on the regret (to confront the person it concerned, to change the decision they made, to make amends, to take revenge).
  • Think about the different options open to your character. How does each of them work with the person the character has become in the intervening years? (A rich young man with no responsibilities might swear revenge on the woman who broke his heart. When he meets her again, as an older man who has inherited his wealth and title, does he still want revenge? What will it mean for him if he takes revenge? Is it worth it?)
  • Decide which course of action your character will take (or not take).
  • Set them on the road to taking that course of action.
  • Now start the story. Don’t start with the backstory. Start with them on the road, in the room, in the middle of the fight, in the midst of the heist. You can weave the backstory into the conversations they have during the story.
  • Make sure to let the reader know what’s at stake.

Go!