Two Characters Duke It Out | StoryADay 2024 Day 2

Limit your characters to maximize your chances of finishing a sthort story today

The Prompt

Limit your story to two characters. Each wants the same thing, but for different reasons

Things To Consider

Have you ever sat a a dinner table and listened to two relatives argue, only to discover, when you listen carefully, that they’re actually arguing the same point, just from marginally different angles?

(In my experience this happens with fathers and sons a lot. They agree on the big points but nitpick the expression of them to death, until everyone else slinks away from the dinner table and hangs out with mom and her box of wine, in the kitchen).

In this moment of what seems like deep divisions in our politics, if you dig deeper you mostly find that humans want the same things, they just differ about how to get there: we want to feel safe, to have love in our lives, to have some degree of autonomy, to do rewarding work, to make a difference.

But writing a story about such lofty ideas is not terribly compelling, so let’s bring this down to a more mundane level. Perhaps your characters both want a healthy meal but are bickering about whether that means a deep-fried, but vegetarian meal or one that includes grilled meat and seared vegetables.

As they walk and talk and try to pick a restaurant, their conversation might reveal other, deeper problems—or joys—in their relationship. Perhaps your characters are trying to break out of a locked room they’re stuck in.

Both have strong opinions about the best way to do that. This could be a simple puzzle (how will they escape?) or, again, you could reveal more about each character and their relationship to each other, based on the options each puts forward or in the way they physically approach the eventual escape.

I’m asking you to write this story with two characters for a couple of reasons

  1. If you only have one character in a story it can become very passive, with lots of internal though and very little action, which makes it hard to engage a reader and make them care….unless your character has a strong and quirky voice (and we’ll be talking about that later this month);
  2. The energy of a story is conflict. This can be conflict between what a character wants and what they are currently qualified to achieve, but when you introduce a second character you have many more types of conflict available to explore.

Plus, when you have characters interacting physically and verbally, you have built-in action to keep the reader interested and feeling like this is a thing that actually happened, in an actual physical space, and not simply an intellectual exercise or essay that they’re reading.

Other things to think about:

Don’t give us too much backstory. Short stories often work best when grounded in the moment, with only hints about the larger world the characters inhabit.

Give them one problem to deal with or bicker over, and then end the story. Remember, you’re coming back tomorrow to write again, right?

Leave a comment and let us know how it went!

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36 thoughts on “Two Characters Duke It Out | StoryADay 2024 Day 2”

  1. My effort unfolded as a poignant examination of incompatibility and how two people can want something but one or the other will have to sacrifice in order to achieve the “desired” end. Unexpected. My default tends to be a little “lighter” so it was fun to explore.

  2. Here’s my five-sentence prompt:
    “Theresa Carter climbs the four flights to her Manhattan apartment after a long day at her boss’s law firm and a cold subway ride home. She carries in Chinese takeout. The lawyer she works for as secretary is no doubt home having his usual scotch on the rocks and digging in to a steak dinner served up by his trophy wife.
    Millie sets the sesame chicken and white rice on her kitchen table and throws her coat over a chair.
    Fuck this, she tells herself, as she opens her laptop to search vacation sites.”

  3. My story was about a couple discussing their vacation plans and are on the edge of saying things they might regret. They use skills learned in marriage counseling.

    I confess I’m a retired marriage counselor. I wanted to fantasize about a couple actually using my suggestions and it working out.

    1. Now that is a wild question – some say 1,000 to 5,000 words. Though you have flash fiction that can go below 500 or less, there are 150-word story challenges, even 5-sentence stories.

      So, anything sub 5,000 is what I land on ultimately.

  4. Done!

    10 years ago I started a series of stories set in a town very like the one I live now. Today I resurrected two of those characters and had them try to work together planning the town’s annual parade. One is an old timer, the other a newcomer and they have very different ideas…

    Want sure I was going to be able to make anything of it, but that was fun!

  5. Had fun again. I wrote about two elderly sisters fighting about the best way to make the gravy on Thanksgiving, but of course they are actually at odds about their entire life together. Very satisfying, messy first draft!

  6. The brainstorming prompts were really useful to me in this. I think I’ll be coming back to them for other things.

    I feel like what I wound up with was more of a scene than a complete story, which is a known problem I have trying to write short fiction. I wrote about two high school friends who are determined to go to college together but who are looking for different things in a school. I don’t know that it stands alone, but as something that is filling in backstories and helping me get to know the characters from the next novel I plan to attempt (two of whom are these girls twenty years later), I think it went really well.

  7. Me again (sorry). After my writing a story I like but not reading the directions carefully for day 2 I’m going to try to write another one following directions. I don’t want to miss anything, and reading other people’s story summaries on this site has given me a better idea of how to go about it. Strength in numbers of story writers.

    1. I’ve seen it mentioned a few times, ‘Reading directions’ etc. Julie can correct me if I’m wrong but I am the worst at following Julie’s prompts on the day. I’m writing a story day, and I used yesterday’s prompt as of today. Today’s prompt is now in my head and could crop up at a random point in the future.

      Good on you for getting one written today, if you wrote two, even better – save it up to finish on another day when you’re struggling.

  8. I couldn’t think of anything regarding this exercise so I scanned my mind for an autobiographical argument and came up with one that may happen in the very near future. Unfortunately, I didn’t pay attention to the directions that the two characters are supposed to want the same thing 😕. Well, they don’t. It’s about one sibling trying to convince the other sibling to attend another sibling’s funeral. The one who doesn’t want to attend has what he believes are good reasons. At the end of the argument/story I had the character who plans not to attend give his sibling a sign that he isn’t attending. That made me so happy to show and not tell. I’m very happy with the story I wrote. Only problem is, if it got published what if someone in the family read it. Yikes. I’m going to work on making it less autobiographical. I spent about an hour and a half on it and I learned an awful lot writing it. Yay! 😊

    1. In most of our experiences it’s hard to get family members to read your stuff, even when they say they will.

      1. I second that. They do occasionally, and I get my wife to play editor on stuff I’m pushing to publish and share. Re the Autobiographical stuff. Tricky. I do mask it change names, settings etc.

        Again though, to Julie’s point, they tend not to go seeking it themselves.

  9. Day 2 complete! I wrote about a father and daughter arguing over which ring he should propose with. It’s a sweet moment because the daughter has wanted this union for years and her and her dad have grown estranged so they are able to bond over picking the perfect ring together.

  10. The thing I love about Story-A-Day is that I read the prompt, get frustrated, thinking I don’t have anything to write, sit down and start writing. Sometimes it takes me a few paragraphs, but before I know it, I’m writing. And I’m usually happy with it by the end. And isn’t that feeling why we’re all writers? For that one bright moment when it all comes together?

  11. Day 2 done! I wrote about a husband wife trying to make vacation plans. It’s fictional, but may be based on real events 😬

  12. I wrote about two guys at a science fiction convention arguing over whether Tarkovsky’s *Solaris* was real science fiction. Today’s “Warm Up” helped a lot, because I started by recreating a conversation my father and I had had on that subject. My father, like one of the characters in my story, claimed it was not sf because it had both philosophical concepts and real human feelings, neither of which belong in sf. The conflict was resolved – or set aside at least – when the pro-Solaris character urges the other to attend an all night screening of all 26 episodes of *Neon Genesis Evangelion.* A nerd fest, in other words.

    1. Oh, that’s an intriguing perspective on SF. I’m guessing your father would not have enjoyed a lot of modern SF!!

    2. Love the topic. Interesting that someone would argue philosophy and feelings don’t belong in science fiction. Dare I ask, ‘is science not philosophical at its core?’

      Even without reading your two sides it sounds like it would be thought provoking.

  13. It was only yesterday when I have an idea for this prompt. I stayed out of it to observe the conflict by just focusing on what I can only write about. And this is where I wrote something just then.

  14. Day 2 down. So excited. Mine is about father and son. They are arguing over what is best for the son but each think it’s a different thing.

  15. I was going through Mr. Fallon Brown’s comments. The moment you say there are 2 characters, who have feelings for another – there are 3 characters in the story.
    I wrote a story. I was never a serious reader I ought to have read the prompt thoroughly at first. I didn’t. Only after submitting, I realised my mistake. I withdrew the story immediately afterwards. Here is reposting the same story ditto, word by word. Though it has to be disqualified even by a graceful lady like Julie. But I was too tired by the end to try writing another.
    The story : LOVE-SNARE
    [Normally, I write very fast. Once I am done with the story-writing, I seldom feel the need to edit it.
    This time though, I was faced with a problem. The prompt read :
    Limit your story to two characters. Each wants the same thing, but for different reasons. So, I had succeeded in making both the brothers, Raj and Ron, fall for the same girlie, Mita. ( The moment I brought Mita into the story, there were 3 characters. This is the first time I made such a mistake.)
    While going through the story a second time, I realised that I couldn’t make Ron’s love for Mita all that prominent. But by then it was too late. So, let me present to you a story called “Love-Snare”] :

    “How do I tell Ron that she is a….she isn’t the right girl for him. If she has started acting like he means the world to her, he’s yet to know the harsh realities! What do I do? How do I save my bro from this snake-charmer?” Raj kept pacing up and down the floor of his room before getting back to the window again.
    “And to think of her guts! Sitting there on the bench in that canopy with Ron as if the rest of the world doesn’t matter to her! What a shameless sissy!” As Raj kept standing there fury personified, the girl in question looked up to the window with that charming smile of hers and whispered something to a sober, subdued Ron, sitting by her side.
    “I know what I’m gonna do. Regardless of how Ron feels about it, I’ll snatch that girl away, pretending to have fallen for her, or her guiles rather. And once I get her to reciprocate my love, she won’t be the same anymore.”
    Raj put his sneakers back on and ran down the stairs and out of the Principal’s quarter situated at the extreme end of the collage premises.
    He hurried along the shady path around the garden to get back to the canopy in the corner just near their quarters. Finding him coming their way, the girl seemingly moved a little away from Ron.
    “Oh, Ron. You’re here.I’ve been looking all over the places for you.” He said this with his eyes on the girl though.
    Ron looked troubled by his brother’s sudden appearance and asked,”Why? What’s happened?”
    “Dad’s getting back tonight and you’ve to drive down to the airport to pick him up.”
    “Why can’t you go? What time is his return flight?” Ron asked him.
    “I’ve a blister in my toe and you know that quite well. Dad gets back at around six forty. That gives you barely an hour’s time. Get up and get going.” Then looking as if he had noticed the girl for the first time Raj said,”Sorry, Mita, or whatever your name is. You’ve got to excuse my bro for the time being. On second thought, why don’t you let me take my brother’s place while he’s gone?”
    Ron, having noticed anything amiss in his brother’s behaviour, was already up, patted the back of the girl’s hand and mumbled, “See you in the class tomorrow.” He was already on his way back to their house next.
    Mita was up on her feet and ready to go but Raj forced her into sitting back beside him.
    “Please let go of my hand. You’re hurting me, Raj.”
    “I’ll be hurting you even more, if you don’t stop playing your games with my bro. And you can’t even imagine the state you’ll be in, after I’m done with you… I know the likes of you very well.” Raj said threateningly.
    “If you think I’m afraid of your attitude and ego, you’re much mistaken, Raj. It’s not my fault if Ron likes me. Besides, I’m slowly taking a liking to him. He’s so cute and well-behaved, you know, so very unlike some people I’ve the misfortune of coming across…”
    “I know your type very well. You’re planning on ruining his career, life, everything. Why don’t you leave my bro alone? A characterless girl like you can easily find some other jerks, can’t you?” Raj yelled at her while exerting more pressure on her hand still clutched in his. She neither cringed or cried out.
    “I know why you’re doing this, Raj. You still have difficulty coping up with the fact that you, Raj Malhotra, the Darling of St. James College, could be dumped by someone like me. You’ve to accept the fact that you were being very physical lately. Being a girl, I had my reputation to protect. Anyway, if know you must, Ron’s dear and takes good care of me. We two’ll be a happy couple. Is that too much for you to digest?” She was almost teasing her as Raj slackened the hold on her hand.
    It was a beautiful time of the day. The sun had long gone down the horizon, leaving the sky a golden crimson. Far away, there were not many people along the river bank. A bare-bodied man with a hairy chest, was trying to unhook something from his fishing rod. Whether it was a Tuna or Ruhi, it was difficult to guess from the distance. A couple, holding hands, completely lost in one another, was sitting on a bench under the shady trees.
    Mita freed her hand and got up. So did Raj and without giving her a chance, he turned her towards him with his left hand and briskly held her chin with his free hand. Before Mita realised what was happening, her lips were caught in a vicious liplock. A few seconds later, she had her hands around him inspite of herself, crying, moaning:
    “You silly! There were no Ron, Dev or Ashok really. It has always been you from the first day I saw you making those unbelievable saves as the college golly. The whole college went gaga over your heroics that day.”

    That’s how Raj fell head over heels in love, trying to untrap his innocent brother, Ron from the snare of someone he considered a shameless, characterless girl, Mita.
    The end

  16. I have 2 friends(who both have feelings for the other, but neither are ready to admit it) discussing plans for the evening, and each claiming to want to do what the other would want, even if it’s not what they really want. The characters are from my WiP, Know My Way Around, but I don’t know if this will end up in it or not.
    477 words(+157 of brainstorming before I started)

    1. Cool. Snippets, I call them, where I write random elements, be it about the gods in a given story, or even little prologue scenes for individual characters. as you have I’ve done them in story-a-day before.

      Even if you don’t use it, you’re already adding depth to your WiP.

  17. OK Day 2 done, the 5 sentence idea grabbed me, so here it is:

    He turned and, instead of walking, he ran back down the path towards his car, needing to escape before his courage faltered again; this was his limit, any further and it would all be over. Suddenly, the realisation struck him: he had locked his keys in the car, a subconscious act to create another barrier between him and his old life, as painful as it was. Without hesitation, thoughts of his daughters and Esther flooding his mind, he smashed the back passenger window with a rock the size of a melon, reaching through to pop the front door lock. Moments later, the car was speeding up the dirt road, the chilly air whipping around him, penetrating his skin and nostrils, his senses alive with the choice of life he had just made over death.

    The above is an Epilogue to 2019 Story-a-day – Day 10

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