Today I was writing a scene for a longer story in which my fish-out-of-water character comes up against people she has befriended but disagrees with. It’s very difficult for her to do this, and it was so much fun to write, that I’m recommending you try something similar.
Write A Story Centered Around An Argument
Make sure you make it clear what each character wants and what the stakes are for each character in this argument (in my case, my main character desperately wants to fix a mistake she has made that had consequences for her new friends, without getting them in more trouble. They want to help her and she’s determined to go it alone. The new friends variously want to help her because: they like her; they have a lot to lose too; it’s the right thing to do; they’re bored and want adventure; and simply to take advantage of an opportunity to tease a big brother mercilessly. Each character in the argument has a reason to be in it.)
Think about how you FEEL when you’re in an argument. Try to use some of that physicality — but without resorting to cliché. Be outrageous. Make up new metaphors that suit your setting. Have fun with this. You can always edit them out later.
If you want this to be more than a ‘talking heads’ situation, have your characters DO something as they argue: maybe they’re hiking along a dangerous ridge so they must remain in control or they risk plunging over the edge; maybe they’re doing the dishes; maybe they are hiding from the bad guys and the whole argument must be whispered…
Have some fun with this. Let your characters say things you would NEVER say, because you’re such a nice person (you are, aren’t you?)
How did you get on yesterday? Did you post in the comments or the community about your writing? Which proverb or ‘theme’ did you use?
Every story — even the most literary, introspective story — needs action.
Stuff must happen.
Action is the agent of change and your characters must change (even for a moment) or face an opportunity for change, for your story to interest people. “Stuff happening” is what gives you the opportunity to show that opportunity for change.
Write A Story Featuring An Escalating Catalogue Of Disasters
As I woke up, I reached for my alarm clock and heard rather than felt my hand knock the full glass of water all over my bedside table – home to my iPhone, table and priceless childhood copy of A. A. Milne’s Now We Are Six. So it’s fair to say that I wasn’t in the best mood when my 8 year old declared that no, he simply wasn’t getting up or getting dressed or going to school. After that screaming match my head was pounding so I reached for some ibuprofen, only to scoop down my husband’s blood pressure medicine instead – damned blue-topped bottles! I figured I had time to drop the kids off at school before rushing myself to the ER, but of course, I had forgotten about the half inch of ice on my windscreen….
Ever had one of those days? How about your character?
The essence of story is conflict. Conflict doesn’t have to involve a bad guy. Sometimes the antagonist is simply your character’s bad mood, or the universe, or her lack of preparation.
Write a story that features a character going through a catalogue of disasters
You can start this story at the beginning or the end. They can wake up and start the day off badly, ending up at the wrong end of a loaded gun; or you can start with them strapped into the electric chair, thinking ‘now, how did I get here?’
Likewise, the action can all by mental: you start by offending your cat and end by quitting your job in a blaze of glory, burning bridges as you go.
This story can be humorous or tragic, but make sure your readers are feeling what your character is feeling.
Keep piling on the disasters. Leave us breathless.
Give the reader occasional breaks by pausing for moments of backstory, if you like. See how that feels to you, as a writer. Does it cause the story to slow? Could you, instead, include backstory in conversations or pithy one-line asides.
Make this more immediate by writing in first person.
Or write this in close-third person (no-one else’s thoughts get used, but you’re still writing about your main character as ‘he’ or ‘she’). Remember not to use phrases like “she thought”, “she wondered”, “he looked”. Just tell us a thought. We’re smart enough to figure out that it’s your main character’s thoughts we’re hearing. (e.g. “Well, that wasn’t right” instead of “well, that wasn’t right, she thought”. Much more punch!)
Use this exercise to practice putting action into your stories. It doesn’t have to be ‘running from the law’ action. It can be all psychological (think: Jane Austen), but make sure you can have things happening in your writing at any time.
Remember when your teachers told you every story had a beginning, a middle and an end? Well, they missed a bit.
Write a Flash Fiction Story With Emphasis On The Climax
I love disaster movies — even the really cheesy ones — so my story today will be a mini disaster movie.
I don’t have time, in flash fiction, to build up all the characters a disaster movie would visit at the beginning (the screw-up anti-hero, his ex-wife, the wise elder who’s doomed to die, the young person who hates the anti-hero but will eventually become reconciled with him, the comic relief, the unrequited love interest, the bull-headed person in authority who hampers the anti-hero’s efforts to save the world and, of course, the villain who causes it all through action or arrogant inaction…see? I REALLY love my disaster movies!).
nstead, I’m going to have to concentrate on quickly establishing my flawed character, what he thinks he wants, what he actually needs, his wise-cracking character and his long-suffering assistant/love interest. Then I’m going to wreck his life — quickly — which is fine, cos his life was a wreck anyway. Then I’m going to threaten the last people he cares about, just like we practiced earlier this week.
Finally, I’m going to really concentrate on the climax. I only have up to 1000 words, so I’m not going to be able to go the full Bruce-Willis/Sharknado here, but I’m going to put everything on the line and do my best to pull at the reader’s heartstrings.
FInally, I’m going to spend 100 words or fewer wrapping up.
Before you even start writing, imagine a killer climax
This mean you’re going to have to know your character and his/her problem before you start writing.
You’re also going to have to think of a few complications you might throw at your character.
How can you show the reader why this matters? (Disaster movies usually do this by having the main character’s best friend tell point it out in a conversation, wherein the anti-hero shrugs and makes a witty, self-deprecating joke.)
Don’t be afraid of the cheese factor. This is an exercise, not your last shot at literary immortality (and even if it was, someone got paid to write Sharknado, after all!)
Concentrate on your climax. Everything is at stake, but you don’t have to be writing a disaster movie to make this dramatic. How will your hero change to get out of this problem? If he’s a ranging drunk, can he put down the bottle? If she never talks back to anyone, does she finally stand up for herself? If she’s living under an oppressive regime, can she put three fingers to her lips in a gesture of defiance and have that gesture returned by the crowd (no, wait, that’s been done. But see how totally silent, non-violent act, can be electrifyingly dramatic?)
To engage your readers and hook them in from the first line, it’s a great idea to start in medias res, which means into the middle of things. So…
Kicking off the next few days’ Guest Prompters is StoryADay past participant Simon Kewin, who provided this great prompt. Thanks, Simon!
To engage your readers and hook them in from the first line, it’s a great idea to start in medias res, which means into the middle of things. So, instead of opening with long descriptions of background and prior events, jump straight into the action. This is immediately more engaging for the reader. The trick for the writer is then to drip-feed into the narrative information about prior situations the reader needs without it becoming too intrusive and, well, boring.
The following prompts are opening lines of stories that start in medias res. See where they – or something like them – lead you…
Nate plummetted to the ground, screaming Kate’s name as he fell.
Amanda Frobisher stood in front of the entire school, only to find no words would come out of her mouth.
Jamie stood in the wreckage of his ransacked house, trying to take it all in.
Max had one bullet left. He had to make it count.
“So, will you marry me or not?”
Simon is a UK writer and a previous StoryADayMay participant. He has two novels appearing this years: Engn, to be published by December House in July and Hedge Witch, to be published by Morrigan Books on Hallowe’en. He can be found at http://simonkewin.co.uk
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