Turning Point – A writing prompt for novelists

This week I’m focusing on prompts that novelists can use. If you’re  novelist, I don’t want you to feel like you’re wasting your time here at StoryADay May. While short story writers can easily use these prompts, too, you novelists will find much in them that enriches your work-in-progress.

Let’s dive in:

The Prompt

Write a story that investigates a turning point in your protagonist’s past.

Tips

  • Every interesting character has an internal struggle fighting with (or complementing) the external struggle of the plot. It usually stems from a character flaw/defect/protection mechanism they’ve been building for years. Use this prompt to write a story that captures the beginning of that character development.
  • If you don’t have a novel or work in progress, investigate a character from an earlier story you’ve written (or one you hope to write).

Lisa Cron’s Story Genius (referenced in the video) can be found here or requested through your local indie bookstore.

Getting Emotional – a writing prompt from Angela Ackerman

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Today, Angela Ackerman invites us to think about our character’s past emotional trauma and how it affects them in the present.

This is a really useful exercise for deepening any character in any length of story. Use it for a character from a novel, or for the character in a short story. It can’t help but make your story more rich.

And remember: emotion is the key to a reader connecting with your story.

The Prompt

Emotional trauma is an experience, or set of experiences, that can change your character in fundamental ways, altering their personality, embedding fears in their minds, affecting their ability to connect and trust others, and steering their needs and desires during your story.

Write about a wounding experience from your character’s past that changed them into who they are today.

HINT: most wounding experiences involve someone close to the character as it is the people closest to us who are able to do the most psychological damage.

For emotional wound ideas, try this list: https://onestopforwriters.com/wounds


About Angela Ackerman

Angela Ackerman is a writing coach, international speaker, and co-author of The Emotion Thesaurus: a Writer’s Guide to Character Expression and four other bestselling writing guides. A proud indie author, her books are available in five languages, sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors and psychologists around the world.

Angela is also the co-founder of the popular site, Writers Helping Writers, as well as One Stop For Writers, an innovative online library built to help writers elevate their storytelling.

http://writershelpingwriters.net/
https://onestopforwriters.com

[Writing Prompt] Interrogate A Character

InterviewToday’s writing prompt is ripped straight from my 6th Grader’s homework folder, but that doesn’t make it any less relevant. 

I’m steeped in (as well as 6th Grade homework) Lisa Cron’s fabulous latest book Story Geniusin which she makes the compelling point that you cannot begin to tell your character’s story until you know about their past.

It’s a delightfully obvious (and surprisingly overlooked) observation that ought to be front and center in every writing class. So here we go.

The Prompt

Interview a character from one of your stories. Find out as much as you can about their past and what formed the character they possess on Page One of their story. Continue reading “[Writing Prompt] Interrogate A Character”

Torture Your Protagonist

One of the biggest problems in fiction is when a writer creates nice characters and then doesn’t want to hurt them. Today, let’s make it hurt!

The prompt

Torture your protagonist

Tips

  • This may come easily to some of you, so you don’t need to read any further. If you’re already good at torturing your protagonist. Just go and get writing!

  • For the rest of us, there’s a temptation to let our characters be funny and nice and lovable. We don’t want to make unsympathetic. However, if they’re too perfect, they’re not interesting.

  • Let’s think back to the earlier story, where I asked you to create a flawed protagonist. Wasn’t that fun? You can still have a sympathetic character by letting them be terrible at one thing, especially if they’re very, very good at a lot of other things.

  • You want the reader to root for your character and the won’t if she’s perfect.

  • Torturing your character doesn’t really mean doing terrible things to them. It just means separating them from their goals and desires.

  • Remember my story about the person who wants the chocolate cake? She’s witty and feisty and could be running around the world getting everything she wants, but the real story doesn’t start until she separated from her heart’s desire: the chocolate cake. I could write all day about my witty-and-feisty character and eventually you would stop reading, if I didn’t torture her little bit.

  • Think about your character’s desires their wants and needs. How can you separate them from the things they want, at least temporarily.

  • It can be their own internal demons that are keeping them from what they want. Or it can be an antagonistic force such as a natural disaster. Or it can be an antagonistic character such as an loving, but overbearing mother. Or it can be a straight-up villain.

Did you torture your character today? Leave a comment telling us what you did to your character and if it came naturally to you or if this is something new. If you are ignoring these prompts and writing your own stories, leave a comment and let us know how it’s going!

An Emotional Rollercoaster

Today we’re taking your readers on an emotional ride!

The prompt

Write a story designed to elicit specific emotions in the reader

Tip

  • In looking back at your stories this month, have you noticed that you are better at eliciting certain emotions than others? Perhaps you’re good at scaring people. Perhaps you’re good at writing tearjerkers. Perhaps you good at making people laugh. Or making people feel the beauty of the situation or your words.

  • Even if you’re not sure what you’re best at, pick an emotion today that you would like to make your readers feel. This is your chance to go all “Stephen King”, or “50 Shades Of Gray”.

  • In order to elicit emotions in readers you’re going to have to make them care about your character. Then you have to put that character in peril.

  • Peril doesn’t necessarily mean dangling them off a cliff. Just remember to focus on what they really, really want…and then take it away from them.

  • The more you can keep the reader inside the heart of your character the stronger their reaction will be.

Leave a comment to let us know which emotion you went for today. And remember, if you’re enjoying these prompts, why not share them?

The Sidekick in the Tale

Day 14

For the past two days we’ve played with protagonists and antagonists/villains. But these are not the only characters who appear in a story.

The Prompt

Write a story that includes a sidekick

Tips

  • secondary characters play a vital rule in a short story: they highlight characteristics of the main character
  • You must resist the temptation to give a secondary character/sidekick their own interesting story in this short story. This is not a novel.
  • I use the word “sidekick” in the title for this post for a reason. A sidekick is an almost cartoonish, two-dimensional character. Of course this character does have a life of their own. You’re just not telling that story in this story.
  • The entire purpose of a sidekick is to ask the difficult questions, to let the protagonist show off, and perhaps to be rescued.
  • Think of Dr. Watson and Sherlock Holmes, or any of the assistants in the 80s episodes of Doctor Who. Their main functions are to show Sherlock Holmes and The Doctor as the geniuses they are. The sidkicks mostly slow down the brilliant characters’ pace so the reader/viewer can keep up.
  • Sidekicks introduce complications (think of all those twisted ankles and all the times a sidekick blunders into a trap and has to be rescued).
  • Sidekicks ask the difficult questions questions (such as “why don’t we just got back in the TARDIS and fly away?”).
  • They can also point out your characters flaws something that the modern Doctor Who’s assistants do very nicely.
  • Write a story in which you give your sidekick who can show off the protagonists best features, draw attention to their flaws, and perhaps even cause complications in the story.

Leave a comment to let us know how you got on today. What kind of sidekick did you write? Or, if you’re using your own prompts, how’s the challenge going? What are you writing? What’s going well?

Your Flawed Protagonist

Today we’re moving on to another element of story: your protagonist

The Prompt

Write a story with the flawed protagonist

Tips

  • This is kind of a cheat because every protagonist should have a flaw, but today we’re going to focus on that.

  • Characters are interesting for many reasons. They can be interesting because we identify with them, because we don’t like them, because they’re better than us at something, because they have some special gift, many reasons. But they are not interesting if they are perfect.

  • Think about Luke Skywalker, the hero of the Star Wars original trilogy. He has a gift, but is really annoying at the beginning of the story. He’s whiny. He’s immature. He’s rash. He puts other people in danger, all because he’s bored. All of which means that he has an interesting character arc on which to travel.

  • In the Amelia Peabody mysteries Amelia is ahead of her time: a brilliant Egyptologist, she’s rich, she has a fabulous husband, she’s very confident… she’s also hysterically self delusional, and fails to admit any of her own faults, while pointing out those of everyone else, at all times. She is a fun character, not because of the stuff she’s good at, but because of the stuff she doesn’t even realize she’s bad at.

  • Who can you write about today? Write a list of their attractive qualities and then give them one big weakness. It doesn’t have to be a fatal, heroic flaw that’s going to cause their downfall, although it can be if that’s what you want to write. It could be something as simple as Hermione Granger, being a bit of a pain in the neck, even though she’s so clever. In the first Harry Potter book, that flaw isolates her from her friends at the very moment when she needs them.

  • Concoct a scenario for your character where they get to show off their good talents but where their flaw is going to cause them problems. Then, write your way out of it.

  • If you get stuck at any point simply start a new paragraph with the words “And because of that…” and continue writing. Do this at least three times, then resolve the situation and you’ll have a complete story.

  • Remember, use these tricks, and then clean them up in the rewrite. It’s not like you got anything else to do in the month of June, is it?

Leave a comment to tell us what flaw you chose for you protagonist. Got any tips on how to keep writing as we head in to the middle of the month? Share them here!

When Your Character Is Not Like You

Today we’re turning yesterday’s prompt inside out.

The Prompt

Write a story about a character as unlike you as you can manage

Tips

  • All those characteristics about yourself that you thought of yesterday? Age, gender, etc. Today were going to throw them out of the window and you’re going to write a story about a character who is diametrically opposed to all of those things.
  • If you wrote about a woman yesterday today, you write about a man. If you wrote about a middle-aged person yesterday, today you write but someone very young or very old.
  • When trying to get inside the head of this person, it can be useful to think of someone you actually know who is very different from you. Think of someone who does things that you would never do, that you despise, or that you secretly admire. Start with their external actions (what do they do when someone cuts them off in traffic that is so different from what you do, for example.) Backtracked from there to try to figure out what is going on in their head and their heart in that moment.
  • Put this character in a situation where there is conflict or stress and where their reactions are going to be really different from how you would react. Write the reactions, and as you’re doing so, unpack the story behind this person.
  • Don’t worry about trying to have a clever plot in this story. It can be something as simple as: this person gets cut off in traffic and how they react. The point of this exercise is to investigate the psyche of somebody very different from you. There’s a danger in always writing characters that are too sympathetic or similar to yourself.
  • Writing about somebody you dislike or someone unlike you can be very difficult. To make them more sympathetic, give them something there really, really good at. They might be charismatic. They might be really good engineering. But everyone has some areas where they are competent even if they are incompetent in every other sphere that matters to you!
  • This is not an exercise in writing a villain. This is an exercise in writing someone very different from yourself. It could be someone you admire.

Leave a comment, letting us know what you did with this prompt!

When Your Character Is Like You

Today I’m limiting your character choices.

The Prompt

Write a story featuring a character very like you

Tips

  • Think about the things that make you you: Gender, family roles, occupation, age, body type, religion, hobbies, outlook, genetic heritage. Are you curious, or cautious? Musical or tone deaf? Extroverted or introverted? Content or endlessly searching?
  • Put this character, who is both you and not you, into a situation that you might run across in your everyday life. Or put them into a situation you would like to find yourself in. For example, I am always dreaming up new business ideas. I don’t have the time or ability to pursue any of them, but I love to daydream about the businesses I could run if I had a thousand lifetimes. Take something that you care about — something that you daydream about anyway — and put your character into that situation
  • Now, you have to make something happen, so think about the ways that the situation could go spectacularly wrong. This can be funny, like Fawlty Towers, or serious like the TV show 24. It depends on your preferences and what you feel confident writing.
  • Again, you’re not writing a feature film or novel. We don’t have much space here. So don’t spend much time setting up the situation. You can start by having the character talk directly to the reader. Or you can plunge directly into the action. Or start with something cheesy like “it all started to go wrong when…”. Do whatever you need to do to get you into the story. It can all be fixed in the rewrite. (Or ignored for the rest of your life, this is a story just for you.)
  • Now that your character’s in trouble, how do they react? Do they react the same way you would? Do they react the way you wish you would if you weren’t so polite? Are they cooler than you? More skilled? More James Bond like? What are the consequences either way?
  • This is a really fun exercise. It captures all the best things about writing: What if…? The ability to live multiple lives in one life, is the gift of being a writer. It’s the ability to be better than you are, or worse than you are, without any of the consequences. Let loose with this exercise. Have some fun (and yes that does include doing terrible things to people if that’s how your story comes out. Don’t worry that you’re a psychopath. You have my permission to be bad.)

Go!

Leave a comment to know what you let your alter ego get up to, today!

[Write On Wednesday] Myers-Briggs-plosion

Myers-Briggs

Today I’m encouraging you to put some personality conflict into your story.

The Prompt

Put a particular personality type into a situation they would never choose

Tips

Use the Myers-Briggs personality types (hover over the table at the bottom of this page, to get a list of characteristics for your main character).

Take some of the traits that define your character and put them in a situation completely unsuited to those traits. See what happens.

For example, Continue reading “[Write On Wednesday] Myers-Briggs-plosion”