[Write On Wednesday] The One Thing They’d Notice

Today’s prompt was inspired by an exercise in Donald Maass’s latest book The Emotional Craft of Fiction. You can find the whole exercise on p.22 of that book.

The Prompt

Write a story featuring two characters in the same location. Pick a detail that only your protagonist would notice and weave it into the story. 


  • When people interact, there are all kinds of emotions flowing under the words. When you have come up with your scenario, take a few minutes to jot down some things about these characters, how they’ve interacted in the past, what resentments or expectations are festering under the surface, how they really feel about being here with the other one.
  • Pick one object in the place that your protagonist notices. For example, in a story I wrote, the protagonist noticed the hand-made orange vase that had been sitting on a shelf in her parents’ living room all her life. Nobody else sees it any more, it’s just there. For my protagonist, though, it was a symbol of the stagnation of life in her home town.
  • Pick an object like this and allow your character to notice it for a reason. You don’t have to be too obvious about WHY they’re noticing it. With a bit of skill, you can let the reader infer it.
  • Pick the strongest emotion your protagonist will feel. Think about the opposite emotion. Is there a way to get that into the story, too?
  • This doesn’t have to be a long story, but do think about what is at stake for each of the characters in the interaction they’re having. Is it a short-term disagreement? Are they deciding to have a baby? Are they fighting about something important?
  • Remember to let the reader in on your character’s emotions. And to include some tension, conflict (which can happen in silences) and questions that the reader will want to keep reading in order to answer.

Overwhelmed yet? Don’t be. Just write your story and save some of these tips for the rewrite.

Speaking of revision, I’ve got a free revision lesson coming up soon. Make sure you’re on the mailing list, to hear about that.

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