Surprise Twists

Stories that are too predictable are boring unless they are written for a little kid. Children find the repetition, the expected end result, comforting in a way that teens and adults might find downright unsatisfactory.

When you’re crafting a story, watch your endings. It’s okay if the good woman wins, but along the way there should be unexpected twists that throw the reader off.

For example, you know the woman will fall in love with the account executive, but put some angst in the story. Maybe they disagree over something huge, like how to behave at a party or how to dress for a day at the beach. The woman overdresses while the man underdresses.

That’s probably not big enough to cause angst. What if a former girlfriend shows up? Imagine the problems that would create. The man looks at her with a sparkle in his eye. Maybe he touches her in a way that implies their former romance. The current girlfriend sees it, becomes enraged and stomps away.

Maybe the woman loves the man, but he has no intentions of leaving his home while she’s been offered a job in New York City. The job is almost too big to pass up as it’s the job she’s always wanted. Maybe the city where the man lives is so tiny that the woman can’t find a comparable job within commuting distance.

How do they reconcile the differences?

Readers will want to know, and so will read on.

Your task is to pull up an old story of yours. Reread it looking for the surprise twist. If there is none, what can you add to ratchet up the tension?

If there is, how long did you string the tension along before resolving the issue? Make sure that there is sufficient angst to make readers edgy.

Have fun with this one!

Heartbreak

All does not go well in every relationship. People date, determine that they like each other, maybe even think it’s love, and then the other person pulls away.

We have all experienced heartbreak at some point in our lives, and so should our characters.

Consider one of your favorite characters, regardless of age. Now put that individual in a romantic relationship.

If the character is young, it could be the devastating loss of a parent due to indifferent. If a teen, the loss of that first love.

How would you write that scene?

Your task is to choose a character that is either one you are currently working with or create a new one. Consider the possible romantic relationships that could ensue.

Narrow the possibilities down to one and write. You must take into account all the emotional turmoil that tears the person apart for it to be considered true heartbreak.

Once you have written the scene, reread and see if the emotions come through. If not, then edit making sure that the scene has emotional viability.

Have fun with this one!

Laryngitis

            Imagine if your character lost his voice but still had to go to work and interact with others.

What would he do? How would he communicate?

Thanks to technology, there is the internet and computers with email and word processing programs that would help.

I don’t own a cell phone, but I imagine that there is a means to use one to place orders at restaurants or to ask for things at a store.

But what if your character doesn’t have those things either because of the place or time of the story, or because of socioeconomic factors that prevent the ownership of those things? What would your character do?

Your task is to write a scene in which your character has to interact with at least one other person, but cannot speak. The laryngitis is so severe that she cannot even croak out a few syllables in order to make herself clear.

Have fun with this one.

Cleaning out the Junk

We all have junk stored somewhere in our homes. It might be on the shelves out in the garage or buried in a closet, but it’s there. We hang onto camping gear that we haven’t used in years, clothes that don’t fit and by the time they do, will be out of style. We shelve books that we read once and believe that we’ll read again next to those that are waiting to be read.

We collect, thanks to friends, cookbooks that have never left the shelf. We have spices that are out of date and cookware that is badly in need of replacement.

And storage containers! Think of all the ones we keep but never use!

If we’ve got junk, then our characters do as well. This is something for you to think about. What kind of junk does she have and where does she keep it? Why does she hang onto these things?

What does he intend to do with all the stuff he has hidden away? Is he going to have a garage sale or give it away?

Even if you never use this information in a story, know what your characters have saved and what they intend to do with it informs us as to motivations and intent.

Your task is to think of one of your characters. What kind of person is he? Athletic? Then perhaps there’s a ton of equipment in a closet. Artistic? Then maybe there are canvases or clay stashed away.

Make a list of the interests your character has had in the past and currently has now. Think of all the things she’s attempted to master over the years.

Then under each activity, list the materials that go with each activity.

When you are finished, choose one activity and one stash of equipment.

Write a scene in which she is faced with her stuff. What decisions does she make and why?

Have fun with this one.

Financial Insecurity

I’ve often heard it said that many people are one paycheck away from being homeless. This is especially true in high cost-of-living areas such as in San Francisco and its neighboring communities.

When you create a character, you need to keep in mind how much money she has and how well off she really is.

For example, does he live in his car? Rely on food banks and kitchens to survive? Or does he live in a high-rent townhouse in the middle of Silicon Valley, the Bay Area’s center of technology?

How financially secure a person is affects what she does on a daily basis. It controls the things she thinks about, including her worries and her woes.

Your task is to create two different characters. One has almost everything she needs to live comfortably. You will determine how wealthy she is and how this impacts her daily life.

Your other character lives paycheck to paycheck. He might drink or use drugs. He might be emotionally fragile.

After you’ve created these characters, put at least one of them in a story. Be as realistic as you can be. Have things happen to the character that test that financial security.

Once you’ve written that story, then put the other character in a different story. Again, have things happen that test security.

Have fun with this one!

Faith Preference

Does your protagonist attend a church? Pray regularly? Bless the meal before eating?

These are questions that you need to answer before you begin writing. Faith doesn’t have to be mentioned in your story, but faith could influence how a person reacts in given situations.

For example, your character is approached by a beggar on his way into a store. What does your character do? Does he give the beggar a dollar? Wish him well? Or stare straight ahead and pretend that the beggar isn’t there?

One way to begin is to list the religions that you know something about. Once you’ve completed your list, then go online and spend time researching each. Try to find out how someone who practices that faith acts toward others and what the basic elements of that faith are.

After each description, write a few bullet points that show how someone would act is they practiced that faith.

Be sure to include agnosticism, as that is also a possible choice.

Once you’ve completed this exercise, then choose the faith preference of your character(s).

As you write, keep in mind how that faith influences the day-to-day decisions that your main characters make.

This does not have to be a long piece as this is primarily an exercise.

Have fun with this one.

Physical Fitness

Many of us spend a lifetime worrying about how we look. We obsess over how our clothes fit, from whether or not we have freedom to move our arms to how tightly the fabric clings to our middles. And so must our characters.

Whether your character is stick-thin or portly, the level of physical fitness affects his approach to life.

Imagine a buff muscular man whose shoulders do not fit in a traditional store-bought suit. What does he do when his luggage is lost? Where does he shop? Does he settle for cheap large-sized clothes or go to a specialty shop? More importantly, how often does he work out? What is his exercise routine like? What does he eat and drink?

What about the svelte woman whose shape is Barbie-doll perfect? What types of clothes does she wear? How does she maintain this shape? Does she starve herself or eat items on fad diets?

And then there are the rest of us, those who aren’t GI Joe or Barbie. What shape is our body in? Do we have love handles? Do our breasts sag down to our bulging waist? Does he have a beer belly? Double chin? Arms that flop in the wind?

How does this body shape affect how we approach life?

Your task is to think of one of your characters in terms of shape and physical fitness. What a short bio in which you list height, weight, hair color, eye color, and then move downward. Include size of clothes and the degree to which clothes hide or cling.

Be as detailed as possible. Don’t be kind if your character is not in perfect shape. Be realistic.

Have fun with this one.