Tough Decision

Every now and then try writing a story in which your protagonist is faced with an extremely difficult decision. Think life-altering.

For example, what if one of his children was accused of murder? And he knew that the child was innocent? Would the father confess to the crime to save the kid?

Perhaps a good friend needs a kidney transplant and your character is a good match. However, your character has some complications that makes the surgery a bit risky.

Your task is to write a story in which a tough decision has to be made. Choose something that has serious outcomes, perhaps even life-threatening. What’s important is to make the stakes so high that he has to weigh the options.

Dialogue is important so that readers see discussions being made, questions being asked and answered and the social dynamics involved.

The story can be realistic based on research you’ve done, or fantasy, in another place and time.

Make the tension clear, palpable.

Have fun with this one.

Decisions, Decisions

            A recent study reported that adults make as many as 122 decisions a day. Some are quite ordinary, such as figuring out when to get out of bed, what clothes to wear and what television programs to watch.

            We also make decisions that affect our lives in quite serious ways. For example, when choosing a career, some might look at the money to be earned while others might consider job satisfaction over anything else. Teachers are notoriously underpaid when taking into account the college coursework required. Despite knowing that they might never be paid what someone with a comparable education would in the private sector, teachers want to have an impact, they want, essentially, to watch their charges grow and learn.

            Your task is to write a story in which your characters make decisions, both big and small. Readers will want to watch as they discuss their options. This allows readers to see how the characters think. Show the results of the decision as well. It might be more interesting if the results are not what the characters wanted.

            Have fun with this one.

Pivotal Point

            Do you remember a time when something occurred that altered your life? Perhaps it was a move cross-country or changing your major in college. It might have been falling in love when you had no intention of ever marrying. Maybe you got what you thought was the job of your dreams only to find out that you found it so boring that you hated going to work.

            When something happens that causes you to change course, that’s a pivotal point in your life.

            Every good story, whether in a book, movie, play or television show, has a pivotal point that sends the protagonist down a different road. Sometimes the road is so bumpy and rough that the protagonist will turn around and go the other way. But many times, they push on, determined to see where that first path leads.

            Your task is to write a story in which your character faces such a pivotal point. You can have him ignore it and just carry on, but what fun would that be? Instead let your character make the change. Plot points will include lots of events that make the choice uncomfortable, that makes the character question what he has done.

            Use both narrative and dialogue to tell the story.

            Have fun with this one.

Reality Check

A reality check is utilized as a means to clarify or correct a misconception. If properly delivered, it can you makes the individual recognize the truth about a situation, especially by countering any difficulties and challenges that seem to prevent success.

Imagine wanting to lose weight. You research dieting techniques, go shopping for the recommended foods, tell yourself that tomorrow you will begin. Tomorrow comes and for lunch you order an ice cream sundae with the works. By the time you’ve finished it, you’re stuffed and miserable. You tell yourself that you failed, that you are a failure and will always be a failure so there’s no hope.

Taking time to reflect might allow you to see that it was just one slip up and that the rest of the day is open to success. One failure does not doom the plan.

That’s the benefit of a reality check. It helps us to step back and evaluate our performance as just one part of a whole.

Your task is to write a story in which your protagonist needs a hefty reality check. Begin by narrowing down the area that you feel most comfortable writing about. Make the stakes high enough and the desired outcome large enough that the character has to want to succeed so badly that he is willing to work at it. Put the story in motion, then have the character experience a failure and disappointment.

Include both narrative and dialogue.

Have fun with this one. 

The Big Decision

            You’re most of the way through the novel. The protagonist has struggled over many obstacles and seems to be on the road to success. Suddenly a chasm-sized barrier is in the way. She has two possible choices to make. She can turn around and retrace her steps or find a way across. A decision has to be made that could potentially alter her life.

            What she chooses is determined by the characteristics readers have seen in the individual. A timid person or one with low self-esteem will turn around while the character with tons of self-confidence will plow ahead.

            Your task is to write a scene in which your protagonist is confronted with a choice that would make a huge difference in his life.

            Begin by making a list of possible obstacles. They can be realistic or fantastical, depending upon the type of story that you are writing. Once you have chosen the primary obstacle, add possible solutions. Once again, solutions depend upon the genre you have chosen.

            Your character is proceeding along, the obstacle arises. A choice is made. Make sure that readers will believe the outcomes and that the emotions that your character experiences come through.

            Have fun with this one.

Shopping Extravaganza

            There’s nothing more exciting than heading off to the mall for a morning of shopping. Even if you have little money to spend, there are windows to peruse, clothing to inspect, dreams to build.

            You might begin by simply strolling up and down the mall, stopping to see what wonders are on display. On the next go-round you enter only those stores that intrigued you. Up and down aisles you go, occasionally holding up an item for inspection. You check the make, the style, the price, the quality, all the while imagining yourself wearing it.

            Does it go with anything you currently own? Is it too similar to things you’ve got at home? Is it worth the price or should you wait for a sale?

            All these thoughts go through your mind as you meander about.

            Imagine your character going on a shopping spree. What kinds of things hold his interest? Which stores invite him in? What items does she choose to inspect up close? Does she make immediate decisions or mull things over? Does he leave to see what comparable things other stores offer or make the purchase right then and there?

            Your task is to send your character on a nice, long shopping trip. He can go alone or bring a friend. She can try on things in her own dressing room or share with a friend. Lunch might be included as well as dinner after.

            Will the day go smoothly with lots of laughter and pleasant conversation or will arguments ensue? At the end, will he have purchased anything? If so, what? If not, why not? Dialogue might be the stronger as it allows for the give-and-take between characters as they discuss the merits of each item.

            Have fun with this one.

Creating Dynamic Characters

            You pick up a book that looks interesting and begin reading. The main character, Sally, is a complex individual who can be friendly, but also rude, motivated but lazy, fun to be with but challenging. At the beginning you are intrigued by Sally because you realize that her life is about to change.

            Her best friend is manipulating her financially and emotionally. Sally is being forced into deciding between going on a vacation with the friend, who wants Sally to pay for the whole thing, or buying herself a badly needed new car.  Meanwhile Sally’s son has lost his job and is moving back home. Sally loves him, but can’t live with him for his sloppiness drives her crazy.

            As the story progresses you begin to understand why Sally behaves the way she does as each impediment arises. You root for her when you think she makes the right decision and lament the poor ones that get Sally in trouble. Ove the course of the story, you see Sally grow and change.

            That is called the character arc and it’s what makes characters dynamic: readers want to see them experience challenges that force them to evolve over the course of the story.

            Your task is to write a story in which a character is met with a series of difficulties that either are overcome or not. If overcome, then the character must change in some small way. If not, there still must be change, but is it positive or negative change?

            At the end the character must be different in some way. It should be large enough that the change affects behavior, status and beliefs.

            Have fun  with this one.

Stereotypical Characters with a Twist

            Picture the butler who answers the door. What is he wearing? What does he say and do? We probably all have the same image: he’s an older gentleman with a British accent dressed in a tux with tails. He instructs the visitor to go into the drawing room, and then heads off to summon his master.

            In mysteries the butler is often the top suspect in a murder. Despite the reserved image he portrays, underneath that calm lays an angry, vengeful man.

These are stereotypical characters because they are flat people that fill out the cast. They generally appear in quick bursts then drop into the background. Throughout the telling, these characters exhibit little or no growth and have limited impact on the story arc.

            Now picture the lowly farm boy toiling in the heat of the afternoon dredging soiled hay from the horses’ stalls. What is he wearing? What does he say and do?

            What if the butler gets fired and has to become the lowly farm boy? What if the farm boy is actually the son of a prince in a faraway land? Because the farm boy and the butler experience life-changing events, their impact on the story has gone from being minimal to critical.

            Your task is to write a scene in which what first appears to be a stereotypical, flat character and offer a twist in the plot that belies what the reader thinks to be true. You can use the characters mentioned or introduce a different one. For example, what if the wise old woman lacks skills to be a mentor or the orphan who is thought to be the descendant of royalty really is just a street kid?

            Have fun with this one.

Paying the Bills

Perhaps you are fortunate enough to be able to pay your bills on time and so have excellent credit. When you need a new car, no problems. You are automatically approved for a loan. You decide to buy a condo and the lender smiles as they hand you papers to sign.

Maybe you’re struggling to pay the rent and put food on the table. You pay off the gas company so you have heat and light but postpone payment to the credit card company. You know this puts you in risk of losing the card, but you have no choice.

Your task is to write a story in which paying the bills plays an important role. You can tell the story of an individual who has no financial worries until something happens that puts him at risk. Or you can share the concerns of someone who is just getting by.

The important point is to ensure that your readers feel the joy or the pain, that they walk in the shoes of your protagonist. Dialogue would be important as well as narrative descriptions. Seek a balance between the two.

Have fun with this one.

Pausing for a Reality Check

Impulsivity is a plus in certain fields of employment. Imagine being faced with a decision that has to be made now, not ten minutes from now or after consulting with a team of experts. Quick thinking and fast reactions save lives in an emergency, solve problems in a production line, and move people safely out of a burning building. Take-charge people can be a benefit to an organization.

Now imagine a scene in which acting impulsively causes serious problems. The man rushes into a burning building to save his cat, gets trapped and has to be rescued by firefighters who could potentially be injured or killed in the process. Or say she’s driving a car, the light turns green and she jumps out into the intersection because it’s her turn. A car running through the light hits her, killing her passenger and breaking several bones in her body.

In both cases pausing before acting would save lives.

This is called taking a Reality Check. Before acting, you stop for a few seconds and analyze the options or the motivations for your thinking. It can be a powerful tool when employed correctly.

Your task is to write a scene in which your character needs to utilize the Reality Check method. Create a complex setting in which important decisions have to be made. Perhaps your character acts rashly, leading to a domino effect of negative consequences.  Maybe your character is the victim of someone who made a poor decision. Readers will need to feel the danger, sense the thinking process and care what the result is.

Have fun with this one.