Dealing with Death

We don’t like to kill off our main characters. It is a way to bring a book to an end, but not a very satisfying one. Instead we kill off secondary characters that impact the protagonist’s life.

How to incorporate death? Shakespeare was a terrific example of how to write death scenes. Think of Romeo and Juliet. From the very beginning, all kinds of people die. The Montagues and Capulets turn the town into a war zone with sometimes daily street fights. Initially those who succumb are minor characters, but with the death of Mercutio and Tybalt, things change.

The death scenes are dramatic. Mercutio stumbles down steps while he curses both houses and declares that tomorrow the worms will be eating his body. Tybalt dies to conclude a sword fight that, according to perceived skill, he was sure to win.

Then Juliet drinks a potion that makes her look dead. She’s sealed in the family tomb, which then Romeo enters. Seeing her dead, he drinks a poison after holding her hand, commenting on her facial color. He dies. She wakes. She hopes for a drop of poison. Finds none, so stabs herself.

Lots of death in a 2 ½ hour play!

Your task is to write several scenes in which at least one main character dies. First figure out the method. Next craft how quickly the death occurs. Also consider the reactions of others in your story. What impact does death have on them?

Write the story, keeping in mind that emotional states play a huge roll in this segment. Is the death scene serious or comic? Both are plausible based upon the tenure of the story.

Have fun with this one.

Promises Made, Promises Broken

When someone says they going to do something, we expect them to follow through without endless nagging. This belief is formed during our childhood years. When a parent or guardian says, “I’ll be there in a minute,” we watch to make sure they appear. When they do not, our expectations change. We become jaded toward promises.

Depending upon how many times we have been disappointed by broken promises affects our outlook in life. Too much heartbreak feels like rejection.

Your task is to write a scene in which someone is promised a preferred outcome which never happens. You must include psychological and emotional details in order for the story to be compelling.

Reread. Does disappointment come through? If not, edit.

Have fun with this one.

Significant Objects in Your Life

When we were growing up someone gave my mom a cookie jar that was in the shape of a monk. We called him Friar Tuck, as in Robin Hood. My mom would store cookies in there, but because it was not airtight, the cookies quickly became stale.

When we moved from Ohio to California in 1964, the jar came with us, one of the few items that made the trip. The jar sat proudly on my parent’s countertop no matter where they lived. When my dad passed away a few years ago, Friar Tuck was still there.

The jar represented all the moves, all the changes in my family’s life. Marriages, grandchildren, moves. Eventually the deaths of both of my parents.

Your task is to think of something that represents your life. It could be an object, a traditional food item, or a journey that the family made together over a period of years.

Perhaps the objects no longer exist, the food no longer prepared and the trip no longer taken, but the memories linger. The memories don’t have to be positive. It could be that every time you think of your sister’s special spaghetti it dredges up images of arguments, hurtful words tossed about like candy.

Write the story behind that object. Allow it to reveal events in your past that add up to a longstanding story about your relationship.

Have fun with this one.

Too Busy

Recall one of your busiest weeks. What all was on your calendar? How much did you actually accomplish? How were you feeling at the time?

Bring to mind one of your characters.

Your task is to create a week filled with too many obligations and not enough time to complete them all.

Begin by making a list that matches your character’s profile. Include at least one item for each day of the week.

Do not eliminate anything! Instead write the story of that week, being sure to include the character’s feelings as each day begins and ends, as each event approaches, as she prepares for the event, as the event is taking place.

Let us see inside the mind of the character. We want to feel what she feels, walk inside her along the way.

This will not be easy. It can also result in what appears to be a laundry list of activity.

When you are finished, edit the story down to the most exciting and interesting activities, the ones where feelings shine forth.

Have fun with this one.

Too Much Tension?

Is there such a thing? Can a story have too much tension?

One way to check is to read a story or see a movie that is a thriller. Try to choose something where the action starts at the beginning and never lets up. A good example is the movie Ben is Back starring Julia Roberts.  The tension runs from beginning to end, with no let up. There is no scene in which the characters are not frightened or concerned or worried or frantic.

As a viewer, I was in overload after twenty minutes. I wanted some sort of release. There is one scene in which it was possible to have that release, but the camera focused on Ben and what he was feeling.

Your task is to write a scene in which tension is constant. Choose a setting that is appropriate for that level of tension. It could be a bank robbery, a kidnapping, an attempt at escape, running from evil (or from the law). Keep the focus on the emotions of your main characters.

When you are finished, reread or ask someone else to read. How do you feel as you read? Is there too much tension or the right amount considering the setting?

Next rewrite the scene with moments in which there are lighter actions. Then reread.

Which version works best?

Have fun with this one.

Opening Doors

Think of all the times that doors have opened in your favor. I’m not just referring to physical doors, but the literal ones as well. For women it was breaking through the glass ceiling and being hired to do a job traditionally seen as a man’s. A good example is our Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She was admitted to a law school that had never before had a female student. Imagine how hard she fought to get there and to remain there.

Our characters also pass through many doors in their lives. It could be making it through the first job interview to get hired at a fast food joint. Or maybe it was when they were chosen as a soloist in the church choir.

Your task is to think of several doors that opened in one of your character’s lives. Begin by making a short list of at least five things. Next to each record why that door was important and also how it changed that person’s life.

Choose the one that you feel most comfortable writing about. Tell the story, remembering to include sensory details. We want to feel the anxiety before, during and after waiting for the door to open. We need to walk in her shoes as she goes through the process.

In order to make it more interesting, put obstacles in the way. Perhaps the door is far from home or the door opens at an inconvenient time. Maybe there is rejection at first, followed by disappointment, which then turns to joy.

Have fun with this one.

Free Time

Some listen to music while others hike up steep hills. Some garden while others paint. Some write letters. Take long walks with friends. Read a book. Design cards. Eat out. Go to movies or the theater.

No matter how obnoxious the character, at some point he relaxes with a preferred activity, so give him one. It would be more startling if the activity is in direct conflict with the character’s viciousness. For example, a serial killer cuddling up with a tiny kitten. Or a bank robber playing Mozart on a grand piano.

All of your characters need to have at least one preferred leisure activity. We need to see them not just at work, but doing something that allows them to break free of the hassle of their work lives.

Your task is to select a character that you know and love. Make a list of at least five different activities that she would enjoy. Choose some that require physical activity, some that require some degree of skill or talent, and some that almost anyone can do.

Choose one of them to incorporate in a scene.  When you write, allow us to see your character relaxed, enjoying the activity. Allow us to feel what she feels, see what she sees, hear what she hears.

Somewhere during the activity, let there be an interruption. Have her react appropriately. Is she annoyed? Angry? Or does she welcome the distraction?

When you are finished, reread looking for the emotional reactions.

Have fun with this one.