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.

Groups/Clubs

What groups are you part of? Do you belong to a book club? Writer’s group? Professional organization? Sports team? Church choir?

Membership in groups expands our friendship circle to include diverse people with common interests. Everyone belongs to some type of group, even if it is an informal one, such as drinking buddies or camping partners.

Your task is to write a story in which your character participates in some type of group activity. Choose something that makes sense based upon your character’s personality. You might begin by listing five groups or clubs as possibilities. Narrow it down to the one that you feel most comfortable writing about.

Write the story that tells of that membership. Remember that a good story must have tension, so all cannot go smoothly. Conflict is critical. Dialogue is an excellent way to show the conflict.

Reread. Add details where needed.

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.

A Danger to Others

We all have an Uncle Joe whose eyesight is failing, uses a walker, has trouble remembering, and yet still drives. He’s a danger to himself and others, but refuses to give up his car keys for fear of losing his independence. What do we do in this situation?

There are no easy answers. You can hide the keys when he’s in the bathroom, call the DMV and report him as a dangerous driver or call the police when he goes out to drive. Joe will hate you for the rest of his life. So might his wife, kids, grandkids, neighbors and anyone else who is on his side.

Your task is to conjure up a character who should not be driving and someone who confronts this person. To get ideas, do a little research online. Come up with at least three different scenarios and possible outcomes. Choose the one that presents the most conflict, for remember, conflict creates tension and tension makes stories interesting.

As you write, look for ways to insert conflict. Joe does not give up on the first attempt. He might become guarded and hide the keys in the freezer. In fact, he might not relinquish the keys until he’s had an accident or almost ran over a small child!

Reread, looking to see where you can add details that invite the reader to buy into the story.

Have fun with this one.

Changing the Topic

How often have you been conversing with someone about a given topic when, without preamble, they kick off another topic? It probably happens more than you’d prefer. Or maybe you’re the one who jumps around?

Just as in real life, your characters must encounter people who refuse to stay on topic. How they react to this individual says a lot about the character.

For example, is the other senile? If so, is your character patient or react rudely?

What if the person is the boss? How then does your character act?

Your task is to write a scene of dialogue in which no more than three individuals are in a discussion. Make the topic realistic for the situation.

As the conversation moves along, one of the characters changes the topic. How do the others react? Do they follow that thread or steer the conversation back to the original topic?

Reread, looking to see is information pops through about your characters. If not, rewrite.

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.