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.

Awareness of Cultural Appropriation in Story

            Previously authors wrote in characters from other cultures with little thought other than adding diversity to their stories. Stories with men wearing turbans added an element of mystique, as did bringing in traveling gypsies who were thought to “steal” children and dabble with the occult.

            In today’s world we have to be aware that it may not be appropriate to borrow the ideas, symbols and artifacts of individuals outside of our own. Cultural appropriation can be contentious when a writer of a dominant culture includes characters who have been subjected to prejudice in terms of social, political, economic and military status. This is especially true when there has been a history of ethnic or racial conflict.

                What should a writer do? First of all, examine the reasons why you want to include a character from a culture other than her own. If the writer is looking to represent these cultures, perhaps that’s not a valid reason. Instead, decide if in the story, characters will be living in a society that reflects the realities of the world.

            Your task is to write a story that includes a character from outside your own culture. Decide what role this character will play from the perspective if it’s necessary for the story arc. You might want to do some research into how people of that culture eat, dress, speak. Do these factors affect story plot? If not, then rethink why you need this character to do.

            Be sensitive, but enjoy the experience.

            Have fun with this one.

Story Pacing Affects Plot Development

            How fast a story unfolds is controlled by pacing. It is what determines the appeal of a story to its varied audience. For example, some readers want lots of events taking place right at the beginning, and to continue throughout the story. Other readers like the intrigue when obstacles and reactions take place over time. Because pacing affects atmosphere and tone, there are times when a period of concentrated action is needed to provide the conflict and tension that makes a story interesting.

            An adventure novel should revolve around a series of action-packed events while a psychological thriller should be gripping as clues arise as characters react to what’s happening.

            How do you control pacing? The length of a given scene is one way. A long scene will slow down how often something important occurs, while a short scene that includes dialogue and action speeds things up. The period of time that elapses within a scene also impacts pace. If the story is long, the characters will age. This is what differentiates an epic from a short story.

            Your task is to write a story employing a fast pace. Make things happen, keep the characters moving, include tension and conflict. Then rewrite the story slowing down the pace. Use lots of narrative sentences. Allow time to pass, second by second, at a measured pace.

            When finished, reread each version, looking to see which pacing technique works best.

            Have fun with this one.

Speed Dating

Speed dating became a fad a few years ago and has been featured in comedy shows and movies. A bunch of lonely people show up at a predetermined time and sit at assigned places around the room. A potential partner sits across from them. A times is set and the two are given anywhere from three to eight minutes to decide I there is any interest.

The technique is also used at writing conferences to give participants access to a variety of agents. You’ve got three minutes to sell your book. Obviously a prepared speech is necessary to keep you from bumbling about.

Imagine that your character is going to a Speed Dating event. What type of event is it? Who is going to be there? How nervous is the character? How much does she prepare beforehand? Does thought go into appearance, such as clothing to be worn?

If you haven’t written comedy before, now is your chance to dabble in the genre. All kinds of things can happen, such as someone bumping into the table and knocking a glass of water into a lap. Or arriving under the influence. Or stuttering due to anxiety.

Your task is to write the story. Begin with the character finding out about the event, either through a friend or an advertisement. Take us through the entire stage as the character tells others about it, gets advice, decides what to wear, arrives, meets people, leaves.

Have fun with this one.

Draw a Map

Back in the old days when going somewhere new you’d pull out a paper map and highlight the streets to be crossed in order to arrive when and where you were going. Today we rely on portable devices that show in real time where we are and tell us when to switch lanes, when to turn, when we have arrived.

Before you write a story we need to establish a map. If it takes place in a real city, real neighborhood, procure a paper map. Drive on the streets that you will use, making note of businesses such as fast food, medial centers, shopping opportunities. Mark schools, churches and traffic lights.

Take pictures of houses, plants, trees. Crosswalks. Intersections. Stop and wind down your windows. Listen to the birds. Smell the flowers in bloom or the pollution from industry or car exhausts.

In other words, cover the scene so completely that it lives in your mind and on paper.

Your task then is to go for a drive. Take a camera and paper and pen. Stop periodically to snap images and to record sights, sounds, smells. Spend an hour or so over each day over the period of time that your story will cover. Winter, spring, summer and fall might be changes to the area that play important parts in the story.

Create an album or folder on your computer and access the information before you begin each writing session.

Have fun with this one.

People Watching

Can’t think of a character, setting or problem? Go somewhere and sit for a while.

Choose a place that is heavily trafficked. A shopping mall, park or busy street in a commercial district.

Bring a notebook with you as well as a camera. When you see an interesting character, take a picture, but also record how the character walks, what he is carrying, whether or not he is on the phone, and if he is walking alone.

Give the character personality. For example, maybe she’s a CEO of a start-up company and is hurrying off to a meeting that she’s worried about. Perhaps she has a sick child at home or just got a call from her daughter’s teacher.

Describe the setting. Is it bland or colorful? What types of buildings? Tall skyscrapers or low slung town homes. A park with green grass and flowers in bloom, or a snow covered field. Blue sky, pouring rain or skittering clouds.

Then take a look for another potential character and do the same.

Each time imagine the story that the character has to tell. Jot down ideas. Did he have a happy childhood or were his parents abusive? Does she keep in contact with her siblings or are they distant? Why?

When you get home, think about the stories you can tell. Begin writing. Use a stream of conscious flow of words. Let the story tell itself.

At the end, reread and look for places where you can embellish or deepen the conflict. Edit out unnecessary words. Add dialogue that develops the character’s personality.

When you are finished, you will have an original story. Plus, you will have enough information to write a few more!

Have fun with this one.