Children in the Home

Some people don’t want to have children, but others do. Some only want one child, while others want a whole passel.

Children add complexity to a relationship. They have needs that have to be met, they have interests that need to be enriched, they like and dislike many things. They can be whiny, difficult beings. They can also be charming and pleasant to be with.

Your task is to write a scene in which the protagonist has at least one child. Remember that a good story has tension, so make something happen that causes conflict within the family unit.

Dialogue is important in this task. It would be difficult to show conflict between parent and child without conversation. Also remember that the child’s voice and choice of words need to be appropriate for the age. No adult voice for the child.

Reread. Where necessary, add details. Make changes whenever the child doesn’t speak or behave like a child.

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.

Establishing Motive

I recently attended a workshop at a conference in Fort Bragg, California. My leader, James W. Hall, is a published author and college professor of writing.

He reminded me that every character in a story has to want something, and that want is what compels the character to act. Once that want is fulfilled, then the character has to want something new, which now inspires action. And so on.

All too often we forget about this driving force. Without it, our stories go nowhere. Our characters are flat and uninspiring. There is no tension, and without tension, our readers are bored.

Your task is to reread something that you’ve written, but find troubling. You’ve known that something about it isn’t working and have tried rewriting without success.

Examine your characters, both primary and secondary. Protagonist and antagonist. Does each of them want something? Is each challenged to reach their goals? If not, then you need to find a way to fix it.

First, brainstorm a list of possible goals for each character. If you discover a character who exists only to give the protagonist someone to talk to, either eliminate the character or change his importance in the story.

After you’ve created your lists, choose primary goals for each character. Then rewrite, starting at the beginning. Constantly check your work, making sure to stay faithful to your goals.

When you’re finished, reread. Does your story now have tension? Do actions match goals? Are all characters important?

Hopefully this is so.

Have fun with this one.

Suspense is Critical

Story revolves around suspense. From the first page, there needs to be a compelling story developing. Tension. Argument. A chase of some kind. A search for something important. And possibly even a dead body, be it human or animal.

Recently I picked up a book that sounded interesting. The youngest daughter had been implicated in the murder of her father and the near death of her mother, but the boyfriend was found guilty on circumstantial evidence. Sounds compelling, right?

The problem is that the story moved too slowly. It felt as if the same thoughts and actions happened over and over. Worry about the youngest daughter moving back home. The accused being released from prison on a technicality. The oldest daughter, once a thriving mother with tremendous potential, now wallowing at home.

I kept waiting for something to happen. Some action that brought renewed fear into the protagonist’s life. A window found open. A bloody knife left in plain sight. A note or call that threatened. But none of that ever happened.

As a writer, you have an obligation to engage your readers with suspense, even if your story is not a murder mystery or thriller.

How do you do this? Your protagonist has to interact with others, animate or inanimate. This interaction brings up a strong emotional response. The character reacts, either by confronting the “thing” or by running away or by putting it out of mind. This leads to more tension as the “thing” comes back again and again to haunt the character, spurring the character into action once again.

Your job is to take something that you’ve written, that perhaps you find less than compelling, and reread, looking for spots where the story bogs down. Where there is a pronounced lag.

As you discover these places, fix them either by eliminating them altogether or by turning them into scenes with dialogue, action, tension.

This will not be easy as we often do not like to rewrite our pieces, but you must.

Good luck on this one.