In Peril

Dangerous situations arise in books and movies with great regularity. There are several reasons, but probably the most likely is that when a character is in peril, the viewer/reader is at the end of her seat, intently hoping that all works out well in the end. Such situations increase tension, and a story without tension is flat.

A good source for discovering dangerous situations is the news. It seems as if children frequently fall in holes or drains. Drivers get trapped in cars that have been smashed in accidents. Hikers get stranded in bad weather. Whales go astray and find themselves trapped in ice.

Your task is to write an original story in which your protagonist, whether human or not, is in peril. It needs to be logical and treacherous enough that the reader will understand that it is a life or death situation. Don’t water it down. Throw in a number of complications.

Begin with the scene, be it a frozen pond, abandoned well or ice-slick highway. Describe what befalls the protagonist and how he feels. Next list an ascending list of complications that occur, taking into consideration that no rescue is as simple as it looks on television. Rescuers often need multiple interventions in order to free the individual.

Write the story, remembering to ratchet up the suspense with the addition of each complication.

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 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.

The Predictable Ending

When we read a book we like to guess how it is going to end. We want something logical, that makes sense based upon the action.

On the other hand, we also like to be surprised. We may enjoy the predictable, but we are startled when everything we thought was going to happen, does not.

So what do you do as a writer? If you stay with predictable, will your readers lose interest? Possibly. Why not try for an unexpected ending, something that readers don’t see coming. Even if your story doesn’t have a major twist in plot, there could be a shift that takes the readers in a direction that they couldn’t imagine.

Your task is to take something that you have written, a finished piece that maybe isn’t quite working the way you wanted, and change the ending. Instead of the butler doing it, maybe it was the car-share driver. Instead of getting the dream job, she gets hired to do something unrelated, but enjoyable.

The important thing is that your new ending must be satisfying. It must be justified by all that has happened in the story and therefor supported by the narrative.

Once you have rewritten the ending, reflect upon your work. Is it more satisfying? Does the surprise change the narrative so that predictability is altered? Hopefully you will discover something new in the process.

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.

An Interesting Main Character

Let’s face it, your readers have to care about the main character. They don’t necessarily have to like the character, but they have to be interested in what he does, thinks, says.

If you expect the readers to spend time with your writing, then you must give them a reason to read. A boring protagonist, someone who has no opinions, faces no challenges, is never confrontational and lives only to please others will not inspire readers to make it to the end.

Main characters are usually imperfect. They have flaws which give them compelling personalities. Those flaws create challenges that the characters must surmount in order to succeed.

Your task is two-fold. First write a brief story about a practically perfect character. Put them in a scene that poses no challenges, no obstacles to overcome. People the story with likable friends, bosses, partners.

When you finish, analyze the piece. If you were a reader, how would you react?

Your next step is to rewrite the story with a flawed character whose life has pitfalls and confrontation. The character struggles to succeed. At the end something changes about the character. Either she overcomes and experiences a cathartic change, or she is deeper into her problems.

This time when you reread, do you sense a difference in your interest level?

Have fun with this one.

The Effects of Isolation

People, are by nature, social beings. We love spending time with those we care about. Even when forced to interact with casual acquaintances or workmates, we can find someone that has something in common with us and enjoy each other’s company.

What happens when we are isolated for some reason? Sickness forces us to confine ourselves to home. Even if we live with family, we will shut ourselves up on a bedroom, limiting contact and hopefully exposure. For how long can we tolerate isolation before it impacts us negatively?

Picture a person with poor social skills who lacks friends. What does he do? How does he spend time? What goes through his mind?

What about victims of crime who are locked into cells? Prisoners held in isolation from the rest of the population?

Think of the stories you can tell.

Your task is to create an individual who is apart from society. You might want to do some research into the psychological effects of isolation. Read a few case studies. Then make a bullet-point list of a reason that your character is isolated and how she reacts.

Write the story. Make sure there is conflict and tension. Perhaps your character is teased or tortured in some way. Maybe she is ignored or ridiculed.

When you are finished, reread and rewrite, adding in sufficient details to increase tension.

Have fun with this one.