Writing Exercise – Raising the Stakes for Your Characters

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Last week, I asked you to write about conflicts facing your characters.

I gave these examples:

Character Goal: Flynn wants to be a good news reporter.

Conflict 1: He can’t be a reporter because he is the story now. He has to figure out his new role, and how he can help.

Character Goal: Flynn longs to be reunited with his long-time girlfriend, Darya Fitzgerald.

Conflict 2: His ship is stranded in unknown space on the other side of the universe.

Character Goal: He wants to be adored and respected among the colonists of his ship.

Conflict 3: When aliens start talking to him first, many colonists are wary and some even fear him.

Now I want to make my problems worse. This is the part where I have to be a bit careful – I’m in danger of giving away too much about a book I hope to sell. Hey, I have kids to put through university about 12 or so years down the road – can’t blame me for wanting a bit of help, if my writing can help me get it.

But hey, I don’t have to tell you how William Flynn solves any of these problems, do I? The same goes for you – I actually don’t want you to tell me how your characters solve anything, but you should have some of the details about the solutions in your mind. You want to raise the stakes, yes, but you also have to make sure you have some way out in mind. I wouldn’t want you to put your characters in impossible positions, but if your problems seem impossible to a reader before they finish your book, you’re doing a great job!

I’ll start with Conflict 1:

Character: William Flynn

Goal: He wants to be a respected news reporter.

Problem: He is thrust into a unique role among his crew and has to figure out where his skills fit in.

How does this problem get worse? List a few possibilities:

  • He regularly interviews crew members as he asks for opinions on the captain’s responses to crises, but finds that many people don’t trust him.
  • He has several drone cameras that can fly outside the ship, and these prove useful in some situations. In a heated battle, however, he still finds himself on the sidelines.
  • He tries to aid as an interpreter when he accompanies the captain to negotiate with alien enemies, but ends up getting seriously injured in a firefight.

 

It’s time for you to try. What are some ways your character’s problems could get worse?

Character:

Goal:

Problem:

How could this problem get worse? List a few possibilities:

 


 

Creative Assets – Advice for Writers

This is a reblog from Lateral Action – a very good blog for creative types that I recommend you check out.

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This post talks about how content creators have to keep, well, creating content in order to survive. The traditional ways of getting a job don’t work for many creative types (God I wish someone had sit down with me and explained THAT 20 years ago …), so we have to get ourselves noticed through different means.

When you follow a creative path, you won’t find any of the usual milestones of success.

Unlike your friends who enter traditional jobs, with clear routes to promotion, finely calibrated pay grades and impressive job titles, there is no ‘career ladder’ for people like you and me; no incremental markers to indicate your progress.

So if you compare yourself to them, it can be easy to feel left behind as they climb higher and higher, from promotion to promotion. It’s obvious to all the world that their career is ‘going somewhere’.

Meanwhile, what are you up to?

On bad days, as you wrestle with another project that stubbornly resists your efforts to turn it into a masterpiece, with no fancy job title, and no promotion or pay rise in prospect, it can feel like you’re going nowhere fast.

If it’s a really bad day, you may be on the receiving end of some well-intentioned sympathy from a friend or family member, asking if it isn’t time you got “a real job”.

Have a look at the full article at this link!

 

Exercise 3 Results – Character Conflicts

On Tuesday, I asked you to write about conflicts facing your characters.

 

I gave you one example:

Character Goal: Flynn wants to be a good news reporter.

Conflict: He can’t be a reporter because he is the story now. He has to figure out his new role, and how his skills can help.

 

Here are two more examples for the same character:

Character Goal: Flynn wants to propose to his long-time girlfriend, Darya Fitzgerald.

Conflict: His ship is stranded in unknown space on the other side of the universe.

Character Goal: He wants to be adored and respected among the colonists of his ship.

Conflict: When aliens start talking to him first, many colonists are wary and some even fear him.

 

Note that I still have room to make the above problems even worse. Let’s worry about that next week.

For now, let’s see your characters and conflicts.

 


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Writing Exercise – Why Can’t Your characters have what they want?

Last week, I asked you to write about your characters and what they want.

Now we’re introducing some conflict and setting things up for the real story. It’s time to figure out obstacles that stand in the way of your characters. Problems that they strive to solve, and thus give the reader an interesting story.

One key thing to keep in mind about this problem – it should be bad for your character, but not too bad at first. Later, we are going to make this problem even worse, so the problem should start off as something difficult, but surmountable.

I’ll give you an example. Here’s one of my characters from last week, and three potential problems for him to face:

William Flynn, rookie newscaster

William Flynn is a rookie newscaster who is chosen to report from a colony ship on its way to a new planet.

More than anything, he wants to propose to his long-time girlfriend, Darya Fitzgerald.

As a reporter, he wants to see history in the making and be the first to break the story.

He wants to be adored and respected among the colonists of his ship.

I’ll start with the second problem – he wants to be good at his reporting job. A reporter, however, is supposed to be objective – but when an alien contacts the crew, it is Flynn who can understand and translate. He becomes the story, and can’t just sit on the sidelines anymore!

Let’s simplify this into a character goal and a conflict blocking the character’s progress:

Character Goal: Flynn wants to be a good news reporter.

Conflict: He can’t be a reporter because he is the story now. He has to figure out his new role, and how his skills can help.

 

If you are writing a short story or flash fiction, you may only have one protagonist and one goal to focus on. You’ll have just one main conflict, which will later get worse.

For longer stories, you’ll have multiple characters, and even have multiple conflicts for each character. Don’t get too carried away, though – you still have to be able to reduce the plot to simple elements for your book jacket, and the best way is to make sure you don’t go in with too many twists planned from the start.

Now it’s your turn. Take one character from one of your stories and describe their goal and a conflict that stands in their way.

 


Consider buying a copy of Nothing Too Familiar or Convergence to support the author of this site.

Or you can help support this site by leaving a tip. Contributions can be made in any amount starting at $1 US. Thank you for the support!

Leave Tip

Resources for Writing Teachers

http://thewritepractice.com/teachers/

My own lessons on the basics of writing are based on my class for ESL students, most of whom have only written some university essays and lots of text messages in both their first language as well as English.

This link here has some good ideas on reaching a broader base of learners, and so is extremely useful as I seek ways to spice up and improve my writing and how I teach.

 

Another writing lesson will go up soon!

Exercise 2 Results – What do your characters want?

On Tuesday, I asked about the desires of your characters. I hope you think about the people in your stories and the things they both need and feel like they need.

Here are two of my characters and what they want:

#1 William Flynn, rookie newscaster:

William Flynn is a rookie newscaster who is chosen to report from a colony ship on its way to a new planet.

More than anything, he wants to propose to his long-time girlfriend, Darya Fitzgerald.

As a reporter, he wants to see history in the making and be the first to break the story.

He wants to be adored and respected among the colonists of his ship.

#2 Darren, single dad, retired superhero

Darren is a retired superhero and a single dad who is trying to leave his old life and superpowers behind.

He wants to be a good father to his daughter, Hanna.

He wants peace and calm after his glamorous life in the spotlight.

He wants a new love after being single for several years.

What do your characters want?


 

Writing Exercise – Character Desires

I’m continuing my feature on Characters with these Write, or Else Exercises.

This week, we look at what your characters want.

Exercise 2: What do your characters want?

Last week, I wrote 3 sentences about characters from 3 different stories. I described the characters as they appeared at the very start, before the major conflict of the story. Now it’s time to figure out what they really want.

Let’s start simple: What do you want?

List some things you really want. Not need, mind you – you could possibly survive without these things, but in your heart, they’re as important as needs. They can be material or immaterial – money, a kickass gaming rig, sex, a golden lager from the heart of Bavaria, financial security, love, freedom, adoration, anything.

Things I want (that I’m willing to admit on my public blog):

  • to write a darn good novel
  • money (who doesn’t want more?)
  • sex (see above)
  • travel and exploration
  • a good drinking partner (or coffee shop partner)

What do you want?

Now comes the fun part – what do your characters want? Your characters can want things that you want, or they can want very different things.

Try to think of what your friends and family members want, and also what people who are very different from you want. A devout Catholic priest will probably have a different list of wants from a Tibetan monk, so consider a few different people and decide which desires fit your characters. You can focus on one character, or list desires from multiple characters.

Things My Characters Want:

  • ________________________________
  • ________________________________
  • ________________________________
  • ________________________________
  • ________________________________

I’ll share my own answers with on Thursday. Let’s see some good wants!