Exercise 4 Results – Raising the Stakes

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On Tuesday, I asked you to raise the stakes for your characters.

Now I want you to go back and assess how well you raised the stakes. Here are some criteria to look for in your answers to Tuesday’s exercise:

  • Does the main problem threaten the character’s life or the completion of a goal that is super-important to that character?

  • After you raise the stakes, is it now even more difficult for your character to achieve his or her goal?

  • Even if you did not write it out, do you have some sort of solution in the back of your mind?

  • Does the solution draw on the character’s established set of skills or something they learn or find during the story?

The first two points above are to help you generate a nice, suspenseful thrill for your readers, while the last two are to help you avoid painting yourself in a corner. Things should look grim for your character, but you have to have some solution in mind.

Special note – if your character does not survive:

In doing this exercise, you may use a character who does not make it to the end of the book. Okay, death happens and it sucks, but it can absolutely be the best thing for your story. Perhaps death is the tragic solution to your character’s problem – they were on a fool’s errand from the start, and only death would stop them. Perhaps their goal was something worth dying for, and their death solved the problem or enabled somebody else to solve it. Just avoid the trap of saying “Oh dear, the character is dead now, so their problem is gone.”

If the High Knight of Exampliphar was on a quest to clear his family name, he might die in his attempt, but you should avoid saying “Welp, his family name was never cleared. Sorry folks.” No, either his quest to clear the name is such a big or foolish errand that it becomes the end of him, or his death is exactly what clears the name. To just leave the family name hanging there, forever tainted, is far too much like real life (this is fiction, after all). There are authors who can pull off such realism and still have interesting stories, but I think it takes many years of experience – for beginners, I’d recommend having some sort of conclusion to each of the major threads you create (even if some of those threads span more than one book).

Okay, let me go back and re-assess my own Conflict 1 from Tuesday:

Character: William Flynn

Goal: He wants to be a respected news reporter.

I can look at two parts of this – respected, and news reporter. He gets flung across the universe, so there’s no news outlet he can work for. He still wants to be respected – as a rookie and a husband-to-be, it makes sense that earning respect is vital to him. He can also still desire to be a reporter – someone who chronicles the lives and struggles of others.

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

His desire to be respected is threatened by a sudden change in role. His crew no longer needs a news reporter, but can his skills help in other ways? Perhaps he can still find ways to connect with the crew and their struggles?

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.
    • I think his desire for respect is pretty clearly at stake here
  • 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 starts to find other ways he can help, but is he really doing enough?
  • 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.
    • He’s not a fighter, but the ship and crew keep getting into danger. The captain won’t need him if he’s a liability – just what can he do?

Flynn’s desire for respect turns into a more basic need to aid the survival of the crew as the danger increases, but it’s always in the back of his mind. I can’t tell you exactly what role he ends up playing in the end, only that it is shaped by his encounters and actions in the story, and that it is driven by his base need for respect.

Your character should also have one or two base needs that drive their actions and shape their progression through the narrative.

 


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Introducing Peripheral Portraits, the 3rd Anthology for the Busan Writing Group

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Our book is available online!

The Busan Writing Group is proud to announce the online release of the Peripheral Portraits ebook.  We’ve had a lot of interest in the locally published paper copies, and it’s time to show off our work on Amazon.

This volume started with an unusual word: sonder.

It is the sudden realization that a stranger is living a life as vast and complex as your own. Authors were asked to create work outside of the self, about the people on the margins, the portraits out there in the peripheral.

The result is an extraordinary series of short fiction, poems, and plays that are at times dark, comedic, and downright strange.

Peripheral Portraits is the Busan Writing Group’s third anthology collection, featuring authors living and working all across the Korean Peninsula.

I’m particularly fond of my own fantasy piece in this one, a story about a retired superhero taking care of his equally superpowered daughter as he meets a new love interest.

This work follows last year’s Convergence, and the previous year’s Nothing too Familiar. This book features the works of 14 different authors:

James Carlisle
Amber Corrine
TCC Edwards

Vanessa Fernadez
MA Geer
Raquel Hana
Vanessa Hawkins

Rachael Johnson
Sarah Lakin
Venus Lukic
Stefanie Seaton
Mark Stratti
Michael W White
SA Viau

This ebook is just $3 US in the Kindle store, so grab your copy today!

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.

 


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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!

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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!