Characters + Choices = Tension

Saturday, July 01, 2017
Every summer in June, I transform from teaching middle-schoolers to teaching teachers. This graduate class is intense. It's six credits, it meets from 9-3 five days a week for four weeks... and it's a blast to be a part of.

It's part of the National Writing Project so if you're a teacher of any kind, most likely there is a site close to you (there's almost 200 in the U.S.) and you should check it out. I'm serious.

That's the boring backstory, but I had to give you a bit of context, because this post was inspired by something that happened in class.

Every morning we begin with a writing prompt. Everybody takes turns providing the prompt. On this particular morning, the educator in charge of the prompt chose a music video to begin the prompt. I'm including the video here... and then I'd like to tell how I thought it can help us as as writers of novels.

And if you're a Hootie and the Blowfish fan, you'll love hearing another dollop of  Darius Rucker, even if he has gone country...


The teacher's prompt was, "Think of all the times you got dumped. The jobs you didn't get. The opportunities you missed... and write a thank you to the event/person, since it is because of those slammed doors and heartbreaks that you have this--this life."

Immediately I thought of how this could help when writing a novel. You know, those times when you're stuck. Or those times you need to create some tension. When that happens, think of the choices that a character deliberates over... and write.

For example, it could be some internal vacillating.

She considered what she'd buy since she was finally at the bakery. In front of her were several loaves of dark, multi-grain bread. In a lower display case were stacks of crusty french bread loaves. And to her right was a pyramid of cheese danish.

That hearty, multi-grain stuff would be great with some homemade soup. This time, she'd made a wise food choice.

Thinking about a character's life and the choices that resulted in where the character is now could lead to some flashbacks.

He hadn't thought of Candace for close to forty years. Was she married? Did she have kids? Grandkids? What did she look like now?

He roamed around on Facebook long enough to find her. And the instant he saw her, he remembered the fun they'd had together. There was that time they drove all night just so they could see the sunrise at... (you get the idea)

Perhaps your character goes back and forth as they weigh a couple of possible choices... and they choose the one you (as an author) know is going to lead to trouble?

Every choice a character makes--via our imagination--should involve mindfulness on our part. Considering the possibilities--and including that internal dialogue--will help in creating a well-rounded character.

If you wrote a "thank you" to an event or a person that resulted in your "this," what would your letter of thanks be about?

When Sioux Roslawski was a teenager, if she'd made different choices, she wouldn't have had this... no encouraging husband, no wonderful daughter and granddaughter, no great son, no string of incredible pets... When she's not teaching, Sioux writes, meets with her writing critique groups, spends time with her granddaughter, along with rescuing dogs. To read more of her "stuff," check out her blog.


Margo Dill said...

I love this post, Sioux, but I was also thinking about it in a different way. I was thinking about how sometimes when we are trying to get a novel published or a writing assignment or something else, a no leads to a better yes.

For example, I never could get hired as a full-time journalist, but I did get hired as a stringer for a newspaper, and because I said, yes, to just about every assignment, I wound up with a book column in the Sunday paper in Champaign/Urbana, IL for about 5 years! :)

Sioux Roslawski said...

Margo--I'm glad a rejection led you down a path to something different and perhaps better...

Donna Volkenannt said...

Thanks for another great post, Sioux. When I look back there are times I thought the worst thing in the world happened when it turned out not to be. I am a firm believer that things happen for a reason and there is very little we can control in life, but God is always looking out for us.
The photo of you is so sweet. You look innocent yet full of curiosity.
In the example you gave, I'm a cheese Danish type of gal. In fact, I'm craving something sweet right now.

Sioux Roslawski said...

Donna--OBVIOUSLY, I'm a cheese danish (or a couple of 'em) type, too.

Me sweet as a teen? Perhaps you need to get your eyes checked. ;)

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