The Real World Interrupts

While writing is an act of the imagination, the actions of your characters are bound to some parameter or another, and, typically, these parameters have something to do with how we—people—actually act. For instance, if you want to get your character across town to check to see if her husband is cheating on her, think about how she would actually do it. You needn’t invent a mechanism to get her there, because multiple ways already exist. She could take a bus or a train. She could call a friend to take her. She could walk. Or steal a bike. The point is that sometimes when we write, we get caught up in the significance of the plot turn (is the husband cheating?) and forget that stories are basically about normal people doing (relatively) normal things—and that the act of getting there—the manner she chooses and how it goes—can reveal as much about her and the story as the realization that her husband is cheating (or not). We have no idea who she might meet on the way there. Or what kind of dialogue will emerge when, say, her friend picks her up.

The exercise: Take a general situation from something you've written this semester—the kind of thing that would be given in the Spark Notes of your story (woman thinks her husband is cheating; man returns to hometown for 20th high school reunion; drunken couple argues about whose to blame for their troubles in a bar; gardener sees thief escape down the trellis of the house). Next, write a scene in which that drama is forestalled by the real world interrupting it. The woman in the drunken couple has to go to the bathroom (many things can happen between the table and the bathroom). The gardener has to pick up his daughter at soccer practice. Use that digression to explore the character. 500 words.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License