keep it simple

Starting a story can be daunting, when you think about all of the characters, their complex relationships, the plot twists, the dramatic action and whether or not you even have a reasonable ending.

Rather than languish in front of your keyboard, give yourself something simple to begin with and you’ll be surprised at what can follow.

Dialogue is a great way to start – it can help to discover your characters in the middle of things:

“My wife left,” he said. “Took all my money.”


“And she cheated on me.”

“Uh huh.”

“Look at my hands. Shaking.”

“I see.”

“You’re a social worker?”


He tilted back in his chair and looked at her over his glasses.

“So they give you the crazies?”

Another technique for jumpstarting a story is to use a ‘Springboard Sentence’ –  one that includes:

  • Character’s name
  • Descriptive phrase about that character
  • Suggestion of where she/he is
  • Mention of what that character is doing at the moment she/he is first seen.

Harvey Radnor looked every bit of his 61 years when he careened into the Doc in a Box having spent his rent money on Jack Daniels and a tattoo of a bull on his ass.

Now you try it. Open a story with dialogue or a springboard sentence and see where it takes you. Keep in mind: start in the middle of things.

If you like, you can post your opening here.

choreographing a troupe

Making a scene requires artful choreography – animating your characters interactions so vividly and seamlessly that your reader forgets they are reading. This often means tracking a troupe of characters as they make their disparate and interconnecting way from the beginning to the end of the scene.

To do this, you must know each character – what they would do and how they would express themselves – so that they are distinguishable from the other characters while staying true to themselves. But that’s not enough – you must also track location, time and mood.

As you create a scene, give your characters something to do and say, and choreograph them as they move from point A to point B in the story. Make sure that the story keeps momentum, don’t let dialogue stray from what is important, don’t let descriptions interrupt forward motion, and remember conflict, conflict, conflict.


behaving badly for good reason

There are some characters you are likely to enjoy more in fiction than you would in life. These are the dysfunctional characters who make stories interesting by behaving badly for good reason.

As the writer of these characters it is your job to understand, even if they cannot, why they do what they do.  One way of doing this is to know their childhoods, their families and their key relationships. In some cases it might not be possible or appropriate to include these details in the story itself, nevertheless, you must know them so well that they inform your characters’ words and actions.

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Using at least one cliché, create a character who lacks the capacity for self awareness and cannot recognize how their behavior and beliefs are causing damage to others. As you do this ask what  your character believes about her/himself? What does s/he believe about other characters? How do these beliefs shape her/his behavior? How does s/he explain or justify her/his behavior?

Writing prompt: Create a character whose version of the truth cannot be trusted. Incorporate at least one cliché from the list below.

like showing a red rag to a bull

it’s no picnic

time is what keeps everything from happening at once

pissed as a newt

useful as a screen door on a submarine

a day late and a dollar short

off like a prom dress