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: Return to a finished story. Pick a spot somewhere before the story's climax and write a new scene in which your protagonist runs an errand or goes to the bathroom or answers a phone call, forestalling whatever drama is about to happen. The idea is that many things can happen on the way to the bathroom. Use the digression to explore the character. No less than 700 words.

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