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“You enter the extraordinary by way of the ordinary.” ~Frederick Buechner

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Strategy # 7 Harmful Dangers: Journal Prompt

Build Your Story: 8 Strategies for Writing Innovative Setting with Impact

Writing Prompt

Write out a journal entry for your character remembering her saddest day, scariest, most challenging, disappointing or despairing. Focus the emotional description.

For example, suppose your character’s scariest day happened as a ten-year-old who accidently locked himself or herself in a room or a garage. She knew no one would be looking for her for several hours, because they all thought she was at a friend’s house, or after school activity, or some other event. She panics either because of imagination, or a spider, or guilt at her deception.

Take that panic and detail it from each sensory premise. Make a list of all the words that heighten the drama. Is it summer? Does she smell the sweat dripping down her back? What does it smell like? Does she curl up in a corner? Is she up against cement or wood or iron? What does it smell like? What does the room smell like? Repeat the situation focusing on each sense. Once you have the sensory vocabulary, pick which image most defines that time for her.

Choose from your above journal entries and pick the one that fits most clearly into the emotional, physical, mental or spiritual danger you want to develop for your character.  Then repeat the above paragraph inserting her sensory details.

Share: What emotional memory did you choose for your character to remember? How can that become a mirror for her present dilemma?

Read deep, marcy

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Strategy # 7 Harmful Dangers: Deprivation

Build Your Story: 8 Strategies for Writing Innovative Setting with Impact


“Because the hero is in the world of the common day, the hero’s struggles are usually more like our struggles; they are common-day struggles, the kind of struggles we, the reader or viewer, might be involved in.” James N. Frey

Have you had a few late nights recently, or decided to diet, or quit smoking? How cranky are you?  Sometimes making daily choices can impair our ability to think clearly, or react quickly. But once we know our own bodies, we also now how to compensate for what we consider to be a temporary lack of competency. Or give us enough wisdom to know how to deal relationally with those closest to us.

What could happen when your character is unaware of a medical condition, or lack of vitamins, or dangerous allergy until deprived of a protective natural covering? Those who live in natural disaster areas know what basic food supplies need to be kept as emergency rations, but what if they don’t include a food that becomes a ticking bomb deprivation for a character. Or their resources have been destroyed or stolen?

A friend of mine recently experienced a severe case of food poisoning. On day three she forced herself to work barely long enough to make an important presentation, and then returned to bed.

What is important enough to your character to endure physical discomfort in order to fulfill a commitment? At what point does the level of pain make that impossible?
What are the hidden dangers?


Another key ingredient will be your character’s instinctive reaction to danger whether real or imagined. To discover the potential damage put your character into that moment of choice. Overwrite all the sensory details. Then write up the scene twice, once for each possible decision: to flee or fight, or to submit. Think of the actual danger too. Will he fight with valor if the threat is physical but run and hide if it’s emotional? Or vice versa?

Share: How did your character’s reaction surprise you?

Read deep, marcy

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Strategy # 7 Harmful Dangers: Duress

Build Your Story: 8 Strategies for Writing Innovative Setting with Impact


Physical trials often form the core of adventure movies. Like Hercules facing his twelve Labours we wonder will the hero overcome all the obstacles or will he perish? But we also don’t really expect a deep character change in James Bond or Indiana Jones. We simply enjoy the ride.

In physical dangers though, the stress is a mountain that must be conquered regardless of the cost. In fact it is quite realistic that the physical challenges will succeed in overpowering our characters. James N. Frey, in his book The Key, points out that a hero’s journey does not necessarily mean the hero will survive, but rather that he succeeds and if he perishes—he dies victorious. In Cold Mountain, Inman walks for months to reach home and the woman he loves. He suffers wounds, hunger, danger, capture, exhaustion, and the elements. He succeeds only to be killed.

In the movie Hugo, the isolated boy faces duress every day under the weight of his secret and the possibility that if he is caught he will be locked away in a workhouse orphanage.

Writing Exercise: Choose a movie you have seen recently and pick out one or two examples of each of the following dangers that might apply.

Natural danger

Man-made danger

Physical danger

Psychological danger

Spiritual danger

Share: Which one had the most impact on you? Why?

Read deep, marcy

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Strategy # 7 Harmful Dangers: Hidden Foil

Build Your Story: 8 Strategies for Writing Innovative Setting with Impact

Whether emotional or physical some dangers are not immediately evident. Or may not even be recognized as a potential danger. Sometimes the danger is hidden behind a foil.

In the MG Mystery The Lost Treasure of Fernando Montoya, by Rick Acker, sibling sleuths investigate an historic site. A snake bites Arthur. They have been well prepared for safety in the terrain by their uncle, their guardian for the summer, and so his boots protect him from the venom. However the uncle, upon hearing his niece scream, “came running and jumping down the nearest vertical side of the mine, completing disregarding his own safety in his hurry to reach Arthur.”

He injures his knee, ends up at first in the hospital and then put on semi-bed rest recovery, effectively removing his physical ability to protect his niece and nephew from their enemies.

In a later scene one of their pursuers takes advantage of a demolition site to trap the siblings. In both cases the immediate danger posed by the natural terrain hid the more dangerous threat.

Another hidden danger can be due to age, or lack of experience, and used to heighten the tension.
In the collection of Where Treetops Glisten, Sarah Sundin’s recent historical novella, “I’ll be Home for Christmas, six-year old Linnie wanders their small town whenever she gets a chance to slip away. Even the police greet her mother’s call with a sigh. This last time it’s already late in the afternoon and the police insist her mother Grace stay at home and wait. “How could she sit still and wait while her daughter roamed the streets? It was cold. Soon it would be dark. Cars and buses might not see a small child in the falling light. And Linnie trusted strangers far too much.”

Grace clearly recognizes the physical danger to her daughter, even while Linnie innocently doesn’t. What Grace doesn’t see coming though is the emotional heart upheaval that will be released into their lives.

Share: What example of a hidden foil have you written or read or seen in a movie recently?

Read deep, marcy

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Strategy # 7 Harmful Dangers

Build Your Story: 8 Strategies for Writing Innovative Setting with Impact

“The hero faces natural fears. They include the terrors of height, fire, wild animals, creepy things, dark places, claustrophobic spaces, physical combat, inhospitable environments, monsters, evil spirits, and perils involving water: storms at sea, rapids and so on.” James N Frey

Introduction: Dangers
Once we’ve built up a substantial setting with focused landscape, buildings, and territory, then we want to develop the personal sensory history and vocabulary as a strong first layer. This is when we can shape an undergirding of shadows and foretelling for danger and secrets and plot seeds. When appropriate we can also add a mythic echo. Look for ways to reverse, or cloud, the effect as well.

For example, red roses are a common symbol of love or affection. So suppose a man in your story brings a red rose to your protagonist as a gesture of friendship. However, as a young child your heroine found her beloved mother dead with mutilated red roses clutched in her hands, and the perfume filling the tiny room.
For her, the red rose triggers grief, and now possibly danger. Did the man really not know, or is it a veiled threat? How will she react? Your choices will be determined by the genre as well as the level of suspense required.

If, in an earlier scene, the reader discovered this information, then he is on alert for motives and reaction. However perhaps, like the young man, she is just finding out how difficult this gesture is. Both ways will need a different way of handling the sensory highlights.

In addition red roses have a history of typology in myth, such as Snow White and Rose Red to name a few. What details from a folktale could be inserted and for what reason? If a light romance you might choose to highlight the connection with touches of humor. But in a dark fantasy it would work better if only you know the connection to the folktales and let the emotion alone carry the story line. The echo will resonate without being spelled out and pulling your reader out of the story world.

Share: From the list Frey gives in the quote above, which would put your character in the most immediate danger?

Read deep, marcy
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