a writing exercise

in divergent, the author, veronica roth, is great at providing the reader with this chain of events:  conflict, choices, decision, consequence, conflict, etc....

i'm not so great at that, so here's me practicing in front of you.

1st exercise:

my character is walking on the sidewalk and a kid on a bike is pedalling toward him.  my character can step off the curb or stay in the path of the biker.  if he steps off, he lands in a mucky stream of water.  if he stays on, the biker will either collide with him, or if he stays far enough right, might just miss him.  my character is wearing brand new white sneakers, freshly dry-cleaned slacks and a long, cream colored sweater.  she is on her way to an interview.  she chooses the least of the three evils and walks on the very edge of the sidewalk, praying the kid sees her and steers to his right.  phew.  he does.  seconds after he passes, just before she corrects her path and moves back to the center of the sidewalk, a speeding car swerves onto the shoulder of the street and splashes mucky water up the right-hand side of my character.

--purpose:  i needed to practice my conflict, choices, and decision-making skills as a writer.
--directions:  i started writing without thinking, only knowing i needed to follow the chain:  conflict, choices, decision, consequence
--explanation:  you can see that i just wrote without self-correcting.  at first, my character was a male, but once i dressed him he became a her and i stayed with that.  as i made the car swerve, she could have been killed, but while that would have certainly been a consequence, it would have ended my chain and the next link needs to be that immediate conflict.  if i were to continue, she'd have to now decide what to do about her clothing and interview.

2nd exercise:

my character is on an elevator that is crammed full of people.  he is claustrophobic and waiting to exit on the 11th floor.  he only took the elevator in the first place because it was empty and he recenlty sprained his ankle playing a game of soccer for charity, hence the stairs would have caused him pain and the elevator, being empty, seemed the lesser of the two evils.  however, as each floor passed (he entered on the first) more people got on, slowing down the ascension and filling it up. 

as the doors open on the 9th floor a rather large man stands beyond them, ready to step on.  clearly, the elevator can hold no more people, yet nobody around him seems to notice this as they stand calmly and do not make moves to object.  in fact, those in the front squeeze together to make room.  my character can either push through the three rows that stand between him and the open 9th floor, brave the stairs for two flights or close his eyes and breathe, praying the elevator won't break and get stuck, remaining where he is until the doors mercifully open on the 11th floor.  rather than chance that scenario, my character yelps and pushes through the arms of those in front of him.  he rips through the crowd and trips over the foot of the large man.  he lays sprawling on the 9th floor looking up the nostrils of the man and the crowd as the doors close,leaving him alone.  he pushes himself up onto his good foot and slides his left leg behind.  then, slowly and painfully, he moves toward the stairs. he wishes he hadn't been so stubborn as to leave the crutches lying next to his bed. 

explanation:  i suppose this concludes my initial chain:  conflict, choices, decision, consequence

this is where i'm getting horribly stuck.  what conflict can lay beyond on the stairs???  a man with a gun?  a woman being attacked?  will his ankle break?  will he discover at the top of the 11th floor that he needed the 9th floor all along? 

he's decided to take the stairs, obviously, but what consequence (besides obvious ankle pain, and embarrasment at tripping) can there be?

help me, then, with the next chain link.  what conflict can follow next?


  1. Gary Schmidt does this so well in The Wednesday Wars. There is always some surprising conflict or consequence waiting for his MC.

    I like the idea that he gets to the 11th floor, after much pain, only to discover that the 9th floor is where he should be. :)

  2. I like how you did this exercise. Exercises like these always reveal something new about ourselves as writers.


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