The Compelling Exercise


A 2-part exercise.

Whether a character is good or bad; Batman or the Joker, Clarice or Hannibal, to keep the audience in the story, the narrative has to be compelling. This is a science and an art: balancing believable characters with a textured setting and filling it with tension.

Good news/Bad news: the setting can be forgotten, the characterizations can be forgiven if there is enough tension. It's the conflict that turns drama into spectacle. People won't crane their necks to watch another person waiting for a red light to change, but they'll give themselves whiplash to catch a glimpse of the car accident that just happened.

Whether it's Kramer vs Kramer, Ahab vs Moby or Audie Murphy against the Nazis, the world loves watching a fight.

Today, we're going to start a war..

***

Part One: build your initial conflict

Conflict Generator: take a moment to create or import a main character for this story. Once you have person, use the two settings suggestions to build the scene, then head right into the default conflict.

If you're looking for a challenge, break out the Yahtzee! dice and randomize the settings/conflict. If one is calling to you, pick it. If you're suddenly inspired on your own parameters, go for it!

Yes, there's a second part, but worry about that later...

Your Protagonist:

  • Male or Female?

  • Young or old?

  • What Else Defines Them? Job?

Next:

Setting 1:

1: Louisiana Bayou

2: Mojave Desert

3: The middle of Disneyland

4: The restaurant at the top of the famous building

5: The corner of Main and that other street

6: The industrial part of town

Setting 2:

1: Chillingly cold, just before dawn

2: Clear, blue-sky morning

3: Hot, dry noon

4: Hot, muggy afternoon

5: Mosquito-filled dusk

6: A moonless night

Conflict with:

1: Their old boss

2: Their ex-spouse

3: Their neighbor

4: A vengeful spirit

5: A parking enforcement officer

6: A supervillain

We don't need a whole story, just the beginning.

[And WRITE ... for 10 minutes...]

***

Part Two: the twist.

You've got a little momentum on this scene? An argument? A fight? Awesome.

Now it's time to up the stakes.

Our arguments are the most important thing in the world until we're suddenly reminded of a larger context. It shifts perspective and redefines what's important. This is your chance to change the frame of reference.

Roll or pick one of the following and see how that shifts your characters:

1: Bomb

2: Fire

3: Microburst-level rain

4: Earthquake

5: Riot

6: Police chase

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