Something happens and everything changes. You break a leg, someone you love disappears, you win a major prize, and what you thought was your story – your life! – is turned upside down. On a recent holiday to Amsterdam, I broke a bone in my foot, and what was meant to be a week of fun in Holland, turned out to be two weeks on the sofa with a plaster cast in a strange flat. I finally got to watch Rear Window, and got to thinking how some stories rely on an accident, or some dreadful news, or some wonderful stroke of luck. For the purposes of this post, let’s call all these occurrences “accidents”.
THE EXERCISE: This exercise works best with a story you’ve already written. Take a story (or even a whole novel – one that you’ve abandoned, preferably) that you’ve had in your drawer for a while, a story you’ve been struggling with, perhaps even given up on. Now give the character an “accident” to deal with. Maybe they’ve been in an accident, or someone they know has been in an accident, or they’ve just won an award, or someone they love has been arrested. Write about how they deal with this new reality in their life. Think about Stephen King’s Misery; revisit Rear Window.
Besides the possibility that your story may need new drama, it could also be that what you’ve written so far is just you getting to know the character, and the accident is the point where the real story can really begin. This doesn’t mean that you have to scrap everything you’ve written so far; maybe now everything will be seen in light of this new “accident”. The accident may also provide you with the point of view you’ve been looking for. Take the story of the quiet, small-town middle-aged woman that you’ve already written… now tell it from her perspective after she has won a major TV talent show. Take the story you’ve already written about the couple who is breaking up, now tell it from the point of view of one of them after the other has disappeared without a trace.
This is an exercise in adding drama to a story, but more than that, it is an exercise in finding the right point in time from which to tell a story.