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Rising Resentment

Somewhere deep in your character’s dark little soul lies a tiny nugget of resentment. How passive or aggressive your character is determines how he handles it. Passive, simmering resentment can blow up at the least convenient moment. Immediate reaction can throw flame into an already tense situation.

Resentment can be an internal conflict your protagonist comes to grips with. It can be an interpersonal conflict between friends or foes. It can fuel the protagonist’s battle with the antagonist. There could be several layers of resentment between characters to complicate the story. 

How to use it: 

1) Choose a seed 

The seed usually arises from your character’s deepest desires, fears, traits hidden in the shadow self, or childhood wounds. Use something from the character’s past that can create future conflict. 

2) Fertile field. 

Having chosen a seed, you must plant it in a scene. You don’t have to spend chapters telling the backstory of why Dick is jealous of his older brother or why Sally resents Dick for always finding a way to be absent whenever the family needs him most. You can effectively address it through dialogue or action in one scene.

3) A little rain.

Use future scenes to reinforce the resentment, making it grow taller and more bitter. Resentment thrives in darkness. Show your character feeling hurt, angry, disappointed, or sad. These scenes push your character toward a dark night of the soul. 

4) Surfacing.

A turning point occurs when the resentment is brought to a head. The situation can be cathartic or make the situation more thorny. Hostile reactions can fuel the cycle leading to the climactic moment when things are resolved. 

5) Death/rebirth. 

Coming to terms with resentment is a way to illustrate character growth. At the climax, the relationship either mends or dies. If you want an up-ending, the relationship is healed. If you want a down-ending, one of them can decide to hang onto the ill-will while the other lets go. If you want an up-down ending, they can put it behind them but realize there is no way to continue on together.

A satisfying story arc includes all the phases.

Sorry, I Can't Hear You ...

Conflict occurs between characters when there is a breakdown in communication. You don’t need a broken cell phone or a disabled internet to create problems for your characters. When someone’s life or emotional welfare is at stake, breakdowns in communication are treacherous. 

Use communication failures to ratchet the tension and create obstacles that are resolved in future scenes. 

1) Mental block.

If Jane or Sally offers an important bit of information, Dick may dismiss it outright because it doesn’t fit within his belief system. They can talk all day. It won’t matter. Use this to point Dick in the wrong direction. Later, when he is more willing to listen, their information could save the day. 

2) Different meanings.

Terms such as coward/courageous, allowed/ forbidden, acceptable/unacceptable, relationship/friendship, good/bad could have entirely different meanings for Dick, Sally, and Jane. Misunderstandings in this realm create hurt feelings, perhaps the desire for retaliation. Use this misunderstanding to turn a friend into an enemy or a helper into a hinderer. When you want to turn the story around, resolve it. 

3) Too much information.

Sometimes less really is more. The more options and information thrown at Dick, the harder it can be for him to decide or act. He can’t possibly keep it all straight. Friends and foes can later supply Dick with information he overlooked or details he forgot. Plant the seed in one scene, sprout it in another, perhaps appreciate the fully beauty of it in a third.

4) Distraction.

Dick may not listen when his mind is on something else, missing the fact that Sally or Jane offered him an important piece of the puzzle. They can later remind him of it when it is crucial, with or without the “I told you so.”

5) Time crunch.

If Dick is in a rush, he might forget to say the right thing, tell the correct people, or leave out important facts. His terse delivery may chafe. This can infuriate and confuse Sally or Jane. It could leave them unwilling to help him or create negative backlash in a future scene.

6) Emotion Commotion.

If Sally or Jane approaches Dick in a heightened state of emotion — be it anger, passion, exhaustion, sadness, or drunkenness — Dick may dismiss the content as irrational. In a later scene, you can make Dick wish he had listened.

Communication breakdowns create interpersonal conflict at scene and overall story level and believable tension between characters. Have fun with it, but make it count.

Shades of Doubt

The definition of doubt is to be uncertain, consider questionable or unlikely, hesitate to believe, distrust, fear, or to be apprehensive about.

Your job as a writer is to instill doubt in your reader. Most readers go into a story expecting a happy ending. Some genres allow twist endings, down endings, or up-down endings. Either way, your goal is to make your reader doubt the final outcome until the climax of the story. 

You can plant a seed in the character’s mind that calls the reader to question the outcome in the following ways: 

1) Bait and Switch 

Pose a question at the beginning of the story then point the finger at an alternative answer. It can be a crappy alternative or a brilliant one. Make your reader believe the alternative is unavoidable until the climax. 

2) S-Curves 

Pose a question then offer a series of distractions and blind alleys before revealing the final answer. The distractions must be subtle. Oftentimes in mysteries, the reader knows it can’t be the first or second suspect; that would be too obvious. If you lead the reader on a blind chase, you can circle back to the truth at the climax. 

3) Loop the loop 

Pose a question and convince the reader the alternative answer is the best outcome at first, then circle around and change his mind by the climax.

4) Side by Side 

Offer two viable, attractive answers and make choosing between them difficult. Explore the pros and cons, staggering the attractiveness and cost for each choice. This creates a satisfying push-pull.

Learning to manipulate the reader’s expectations takes you from beginner to expert.

The Takeaway

I like a takeaway even in the shortest flash fiction or poem. It can be a tidbit of wisdom, a message, a challenge, or something that makes me question a belief or opinion. It can shine a  bright light on a dark corner or reveal a horror. It can uplift and inspire. It can make me sigh, “Oh, yes!” or shout, “Oh, hell no!”

I know. I know. Art is art. There is no one definition. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. A single blot of color on a canvas can be considered a masterpiece.

I'll be honest. My tastes are far too pedestrian for that. I like being able to easily identify what I’m supposed to be viewing. I prefer paintings that tell me a story, draw me in, lead me down shadowed wooded paths, toss me on churning white crests in an ocean struck with lightening, or a pierce me with a portrait’s stare that seems to follow my every move.

I have trouble connecting with short stories or flash fiction when they lack definition. A short story can be a slice of life vignette. It can examine one moment in time with laser-locked focus. Occasionally the language is so mesmerizing, I’ll read it anyway, even if the action goes nowhere. That is a rare occurrence. I usually thumb past after a few sentences or paragraphs or skim read it. If I get to the end and there was no takeaway, I turn the final page with a sour aftertaste.

My point is this: you can wax lyrical about anything you like in any way you like. Your words can be a blot of color on a piece of paper. You might engage a few readers along the way. But, by and large, story structure has a purpose. It provides an outline so your reader knows what she is supposed to be viewing. It insists that your ramblings have a point, preferably one that  skewers the reader to gain her attention.


Dick is searching for meaning. Your verbal camera follows him to a street-side cafe. He sits at an outdoor table and stares at the Seine over his mocha latte. He downs the chocolate coffee concoction and watches people go by, wondering who they are, and where they are headed. He stands and shuffles down the avenue, aimless, adrift.

I'm snoring at this point. Thematically, Dick watches life go by but isn't participating. By the end of the piece, Dick has not come to a conclusion, changed his life, or made his peace. He remains in a rut and I'm left feeling that my time has been wasted.

Let's examine what happens if you give the story a takeaway.


Dick is depressed. (Yawn).

Dick is depressed because his wife died. (It happens.) 

Dick is depressed because his wife died and he keeps seeing her ghost.  (Prickle of interest).

Dick is depressed because his wife died and he keeps seeing her ghost. He realizes she is enjoying the netherworld with her demon lover and vows to destroy them both. (Wow, did not see that coming. Please tell me more!).

Which version will you remember?

Engage the reader’s curiosity by giving the character something to aim for, no matter how minuscule, and make the reader question whether he will/could/should achieve it. This can be done in a three line haiku or a five-hundred-page novel. It can flow along the slow lane of Literary or the creepy crawl of Horror.

The takeaway? Offer your audience something to remember so they remember you and look forward to your next work with anticipation.

What's Your Angle?

The point of view you choose is like a verbal camera recording everything that happens in your scenes. The character or narrator you choose determines whether that lens is close up or remote.

A scene should be told from one camera angle. Stories are usually told from one camera angle. Each camera angle serves a different function.

How close or how far your camera angle/POV is determines the level of intimacy between your reader and your characters and the dimensions of the stage they perform on.

The omniscient narrator is an observer distantly recounting the story from his lofty box seat. He can be sympathetic or snarky. He can follow whatever character he chooses and have an opinion or be completely neutral. 

The third person remote point of view is distancing. The reader experiences your story from the nose-bleed seats at the back of the theater. The advantage is being able to see the entire stage from left to right. Your reader can take in everything that is happening. She can focus on stage left or stage right. The camera can relate what each character is thinking or feeling. The danger lies in moving the camera too abruptly. You don’t want to make your reader dizzy or confused.

Third person close up narrows the focus to a specific character. The reader is drawn to either stage left or stage right and the action that particular character is involved in. The camera angle is narrower. Things may occur on the opposite side of the stage, but the reader isn’t privy to them. The camera can follow different characters in each scene, but the action is still presented through the lens of a specific character. The danger here is accidentally inserting the third-person narrator's viewpoint. Each point of view character you follow dilutes the reader’s emotional connection to the story. If you veer away from the stars to follow the secondary characters too often, you risk losing the reader. 

First person is placing the camera on the shoulder of the character. The reader steps on stage and shadows the character, hearing what they hear and seeing what they see. This is the most intimate way to tell your story, but it limits your angle to the action happening in the spotlight. The danger is veering off to the author as narrator or other characters. Picture  home movies where the camera is trained on a specific event and the cameraman swerves for a second to follow someone else then jerks back to the main event.

Third person works well for mysteries. First person works well for YA. If in doubt, examine the books you’ve enjoyed in the genre you write and consider the point of view used. If most of the books are written in third person, how would using a first person camera angle affect the flow? Can you or should you change it up?

Unlike movies where camera angles can swoop and cut, the key to successful fiction is consistency. Consistency keeps your reader engaged in your story stream and that is the kind of page turning you should aim for.