You’ve probably heard it on the radio: the irritatingly-catchy Summer hit in which a perky young woman warbles about how she’s just met you, and this is crazy, but here’s her number – so call her maybe.
The sudden impulse decision that holds the potential to send our lives hurtling off in a new direction is not the sort of thing that forms part of our day-to-day experience. How could it, in a world of mortgages and job insecurity and family responsibilities?
But in fiction, it’s a different matter. Which is why our June writing prompt is those decisions, and what happens when you make one.
The single most important aspect of a successful story is a protagonist strong enough to direct their own destiny, but faced with significant hurdles to overcome in order to achieve their goal. How better to do this than by making your central character take a leap of faith right out of their comfort zone?
Take, for example, the April suggestion from our Virtual Reading Group, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. Its hero, a modest man of retirement age living on the south coast, sets out to post a letter to a dying friend in Scotland – and, on impluse, decides instead to walk the length of the country to visit her in person.
Without that unplanned life-changing decision there would be no story, and no opportunity for the reader to explore the depths of Harold’s heart.
This powerful narrative idea is something you can adopt for this month’s writing assignment. Your story could start anywhere, any time – all it needs is for your hero or heroine to do something sudden and unplanned, then deal with the consequences.
Particularly suited for romances (hence Carly Rae Jepsen’s hit song), this idea can also trigger an exciting thriller, a tense horror story, or an introspective journey through a character’s mind and motivations.
Here are some writing prompts:
1. Invent a character whose life is stable and settled – sketch them out in a few sentences. Now imagine what impulse decision could make them put all that at risk. Write the scene in which they make it.
2. Decisions have consequences, and impulse decisions can have major ones. Who in the life of the character you just created is most affected by their decision? Their spouse, their children, their worst enemy? Write the letter or email they send to – or about – your character, in which they explain their feelings.
3. Think back to a decision you once made – what did you think in the moments before you made it, and the moments afterwards? Write a 250-word fictionalised version of it, in which the stakes and the emotions are heightened.
4. Now write a second version, in which the fictionalised version of you chose not to act on impulse and is looking back on the moment from old age. Is the feeling one of regret for what might have been? Or relief at mistake not made? Curiosity about how things might have been different?
Oh – and this is crazy. But if it works for you, email us maybe? We’d like to read it.