Weekend Workout: Facing Fear (Character – Action Part 5 of 6)

Querying can inspire (or despire, haha) feelings of anxiety and depression, even in the most Polyanna-ish writers. I have been through a few agents over the years (all amicable separations) and the approach is an emotional challenge every time.

When feelings of “what-if-no-one-likes-my-story” hit, I like to step back and view the process as a game. I think of the situation as one of those story problems my math teacher gave me. Okay, that’s probably a bad example for many of you because everyone I know hated those problems. I didn’t. Those were my favourite kind of math problems. They were little riddles to be solved and they involved storytelling (yeah, okay, I’m a geek).

Or today I emailed one of my query buddies and said “the pool ball just has to land in the right pocket.”

(Art by Alison Woodward, click for source)

In any case, if something in front of you is causing anxiety, instead of looking at it as this THING looming in your way, see it as an exciting opportunity to do something new and learn something new. How am I going to get to the other side of this? What will it take? How can I do it better? What have I learned so far that I can apply?

If it’s challenging, it’s probably because you haven’t done it before (or figured out how to do it without anxiety).

So, what does this have to do with your Weekend Workout?

I started thinking about these THINGS that we come up against in life and how it’s important to bring that kind of anxiety to our characters. I know you love them, but you can’t make things easy for them if they are going to grow in a satisfying way. How will they learn?

Try putting something directly in front of your character that addresses a fear and then requires them to behave the opposite of how they normally would.

This works for comedy or drama and creates tension in your story. What could you put in front of someone that would make an honest person lie or steel? What could you put in front of an extremely shy person that would put her in the spotlight? (I just pictured this really shy woman going up on stage in front of hundreds of people to distract the audience so someone she cares about can escape.)

What’s even better is if their actions lead them into deeper trouble. You can always get into deeper trouble. Keep digging as far as you can go.


Set your timer for 5 minutes.
Start at the top of the page with the following startline:

1) The one thing my protagonist swears she would never do is . . .

Write, don’t stop, don’t edit, don’t cross out.

When the timer stops, Set your timer for 7 more minutes.
Start with the following line: 

2) My protagonist agonizes when she must . . .

Write, don’t stop, don’t edit, don’t cross out.

When the timer stops, Set your timer for 10 more minutes.
Start with the following line: 

3) Things get even worse when . . .

Write, don’t stop, don’t edit, don’t cross out.

Read your exercises, make notes, highlight what makes sense.

Happy Weekend!


  1. Tyrean
    May 19, 2012

    Great Writing Exercises! Thanks!

  2. 4amWriter
    May 24, 2012

    As usual, I love these exercises. I have to set them aside for later use, but I also like to try them out on my younger students. Usually, the timer stresses them out too much, but the principle still works. Thanks!

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