Saturday, September 6, 2014

Stretching my mental muscle

I just finished a conflict workshop today, hosted by Beachwalk Press, and I have to tell you, it was fun and exhilerating to dabble in areas I haven't considered before.

The best parts of the workshop were the writing prompts, where we were asked to continue in our own words to show the type of conflict for that particular exercise. I loved it! I'd like to share what I turned in. Hope you enjoy them. I'll mark the writing prompts in red so you can see what I started with.

1.  As soon as she opened the door, the white curtains billowed inward and a chilly gust raised the hairs on her arms. Her heart pounding, her hand flew to the light switch, frantically toggling the switch. Nothing. Stifling her sob of dismay, she warred with herself about going in or fleeing like a coward. The baby stirred in his crib, deciding the matter. She ventured in, quietly, cautiously, and almost screamed when the door slammed shut behind her. Then the child sat up, his eyes glowing an unnatural green, and she heard a low, guttural chuckle.

  Her footsteps faltered and though her voice shook, she stood firm when the child floated out of his crib.
  “Now stop that. I know you understand me. Your mother said no levitating. If you don’t behave right now, you can just sit in that wet diaper until your parents come home and change you themselves. It’s up to you. I don’t care.”

  The baby’s eyes returned to their normal blue and the lights flashed on as he sank back to the mattress, a look of disappointment on his face.

2.  He was running out of time. If he didn’t get the bike going again, there was no way he’d stop the wedding. Gritting his teeth, he cranked back on the gas and kicked ‘er down once, twice, three times. His heart racing, he took a deep breath and willed himself to calm down.

“Come on baby, you can do this. Come on. Purr for daddy.” Closing his eyes, he lifted up off the seat one last time, his muscles hard with tension. “Now!” Slamming his heel home, he gusted out a deep sigh of relief when the engine fired. Sliding his sunglasses into place, he folded in the kick starter with his foot and murmured a grave vow of his own, “Time to make things right.”

3.  For this one, which pertained to backstory conflict, I chose to continue from the previous prompt.

If it hadn’t been for the car accident they were in four years ago, he wouldn’t be crashing Mandy’s wedding now. Turning his wrist on the handlebar grip, he glanced at his watch. Had the ceremony started yet?
He approached the church from a side street, his heartbeat surging when he saw members of the wedding party milling around on the dappled lawn outside. Then he saw Mandy and he forgot to breathe for a second. She was a vision in white, standing in the rose garden between her parents. All three were smiling for the photographer.
Leaning back on his seat, he jerked the front tire up over the curb and hit the grassy incline at an angle with a single-minded purpose. All those standing around spun at the scream of his engine as he leaped the narrow sidewalk and continued on a direct path right for the bride.
Mandy’s smile collapsed and her jaw dropped open. Her mother looked faint, her father, livid.  Leveling off at the top of the lawn, he brought the bike to a hard stop and killed the engine. Kicking down the stand, he dismounted and sought her out, ignoring the rush of tuxedos coming toward him to block his way.
Her father stepped in front of her, but she moved around him and held up her hand in a silent plea, holding him back. The older man relented, but he glared as the unwelcome flash-from-the- past closed the distance.
Mandy walked forward, her flawless skin pale, her lovely eyes brighter than normal. Please don’t cry, sweetheart. He didn’t want to upset her. Then he noticed how she moved and couldn’t stop himself from smiling. She’d mastered her prosthetic leg.
Her arm dropped slack at her side, the bridal bouquet raining petals on the stones at her feet.
She looked like she was seeing a ghost. But then, he’d learned only two weeks ago that no one thought he’d ever wake up. Fucking coma.
“Yeah, honey. It’s me.”
Her fingers trembled in front of her lips. The rock on her finger flashed brilliantly back at him as if to drive him away. Screw that.
“But you’re—” Her soft voice shook.
He stopped and held out his hands, low and hopeful, barely conscious of their audience and the buzz of voices in the background, like bees on the flowers.
“I remember, Mandy. Everything. Especially you.”
With a heartbreaking sob, she tossed the bouquet and threw herself against him. He grabbed her, hard, and kissed her wonderful face as her veil slid down her back and to the pavers amidst gasps of shock and outrage.
There would be no wedding today.

4.  He stalked into the room, intending to have a word with the museum curator, but what he saw made him draw back in surprise. Phillipa Marsh had already beaten him to the punch.

Her voice was raised, her fists clenched, posture rigid. The reverse image of her lovely figure in her dark gray suit was reflected in the polished floor, as was the ornate frame he knew so well from her father’s estate. The painting itself, however, was conspicuously missing.
She was gloriously pissed. He’d never seen a woman more beautiful than Phillipa in a temper. It was nice to admire it from the sidelines, when her fury wasn’t directed at him. Although, there was a lot to be said for all that heat and passion. That could be exquisite too.
Now he knew why the exhibit never opened today.
She had the curator backed against a marble column, his head turned slightly as if she was going to strike him. She wouldn’t. Still, the whites of his eyes were clearly visible, even from a distance, and he wore a look of outright panic.
How would she react at seeing him now, here, eight months after their romantic implosion? There was going to be fireworks. At least he knew for a fact she wasn’t armed this time. She wouldn’t have gotten through the metal detectors. Reassured of that fact, he gave his left bicep an absent rub then stepped out of the shadows and cleared his throat.
5.  An internal conflict prompt.

   She knew if she dove into the ocean, he’d be right behind her, trying to save her. That’s the last thing she wanted. Couldn’t he understand that? How many times had she tried to explain the torture of simply getting through an average day? She was bringing him down. She saw it, how it affected him too. Depression spread to those you love like a virus and she was toxic. It clung like an odor, a hideous stink that didn’t wash off no matter how much you scrubbed or how much perfume you spritzed on.

   He was a good man and deserved to be happy. She felt pity whenever he argued that he was happy with her. How could she believe it? Impossible. She was the anchor around his neck, dragging him under with her. To save the man she loved, she had to cut him free…and flee, go where he’d never find her. It would be so much easier that way. No more fantasies of swallowing pills or the barrel of a gun. No more contemplating likely tree branches or the tensile strength of rope. She wouldn’t close herself in the garage with the engine running and have him find her like that. Razor blades were out. She couldn’t. No. No razor blades.

   It was time to disappear, for his sake. Her mind made up, she sat at the desk and pulled the pad of lined paper toward her then picked up the pen.      

6.  An external conflict prompt.

    He dove into the ocean and immediately felt the powerful waves shove him to the depths, his body thrown into a wild roll before the current caught him up and spat him out to sea and away from the dangerous cliff face. He broke the surface with a gasp, his ears still ringing from the roar of the violent undertow, the screams of the gulls hovering overhead muffled for a moment.

   Stifling the raw edge of panic that always hit him at this point, he let the current take him out, far from land. It was suicide to try to fight your way back from here. Even seasoned cliff jumpers could suddenly fall victim to the terror of seeing the distance grow between them and land and do the unthinkable. Delay was a tragic mistake. The next incoming wave would break a body apart on the sharp rock walls. Getting away from the point of entry as fast as possible was critical if he was going to survive, especially with scavenging sharks patrolling this spot.

   Not wild about ending up on the menu, he swam hard for calmer waters, putting distance between himself and immediate danger. He’d done this before. No sweat. Just follow the coastline then head in at the next beach.

   He’d just found his rhythm when something solid struck him in the calf. Pitched sideways for a moment he righted himself with a gasp. His heart racing, he looked frantically around. There was an ominous lack of sound when the dark dorsal fin rose cleanly out of the water. He watched in horror as the tail fin eventually broke the surface behind it. This was a big fish. It turned in a wide circle and came around to make another pass. Only now did he see the great body, like a terrifying shadow, glide by.

   “Oh god,” he sobbed softly, afraid those words were the last he’d utter.

7.  She lifted her nose and breathed the air, her heart racing as the familiar scent wafted to her.
Closing her eyes, she visualized the simmering pots of red sauce, flecked with fresh basil and oregano on the huge stainless stove. Garlic, oh god, the smell of freshly minced garlic would still cling to her father’s favorite cutting board. Her lashes swept up and feeling a tug of nostalgia at the sight of the old pizzeria, she reached for the door, already tasting the sliver of fresh parmesan she was about to steal when she crashed their kitchen. 

8. And here's a conflict with a little twist. This one is a total departure for me, contemporary writer that I am. It's also in first person. I never write first person!

The hero’s brother is in a dungeon in his enemy’s castle. How does he get him out?

It had taken three days, and a hell of a lot of whiskey, before Colin and I were finally able to separate two of the guards from their coins and tunics. Unfortunately, there was no time to get a third tunic for Geoff. We had to move, now, or run the risk my brother would never see another sunset.
We approached the fortress on horseback, mixing in with the flow of wagons, beasts, and peasants passing through the intimidating archway. Once inside, we quickly peeled off and made our way toward the dark tower. Seeing every window blocked by rough metal bars made our escape seem even less likely, but we had to try.
“On the left there,” Colin pointed then nudged his horse ahead.
I followed, trying not to be intimidated by this massive structure. The guards we’d…detained were sleeping it off in the woods. Their heads were going to hurt from more than the alcohol when they eventually woke up. I didn’t particularly enjoy clocking the one, but it had been necessary. Stripping another man, then tugging on his warm clothes, was even less appealing, but also unavoidable.
Colin pulled back on the reins and I came to a stop beside him, my horse stepping two or three more times in place.
“There’s the door they mentioned,” he said quietly. I nodded.
Finding somewhere to leave the horses, without risk of theft or arousing suspicion proved a challenge, but we eventually managed it, the pilfered coins of the one guard coming in handy at the nearby tavern’s stable. Slowly circling back to the tower, we made sure to approach the unassuming door while the street bustled with activity. The tower’s main door was on the opposite side. Just the thought of entering through there had chilled my bones. Learning there was a second, unobtrusive door used to bring food in and waste out, was welcome news.
I pulled the ring of keys from under my borrowed tunic and quietly eased the most likely key into the lock. Colin and I glanced at each other, both holding our breath, and let it out when the key turned in my hand. I pushed the door in slowly, waiting for a creak that didn’t come, and looked into the dim interior. Empty.
“It’s clear.” I snuck in, Colin behind me, and we made a hasty search for the staircase. He found it first and waved me over.
“I’d feel better if we could pull our swords,” he whispered as we stared down the narrow flight of stairs.
“You know we can’t. We’re supposed to be guards. It would look suspicious.”
Relenting to my logic, he led me down. The smells grew stronger as we went deeper. Mold, damp and decay, vomit, the tang of urine, and the overwhelming odor of shit. Wincing from the foul air, I was forced to pinch my nose closed and breathe through my mouth or start to retch myself.
The smell was less intense once we reached the lower level. Apparently, the staircase funneled all the unpleasant gases upwards.
We split up, Colin peering into the cells on the left, while I paused at every peep window on the right. Most of the cells were empty, though not all. Then Colin grabbed my shoulder from behind and I swung around. He jerked me forward and I looked through the thick door and saw my brother, Geoff, sitting on a bare floor, his neck and ankle shackled to the stones. His chin rested on his chest and his dark, unruly hair hid his face. Seeing his posture, I wasn’t certain if he was asleep or miserable. Likely both.
I slid the same key, the master key, into the door and tripped the lock. Geoff’s head shot up, his eyes wild with panic.
When he saw us in the door, he leaped to his feet, drawing back from us in fear. He didn’t recognize me at first.
“Geoff, it’s me, and Colin. We’re here to get you out.”
Clearly incredulous, my brother stepped toward us, as far as the chains would allow, and asked in a weak, raspy voice, “How?”
He turned his head, looking up so I could spring the collar around his neck. Colin caught it and set it carefully, soundlessly on the floor while Geoff stuck out his foot for me next. When I straightened up, he was rubbing his reddened throat and breathing a little more freely.
Colin began to fidget under his tunic, wriggling his body for a moment and then pulled the spare garment out. He gave it a good shake.
Seeing what it was, Geoff’s eyes widened and he stared at us, stunned. “Are you out of your bloody minds?”
I snickered softly. “Put on your dress, pretty boy.”

Keep reading!

1 comment:

  1. These are great prompts! Good thing to keep in mind when writing a particular instance or scene. When I find myself stuck in a plot, it does help to remind myself what is this specific conflict that must be resolved.