Valentine’s Day is past, hooray! When I went for a lesson at my studio yesterday, a happy couple came in to work on their wedding dance. My instructor asked them,
“So, how was your Valentine’s Day?”
The future bride replied, “Uneventful,” and breathed an audible sigh of relief.
“I guess I got it right,” the future groom agreed. And the lesson began.
But what if he hadn’t? What if the future groom had failed “to get it right?” Would whatever went wrong have then created a permanent rift in their relationship? This is a useful question to ponder if you’re looking to create conflict in a story. You’ll never get stuck for material if you use the following exercise.
The “Worst Case” Scenario Exercise
How to do the exercise:
1. Remember something that went well, looking for the smallest, seemingly inconsequential event, such as ordering coffee in a Starbucks or a Dunkin, and having it be perfectly made.
2. Focus on the story you’re working on and a scene where you know you need to add conflict.
3. Now, ask yourself how many ways it could have gone wrong. Too hot, bad ingredients, a long wait, or finding a hair or a bug.
4. Next, put it in the scene. One or both of the characters get coffee which is not right.
5. Consider how each character would react and add that to the scene, or use it as a scene starter.
6. Imagine how each character will try to manage the situation, and you’ll get some interesting and surprising material.
7. Make a habit of appreciating what’s going well in your life, then flip it into as negative a situation as you can conjure. Write a brief paragraph describing one or more of the terrible things you can imagine happening, and start a file. You can build up quite a collection, and then when you’re writing, you will know how to easily add conflict to an existing scene or structure a new one in a compelling way.
Let’s Reinvent Valentine’s Day
It makes no sense to me that a holiday that purports to celebrate love can create dissension and disappointment. The Word of the Day webinar on Wednesday demonstrated how if the holiday was used as a day to celebrate self-love, we would be able to understand that we have a relationship with ourselves as if there were two of us and that how we talk to ourselves determines the success of our other relationships, our professional success, and our health.
In our relationships with others, our ability to accept them as they are will determine the degree of happiness we can experience with them. Focusing exclusively on raising the degree of self-acceptance you feel will bring greater happiness, success, and health.
With self-acceptance comes self-esteem, which will give you the energy needed to persist in reaching your goals. Many of the failures I have witnessed as a teacher and a coach come from people needing to believe in themselves enough to stay the course.
To attain self-acceptance, do the following exercise daily: When you get up and go into the bathroom, look at yourself in the mirror without judgment and put your hand on the mirror. Smile, look into your own eyes, and say,
“I love you. We will always be together, and we’ll always be safe. I promise I will never beat you up or shame you.” You may experience a profound sense of relief because the promise to behave decently to yourself removes fear. Then ask yourself for your Word of the Day, and do the practice.
To recap, we are already in a relationship with ourselves. Improve that relationship through self-acceptance, better self-talk, and committing to creating a Word of the Day cluster every day.
Here’s to your writing success,
Professor Marilyn Horowitz