Chapter 2: A Drawer Full of Story Fragments

The “write a commercial” exercise only takes you so far. Many writers find their strength, write to it, and stall before finishing a story; if you have a drawer full of story fragments (“snippets”) you may have this problem.


Tackle the drawer full of snippets by consolidating; pick a situation (an “encounter”), or a character, or a setting.  If you get stuck trying to pick just one, you might be a hoarder. Let’s break that logjam: discover your objection, create the right mood, and return to this page when you’re ready to work on your story. 

Start from your position of strength

My husband thinks I’m psychic (I always call him at the most inconvenient time) but here’s a secret: in this one thing, he’s wrong. I’m not psychic; I can’t guess your strength or weakness but I can share what works for me.

Stories are made up of encounters, characters, and setting. Typically (according to the posts I read online), writers excel at some but not all of them. If you have a drawer full of story fragments, you have talent: let’s discover what it is.

  • Identify your strengths so you can explore writing strategies that play to your strengths. Glory in your ability.
  • Identify your weakness to learn where you need work and to search for solutions that suit you.

Use your talent to take a snippet you’ve chosen from your drawer and flesh it out: take an encounter and add characters and setting. Put a character into a certain setting and play with what happens when they encounter something an obstacle. Find something to happen in the setting you’ve created.

Here’s how: choose an element below and use the suggestions to write as much as you can, starting with the snippet you’ve chosen from your drawer of samples. If you don’t have a sample, use the one you created in the “write a commercial” exercise.


detail mom and pupAn engaging encounter is one you can’t get out of your head; a situation you write that conveys passion, drama, or dread; that flicker of recognition in your future lover’s eye. The frisson of dread, realizing you’re a sociopath’s next victim. If you’re very comfortable writing encounters, you can expect to find the following strengths and challenges in your writing.


Encounters conquer the “what should I write about” block. If you can convey the moment’s passion, readers will seek out whatever you write.


Some writers who can convey the drama fail to populate the situation with equally engaging characters and setting, which may fall flat if the setup and the situation dominate the encounter.


Write your passion; then return to backfill with the rest of the story: the setting and characters, delivered with a show-don’t tell fourish.

Encounters are my strength; one that wouldn’t get out of my head, a girl walking into a bad situation at a Kwik-e-mart, formed the basis of the story I’m working on. Instead of starting the story with character sketches that wouldn’t have meant anything to me at that point, or even plot points, which created themselves the longer I wrote, I created as much as I could in a weekend, involving fairly cardboard characters. When I had explored the scenario to my own content, I had a better sense of the characters and setting.

When you’ve developed your encounter, go back and write an introduction. You could write it as a flashback but there’s nothing saying you can’t write the middle of your story before you write the beginning.

After writing my encounter, I went on to write an introduction that developed my characters, a climax, and a conclusion.

Once I had all of these elements, I continued on .


Young Super Hero Standing on Laundry MachinesAn engaging character is a complex personality with certain speech patterns or idiosynchrasies and whose emotions, responses, and reactions are so well-developed in your mind, you can predict how they’ll act in any situation.

If you’re comfortable writing lively, expressive characters, you can expect to find the following strengths and challenges in your writing.


Characters engage the reader. People fall in love with characters and follow them through trilogies and beyond.


Strong characters demand vivid settings and epic struggles that can be complex and daunting. It can be hard to develop a deserving setting for a a true diamond. But relegate Scarlett O’Hara to an easily managed two-dimensional kitchen worrying about what to cook for dinner and watch her recede into obscurity.


Start humbly; insert your characters into a commercial. If you can show your tortured ninja and her sidekick gracefully accepting a better mop or listening carefully to insurance advice, you can connect with their humanity and begin to manipulate them.

When you’re comfortable, move on to a popular or world event (past, present or future – check and choose something you can relate to) and write what would happen if your characters were critical members of that situation. Let them take control and move forward into a reality they create by whatever sterling or devious attributes they possess. Once you’re comfortable with this next level of complexity, you should find it easier to envision and describe their antics on a flamboyant stage of your choice.

Once you can do that, continue on .


MP900227746An engaging setting is rich with detail including tactile sensations and mood (Washington, DC land of opportunity, pub town, or drug-drenched slum?) If you’re talented at creating settings that suck your audience into a new world, you can expect to find the following strengths and challenges in your writing.


Setting releases your audience from their concerns. People develop addictions to netherworlds: catch a glimpse of Comic-Con.


Something worthwhile needs to happen in your world to individuals with whom the audience can connect.


Tolkein and Lucas wrote fantastic bar scenes  (think the Star Wars cantina). So can you. Pick some random characters and drag them up to your bar at the end of a day. Let your setting dictate the sort of characters drawn to a draft: students and teachers at Hogwarts but don’t forget the janitor; bounty hunters, smugglers, a naïve country kid and his mentor at the cantina… start by letting them unwind and let the typical effects of the drinks dictate who gets drunk, drowsy, table-dancing, and cash theivin’. If you get stuck, visit a bar or a political rally – crazy varied characters at both. Worst case scenario, write what happens in you’re special world’s kitchen, where they’re working to serve the crazies out front.

Once you can do that, continue on .


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