Determine your Character’s Destiny

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On  a recent flight, I sat next to a personable Attorney with whom I swapped some life stories.  He was clearly privileged with tales of luxury vacations,  world travel and a successful career. “My life could have been so different,” he explained, “depending on who adopted me.”  He went on to tell me that he was abandoned at birth and set in a basket on the doorstep of a Chicago hospital.  A prominent doctor (the head of the Radiology department) and his wife brought him home and adopted him and showered him with love and opportunity.

roulette

Roulette by EatSmileSleep

 

Sidney Poitier said, “So much of life, it seems to me, is determined by pure randomness.”  In the case of my seat mate, I am  intrigued by how one person's (in this case the doctor and his wife) decision can impact the destiny of another human being.  How different would our attorney friend's life be had a different person chosen to adopt him?  A nurse perhaps with five other children?  Or if no one did — and he entered the foster care system?

PRACTICE

Envision an abandoned child left on the steps of big city hospital. Make a decision about what happens next to this child, your main character for this practice.  Now write a scenario about your character 20 years into the future based on that decision that reveals something of his past and upbringing.

When you're finished, post your practice in the comments section. And if you post, be sure to leave feedback on a few practices by other writers.

I'm Marianne Richmond—writer, artist and inspirationalist. My words have touched millions over the past two decades through my children's books and gift products.
Basically I put love into words and help you connect with the people + moments that matter. You can find me on my website, Facebook, and Twitter (@M_Richmond21).

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25 Comments

  1. Dawn Atkin

    Aunt Elsie is cooking stew. Again! The simmering broth wafts a salty garland through the open kitchen window. She always whistles as she stirs and the shrill notes travel on the fragrant breeze.

    “Hi Aunty.” I call through the window, pausing long enough for her to look over the thick glasses perched at the end of her big brown, round friendly nose. She smiles, winks and blows me a kiss.

    “Oh my darling Goldilocks. Come on in, dinner is ready to serve.”

    I smile back, hiding my lack of appetite. These country-style stews have never sat well with me. My tummy bloats and wind rumbles through me like a hurricane.

    Today’s her birthday. She’s my only living relative. My Mumma died last year. And the other sisters are already gone. Aunt Elsie keeps me alive. She keeps me connected to the world. Without her I am alone.

    I leave my winter boots at the door and shake the snow dust off of my old brown coat before hanging it over the umbrella stand. This is a second home to me. I’ve been coming here for twenty years.

    Always the smallest and palest at the dinner table. My aunties used to love playing with my long sandy hair and trying to make corn rows with its fine fly-away strands. None of them ever had children of their own. I was everybody’s ‘favourite’.

    These days my hair lies flat and mousey. Most of the time its wrapped beneath a hair-net for hygiene reasons at the hospital kitchen.

    Nobody calls me ‘Goldilocks’ anymore, except for Aunt Elsie.

    When I was younger I was the only white girl in our small town with rows of blonde braids; so tight they pulled my forehead smooth and lifted my fine wispy eyebrows into arcs. The kids at school had other names for me. They weren’t quite so nice. I coped. After all I had five beautiful women loving me so much I didn’t need friends.

    “Happy Birthday Aunt Elsie,” I said as she wrapped her big warm arms around me and kissed me on the cheek three times as was her custom.

    I handed her the small gift I’d painted at night school. Aunt Elsie beamed. Her smile as fat and wholesome as the stew bubbling on the stove-top.

    “You sure is clever Goldilocks. One day everyone gonna see jus’ how clever you are. Jus’ you wait ‘n see.”

    Reply
    • Erika

      Wow, I’m impressed at all the backstory you manage to weave into this short narrative. It definitely feels like a bit of a larger work.
      I especially like the parts about cornrowing wispy hair and the triple kiss. Those are good details. Aunt Elsie sounds like the kind of aunt everybody wants to have! Interesting setting. Nice start of a story.

      Reply
      • Dawn Atkin

        Thanks for commenting Erika.
        I just let the words come but I started with the idea that a white baby had been left on some church steps and taken home to be looked after by a very compassionate and loving, childless black woman. And subsequently loved by the whole family. I wanted to give that impression without actually saying it. 🙂

        Reply
        • Erika

          You certainly gave them impression! Well done. 🙂

          Reply
    • scripta manent

      Very emotional and so meaningful. I really enjoyed reading it, especially the little details about Aunt Elsie singing when cooking etc. The bond between the protagonist and the woman who raised her is evident and beautifully portrayed. Well done!

      Reply
  2. Brianna Worlds

    The world was quiet.

    Perhaps it was not the world that was quiet, but her thoughts that were loud. Maybe that’s why she couldn’t hear the mournful wind through broken windows and splintered walls, or the distant gunshot, or the maniacal laughter. Aging skyscrapers, hotels, apartments bowed over her, threatening to topple over and bury her budding legacy. The strip of sky between the two rows of towering buildings was so thin and so grey that Halira found herself wondering where one ended and the other began.

    The quiet sound of her ebony claws clicking against the dark, wet road sounded alone, and much louder than it should. The ground was cracked and rough under her sensitive paws. It hurt in comparison to the soft snow and gentle pine needles and decaying leaves, but it was nothing compared to her near-death experience, and so she forced herself to grit her teeth through it.

    ~~~

    My vision blurred as blood seeped out of my torn throat and trickled down through the snow, steaming. I had imagined my death many times, many where I was the murderer, but never had it ever occurred to me that it would happen with I as a magical species of wolf, killed by a conspiracy. And not just any conspiracy, but one set by none other then my leader, set by he whom I trusted more than anything. I think the betrayal hurt more than anything else, more than the ribbons of skin that was my throat.

    ~~~

    She was going back. After all this time, she was going back. She couldn’t call it home, since home is, as she now knew, where the heart is. And this place might as well have torn out her heart, butchered it, and then thrown in on the streets to rot. Why had she grown up in such a place? Well, that’s what happens when you live in a poor town, your father murders your mother and then gets shot trying to escape prison. Why not make the children suffer? They aren’t going to fight back.

    ~~~

    Mommy screamed as daddy raised his gun. He was talking, but I was too afraid to hear him, his syllables slurring together drunkenly. I clutched at mommy, and she held me safely behind her. The shot went off, and she stumbled backwards into me, knocking me down. I screamed as my mom’s corpse pinned me to the ground.

    ~~~

    Flash looked at me, lying weakly on the ground as I healed. He had found me and Light had saved me. Why, though? I couldn’t figure it out; how did saving me benefit them? To what end were they going through such trouble for me? Flash’s green-grey eyes hinting at an emotion I couldn’t quite make out. “You’re part of The Pack of Moonlit Shadows now as much as any other Wolf,” he said simply. “You’re family. You fought to protect us, just as we’ll fight to protect you.”

    The speech appeared to be physically painful for him, and once he had finished, he abruptly stood and trotted out of the clearing. His coal coloured coat disappeared into the foliage, and I was left alone with a new sense of wonder.

    ~~~

    Where was home, then?

    She stopped in front of a building. It didn’t look any meaner to the average eye, but Halira had spent too many nights dreading her return to it to see it as anything but as menacing and cruel as the people who ran it. When she saw this door she saw the nights she’d spent in the corner of the Dark Room, flogged and alone. She heard the screams of frightened children. The door was the same; a slab of thin plywood held to the wall by two loops of faded blue twine, individual plastic wisps frizzing from weather and age. It was, as always, crooked and unlatched. After a moment of hesitation, she pushed her shoulder against it and padded inside. She had meant to change back into a human at this point, but felt safer as a wolf, more powerful, more able to protect herself, even though she was shorter. She was, after all, one of the greatest warriors in her pack. She reminded herself of this as she looked around at the lobby of the hotel that was also the setting of so many nightmares and painful memories. The same mirror behind the drinks counter was cracked in the same way, although she thought it looked a little rustier than the last time she’d seen it. The table in the far corner still had three legs, and the room was still just as dark. The light from the scattered electric lanterns, buzzing and flickering.

    But something was different—someone was sitting at that three-legged table. No one sat there, not after Niko had been stabbed to death on it and no one had bothered to clean up the blood.

    The figure was small and huddled, slouching into the rough, wood-hewn chair as if they could disappear into its wooden depths. The figure seemed no more than a shadow, so maybe it was working.

    Curious, and forgetting that she was a different species from the creature she was now approaching, she trotted over, claws catching on the unravelling carpet.

    As Halira approached the shadow, she gradually became aware that the stink of fear that she’d grown to associate with this place seemed to thicken around the figure. Closer still, and she could make out the dried blood that coated its face. Every step she took revealed something new; the roughness of half-healed wounds, the crater between the torn skin, her youth, and delicate features, tempered with congealed sorrow.

    Finally, she stood by her. Her grief was palpable, and it made her smaller than she already was. Her hair looked to be as blond as ice, dyed with her blood from days ago, haggard and tangled and stiff. Her gaze was cast down on the table, pupils large and eyes unseeing. They were frighteningly black, and as empty of emotion as they were of colour.

    With a huff, Halira changed into her human form. They’d changed her into an Elemental Wolf—against her will, she’d have you know—and only recently had she been released to do as she pleased in the world. She thought she had no reason to further stay with the Pack, and so she’d left.

    She looked at the girl for a moment.

    “What’s your name?” Halira asked, her voice echoing ominously through the cavernous building. Her voice had changed from that of a girl raised on the streets to that of a commander, a leader, in her time away.

    The girl slowly turned her head to face her, and Halira saw the full extent of the damage. It looked as if someone had attempted to play a game of x’s and o’s on her face, and had had fun doing it. Halira shuddered internally at the thought.

    Silence.

    “I asked you your name,” Halira repeated impatiently. The girl, with great difficulty, shook her head. Painstakingly, she raised her hand to her throat, looking mournful.

    “You can’t talk?” Halira asked.

    The girl hesitated, as if unsure, and shook her head.

    Halira frowned. She wondered if this girl was physically incapable of talking, or had experienced so much terror that she had lost the will. Halira knew how that felt; she’d come close. She knew the still, thick feeling of your throat, the idea that, no matter what you said, it could never express what you felt, what you meant, what you had experienced. And who would care, anyway? No one had before.

    Halira sighed. “Sorry about this,” she muttered. “They told me I was impulsive.”

    With that, she brought her left leg around in a roundhouse kick, muscle memory intervening where her brain forgot. The girl slumped forward in unconsciousness and Halira dived to catch her, hefting her so that she held the small girl’s body securely against her.

    “What are you doing?” Halira asked herself absently, glad that the place was more or less deserted.

    But she already knew the answer to that.

    She was giving this girl the family and love that Halira had had less and less as she grew up before it was too late for her.

    She was bringing her home.

    Reply
    • scripta manent

      You create very vivid images, an essential skill when writing fantasy. Changing the narrator from one paragraph to another (from 1st to 3rd person and vice verca) was a little bit confusing, but otherwise great!

      Reply
  3. Elise Martel

    I tried to write this without expressing emotion and just stating facts. It was difficult for me to do because I am a very emotional person, but I felt that this character was very logical and level-headed and would think like this.

    “There were three babies, you know.”
    My mother kept stirring the stew, scraping the bottom and the sides of the pot to prevent sticking. She grew out of the patchy linoleum like a tree, planted firmly by the stove.
    I stared at the apple in the dead center of the table and tilted my head to match its axial tilt. Then, I balanced a freshly sharpened Ticonderoga Type 2 pencil in a horizontal line over the apple. Its long shadow shaded over the quarter sawn cherry, making a row of little crosses.
    “We didn’t want all of you,” she continued. “We didn’t have enough space, and your father never was good with babies. I couldn’t have fed and rocked and changed you both. Three babies? I was enough of a saint to take you in.”
    The shadow exaggerated the tip of the pencil into a black arrowhead. I thought of the arrow I once let fly into an oak tree instead of a squirrel. I walked up to the tree and tightened my fingers around the shaft. It didn’t move. The more I tried to free the arrow from the tree trunk, the deeper it bit into the wood.
    “One of the babies was a mutt,” she continued. “I didn’t want it, of course. Half breeds have no place in my house. No, I did my duty, I did.”
    My fingers wandered from me and trembled over the pencil. The shaking of my arm wobbled the shadow, and the row of crosses seemed to be swept up in an earthquake. I curled my fingers back around my thumb and focused on the apple.
    “The paper said today that the sister of yours murdered her boyfriend last night,” she said. She never stopped stirring. “At least they told me she was your sister. I never believed them. One baby was as black as night. She was yellowish. You were the moonchild. Never trust a halfbreed.”
    I found the one green stripe in the rosy red apple. No one saw the green. It was too small against the red. “Just a mistake,” people said. “It’s really red.”
    But if anyone was half green and half red like one of those fancy Christmas balls fancy ladies buy in fancy stores, they were strange.
    I fingered that small green stripe. And then I thrust the arrow tip of the pencil through it. Doesn’t matter what color the apple skin is. All apples bleed the same if you stab them.

    Reply
    • Eliese

      I liked how you showed that color doesn’t matter with the apple. Very nice descriptions of what the character is doing as her Mother talks.

      Reply
    • Erika

      Dark, but really layered. Good job reigning in the emotion.
      I like the description of the mother as a tree growing out of the kitchen floor. 🙂

      Reply
    • Ashley Liz

      i love the contrast, the calm way the mother spoke about such terrible things, and the subtle yet violent way you describe the apple. i thought it was beautiful. Excellent way of showing strong emotion while remaining removed.

      Reply
    • scripta manent

      Very descriptive – and I love your metaphors. Good job!

      Reply
  4. Eliese

    I crouch behind a makeshift cardboard shield. The armor I wear consists of knee and elbow pads, and a construction workers bright orange helmet. Fear stings my heart as I imagine how this protection will hold up against the heartless snipers hiding in the European buildings.

    Shots ring out. Our small group inches forward, trying to reach a safe point. With the next blast a protester to the left of me falls to the frozen street. The middle aged man moans and holds his bleeding thigh. I reach out, and with the help of others, pull him away. We drag him behind a naked tree that offers minimal protection.

    “We need a medic. We have wounded here! F***ing wounded here.” I yell in Ukrainian.

    Minutes later a medic wearing a black bicycle helmet and ski mask creeps towards us. The shooting continues as he places the injured man on a green cloth stretcher. The medic is successfully dragging the victim away when his pace decreases until he sits motionless. He then slowly leans forward until his forehead is pressed against the hard packed snow. He has been shot.

    A volcano of rage erupts in my veins, and I scream out in frustration.

    There is a knock at my door that brings me back to reality. “Petro, turn that computer off. It’s late and you have class tomorrow.” My adoptive Mother says.

    “Ok Mom.” I yell. With shaking hands I turn of the raw footage video of the fighting in Kiev. All I can think is that could have been me if my Mother hadn’t adopted me from that very city. I could have been one of the wounded and dying in the cold like that medic.

    I curl up under my soft comforter and thank God for the destiny he chose for me, and pray for those fighting in Ukraine.

    Reply
    • Erika

      *All I can think is that could have been me*
      Relevant thought, with the Ukraine in the news. I like the visual descriptions. I didn’t as much like being led to think the shooting scene was real and then finding out it wasn’t, but I’ve done that before in my own writing!

      Reply
      • Eliese

        The events in Ukraine are very close to my heart. The video is actually real, and you can find it on youtube. My idea was that he felt so immersed in the video that he felt like he was there, and had become one of them. I appreciate your opinion. Thank you. 🙂

        Reply
        • Erika

          I think it’s great that you can write about something that matters to you.
          No problem!

          Reply
  5. Erika

    Three easels and a leather supply satchel surrounded my workspace. Sitting on a
    backless park bench with my sketchpad propped on my crossed knee, I did a quick
    outline of the man leaning against the light pole. I followed the line of his
    earbuds from his shorts to his ears. After I looked at him for the third time,
    he returned my glance with a high-browed look. He didn’t have to ask what I was
    doing, but he did anyway.

    “Come see,” I said.

    He ambled over, plucking out one earbud. Wiping sweat from his top lip with his
    shirtsleeve, he examined my work. He stared for a minute.

    Then he straightened and looked at me. “Did you do that just now?”

    “Yep.”

    He peered at the drawing again.

    “Nice,” he said, nodding. “How do you do that?”

    “Practice,” I said, smiling.

    “Can you do him?” He pointed to Harry, the guy who always came to the park in the evening with the same old moleskin journal without once opening it up.

    “Sure.” I scratched a few light lines across my paper, caught the protrusion of his
    belly and the hunch of his shoulders in fluid strokes, then filled in a bit of
    shadow here and there. I lifted the paper to show my audience.

    “Man,” he said. “That’s awesome. I’ve been taking drawing for three years and still
    everything I draw looks like a stick figure.”

    “Some people are just better at cartooning,” I said, and flipped to a new page. I
    started on the gelato store across the street. “I’ve just grown up doing realism.”

    “You been drawing since you were a kid?”

    “Yep,” I said. “I’ve had a pencil in my hand since before I could walk. Started
    lessons when I was three.”

    “Parents must’ve noticed you were talented,” he said, wadding up his earbuds and
    sticking them in his pocket.

    “That, and I was raised in an art studio.”

    {Ran out of time right when I got to the upbringing part. This is my first practice; is it too random?}

    Reply
    • Eliese

      I liked your descriptions of the way the character drew. Nice dialogue. It’s to bad you ran out of time, but I still liked it.

      Reply
      • Erika

        Wow, thanks for your comments, everybody! I didn’t expect such a good reaction. <3 It makes practice fun.
        I don't have any plans for this piece right now, but we'll see. It might find its way into another story…

        Reply
    • Dawn Atkin

      Great writing. Love your style and tone. I got a real sense of atmosphere.
      Thanks for sharing.

      Reply
    • Isaac

      I like how this story starts out. It makes you curious to the persons life, wanting to know more. You should post the rest of it sometime.

      Reply
    • Nancy

      I really want to know what happens next.

      Reply
    • scripta manent

      A great beginning. I hope you continue; I’d like to see how you will approach the whole abandonment subject.

      Reply
      • Erika

        Thanks!

        Reply
  6. Chloee

    I stared at the pond watching the water glow in the setting sun. I watched the people pass by a man walking his putbull, a old man feeding the ducks, and a morther pushing her baby in a stroller. She cared for her tenderly checking her ever once in a while. I watched them with interest before turning back to my letter. Party had passed it read. Giving that I was her only living relative I would take care of all the details. I sighed slowly. As I wrote. A hole filled my heart. Now I would never get to know my mom. I was taken care of as a child but I always wondered why she abandoned me on those door steps. I was bundled up. Slowly waiting for my mom but she never came. Now I’m all grown. Maybe it was something I did. Now I’ll never know. I get up and walk. Enjoy it while it last. I say to the morther.

    Reply

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