I’ve been working through revisions, and last week I found myself discouraged, feeling like I would never be finished. I needed a short, fun writing prompt to get some new words on the page and break up my revision schedule. An overheard conversation inspired this quick flash fiction writing prompt. See if it sparks a new story for you too!
Last week, I overheard a conversation at a neighboring table where a woman said, “He’s always trying to prove himself. It makes him look less competent than he is.” I didn’t know the parties involved, but I grabbed a napkin and jotted it down. When I added it to my notebook, I realized characters with something to prove often undermine their own success.
When Characters Have Something to Prove
Sometimes, a character fails and needs to reestablish himself as trustworthy, such as an accountant who makes a costly mistake or a spouse caught in a compromising position.
In other instances, an immature character needs to prove her ability, so others will take her seriously. In a coming-of-age or quest novel, the path to maturity presents obstacles for the character to prove herself.
Characters with something to prove share one characteristic though, whether they admit it or not: insecurity.
Writing Prompt: Exploit Your Character’s Insecurity
Ready to turn insecurity into a writing prompt? Here's how.
First, create an insecurity for the main character. It can be physical (such as someone insecure about his appearance) or relational (such as being afraid to trust). Whatever insecurity you choose, it needs to be something the character will actively deny or try to prove isn’t a problem for them.
Then, decide how they will counter this insecurity in the course of the story. They could go over the top with denial or shenanigans which might result in a funny story. They might refuse to face the insecurity and lose a relationship, resulting in a drama.
Make sure their insecurity cannot be ignored without consequences (remember our post on stakes?), and see where the story goes.
Our insecurities make us human, and they will help our characters resonate with readers.
What memorable insecurities have you seen in real life or fiction? Share in the comments.
Looking for more writing prompts? Check out our 100 Top Short Story Ideas here.
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Sue Weems is a writer, teacher, and traveler with an advanced degree in (mostly fictional) revenge. When she’s not rationalizing her love for parentheses (and dramatic asides), she follows a sailor around the globe with their four children, two dogs, and an impossibly tall stack of books to read. You can read more of her writing tips on her website.