General info:
How it works
Too Many Emails?
Listserv Settings
Contact Us

Critiquing Lists:
Child/Young adult

Discussion Lists:

The IWW Blog Writing Advice

Other Topics:
Our administrators
Other writing lists
Books on writing
IWW History
Showcase of Successes

IWW Practice-W Exercise Archives
Exercise: Oh God, Why Me

These exercises were written by IWW members and administrators to provide structured practice opportunities for its members. You are welcome to use them for practice as well. Please mention that you found them at the Internet Writers Workshop (http://www.internetwritingwor kshop.org/).

Prepared by: Rhéal Nadeau
Posted on: September 14, 2003
Reposted on: September 26, 2004
Reposted on: October 2, 2005

A key element in fiction, as in life, is conflict. Conflict creates tension, raises challenges.

There are many types of conflict, and just as many ways to categorize them. In short stories, the focus will usually be on a single type of conflict. In longer works, we'll usually find a mixture of conflicts. Hamlet is in conflict with himself, with his uncle, with his friends and society - so we have person versus self, person versus person, person versus society. (And this is a very cursory look at that play!)

For this exercise, we'll focus on "person versus God". Taken literally, this gives us epic or biblical images: Job, perhaps, or Prometheus, who stole fire from the gods only to suffer eternal punishment. Obviously, some great stories are based on this concept!

One of the problems with this conflict, though, is that it relies on one's own personal belief in or concept of God (or Goddess, or gods). As well, a good conflict gives the protagonist a fighting chance, but who can fight an all-powerful god? That conflict, therefore, usually leads to tragedy. But variants could include person versus fate, or luck, or simple superstition - unknowable forces that have an impact on our lives. (Think of Murphy's Law.)

On some days, we might want to get something done, but somehow, something stands in the way and that anticipated event never occurs. (This form of conflict is often, but not always, associated with comedy.)

This goes the other way as well - we often feel that something "was meant to happen", or that luck is on our side at a particular moment. Those unknown forces can be favourable as well. For example, in The Lord of the Rings, the characters battle various evil forces, in particular the powerful Sauron; but there are other forces at work to help out our heroes. Thus there can be conflict within conflict, forces acting in our favour opposing forces acting against us.

So, the exercise. In 300-600 words, show someone faced with such a conflict: against God or gods or fate or luck. Some caution is needed, of course, to keep things credible - if John is unable to get to the corner store to get milk because first of all the car was stolen, then there wass an earthquake, then war broke out - well, readers will only accept so much coincidence or so many major events out of the blue. Build a sequence of events in a natural fashion. Try to think of small, innocent, things that have bigger impacts. The car keys slid behind the sofa cushions. In looking for them, he cut his hand on a broken spring. Because he was bleeding, he did not pay attention going down the stairs, and slipped on the toy the neighbour's kid left there.

This concept, of small things leading to big consequences, is a very valuable tool in story-telling.

Remember also that a story is not about things happening, but about characters dealing with what happens. So how does your character react to these events? Does the character feel anger or self pity? Does the character persevere or change direction? Those reactions set the scene for the next part of the story.

As usual, it is not necessary to write an entire story, or to bring things to closure - it is enough to create a scene that presents someone struggling against some hidden force or forces that, for no apparent reason, stand in his way, and reacting to that.

When critiquing, look at what forces are at play, and how the events unfold. Is the conflict really person versus god/fate, or is the author cheating by having the conflict be with another person? Does the character react in a credible - and interesting - way? If anything stretches credibility, say so. On the other hand, also point out the things that work well.

Patricia Johnson's wrap-up
Posted on: Sun, 3 Oct 2004

The larger percentage of the submissions this time dealt with a literal view of a god figure within the conflict of the story. Some stories used humor in surprising ways that was central to the conflict; others were serious. Some were hard luck and woe-is-me stories of fate.

Clever use of conflict provided for lots of 'Oh God Why Me?' instances. Creative imaginations were at work in the submissions. Emotions were present, including anger and humor. Unsympathetic characters sometimes had endearing human qualities. Frailties of human nature were depicted and in some stories extended to the god figure in the conflict. Both reverent and irreverent uses of a god figure were employed in ways that encouraged reflection.

Most successful were the submissions that used conflict in a way that seemed natural, not labored, even when the conflict required enormous stretches of suspension of disbelief.

Next time consider meeting more challenges of a well-defined conflict. Maybe attempt to write a subtle conflict and see what problems must be overcome in doing so. Or you may want to challenge yourself to use a conflict within conflict that involves some helpful and some detrimental forces within a more complicated plot structure. I know, I know, so hard to do in the limited word count, but that's what makes it such a rewarding accomplishment.

Web site created by Rhéal Nadeau and the administrators of the Internet Writing Workshop.
Modified by Gayle Surrette.