Friday, November 10, 2017

Writing Exercise #19: Trying and failing to resolve the hobbit's problem

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes novels. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and an affinity for mentoring teen writers. Since 2013, Shannon has taught mentoring tracks at a local school where she provides junior high and high school students with an introduction to writing and the publishing industry. For more about Shan, check out her website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest

I promised you all a resolution to our series of hobbit exercises and today we have it. If you're playing catch-up, here's a quick recap.

In Writing Exercise #16, we started where Tolkien started, with the very sentence that slipped into his head and compelled him to sit down and puzzle out a story.

In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit.

We used this sentence to create our own hobbits and we decided for ourselves just why our hobbits lived underground.

In Writing Exercise #17, we gave our hobbits a problem. And in Writing Exercise #18, we upped the stakes and made the problem worse.

Given all we've put our poor hobbits through, I think it's time we helped them resolve their problems. Resolving doesn't necessarily mean a happy ending, of course, but we're going to do our level best to at least END the suffering of our dear hobbits at the hands of this particular dilemma.

There are many, many ways we could do this. In fact, the solving of a character's main problem is usually what makes up the largest chunk of any story. Often this problem-solving process can get mired down and I want to remind you of a tool that can help you plan your way out of these struggles. Especially if you're not entirely sure how you want to resolve the situation.

We're going to try and fail our way to a resolution today.

Step 1: Identify your hobbit's problem in a simple sentence.
Example: My hobbit's underground hole is filling with water and her leg is pinned beneath a fallen cupboard. 

Step 2: Determine your hobbit's end goal.
Example: My hobbit needs to free her leg and swim to freedom.

Step 3: Identify the first action toward making that happen.
Example: My hobbit wants to find something sharp so she can cut away the hem of her dress that is caught under the cupboard.

Step 4: Ask yourself a yes-or-no question. 
Example: Does my hobbit find something sharp?

Step 5: Answer this question with a "yes, but..." or a "no, and..."
Example: Yes, but just as she's about to slice her hem free, a fresh gush of water knocks the knife from her hand and pushes it just out of reach.

Step 6: Determine your hobbit's new want.
Example: My hobbit wants to reach the knife.

Step 7: Ask yourself another yes-or-no question. 
Example: Does my hobbit reach the knife?

Step 8: Answer your question with another "yes, but..." or a "no, and..."
Example: No, and the gushing water has forced the cupboard to sink deeper into the mud, pinning my hobbit more fully beneath it.

You get the process here? You're going to continue to determine your hobbit's next immediate want, ask yourself a yes-or-no question, and then answer it with a yes, but or a no, and.

This type of exercise isn't for quick writing. It's for puzzling out where you're going. So, here's how I want you to set it up in the comments section below:

Problem: My hobbit's underground hole is filling with water and her leg is pinned beneath a fallen cupboard.  
Goal: My hobbit needs to free her leg and swim to freedom.

Want: My hobbit wants to find something sharp so she can cut away the hem of her dress that is caught under the cupboard.
Question: Does my hobbit find something sharp? 
Answer: Yes, but just as she's about to slice her hem free, a fresh gush of water knocks the knife from her hand and pushes it just out of reach.

Want: My hobbit wants to reach the knife.
Question: Does my hobbit reach the knife?
Answer: No, and the gushing water has forced the cupboard to sink deeper into the mud, pinning my hobbit more fully beneath it.

Keep going by listing the next want, question, and answer until you approach some sort of conclusion. When you ask yourself the final yes-or-no question, it is perfectly acceptable to answer it with a simple Yes or No. You don't have to continue to make life miserable for your hobbit. Although, you are welcome to. We do like misery around here. 

Leave your hobbit's try/fail cycle in the comments section below and be sure to come back this weekend to read what the other teen writers are posting and encourage them.

REMEMBER! When you participate in our writing exercises you can enter to win an opportunity to ask Jill, Steph and me a question for one of our upcoming writing panels. Once you leave your response to the writing prompt in the comments section, use the Rafflecopter below to enter. Next week, Rafflecopter will select one winner and we'll contact you for your question via email. Happy writing, friends!

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  1. Thank you for that wonderful step-by-step process, Mrs. Dittemore! It made continuing the story a lot easier than it would have been otherwise.

    The hobbit could not wait. She needed her sharp new scales now, and there was one way she could think of to speed up regeneration. She needed to eat her old molted scales so her new ones could grow faster.
    The hobbit plunged about in the water, searching for the scales she had melted onto the floor in the back corner. The gushing water around her legs made it hard for her to recognize where that had been. She scraped the rock with her hooves, but the ground felt unnaturally rough everywhere. It was too dark and too wet to see. She needed to drain the water.
    Perhaps if she were a more intelligent being, she would have done that first thing, but for timid animals such as she, fear overrides reason. She had long ago blocked off the opening to the lower caverns. She had slipped down there once, and the terrifying world of darkness and caverns too expansive to be lit with her fire had cured her of that. Her suction-cup hooves were the only things that brought her back alive.
    Now she was desperate enough to face fear. Even standing, the unicorn-dragon kept inhaling snuffles of icy cold water. She swam across the shallowest portion of the cave and tried not to clip her horn on the ceiling. She found the boulders she had felled over the opening and pawed at them until they finally broke free. Water gushed past her, but then it lifted her off her feet.
    The hobbit screamed and plunged into the darkness.

    1. Fantastic. The unicorn-dragon should so be a thing!

  2. Problem: My hobbit has been captured by poachers who want to cut off her magical horns, a process that will kill her.
    Goal: She needs to escape from them before they reach wherever it is that they've set up shop, where they keep the tools they need.

    Want: He wants to find a way to escape from the net they have him tangled in.
    Question: Can he?
    Answer: No, his frantic struggles are no use. And based on the conversations of the people who've captured him, they're almost at their base.

    Want: He wishes he could find a way to actually use the magic in his horns, but hobbits have never been able to harness their magic. (Bonus worldbuilding: Since hobbits can't harness their magic, it has to go somewhere, and that somewhere is their horns. That's why their horns grow at all. It's also why taking their horns kill them; their magic is intertwined with the very fiber of their being.)
    Question: Is there an actual way that he could?
    Answer: Yes! As the wagon hits a bump, he falls over, and his horn cracks a little. A small spark appears. But he doesn't have much time.

    Want: Now he wants to try to break off a full piece of his horn, which he suspects will release enough magic to free him.
    Question: Can he manage it in time?
    Answer: He repeatedly slams his horns into the wagon and feels them begin to splinter, but he made a miscalculation. When he reaches the breaking point, they don't lose just a fragment; they utterly shatter. A blaze of golden magic envelops the wagon, killing both poachers. Though he regrets the fact that he's killed them, he acknowledges that it might have been the only way and turns to go. However, those two weren't the only poachers, the rush of magic was spotted from their base, and he no longer has any horns to defend himself with.

    Want: He wants to escape and lose them.
    Question: Is he fast enough?
    Answer: I'll give him a break for once. Yes, he makes it into the forest and the brush, losing them as he darts through the heavy cover of bushes. He returns home and resumes his normal life, able to venture farther now that he's mistakable for an ordinary rabbit. At least until his horns start to grow back...

    1. Wow! Interesting plot twists. It's sad that he had to pay such a price to remedy the situation, but at least he's free now.

    2. Love, love, love! Good job, Christine!

  3. I genuinely hope you guys consider using this format when you're stuck and your writing needs a shove forward. It's incredibly helpful. ALSO, please don't forget to enter the Rafflecopter! It's impossible for us to choose winners and contact them if you don't. THANKS SO MUCH.

  4. The formula is so helpful! Thank you! I've written it out and pinned it on my notice board.

  5. Want: My hobbit (called Hobbita, naturally) wants to stop the rabbit from sending up a flare and alerting the Hobbit Authorities of Hobbita’s location.

    Question: Does she snatch the rabbit’s flare-machine?

    Answer: Yes, but the rabbit managed to send up a flare first.

    Want: Hobbita wants to burrow upwards out the tunnel system so she can fly away before the Hobbit Authorities arrive.

    Question: Does she burrow out?

    Answer: No, because there’s solid rock above her. And now the Hobbit Authorities have seen her digging around, and have flown to directly above the tunnel system. She can’t escape that way.

    Want: Hobbita wants to get away from the Hobbit Authorities any way she can.

    Question: Does she find another escape route?

    Answer: Yes, but it leads further down underground, where the soil will be even more poisonous to her.

  6. This is great! I'll have to use this for my latest story. I would post it in the comment, but I'm not quite ready for other people to read it yet. ;D Thanks Mrs. Dittemore! :)

    <>Jessica<> :)

    1. Totally understand! I'm glad the post was helpful!

  7. Want: My Hobbit wants to help the child escape the invaders, and while hopefully saving his own life as well.

    Question: Does the Hobbit release the child?
    Answer: Yes, and she runs into the grass. But some more invaders regain control of their horses and ruah after her.

    Question: Can the Hobbit distract the invaders from the child?
    Answer: No. The hobbit shouts, using his voice for the first time in years, but the invaders ignore him. They circle the child, and one thrusts with his spear as the child screams. The scream cuts off abruptly, and the tip returns, slick with blood.

    Question: Can the Hobbit escape himself by running past the rider that wounded him?
    Answer:No.The muscles in his legs have been wounded too severly. As he begins to rise, he falls on his face.

    Question: Can the Hobbit scramble away to at least buy some time?
    Answer: No. As he feebly struggles, the invader casually dismounts and runs him through. The Hobbit bleeds out within two minites.