"There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed." — Ernest Hemingway

Writing Exercise: Trouble in Paradise

This exercise is about issues in a marriage, it’s irrelevant what the issue is. Marriage difficulty can be about anything. You can get a handful of unveiled or unresolved problems; work with what you’re familiar with and/or most comfortable with. There’s always an elephant in the room. You’re free to roam; you can create new characters in this exercise or embed your already furnished ones. I tried it and created this in around four hours.

 The story has to be in the third person so you can go back and forth between the wife and the husband easily. This, of course, works for two wives or two husbands. Just for the sake of practicality, I really dislike writing Wife A, Wife B, Partner 1, Partner 2. 


Please follow these instructions closely to get the wholesome effect:

  1. Introduction
    Create a one liner personality, revealing characteristic(s) of the husband.

    Note: Limit this to two-three sentences.
  2. Current Action
    Write a current action and build setting; these are occurring moments in the story. Keep it in present tense. This has to show an intimate interaction and routine between the husband and wife. A couple of questions:
    a) Is it intense, awkward, funny, or romantic?
    b) When is this (morning, before they go to bed, lunch time?
    c) What are they talking about?
    d) Why is it important?

    Note: Do not disclose the issue here (just yet), give hints instead. Keep it light, use dialogue. Write as many as you want, as long as you keep the story forward.


    The shirt looks better on me, Ross.

  3. Past Moment
    Go back to the past. Create an action that reveal in the wife’s characteristics. The setting is the first time they met.

    Note: maximum one paragraph; three-four lines are good.
  4. Present Moment
    Let’s go back to the present. This is where you give out the conflict. What is the situation? Somebody has to make a decision. Combine actions with dialogue.

    Note: Write as many as you want, as long as the intensity comes across.
  5. Memory from the Past
    Flashback to their first date: indicate the spark and chemistry that may be gone in the present. Make the setting catchy–what is about this relationship that is different than anything else? You can also compare them when they were with other people.

    Note: Make it short. Set, action, and leave a mark for the readers–let them feel the love.
  6. Plot Twist
    Write back to the current situation; this is the plot twist, the conflict. Something surprising has to happen. Perhaps another character emerges, unexpected news are delivered, whatever you want.

    Note: Very fast read, one-two sentences.
  7. Decision Time
    The wife now needs to make a decision. The choices have to be clearly presented to the readers. Go inside her head, inner thoughts. Keep in mind the husband has to give readable reactions.

    Note: Three-seven lines.

    Bitch, open the door. I gotta pee. This is the real Trouble in Paradise.

    Bitch, open the door. I gotta pee. This is the real Trouble in Paradise.

  8. Ending
    Moving on towards the end: what has changed after the decision?
     More actions from both the husband and the wife. Have they adjusted their interactions based on the decisions? Will it alter the dynamics of the relationships? Are they fighting? Are they ignoring each other? Have they realized they can’t leave without each other or vice versa? Dialogue needs to be meaningful. Any gestures from either character has to signify something crucial.
    Note: One-two paragraphs.
  9. Resolution
    Write a comparison with the past. End with an image if you want an open-ended one. Keep it confusing or resolve it, it’s up to you. If possible, link and connect with characteristics from wife or husband from the start.

    Note: This is the ending. Three-five sentences should be enough.
  10. Give it a Title
    Reread your story, find a unique or catchy noun phrase for the title, signifying an object that is meaningful for the couple.

These instructions are of course can be altered if you feel that it can go to another direction. You knows what’s best for you. When you reread, get the feel or rhythm of the story. The story is meant to be a fast read. Rewrite and cut anything that slows the pace. When you finish editing, send it out.

Featured image above (the title) is taken from The New Yorker.

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