Posted by: victanguera | January 26, 2011

Impending Doom: Writing Prompt #294

As I work on my next project, I keep coming back to the question: “What’s at stake?” It’s important to have a sense of impending doom or finality in a story. A protagonist should have a task they need to accomplish in a certain period of time. If Frodo doesn’t make it up the mountain, Sauron will find the ring and rule everyone. If the dude in Inception doesn’t make it back out, everyone will get trapped in a limbo state within the dream.

These are things we know early on. We the reader know the sense of urgency from the beginning. We often don’t know whether the protagonist will accept the task before them, either.

I struggle with coming up with logical ways to both involve the protagonist, and how to make it matter to them. I’ve got an idea I’m working on, and I’ve stalled out with the planning because I can’t seem to get past that. This isn’t the first time, either. In the first novel I ever wrote (now permanently stashed on a hard drive never to get out), there never was a reason for the protagonist to be involved. In trying to figure it out during re-writes, the draft devolved into total stupidity.

So for today’s prompt, come up with a deadline for your protagonist. Why do they have to accomplish something in a set period of time? What will happen to them (or others) if they don’t? Is it enough to involve them?

I’m off to answer some of those questions. Maybe I can even come up with an answer.



  1. I’ve had this problem. A friend of mine (a literature professor) once criticized a novel I wrote as being “too much like life.” For the first two-thirds of the book, there was no overwhelming urgency. Then things kicked into gear, but for him it was too little too late.

    I still liked what I had written (“too much like life” is not a bad criticism to get, in some ways), but I have kept this in mind since.

    (Seeing the title of your post, I was afraid you were going to talk about foreboding, which I think is often overused. Character wakes with a sense of unexplained dread, goes through the day, and eventually something bad happens that the character couldn’t possibly have seen coming. I hate that, because it’s not like life.)

    • Yeah, I’m not much for foreboding. Like you, I think it’s overused (think any horror film). And writing can be like life (only maybe not too much, right?)

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