• Jessica Sherry

20+ Story Writing Prompts on Being a Control Freak

What does your main character desperately want to control, but can't?

Answering this maybe not-so-simple question not only gives your character juicy, perhaps oiniony layers, yum, but also pushes your plot forward because knowing the way your character tick-tocks is a huge win in the novel-writing battle.

Don't know the answer yet? Well, peek inside your inner fathoms. Lately, I've been laid up from surgery, so my inner control freak has been screaming bloody murder inside my already-excitable brain because my dear, sweet husband doesn't do things quite the way I do. The laundry sits in the dryer, getting wrinkled by the second. Sometimes crumbs are left on the kitchen counter. And often, there's no plan for dinner. Though he's taking excellent care of me, my control-freak side wants to take over. Yikes, help!

Of course, that's a light example, but what if it's a BIGGER issue?

  • Like a character who uses his or her position to control and manipulate people? Think anyone in a power position as well as anyone with charism--cult leaders, con-artists, charmers.

  • Or a spouse who controls and manipulates his or her significant other? A La, Sleeping with the Enemy--an old, but excellent example. I always think of the cans facing the right way in the cabinet and the towels being even when I consider a controlling character.

  • Or a parent who micromanages a child?

  • Or an elderly parent struggling to remain independent while his children fear for his wellbeing (another one that hits home for me right now)?

Knowing what your character wishes to control, but can't gives insight into who he is and what will happen with your story.

Things out of our control... The answer is EVERYTHING, but I'm giving this list a shot anyway to help spark ideas:

  • Weather. What if your character's life is detoured thanks to mother nature?

  • Illness and disease. What if someone's diagnoses changes your character's life forever?

  • Dreams. What happens when your character sleeps?

  • Basic needs. What must your character do to survive?

  • Other people--at least not longterm or completely

  • Anything accidental, even if we're the ones doing it. Tripping, car accidents, dropping something, forgetting something.

  • Time. How does your main character manage it?

  • Your embarrassing cousins, uncles, siblings, or grandparents OR how drunk they might become at a holiday dinner

  • Death

  • Malfunctions or defects; even the most reliable things will eventually break. How might a sudden inconvenience deter your character?

  • Seasons

  • Your lack of superpowers. If your main character could have one, what would it be?

  • School/work demands, due dates. How does your character deal with pressure?

  • Someone else's perspective

  • Making mistakes. Everyone makes them. What about your main character?

  • Scientific truths... and well, any other truths, too. Consider your main character's belief systems.

  • Taxes, terrible ideas, traumas, or taco Tuesdays (and why would you?)

  • Sneezing, blinking, and other bodily functions

  • Meteors, volcanoes, tidal waves, avalanches, sink holes, climate change or any natural event

  • How some people are given the title of "celebrity"

  • Where you were born, the life unto which you were born into, and your parents. Give your character a detailed backstory.

  • Traffic, damn it.

  • And, on the same line of thinking, assholes.

  • To a certain extent... winning and losing; success and failure. People love to say that failure isn't an option, but let me tell you something (Preach!) FAILURE IS ALWAYS AN OPTION, even for people who work the hardest and deserve success most. What if your character fails?

  • Finding love. Sure, you can help it along, but it's never guaranteed.

  • THE SYSTEM, to some degree, whether it's political, governmental, corporate, societal, spiritual, or familial. Of course, many a great story has been about beating THE SYSTEM, whatever it is, but you must first understand the helplessness of being in THE SYSTEM in order to fight against it.

  • That people will read, click on, comment, share or like your blog (hint, hint)

I'm actually pretty happy with that list as a springboard into what might be out-of-control in your MC's life. Even the most laid back character wants control over something. What is it for your character? How does he attempt to control it? What happens when he fails?

P.S. This is a message to all my writer friends with control freak tendencies... Waiting for the perfect time to get your book finished is procrastination in disguise. The only perfect time to write is, well, now.

Share your ideas below! Visit www.coffeebrained.com for more ideas to help you brainstorm. Happy character and plot developing!