Daily Writing Tip 35 of 100, The Quadrangle: Character, Setting, Situation, Emotion

For one hundred days, I’m going to post a writing tip each day. I have a whole bookshelf full of writing books and I want to do some reading and increased studying of this valuable resource. This will help me keep track of anything I’ve learned, and help motivate me to keep going. If anyone has a favorite tip of their own to add, contact me. I’d love to put it up here.

Today’s tip – The Quadrangle: Character, Setting, Situation, Emotion

Source – Creating Short Fiction by Damon Knight


This time, let’s say, you’re thinking about an orphan who has found a loaded revolver in a garbage can. That’s an intriguing situation, but you have no idea where to go from there.

Try making a list of four things the orphan might do next. If you write down the first four things you think of, maybe they come out something like this:

  • Hold up a liquor store
  • Kill somebody
  • Kill himself
  • Throw the gun away

Now cross out all four. Think of the fifth solution, the one that is not obvious.

Suppose your fifth solution is:

  • Give it to somebody

All right, to whom dies he give it? Out of the silent half of your mind an image swims up: a woman who is being abused by her husband.

Now you have a sense of what the emotional charge of the story will be. (If you don’t feel any strong emotion about this ending, it’s the wrong one; find a sixth solution, or a seventh.)

I like the idea of throwing out the first four, or more, obvious ideas to try and find the one, true story.