Small Irritants and Narratives

I’m going through a time when things just seem to be out of kilter—nothing major, just little things that frustrate me. This morning, for instance, I was cleaning my glasses when the top of the little spray bottle rolled off the top of the dresser, never to be seen again. I looked under the dresser and under the rug in front of it. I even opened the top drawer just in case the top had fallen there. No dice. It’s as if that top never existed.

Little things like this irritate me, but I can put them to use in a writing prompt, so at least I’ll have some value from the annoyance. You can use this prompt with a piece of fiction, but I suppose it might work with creative nonfiction as well



  1. Think about your main character, either in fiction or creative nonfiction. What’s one small thing that irritates them?


  1. Put them in a situation where they can’t easily avoid this irritating thing.


  1. Let the pressure of the irritant lead them to action.


  1. Let that action lead to a sequence of causally connected events.


  1. Let the climax of that causal chain have a significant impact on your main character.


  1. Consider what’s at stake for your main character. How will their world be irrevocably changed because of the sequence of events they set into motion with their initial act.


The key with this exercise is to put so much pressure on your characters that they have to act. Once they do, you can keep increasing the pressure through the complications they create. “No pressure, no diamonds,” Thomas Carlyle once wrote. Let the irritation take your character to a place that will sparkle with the irrefutable truth of the lived life.

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