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Writing Responsibilities

Updated: Jun 3, 2023

Where do our responsibilities come from? They are extremely complicated, derived from our relationships, our age, our jobs, our experiences and so many more things. Our responsibilities shape the things we take action on, and many times the things we care about. While certainly people shirk responsibility, and many people will do only the very minimum, today I would like to draw attention to the different responsibilities and situations a character might have, and how they represent that in the dialogue, actions and tone of a scene.

Imagine two characters.

One is a single mother of a young child. Her car has broken down, and she is two miles from daycare, where she narrowly makes the pick-up time each day for picking up her child. She picks up the phone and….


Our second individual is a very well-off mother, who is on her way to pick up her child of the same age from daycare as well. Jeeves is driving the car and she is reading when the car gets a flat from a nail in the road. She picks up the phone and…


“Pick up, pick up, pick up.” Mary’s finger tapped out an aggressive staccato the side of her phone.

“Crap. Come on... Who else?”

She swiped through her short list of contacts up and then back down. “Jerry!” She dialed again. “Yes! Jerry, I need you to go to Tiny Tots. Yeah. Yeah, grab him. Your name is on the list, they’ll let you… What? No! How long? That’s too late. Fine.”

She mashed the red button to hang up the call and willed the car to start as she turned the key again as cars rushed past in the slow lane.

We know which mother this passage is about. When we think about the responsibilities and situation of a character, we have to let them pain the picture for us of how they handle things. A person with fewer resources will be more directly impacted by loss than someone who has many. Now there are many ways to write this scene. Maybe she did plan ahead and has a back up plan for someone to pick up her boy. Maybe she doesn’t live far away, and jogs it out. Maybe she got off work early and the breakdown impacts her life a different way. The reality is that her reactions have to match her situation and her responsibilities.

In every scene are your characters acting in a manner commensurate with their responsibilities, wants, situations, etc. Or… are they doing what the author needs them to do to drive the story? These things are not mutually exclusive, but the reader won’t notice the later, if you can set up the former.

With every scene, give some consideration to your responsibilities, and backgrounds.

Now. Go write.

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