#AmWriting – Writing Exercises – Writing Step-by-step: Dilemmas, Flaws, and Conflicts

This writing exercise forms part of the fiction writing course I am currently busy with. For this exercise I decided to return to the character Aidan Wright.

In order for you not to have to scan back-and-forth between posts, I’m posting the two paragraphs about Aidan here again and the new exercise will then be in blue.

I hope this shows some of the thought processes that goes on behind the scenes when writing.


Find one or two characters in your journal and give them a dilemma. Then discuss dilemmas, flaws, and conflicts you have planned.

The character Aidan Wright

Aidan Wright left the damp soil of the graveyard behind him, shifting the heavy canvas into a more comfortable position on his shoulder. He shuddered. For all the times he had done this, he still gagged at the idea – and smell – of carrying a dead body through the dark streets of London just after the witching hour. Hands that may, in a different life, have been suited to play the piano, had been hardened by work, the soil of the graveyard worked into his skin so that he felt as if he could never quite be rid of it. As a gravedigger he was as much a part of the graveyard as it was of him. He struggled down the night-black alleys as fast as his limp would take him, an old handkerchief bound over the lower part of his face to try and keep the smells at bay.

When at last he reached the correct door, he carefully put the body down on the ground and knocked twice. Muffled footsteps came closer until an older man opened the whitewashed door, a lantern with the flame turned right down, in his hand. The light lit Aidan’s large brown eyes, making him squint and lift a dirt-covered hand in front of his face.

“Brought him,” Aidan said in a low voice.

“Put it inside.”

Aidan heaved the body into his arm and carried the corpse inside to one of the tables. His hand lingered on the dead man’s brow for a moment, a silent prayer sounding in his mind.

“I’ll need a new one next week.”

Aidan nodded.

“Mister Wright, I do believe you have forgotten something.”

“I –“ Aidan began, checking the canvas in his hands and then realising what the surgeon was referring to. “Thank you for your help,” he stuttered and headed back out into the cold of the early morning, making for home. He wrapped his patched coat around him as the wind tousled his dark hair. In the distance a bell tolled twice.

Dilemma, conflict, and possible change


Aidan has to steal bodies for a doctor at an anatomy school as payment for him helping Aidan’s daughter (at first) and then as blackmail to keep the doctor from handing Aidan over to the authorities.

Stealing the bodies from the graves goes against that which Aidan believes in.

Problem encountered:

Once I wrote out the dilemma, I realised that the doctor character is a two-dimensional character and needs to be fleshed out. His motivations, etc. must also be clear. He cannot just be a villain/antagonist.

But to get back to Aidan…


Both conflict within himself (doing something he believes to be wrong) and conflict with the doctor.


Change may occur in that Aidan decides to pursue a life of crime, for instance after his daughter becomes ill again or dies.

A change may also occur in the doctor; for instance somebody he knows ends up on the table to be dissected.

Aidan may also choose to help more people with the “ghost flowers” as he feels that he needs some kind of redemption because of his body snatching.

Building another character – the doctor

Name: Gregory Blackhurst

Physical Appearance:

  • Tall – 6ft (taller than Aidan)
  • Hair starting to turn grey at the temples, making him appear older than he is
  • 29 years old
  • Hair is dark and worn in the latest fashion
  • Very proud of his moustache
  • Dark, small eyes. It looks as if he is always squinting or looking down at something
  • Thin lips
  • Thinks himself extremely handsome


  • Very short temper
  • Violent outbursts, especially when he’s had something to drink
  • Pompous and arrogant
  • Thinks himself better than everyone else, specifically because of family money and schooling
  • Actually has sadistic tendencies and that is why he wants to become a surgeon
  • Thinks that money and status can make any problem go away
  • Known for belittling others, especially in class when they get something wrong

If this is his personality, why then help Aidan in the first place?

  • Saw in Aidan an easy target – someone who is desperate for help, but who is also of the lower class and unschooled. He would therefore have very little power.
  • Aidan was outside the medical school looking for help, still covered in dirt from the day’s work and crying, when Gregory found him.

Off to see what the next exercise holds…


By Carin Marais

Bibliophile, writer of speculative fiction, non-fiction, and maybe-fiction, language practitioner, doer of stuff.

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