Stereotypical Characters with a Twist

            Picture the butler who answers the door. What is he wearing? What does he say and do? We probably all have the same image: he’s an older gentleman with a British accent dressed in a tux with tails. He instructs the visitor to go into the drawing room, and then heads off to summon his master.

            In mysteries the butler is often the top suspect in a murder. Despite the reserved image he portrays, underneath that calm lays an angry, vengeful man.

These are stereotypical characters because they are flat people that fill out the cast. They generally appear in quick bursts then drop into the background. Throughout the telling, these characters exhibit little or no growth and have limited impact on the story arc.

            Now picture the lowly farm boy toiling in the heat of the afternoon dredging soiled hay from the horses’ stalls. What is he wearing? What does he say and do?

            What if the butler gets fired and has to become the lowly farm boy? What if the farm boy is actually the son of a prince in a faraway land? Because the farm boy and the butler experience life-changing events, their impact on the story has gone from being minimal to critical.

            Your task is to write a scene in which what first appears to be a stereotypical, flat character and offer a twist in the plot that belies what the reader thinks to be true. You can use the characters mentioned or introduce a different one. For example, what if the wise old woman lacks skills to be a mentor or the orphan who is thought to be the descendant of royalty really is just a street kid?

            Have fun with this one.

Life’s Journey

            Characters are a product of their life’s experiences. The things they seen and done are major influencers in who they are at the time of the story. From birth, the people in their lives affect what they believe, what foods they eat, the clothing they wear, the attitude to education that they have.

            Imagine a character who grows up in a loving, fostering home. His attitude toward obstacles life presents will be completely different from obstacles that pop up in the life of someone who was abused in some way. It makes sense. In the first situation the character might love challenges and new experiences while the second individual might be fearful and prefer hiding at home.

            When you create a character you need to construct their life’s journey as a background into who they have become. This is different from a character arc. The arc traces the character’s trajectory throughout the story, encapsulating the events that change her as the story progresses.

            The life’s journey shows the path that she walked as the years passed by.

            Your task is to create a life’s journey for a new character that you would like to include in a story. Graph paper might be the best source as it allows for increments of time spaced out in measured blocks. Start at a point when they first event occurred. This could be birth or the first day of school. Add elements that played important parts, both negative and positive.

            When finished, using the data you’ve detailed, write a memoir-like story of his life.

            Have fun with this one.

Searching for Love

            What would you do to find the love of your life? Would you hang out in singles’ bars or join a singles’ club? If a friend tried to set you up with a blind date, would you go? Perhaps you’d sign up for one of those online matching sites? If you heard about an event only for singles, would you go?

            What would you wear? Your normal every-day clothes or a fancy outfit? Hiking boots or polished dress shoes?

            Before the date, what preparations would you make? Haircut, pedicure and nails? Massage or acupuncture? Visit a mystic to hear what might happen in the future?

            Your task is to imagine that you are writing a love story. Work out the details of your character. Think beyond the physical. Consider socioeconomic, education completed, job status, living conditions and personality. What does your character want from a partner? A one-night stand or a long-term marriage? Children and pets? Common interests or differences so as to learn from each other?

            Once you’ve done all the background work, it’s time to write. Establish setting, remembering that place and time period are major considerations. Include narrative and dialogue supported by action. Will this be a love-at-first-sight story or will there be conflict before love occurs?

            Have fun with this one.

Contested Boundaries

All throughout the history of our world rulers have lead incursions into neighboring countries, seizing land, and changing boundaries in order to seize valuable natural resources or to gain access to water routes. Often the battles have been fierce with both sides losing hundreds of warriors.

To the victors went the spoils which included family treasures, verdant fields and the virginity of women. All was justified under the loose definition of what constitutes victory.

Close your eyes and imagine what that world must have been like: living in fear, burying valuables in the fields, constantly running and hiding. What story comes to mind?

Your task is to write a story in which one army invades a country.  First decide the setting, which includes place and time. Equip your army with weapons of war and then send them on their way. Will your army be victorious or not? Use narrative to describe the scene and the action, but include dialogue as well so readers can understand how your characters are thinking and feeling.

Gore is okay if that’s what you want to write, but a humiliating defeat is just as terrible without blood and guts.

Have fun with this one.

Geographical Features

            Geography is the study of places and the relationships with the people who live there. It looks at the physical properties of the Earth’s surface and how those elements affect impact life. It concerns itself with the how and why things are distributed or arranged in particular ways on Earth’s surface and it seeks to understand how things that are located in the same or distant places influence one another over time and why the people who live in them develop and change in particular, and sometimes unique ways.

Geographical features are naturally occurring such as the composition of soil, the height, width and breadth of mountains, the types of clouds that typically form over a given area, and the presence of natural bodies of water regardless of size or shape.

The geography of an area doesn’t just determine whether humans can live there, it also determines their lifestyles in terms of available food and the types of shelter needed to survive the climate patterns throughout seasons.

Because of the impact of geography, it can play a major role in story. A scene set in the mountains of Appalachia will be completely different than one the takes place on a southern California beach.

Your task is to write a scene in which geography affects how your character lives and the choices he makes. Sensory details will be key in establishing atmosphere. Remember to include dialogue, action and narrative.

Have fun with this one.

Anticipation

Your birthday is coming up and you’re aware that a party has been planned. You think you know who’s coming, you wonder if Jesse, a childhood nemesis, will have the audacity to appear.

Anew job opportunity has opened up and if you’re offered the position, it means more money and responsibility, but you’ve got to ace the interview.

There are many events that arise in our lives that cause angst. The anticipation alone makes us sweat, interferes with sleep, and causes our hands to tremble. We rehash possible negative outcomes, analyzing each reaction that we might have.

Anticipation is a complex emotion. It is a feeling of excitement about something that is going to happen in the near future that leads to restlessness, difficulty focusing, a sense of uneasiness, and an attempt at avoiding participation in the event. In story form, anticipation can trigger scenes of tension and conflict between characters that alter familial relationships and ruin friendships.

Your task is to write a story in which anticipation plays a major role. Choose a scene in which emotions run high, affecting how the character thinks, acts, speaks. Include narrative and dialogue so that readers can see how anticipating the event influences the story arc.

Have fun with this one.

Choosing the Time Period

Every story exists within a particular time period. Historical novels are normally centered in the past, ranging from the earliest days of man to the near present. Think cave men and last year.

Futuristic stories might be on Mars after its been settled, on a spaceship as it zooms toward a distant planet, or on Earth after an apocalypse.

When a story occurs affects weather, clothing, buildings, communication systems, all kinds of infrastructure issues and many more. If you’re an expert on a particular era, perhaps you don’t have to research to get information, but most of us will have to spend a substantial amount of time gathering data.

Your task is to write a story that takes place in a time period other than now. Begin by listing three different ideas that intrigue you. Choose the one you will enjoy learning more about. Research until you come up with enough information to develop your world.

Include sensory details so that your readers will grasp when and where the events take place, but be careful not to employ an information dump to do so. Weave together story and details, dialogue and narrative.

Have fun with this one.

Code of Conduct

A code of conduct is a set of rules that outlines the norms of behavior, the responsibilities and proper practices of an individual within a society or organization. It sets what behaviors are considered acceptable and which are not. Many of these are written in the form of laws for which punishments are enacted if an individual chooses to break the code. However, many are unwritten, such as not spitting on the playground, cleaning up after yourself and not trampling the flowers in your neighbor’s garden.

Knights of yore had codes that defined behaviors that they couldn’t do, such as not slaughtering civilians, taking care of their steeds and those of their opponents when captured, and communicating effectively for the benefit of all. They also couldn’t make an opponent suffer needlessly and if someone, even a brethren, was fleeing, to kill them swiftly and mercilessly.

Your task is to list a series of codes of conduct for your society. Once you have a sufficient amount, you will write a story in which someone breaks the code. The offense could take place within a powerful modern-day company or in a fantasy world based loosely on the Middle Ages.

Once the code is broken, what happens next decides where the story goes. The offending person could be your protagonist who willingly made the choice because it conflicted with a personal belief system or it could be an entire army that refuses to follow a command that it deems offensive. Conflict arises which leads to tension. As it is resolved, your protagonist might have to make decisions affecting her ability to survive.

Have fun with this one.

Functional Infrastructure

Infrastructure is the combined facilities and structures that a society needs for its economy to function. It includes bridges, roads, telecommunications systems, water and sewage systems and electrical grids. Airports, tunnels, hospitals, lighthouses, public schools, parks and other public spaces also fall under the umbrella of infrastructure. The degree to which each is developed tells a lot about that society.

A primitive society might have dirt roads and wooden dams while a technologically advanced community would employ systems that perhaps have yet to be developed.

When creating the setting for your story, these elements might not play a major role, but they could. Imagine if an earthquake breaks the walls of a dam and water pours down river, flooding cities in its wake. Perhaps the local hospital is so overrun with accident victims that additional cases have to be transported to other communities.

Your task is to create a story in which something happens that threatens an element of the infrastructure. Begin by settling on the one event that you feel the most comfortable writing about. Place your characters in the scene, taking into consideration how the event will affect each and how they will react, realizing that people behave differently when threatened.

You can start with the disaster right from the beginning, or establish the “normal” world so that readers understand what life was like before things went wrong. Dialogue and narrative are both important. Narrative puts readers into the heart of the action while dialogue exposes the fears, the concerns, the reactions of characters in the story.

Have fun with this one.

Music Preferences

            Music wasn’t always an important part of my life. I don’t remember singing childhood ditties or making up my own songs as I played with dolls. My parents never sang to me and when we did listen to a radio, it was usually tuned to melodramas. We did sing in church, but because I was slow to learn to read, I couldn’t join in.

            I bought myself a tiny transistor radio when I was twelve. My favorite station played pop music, comfy singalong tunes with catchy beats. I subscribed to a magazine that printed the lyrics to every popular song. That became my bible. Whenever I was alone in my room, I turned on the radio and sang along. My love of music carried me through my tumultuous teens, twenties and all the ensuing years until my current ripe old age.

            How has music impacted your life? Has it played a minor or major role?

            Your task is to write a story in which music affects the protagonist, either in a positive or negative way. What age is she? Where does she live (city, state, country). What is her family situation (socioeconomic, single-parent, half-siblings). What are her favorite subjects in school (think about all the different grades, from Pre-Kindergarten to university).

            Does she share her love of music or keep it to herself? Does she sing in the shower or on stage? In a church choir or with a band? If band, what type and do they tour? All these considerations affect story.

            Have fun with this one.