When I was young, I loved comic books. Because we had little money, I seldom was able to buy new ones from the store. Instead I yearned for the days when my dad would drive into the city to the used book store.

It was an amazing place! Stacks of books and magazines covered table after table. It would have taken hours to sort through everything, but it didn’t matter to me because I headed straight for the comic books.

For very little money I could exit with an armful of new magazines to read. It was heavenly. The best thing was that I saved the books and so was able to read them over and over again.

When we moved to California I had to leave my collection behind. I was very sad.

What about your character? What does he collect?

Close your eyes and picture his house. What things hang on the walls? What sit on flat surfaces? What is on shelves or hidden away in closets?

These things reveal a lot about the character. For example, when I think of stamp collectors, I think of rather bookish individuals with magnifying glasses in hand. When I think of baseball card collectors I picture athletes in exercise gear.

Your task is to match a collection to your character’s personality. Then write a scene in which he is engaged in his collection. He could be admiring it, talking about it, sorting through it or selling some of it.

When you are finished, reread. What does your writing reveal that you might not have known before?

Have fun with this one.

Recently I attended a conference in Mendocino, CA. One of my afternoon sessions was about memoir writing. While I am not working on memoir, I hoped to learn something or at least be reminded of something that I might have forgotten.

The instructor talked a bit about scene. We all know that a given scene contains time and place. It can be past tense or current tense, or if you are interested in giving it a try, future tense.

Scene must have a purpose, a reason for being. It is going to show us something about the protagonist and maybe at least one antagonist. The opening scene inspires the reader to keep going.

A good writer will include sensory details so that the reader can “see” the scene. For example, are there chocolate chip cookies baking? Imagine the smell, the taste, the melted chips. Maybe the garbage hasn’t been taken out for a while. Imagine that smell and how it makes you feel.

Not all opening scenes have dialogue, but if possible, include some that create conflict or tension.

The main purpose of the opening scene is to ground the reader in place and time.

Your task is to write that opening scene of a story that’s been rattling around in your head. Remember to include sensory details and to create conflict.

Have fun with this one.

Defining Moment in Time

I can remember when we moved from Ohio to California at the end of my freshman year of high school. I looked forward to the change, although I was quite nervous about switching schools.

However, the one thing that inspired me to want to move was the possibility of going to college. If we had stayed in Ohio, I most likely would never have been able to afford tuition and so would have had two choices: work a low-wage job or get married. I didn’t want either.

California had community colleges whose tuition would be affordable as long as I worked doing something. This was my door to a bigger, brighter, happier world.

For this reason, moving was a defining moment in time for me.

What about your character? What is her defining moment? Was it the birth of her first child? Graduating from law school? Getting hired at the tech company of his dreams? Being accepted into nursing school the first time he applied?

Your task is to make a list of at least three defining moments for your protagonist. Make them huge. Next to each item, write a few words about how that moment changed your character’s life.

Choose just one moment and write a scene that includes not just how it impacted her life, but her emotions when it occurred. Think before, during and after.

After you’ve finished, reread and see if you captured the emotions. If you have, then congratulations are in order. If not, then rework it until you have.

Have fun with this one.

Walk into the Past

Today was a wonderful day for me. I got to relive good times in my past.

It got me to thinking that our characters can take similar walks.

What would they see? Feel? Do?

Even if you never include the information in your writing, it might allow you to see deeper into your character’s mind.

Your task is to send your character somewhere new and different, somewhere where artifacts from the past pop, up in rapid succession.

Write the scene. Mention the object in terms of the memory that it triggers.

Include as many objects as you can.

Have fun with this one.

The Doorbell Rings

Imagine that your character is alone in her family room, settled in for the evening. She’s reading a favorite book while watching a game show on television. Suddenly the doorbell rings.

What goes through her mind? Does she panic or react calmly? Was she expecting someone or is this a surprise?

Does she simply open the door or peek through a window?

What she does tells us a lot about her as a person. Some are brash and react without thinking. Some go cautiously throughout life, checking and rechecking every step along the way.

Your task is to write a scene in which the bell rings. Remember that however your character acts must be true to his or her personality.

Keep in mind that many times whoever is standing on the outside is a mystery person. That person could have benign interests or could be malevolent. You have to decide.

Have fun with this one.

Work Habits

Are you a morning person or a night person? Is your mind sharpest when you wake up or is it sluggish until you’ve downed several cups of coffee?

In the evening do you get revved up and motivated or do you grind to a halt and collapse into your recliner until time for bed?

Just as we all have our best working moments, so do our characters.

Your task is multi-fold.

First make a list of a variety of characters spanning ages, cultures, beliefs and desires. Label them appropriately.

Spend some time thinking about each of them. What are they like? Are they ambitious or content? Do they seek adventure or prefer the steady drum of life?

Add to your description of each character you have created.

Once you have explored their personalities, now take time to decide if, according to the characteristics you have chosen, that person functions best in the morning or in the evening.

Be true to the individual.

Once you are finished, go over your profiles. Are all the details logical? Do you see a character’s potential? Can you insert the character in a story?

Have fun with this one.




Facial Description

What we look like influences how others react to us. Beautiful people often are hired and promoted well before others.

Plain people are often overlooked or dismissed.

Because of this, it’s important to know what your character looks like.

Your task is to either use visualization to bring up an image of your character or use an actual photo of what you think your character looks like.

Have a tablet nearby.

Start at the top of the head. What shape is the skull? If there is hair, note not just the color and style, but record elements such as wispy, fly-away strands, clumps of hair that stand out on their own, hair sticking out of nostrils and nose. Eyebrows and eyelashes.

Forehead. Is it large or small? Does it protrude over the eyes? Are there wrinkles or is it smooth?

Eyes. Distance between them. Shape and color. Are there striations in the pupils? Do the eyes sparkle? Are the lids low-hanging? Where do the eyes sit in terms of the width of the face? In terms of length?

Follow this exercise as you work your way down to the neck.

When you are finished, your understanding of what your character looks like should be complete.

Have fun with this one.