Financial Hardship

 

There are times in our lives when money is in short supply. We might be in between jobs or at the end of the payday and so have almost no money in our pocket. We have to choose between putting gas in the car in order to go to work or buying milk for the kids to drink.

How we handle those difficult times says a lot about who we are. We have to make decisions that affect not just ourselves but anyone living with us.

Our characters must also face difficult times for them to be real.

First of all, consider your character. Who is she? What job does she have and how well does it pay? Where does she live and what is the cost of rent? Food? Gas?

Does he live alone or share and apartment? Does he party on Friday nights or come home and cook a TV dinner?

What are your character’s priorities? Does she think of others first or put her own needs at the forefront? Does he buy new tennis shoes or do his laundry?

All of these choices say something about our protagonist.

Your task is to write a scene in which your character is suffering. There is limited money and choices have to be made. You can include dialogue or keep it all in your character’s head. The important thing is to show how your character makes decisions.

Have fun with this one.

The Self-fulfilling Prophecy

Did you ever think about doing something then told yourself that you’d never be able to succeed? When it came time to give it a try, how did it go? Did you surprise yourself and accomplish it or did you fail?

Sometimes whether or not we master something depends upon our inner voice. This is called the self-fulfilling prophecy.

We tell ourselves we will fail, and so we do. Then we nod, confirming that we were right.

Or we are determined to succeed at all costs, convince ourselves that we can do it, and when we do, we inflate with pride.

Our characters are affected by this same inner voice. The character wants something so badly that it is a burning desire. But…what does the character’s inner voice say? Does it tell the character that you can’t do it so don’t bother? And so the character lives with the feeling of failure, of unfulfilled desire, for many years.

What if the voice says to do it, you will succeed, so the character gives it a shot? If the character successfully completes the task, how does that affect how the character feels? What if the character does not?

These are things you must consider when telling the story. There is a desire. The character must want something or there is no story. What voice drives the character toward achieving that goal?

Your task is to write a scene in which your protagonist wants something. His self-fulfilling prophecy speaks to him. It either tells him he can do it or it says you’re an idiot. You decide.

Remember that the voice will affect the character’s motivation to test whether or not she can learn to salsa, graduate from chef school, become a CEO or run a scientific laboratory.

Have fun with this one.

Clothing Styles

It might not seem like a big deal, but how your characters dress truly is!

Imagine punk rockers dressed in all black with studded necklaces and high-laced black boots. Now picture characters in fancy dresses and suits.

What do you think of with each?

Having taught the punk rockers, I think of kids who often are on the fringes of high school society. They are good kids, but don’t meld with cheerleaders, jocks or the AP crowd. They might be in college prep classes, but often are the creative types who enjoy their own style of music. Of course all of this is a stereotype and there are exceptions.

The second group reminds me of the upwardly mobile or those who are already in the top 1%. They are more sedate, preferring parties and small gatherings over rock concerts. I see fancy cocktails being carried around by hired staff and delicate appetizers on trays. A sit-down dinner for a hundred. A fund raiser for a politician. Guests arriving in limos and chartered buses. Again, stereotypes.

Do you see how important clothing is? Not only does it set the tone, but it tells us a lot about our characters.

Your task is to make several lists. Divide each by clothing styles. Think of how age influences how a person dresses as well as socioeconomic status.

Choose one of your lists to work with. Write a story for that character in which clothing style is mentioned, but not all in one or two sentences. Scatter the descriptions about so that your character’s personality is slowly revealed.

This won’t be easy, but have fun with this one.

Socioeconomic Status

            How much money someone has affects the things that he does, thinks, and says. It impacts future dreams and the things that she hopes to accomplish.

For example, a person who grows up in a wealthy family has everything that she could ever possibly want. Nice clothes, a comfortable bed, good food and all the electronics that one could possibly want. He may attend a private school with other entitled children so never knows what it’s like to have class disrupted by unruly students or may have never witnessed a lunchtime brawl.

This character grows into an adult with distinct advantages in terms of status, education and outlook. He has experienced nothing but the best and desires to maintain that status.

Then consider the low income child who grows up in a tiny studio apartment with eight family members. Who is often hungry and wears ragged hand-me-down shoes and clothes. Who falls ill frequently or has to accompany non-English speaking relatives to appointments to act as translator and so misses great amounts of school.

Perhaps she moves around a lot, from one shelter to another, and so schools change weekly. Most shelters are in low income neighborhoods so she does not have access to modern technology in terms of computer labs, WiFi and calculators. School lunches are adequate, probably free, but not delicious. She knows of students who come to school high on drugs, who sell their bodies and who are bellicose.

Think about how these differing early lives affect how your character behaves in your story.

Your task is to decide into which socioeconomic group your character belongs. Then make a bullet-point list of the structures in this person’s life, beginning with the home environment. Consider size of the home, family living there, quality of food and clothes, and what possessions the character owns. Include on your list the things the character sees in his daily life, as he walks down the street, rides in a car or bus, goes into a store, eats at a soup kitchen or restaurant.

Once you have completed your list, write a short scene in which these elements come into play.

This is not an easy task.

Have fun with this one.

A Lost Object

Think how many times you’ve lost something. Can you recall how you felt? Frustrated? Angry? Disappointed?

When you lose something, it tears you up inside. One time I’d purchased a nice watch as a gift for one of my sons. When it came time to wrap it up, I couldn’t find it. I searched through all of my normal places, but couldn’t locate it. In tears, I finally went outside and dug through the garbage! That’s where it was. It must have been carried out with the trash. Yes, I was relieved, but also incredibly disappointed in myself.

Call to mind one of your characters. Picture this individual. Think about how this person speaks, walks, behaves, treats others. Now imagine this person losing something. Will he behave in character or become a totally different person? Will she tear the house apart, looking high and low, or simply give up?

Your task is to make a list of objects important enough that your character will diligently search to find. Try to come up with at least five different ones. Then narrow the list to one, by choosing that which would drive her nuts if she can’t find it!

Write the story of the search. Remember to include feelings, for this is what is most crucial to the story. We need to understand how he is feeling, not just how he is acting.

This might be a challenge for you. It is easy to write about a character going through her day, but much harder to describe her feelings.

Have fun with this one!

Using Your Family Tree

Last week your task was to create a family tree for one of your characters. If you didn’t complete the task, now might be a good time to read last week’s post.

Your task this week is to use that tree to write a multigenerational story in which your protagonist interacts with at least one member of the extended family.

A fun story might be a conversation between a grandparent and grandchild. Think of the questions the younger person might ask and the responses the older would give. This might lead to fantastic stories of what grandpa did during the war or why grandma chose to go to nursing school.

Your story does not have to be long, but it should contain hefty amounts of dialogue so we get a feel as to how each character speaks, thinks and listens. There should be enough depth that we understand the relationship between the two as well as the different experiences each has had.

Have fun with this one.

Building Family

We are born into our families and so have no choice about who they are and how they behave.

It’s different for our characters as we get to create their families.

That is your task.

After you choose a name and age for your character, then fill out a family tree.

You probably should  search online for a model. This will give you a working model.

Start with the grandparents on both sides. Name them. Name the people they married. Who were these people? What jobs did they have? Were they trustworthy or  liars? Did they own their home or rent? Where did they live? In a city or in the country?

Move to the next generation. Include all the relatives at this level, which means the all the siblings. Answer the same questions as you did before.

That takes you to your character’s generation. Your family tree should be expansive at this point.  Answer all the questions for each person along this line.

If your character is married and has children, list the details for each.

This is a time-consuming task, but the effort will pay off once your story begins.

Have fun with this one!