A Responsible Person

Many people take care of others. I know of grandparents who watch their grandchildren five days a week while the parents work. I also know of people who have their elderly parents living with them.  In both cases, there is a degree of responsibility that transcends what we consider our responsibility as parents.

For whom is your character responsible? This is an important consideration. Even if your character lives alone, there must be someone in his life that demands attention. Is it a close friend who needs rescue? Is it a parent who cannot manage his finances without supervision? Is it a grown child who is still under the parent’s insurance?

Your task is to create a dependent for a character, then establish the degree of responsibility that the protagonist has for this dependent. Make it substantial in order to bring tension to the story.

Write a scene in which something occurs that tests the relationship. Perhaps someone falls ill, either the caretaker or the dependent. Perhaps someone falls and can no longer live alone. Perhaps someone loses financial independence and cannot afford to stay in her apartment any longer. Perhaps a natural disaster occurs that destroys the person’s home…and both caretaker and dependent have to make other arrangements.

There are many things that can occur that create tension. Your job is to choose one and write about it.

Have fun with this one.

Weather Problems

No matter how much we would like it to be, skies are not always blue.

Clouds turn the world dark gray. Winds blow. Rain pours. Snow falls. Visibility drops and roads turn treacherous.

Your stories need to reflect real life.

Your task is to take a piece that you have written and add in the weather. Go beyond sunny days and clear blue skies.

Perhaps put your protagonist in a low-visibility situation where the roads are slippery. Think about how your protagonist would react.

Have fun with this one.

Laryngitis

            Imagine if your character lost his voice but still had to go to work and interact with others.

What would he do? How would he communicate?

Thanks to technology, there is the internet and computers with email and word processing programs that would help.

I don’t own a cell phone, but I imagine that there is a means to use one to place orders at restaurants or to ask for things at a store.

But what if your character doesn’t have those things either because of the place or time of the story, or because of socioeconomic factors that prevent the ownership of those things? What would your character do?

Your task is to write a scene in which your character has to interact with at least one other person, but cannot speak. The laryngitis is so severe that she cannot even croak out a few syllables in order to make herself clear.

Have fun with this one.

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.

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.

Catastrophic Illness

We don’t like to think about it, talk about it or write about it, but it happens. People fall ill, break bones and develop life-threatening conditions. It’s a fact of life and it affects people of all ages.

When we create our characters’ profiles, we need to consider whether or not those individuals will fall ill with something more severe than the flu. If you’re going for high drama, then perhaps illness works its way into your story.

Your task is to think of a character that you would like as a protagonist. Picture the individual in your mind, or to make things more concrete, go online and seek images of people who look like the character you have in mind. Save that image and consult it frequently.

Next create a list of five possible conditions that might befall that person. Don’t be gentle. Think huge and potentially life-altering.

Research those conditions and add bullets under each until you’ve created a fairly accurate picture of the illness.

Put together the image you’ve saved and one of the conditions, the one you feel most confident writing about.

Design the setting and a plot point, then write. You must keep in mind how this diagnosis affects the character’s mental and emotional state as well as how the character functions in the world. Your story need not end in death: in fact, it would be better if it did not.

Instead focus on the positives. How does someone with that condition work? Play? Interact socially and in a business manner? What kinds of things is the character able to do for relaxation? What would happen if your character had to travel by car, plane or train?

Tackle several of these issues in your story. Give us a character that we can care about, not a simpering whippet who cowers in a corner. Your readers will want to cheer on your character as he manipulates the world despite his condition.

Have fun with this one.

Career Advancement

Everyone who has a job, whether young or old, dreams of getting ahead. We want to move up the ladder, taking on more and more responsibility, being recognized for our work ethic, and earning more money in return.

Your characters need to do the same.

Imagine that your protagonist is a teen working as a dishwasher in a local café. As she scrubs dishes, she dreams of being a waitress or a chef or simply being the one who plates the food, but she has dreams. Now imagine how she’ll react when the boss gives her that desired raise!

Let’s say your character is a newly hired accountant in a busy firm. She looks around her and sees that not all accountants are equal. Some handle the tiny accountants that she does, while others manage the details for multimillion dollar firms. She’s got the credentials to do the job, but not the experience. How does she make herself more valuable? What does she do so the boss recognizes her skills?

Your task is to create a character that’s hired to do an entry-level job. It might not be glamorous, but it’s a foot in the door to greater things.

Think about how he feels before the interview, during the interview and after he is hired. Make a list of different words you can use to describe those emotions.

Put your character to work. Write about the day-to-day tedium of working the same job. What does your character do to make her life more interesting? How does she make herself stand out from others? Write about this.

What dreams does he have for advancement and how does he go about stepping forward? Does he simply approach the boss and plead his case? Does he work extra hard, often with a flourish, keeping his eyes ever alert?

What happens when she does talk with the boss? Does the boss initiate the conversation or does she? What words of encouragement are said? How does she respond?

Your task is to write this scene.

Have fun with this one.

 

Secondary Characters

 

Before the story begins, not only does our protagonist know what she wants, has known what she wants and has struggled with getting what she wants, but her friends and family have also struggled with their desires.

The overlap is what concerns the reader. Secondary characters are not just in the story in order to allow for dialogue, but to impact what happens to the protagonist, in both positive and negative ways.

Consider the so-called best friend who feeds the protagonist gossip about the boyfriend that causes a breakup so that now the friend can date the boy. The friend has an agenda that negatively impacts the protagonist, causing pain and anguish and forcing her to do something that she didn’t want to do. Now it may turn out that the breakup was a positive step, especially if the boyfriend is hyper-controlling or abusive, but in the immediate, the pain of separation is real.

Your task is to think of secondary characters that could populate your story. Make a list of who these people could be and their relationship to the protagonist. For example, a young person might be influenced by a teacher, an adult by a boss, a sick person by a nurse and a contractor by an engineer.

Make another list of issues that each secondary character brings to the story. For example, the teacher might be emotionally drained due to the illness of her husband, the boss might be up for a promotion if a project is well-received, the nurse might be struggling with paying the rent and the engineer might have lost important designs. The more issues you come up with, the better your options become.

From both of your lists, choose one character and one overriding issue. Your next step is to list ways in which this issue will affect your protagonist.

Your background work is now done. When you write interactions between your protagonist and your secondary character, do not fill space with the issues. Instead, consider the feelings of the secondary character facing the issue, and how those feelings affect the ways in which that character talks to your protagonist.

Write a scene rich with dialogue. The protagonist wants something because all protagonists must want something or there is no story. She meets her friend. They talk. The protagonist is hoping to hear words of reassurance or advice, but the secondary character is consumed by her own desires.

Imagine how fulfilling the conversation will be and what each character gets out of talking to the other.

This will not be an easy task.

Have fun with this one.

Hiring Help

Let’s face it: things break. Sometimes, if we’re talented and skilled enough, we can fix it on our own. Many of us, however, are not so fortunate.

Water backs up into the shower. We call a plumber.

The car makes terrible noises: we take it to a mechanic.

We can’t tell the difference between a flower and a weed: we hire a gardener.

The roof leaks: we hire a contractor.

And on and on and on.

The same must be true for our characters. Problems arise that he cannot fix, so he turns to outside help.

Begin by making a list of things that your character cannot fix. Come up with at least ten. Then narrow it down to the one that would make the most interesting scene.

Your task is to write that scene. Begin with a peculiar noise or water where it shouldn’t be or bushes growing to abnormal sizes. Set the stage by letting us experience the problem through the character’s eyes. Remember to use the senses.

Once the problem has been discovered, what does she do? Does she call a relative to come over or try to fix it herself? What steps does she take in the attempted repair? Does she stand around and watch or pick up the wrench and tighten the pipes herself?

Think about how many attempts to give your character before he calls for help. If it’s more than one, show us each, allowing us to feel the frustrations that he feels.

At one point does she give up and call for help? Is it at the first sighting of problems or after many leaks sprout through the roof? After the car quits working or the tire falls off? Let us experience the attempts as well as the resignation.

Once the decision has been made to hire help, what does he do? Does he troll the neighborhood asking for recommendations or look up contractors online? How many does he call and how many proposals does he gather before deciding on the one to do the job?

Then, as the problem is being fixed, what does she do? Sit inside and drink a cup of coffee or hang around making sure that the worker is steadfast and honest with his time? Pick up the detritus as the job is being completed or watch a movie?

Sitting around would not make for a very interesting story, so be careful with this one.

Once the job is done, what does the character do? How does he feel? Does he haggle over price and the quality of the job or simply pay? Does she inspect the work and nitpick over every little thing?

You must decide, based upon you character’s personality.

So, get started with your list of potential problems, then write the scene.

Have fun with this one.