Your Favorite Place

            Close your eyes and visualize the place that makes you the happiest, the most calm. The place that inspires a feeling of awe. Listen to the sounds. Breathe in and take in the smells of the flowers, the earth, food cooking. Reach out and touch the bark of trees, the silkiness of flower petals, the gravel beneath your feet.

            Use your imaginary camera and take a picture and then another one. Pick up a paint brush, dip it in some paint and create a replica of what you see in your imagination.

            Think about how you feel. Are your shoulders relaxed? Has your breathing slowed? Did a sense of calmness flow over you?

            This is your happy place.

            Your task is to create a comparable place for your character. Begin by imagining him in a variety of places and situations. Where does he feel most fragile, most overwhelmed? That’s not it, but it’s important to the story. Now think about one or two places where she’ll feel relaxed. Where the sense of awe comes to her.

            That’s the spot where a portion of the story will occur.

            Write a scene in that place. Add in other characters to people the situation. Remember to include sensory details here and there so that readers will enjoy being there as well.

            Have fun with this one.

Extroversion

            Everyone knows a silent loner. Picture the individual who eats alone, never speaks up in a classroom or meeting, and walks the halls or sidewalks seemingly lost in their own thoughts. People who fall into this category are considered introverts. Creative folks often fall into this category. By working alone, they feel as if they accomplish more.

            On the other end of the scale are the extroverts. These are the sociable party people. They can be loud and aggressive, often preferring to be center stage even at the cost of hurting others. They seek thrills so as to gain more attention, often at the sake of their own safety and well being. They can be lively conversationalists and enjoy team sports and outdoor activities.

            Having both types of characters in a story might set up interesting points of contention. Imagine the introvert wanting silence while the extrovert flits about the office striking up loud conversations.

            Your task is to write a story in which these opposites are in the same setting, perhaps assigned to the same team or task. Imagine the conflicts that can arise. The extrovert might believe that her ideas are the only good ones while the introvert might be groaning inside.

            Setting is important, but dialogue is critical. Readers are going to want to see and feel what the characters are experiencing. Sensory details of sight and hearing will add important touches to the story.

            Have fun with this one.

Creating Dynamic Characters

            You pick up a book that looks interesting and begin reading. The main character, Sally, is a complex individual who can be friendly, but also rude, motivated but lazy, fun to be with but challenging. At the beginning you are intrigued by Sally because you realize that her life is about to change.

            Her best friend is manipulating her financially and emotionally. Sally is being forced into deciding between going on a vacation with the friend, who wants Sally to pay for the whole thing, or buying herself a badly needed new car.  Meanwhile Sally’s son has lost his job and is moving back home. Sally loves him, but can’t live with him for his sloppiness drives her crazy.

            As the story progresses you begin to understand why Sally behaves the way she does as each impediment arises. You root for her when you think she makes the right decision and lament the poor ones that get Sally in trouble. Ove the course of the story, you see Sally grow and change.

            That is called the character arc and it’s what makes characters dynamic: readers want to see them experience challenges that force them to evolve over the course of the story.

            Your task is to write a story in which a character is met with a series of difficulties that either are overcome or not. If overcome, then the character must change in some small way. If not, there still must be change, but is it positive or negative change?

            At the end the character must be different in some way. It should be large enough that the change affects behavior, status and beliefs.

            Have fun  with this one.

Developing a Strong Female Lead

            Cast aside the notion of the female warrior who is perfect in all ways. Your female protagonist might be athletically gifted, amazingly beautiful and displaying a lovely personality, but then she’s boring. You also don’t want to cast her as only important because she’s dating a man. Female characters, in order to speak to today’s readers, must have the characteristics of real-life women.

            What are the cultural norms in the world you have created? Are the same as the real world in which women are often seen as second-class citizens? Perhaps you’ve given the women emotional, interpersonal, intellectual and creative strengths that allow her to have goals of her own?

            Do you have only one woman in the story or several? What purpose do they serve? If they are only sidekicks to the male protagonist, rethink your story.

            Your task is to write a story in which the female protagonist has agency. She has strengths and weaknesses, she is not the fairy-tale raving beauty and she is strong in terms of how she approaches life. She does not have to be violent, but she could be if needed to advance the plot.

            If there are two female characters, try not to pit them against each other unless there is a reason to do so in order to add tension that advances the plot.

            Have fun with this one.

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.

The Home in Story

While it might not play out in the story, our characters live somewhere.  It might be under a freeway overpass, an upscale condominium complex, or in a bedroom of Grandma’s house.  That residence affects how the character thinks, feels and reacts.

Imagine living outside on a cold, stormy day. How would you feel? Most likely you might be a bit grouchy. When someone passes you by, you might bark out a bit of foul language, angry because they didn’t recognize you as human.

Now place yourself in the condo. Do you feel entitled? Are you a bit haughty? Do you look down on those who you feel are beneath you and so treat them with disrespect?

Home influences our outlook on life.

Your task is to first of all, decide where your character lives. Draw it out, if you can or find a photo online that looks like the home. Consider what types of objects are inside the home: family heirlooms or a mishmash found at thrift stores or donated from family.

Now write a story that reflects how home influences your character’s behavior.

Have fun with this one.

From your Character’s Point of View

Imagine a character that you would like to write about. Before you include him in the story, take time to write a character study from his point of view.

You must use first person. You can begin anywhere and you do not have to proceed sequentially. Consider it more of a stream of conscious rambling.

Somewhere in the text tell something about his appearance, but do not give a list of features. Mention one or two, just a little something to help us see him as he sees himself.

Put us inside his mind. We want to know what he thinks about things. Consider politics, employment, housing, future goals, but don’t try to cover everything. Only hit the most salient points, those that help you develop him so that including him in a story becomes easier.

Your task is to write at least a page of text. When you reread, ask yourself how much you revealed about him and whether or not there are more things that should be included as well as what should be deleted.

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.

 

 

 

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.

The Home Front

Your character has to live somewhere, and that place needs to be reflected in the things that your character does.

For example, if the protagonist lives in a homeless camp, then life centers on food, shelter and feeling safe, especially at night. Cleanliness is an issue as well as finding resources to help with clothes, laundry and food.

Let’s say the protagonist is a princess who lives in a castle. That’s a completely different sort of issue. How the princess treats and interacts with employees tells us whether or not she is arrogant and sees them as a subservient class. Since she doesn’t have to worry about basics, what she does do becomes a part of who she is.

If your character is a spy, then she is constantly on the move. She might not have an apartment somewhere, instead living in one hotel after another. What kinds of hotels? Cheap or deluxe? The type controls amenities and safety.

Your job is to decide where your character lives and then write a scene in that environment.  Bring in secondary characters that would be in that site. Have your character interact with them, keeping in mind what you want us to know about how he treats others.

Make the scene substantial enough that the reader gets a feel for your character’s personality. Include dialogue, body posture and looks.

Reread. Does your character’s personality come through? If not, then what changes should you make?

Have fun with this one.