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.

Childhood Experiences

While we might not be writing about the childhood of our protagonist, but we must take into consideration what type of childhood the individual experienced.

For example, a child who was surrounded by love, nurtured and encouraged to explore different ideas, will grow into a different adult than one who grew up in negativity, in chaos, in fear.

Your task is to select at least one of your characters and create a bullet list that details the kind of life that person had as a child and teen. On one side, list the experiences. On the other, the effects. Try to list at least ten things.

The third thing to consider is whether or not the individual has moved beyond any adverse effects. If the character has, how did the person so this?

Once you’ve completed your task, then select a scene to rewrite, taking into consideration what the character experienced growing up. You don’t need to mention the events, but keep them in mind as your character negotiates the day.

Have fun with this one.

Faith Preference

Does your protagonist attend a church? Pray regularly? Bless the meal before eating?

These are questions that you need to answer before you begin writing. Faith doesn’t have to be mentioned in your story, but faith could influence how a person reacts in given situations.

For example, your character is approached by a beggar on his way into a store. What does your character do? Does he give the beggar a dollar? Wish him well? Or stare straight ahead and pretend that the beggar isn’t there?

One way to begin is to list the religions that you know something about. Once you’ve completed your list, then go online and spend time researching each. Try to find out how someone who practices that faith acts toward others and what the basic elements of that faith are.

After each description, write a few bullet points that show how someone would act is they practiced that faith.

Be sure to include agnosticism, as that is also a possible choice.

Once you’ve completed this exercise, then choose the faith preference of your character(s).

As you write, keep in mind how that faith influences the day-to-day decisions that your main characters make.

This does not have to be a long piece as this is primarily an exercise.

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.

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!

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.

Family Drama

Family stories are easy to write, whether there is love or hate driving  the relationships.

Think of someone that you care deeply about. What stories could you tell about that relationship? Choose one instance that is more than just giving hugs, something with some depth to it. Using bullet points, create a list of things that happened, things that were said, things that were done, how people felt and reacted. When you are finished, walk away.

After an hour, come back to your list. Using what you’ve got, could you turn the incident into a compelling story? If not, what could you tweak in order to make it more interesting?

Your next task is to choose a relationship that it testy. Pick one that is long-standing, as that will give you more meat with which to work. As before, use bullet points to create your list, the longer, the better. Focus on the triggers, those defining elements that caused an uproar, the juicier the element, the more tantalizing the story will become.

Walk away, as before. When you return and look at your lists, which lead to the more complex story? Which story would be more compelling to a reader?

Your task is to take a character from one of your stories and create lists for that individual. Make sure that you’ve got both positive and negative relationships.

Reread a scene that you’ve written that maybe isn’t working as well as you’d like. Think about your lists. What could you insert into the scene that would add intrigue and depth?

Rewrite adding in just one element.

When you reread this time, has the story been improved? Did the character’s actions and reactions make sense? If not, then edit! Keep working at it until you’ve got the story that holds interest and adds information about your character.

Have fun with this one.