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.

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.


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.