Character Development

Go The Other Way

Choose a random occupation, a random personality trait, and the trait's opposite. Now, outline a train of events that explains how a person of your chosen occupation changes from having the random trait to having its opposite. Let's take, for example: “martial arts teacher,” "shy," and "confident." What would make a shy martial arts teacher change into a confident one?

Care for a double challenge? Try plotting the opposite path, too: a confident martial arts teacher turns into a shy person. What would cause that? Experiment with unusual occupations and traits to challenge yourself.

Find a collection of traits for download at the end of this article.

Writer's Block

The Box

As a visual reference, select a box that has dimensions under 12X12 inches. Tape the box closed. Set the box in front of you. Write a story or poem based on what is inside the box.

Writer's Block

Break Through The Block

Think of writer's block as a symptom, not a condition that can’t be remedied. When we’re stuck and can’t get to our creative work, there’s usually a reason — and therefore a way to move forward.

If you’re experiencing a block and can’t seem to work on your novel, try the following:

  1. Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths. Connect.
  2. How do you feel?
  3. Nervous because you’re coming up on a tough scene?
  4. Starting to wonder why you embarked on this project?
  5. Bored with sticking to your thorough outline and not wanting to admit it?

Feel what you’re feeling without attaching or rationalizing or arguing. Now, refocus on your breath. Imagine gentle snow or waves. When you’re calm inside, grab a notebook and pen (computers can amplify pressure instead of opening room for free scribbling) and write without stopping for three minutes, starting with the prompt, “I’m not blocked because…” After that, go for another three minutes, using, “The path back to my writing looks like…” Let yourself go. Let your hand tell you whatever you need to hear.

Plot Development

The Hook

What is your story’s hook? Analyze your opening scene and identify the implicit but specific question it encourages readers to ask. Is this question in the first paragraph or, better yet, the first line? How can you strengthen it?

Plot Development

The Forbidden Prompt

"There is a charm about the forbidden that makes it unspeakably desirable" – Mark Twain. Your character is doing something someone else has forbidden. Someone else discovers. Will there be a confrontation? Or will the discoverer be so uncomfortable that (s)he will ignore or throw hints instead? This is a great scene to practice tension between two characters as well as the internal thoughts of one of the characters.

Setting

The Art of Description

A few well-chosen words can create a strong sense of place which adds a rich dimension to your story. It draws your reader right in, as if they were in the room with your characters.

Choose one of the following places and describe it using ALL of your five senses (touch, taste, sight, smell, hearing). In fiction, you won't usually use all five, but limbering up your storytelling this way will help you show rather than tell the story:

  1. A market in the South of France
  2. A teenage bedroom
  3. A pub
  4. A hairdresser's salon
  5. The souk in Marrakesh
  6. A stately home
  7. A garden
Dialogue

Two-Thirds

“Gossip, as usual, was one-third right and two-thirds wrong,” wrote L.M. Montgomery. Improvise a gossipy dialogue between two characters (Character A and Character B) about your protagonist (Character C). If these fractions are followed, what do Character A and Character B get right about your protagonist — and what do they get wrong?

Character Development

Somewhere Familiar

Are you finding it difficult to get to know your fictional characters and/or differentiate them from yourself? Try this: Choose a character from your project and let her/him take a walk into a place you know well. Then describe this place from this character’s perspective and ask yourself:

  1. What does (or doesn’t) s/he notice?
  2. How does s/he feel about what she notices?
    What thoughts do the things s/he notices trigger in her/him? This can be memories, social critique, enjoyment or disgust etc.
  3. How do your character’s impressions of, and responses to, the place differ from yours?
Writer's Block

Translate Your Memories

This exercise is particularly helpful for those who write for children and youth. Study an old photo of yourself or your family from your childhood. It’s probably easy to remember the who, the where, the what. But for this exercise we want to go deeper.

Close your eyes and remember the details of the event. Then remember how you felt at the event in that photo. How did you feel when anticipating the event? How did you feel if it was a surprise? How did you feel if it didn’t turn out as you anticipate? How did others at the event treat you? How did you react/respond to them?

Now, translate those FEELINGS into an event, place, child that would take place today.

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