When writing emotion, it’s easy to become stuck on how to express what the point-of-view character is experiencing. An exercise to try is to pull from your own memory if you feel comfortable doing so. Sit back in your chair, take a few calming breaths, and think back to a time where you experienced this same emotion. Carefully draw up the memory, thinking about the situation, the location, the people involved. Remember the sights, sounds, smells, textures, tastes.
Now, pay attention to your body. Are you relaxed, or tense? Are your muscles tight? Is it easy to breathe, or do you feel restricted? Is your posture curling up, an attempt to hide, or are you twitchy all over and want to leap out of the chair? Make as many notes as you can, and when you go to write, use what you collected to give life to the character’s experience.
Select a scene that involves 2-3 characters. Write a paragraph from the point of one character. Now write the same interaction from another character’s point of view. For example: your paragraph could involve the point of view of a convenience store clerk contrasted with a customer’s point of view of the same incident.
What does your character want most? Now consider what he needs most. Is what he wants preventing him from gaining what he needs? Or will he have to find what he wants before he can achieve what he needs?
Elegant writers use their material with economy. If they write a scene that introduces a character, they might slip in many other things that are also important, whether it’s a detail about Character A’s birthday, Character A’s relationship with Character B, or the weather. In this exercise, write a paragraph of no more than 300 words and try to fit in ten subtle facts about your character into it, without being obvious about it.
Here is your challenge: for the next week, collect fun names. I’ve collected them for years in a little notebook — from obituaries, news stories, random lists, and spam. Spam is great for funny names. Then go through your notebook, choose a name, and write a short character sketch based off that name. It’s amazing how the names make the characters come to life and start moving the story in fun directions you never expected.
“There are two types of people: those that talk the talk and those that walk the walk. People who walk the walk sometimes talk the talk but most times they don’t talk at all, ’cause they walkin’. Now, people who talk the talk, when it comes time for them to walk the walk, you know what they do? They talk people like me into walkin’ for them,” said Key in the 2005 film Hustle and Flow. Which of these two types are your characters? Write down an exchange between two of your characters that confronts this very difference between them.