Characters at Cross Purposes

Light_lights_cross_220357_lBefore I started the actual rewriting of my novel, I did a lot of prep work.  One of the things I did was make a chart listing the goals, motivations (what the character wants), interior and exterior conflicts of each character.  These are the kinds of things that you generally at least have a vague sense of as you write the first draft, but need to be nailed down more specifically as you embark on the second time around.

And, as I discovered for the umpteenth time, these are also the things that are sometimes really, really hard to get specific about.  I mean, I know what my main character, named Madeleine, wants in a sort of wafty, overall sense, but defining it in a definite, precise, manner is difficult.  It drives you down into the heart of the story--which is why it is a worthy exercise.

I also did this for each of the important characters in the book.  And then I took a look at my charts. And realized--pa-dum--that some of them had similar motivations.  One could even say they had the same motivations. Which doesn't work.  Why?  Because if all your characters want the same thing, they can all work together, united as one, singing Kumbaya.

This aggression cannot stand.

Because what is the most important element of all fiction?  That's right, conflict. And if characters are all united as one, there won't be any.  All good fiction is about characters in action, and characters at cross purposes with each other create conflict in action.  And so you need to put your people at cross purposes with each other, which is as simple and complicated as giving them conflicting desires.  Here are some simple suggestions as to how to get yourself thinking that way.

Finish Your First Draft First

Don't argue with me.  You just have to.  You will know more--way more--about your characters when you get to the end of the draft then you do at the beginning.  Write it fast (which more and more I'm coming to believe is the ticket), or write it slow, but write it.

Look at yourself.  

Ask yourself what you want.  If you're anything like me, you'll likely get a list of garden-variety desires like lose weight, make lots of money, travel the world, have successful relationships with friends and family.  And guess what?  It is fairly likely that your main character wants those same, garden-variety things as well.  Now think of times you've struggled to get what you want.  Did your mother-in-law bake you a chocolate cake for your birthday, despite the fact you've been on a strict Paleo diet?  It's not that she wants you to stay fat--she just wants you to enjoy her cake she baked for you. It is still in conflict with your goal.

Tweak a bit

Let's continue on with the above situation, your MIL baking you a cake for your birthday. Maybe she has a deeper motivation.  Maybe she wants to make you gain weight so that her darling son will leave you.  That is an excellent cross purpose.  The simplest of actions can have devious motivation attached.  And in this case, all it took was a little tweak.

Brainstorm and free write

I realized my character Madeleine has a nicey-nicey relationship with her sister.  Bor-ing.  The two of them don't need to be at war with each other, but don't all siblings have some tension embedded in their relationship?  I did some free writing and realized that Madeleine was very close with her late mother.  Her sister?  Not so much.  This is the cause of some friendly "Mom liked you best" rivalry that ends up going deeper than expected.  And I got to it the way I get to all things--by writing about it.

Think up the absolute worst conflict

What is the worst thing that could happen between your two characters in the fictional situation you've set up for them?  You don't have to use this eventuality, but pondering it can help you get some strong-ass conflict into your novel.

How do you create characters with strong conflicts?

Just for fun:

Photo by reuben4eva.


Writing in France (Or Anywhere)

Bon jour.

I am in Pezenas, France, down near Montpelier and Beziers (where we stayed Friday night and had an experience on the free bus trying to find our hotel that still makes me laugh out loud every time I think of it).  We--six of us--are staying in a house that could more accurately be called a mansion, with three floors and a grand marble entry on the inside, and a koi pond and swimming pool with a swag of oleander dripping above it on the outside.

Every morning at 9:30 we meet to workshop attendee's stories and discuss our book in common (Me Before You, by Jojo Moyes).  Our subject this year is character, so everything is viewed through that lens.

And every afternoon we write.  (I got in five pages yesterday).  Then at 5:30 we meet for wine, olives, pate, cheese, and bread--lots of bread.  (Paleo people just have to put aside their thing about carbs.  Besides, the wheat is better here.  And so is the butter.  And the eggs.  I'll stop now.)

In between, when the writing is done, there are walks into town (curvy streets barely wide enough for cars, restaurants tucked into every alley, shops and art galleries and lots of people smoking) or into the country side (vinyards and big old stone houses).

But notice I said, when the writing is done.

Because that's the point of being here, after all.  And it is surprisingly easy to get writing done, even in paradise, when you've got a whole houseful of people doing the same thing.

Between this experience and the Book in a Month class I took before I left (which entailed writing 20 pages a day for 14 days, thus finishing a draft, and then rewriting it the last two weeks of the month)I've come up with new knowledge of how to get words on the page and, as always, I am here to impart this wisdom to you.

Are you ready?  It's a multi-part process, so it is imperative that you pay close attention to the very end.  Here we go.

1.  Write

2. Write some more

3. Take no longer than one minute to ring your hands about how bad the writing is and then get back to it.

4. Write more

5. Notice you are writing utter crap and charge ahead anyway

6. Write, write, write

7. Finish your goal of pages or words for the day and breath a sigh of relief because you did it.

So, yeah, I'm being a bit tongue in cheek here (ya think?) but the gist of it is true.  I'm come to realize that we (myself included) make the act of writing way too complicated and emotional, when really, it all boils down to one thing: getting words on the page.

It doesn't matter how good or bad those words are, your only job is to throw them at the page.  To sit your butt down in the chair and write.  Because the wonderful thing about writing is that it can always be revised--and revision is ever so much easier when you actually have word on the page to work with.

What about you?  How is your writing going? What tricks do you use to get yourself to the page?


9 Ways to Create Characters Readers Will Identify With

I have a bad habit of creating characters that are, um, unlikeable.  Or, in the parlance of the publishing industry--unrelatable.

(As a brief aside, I do worry about what this says about me.  People seem to like me when they meet me in person, and I do try hard to be nice and positive.  But you never know.  I could be horrible and people just aren't telling me.)

This happened with Emma Jean, as I have written about a lot here.  People start out wanting to shake some sense into her (as a fellow blogger said) and end up loving her.   And it happened recently again--I was toiling away on another novel and when I took it into my writing group, everyone told me how much they didn't like the main character.  Which was actually a huge relief, because I didn't like her either.  She really had no redeeming features.  (At least Emma Jean was funny.)

So I set that novel aside, and now I'm working on another one.  The heroine of this novel is a character who has been with me a long time.  I wrote a mystery novel with her as the protagonist years ago (I recently found this novel and its actually not half bad, I just didn't have the fortitude to market it back then), and I've written short stories about her as well.

I think she's likeable.   And relatable.  But I want to make sure.  And somewhere in the dim recesses of my mind, I remembered reading a screenwriting book that had a section on making characters likeable.  So I went to my bookshelf and found Writing Screenplays That Sell by Michael Hauge, which sure enough, has a whole wonderful section on creating characters, one part of it called Establishing Character Identification.   I found his tips very helpful, and I paraphrase them here:

1.  Create sympathy for the character.  "This is by far the most effective and widely used method of creating reader identification with the hero," Hauge says.  One way to do this is to make your protaganist the victim of some undeserved misfortune.  For instance, in the novel I'm writing, my heroine gets laid off.  It could be a family member's death, a child being bullied, racism or sexism--you get the idea.

2.  Put the character in jeopardy. Thrillers and adventure tales do this well.  I see it used a lot in women's fiction when say, the protagonist's husband runs off with all the money, or she faces some other "soft" threat (as opposed to a situation in which she faces bodily harm or death).

3.  Make the character likeable.  Would that this were easy!  Hauge says that the more we like the character, the more we will identify with her and root for her throughout the story, and he names three ways to make it happen:

--Make the character a good or nice person

--Make the character funny  (too bad this didn't work better for Emma Jean--though it was her saving grace)

--Make the character good at what he or she does.

Hauge emphasizes that writers must use one of these methods to be sure you establish character identification.  And, he says, you have to do this right away!  No meandering warm-ups--let us know who your character is and why we should care about him immediately.  Here are the rest of his ways to establish identification:

4.  Introduce your protagonist as soon as possible.  Sometimes I read manuscripts that confuse me because I can't tell who I'm supposed to be rooting for.  Often writers put auxiliary characters in first.  Uh-uh.  Get your hero onstage first.

5.  Show the character in touch with his own power.  Love this one.   It can be power over other people, power to do what needs to be done, or power to express one's feelings despite what others think.  We are fascinated with power--because so many of us don't have it.

6.  Put the character in a familiar setting.  Time, place, home, and family all create a sense of familiarity.  Maybe you've never lived in or visited New York City, for instance, but you have a basic familiarity with it because you've seen it on TV and movies a gazillion times.

7. Give the character familiar flaws.  Addiction is a perennial favorite because we all know someone who has struggled with it--or perhaps you yourself have (it is a writer thing, after all).  Or, Hauge says it can be less serious, like social awkwardness or clumsiness (correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't that a trait of Bella in the Twilight series?). 

8.  Make your character a superhero.  But only if you're writing fantasy or adventure.  There's something primal about these larger-than-life figures that resonate with readers.

9.  The eyes of the reader.  Hauge says that reader identification is strengthened when we find out information at the same time as the hero.  This works great in mysteries, for example.  (And does it drive you as crazy as it drives me when we see the detective figuring out the key to the whole crime but aren't privy to it?)

That's it--the nine ways to create character identification.

News flash: a 20th anniversary edition of the afore mentioned book, Writing Screenplays That Sell, was recently published.  Hit Michael's website for more info. (I have the old version, so don't yell at me if the new one you buy isn't exactly the same.)

Also: yes I know that most of you who read this blog don't write screenplays.  But for my money, the screenplay guys (and gals) are the absolute best when it comes to structure and story.  So read them and apply it to novel or memoir writing.

Have you used any of these methods to create character identification?  What are your favorite ways to make your character relatable?


Creating Characters: Compassion and Conflict

I was quite taken with this post from Sandra Pawula on compassion when I read it last weekend. (I'm actually quite often taken with admiration for Sandra's posts.  If you haven't discovered her blog, go read it now.) Paper-pink-texture-64137-l

In the post, Sandra writes about how compassion is linked to boundless, deep love and then, and this is what really blew me away,  she defines love. "This is one truth I have come to know with certainty: When you love completely from the depth of your heart, your wish for another person’s happiness becomes greater than your own perceived needs, wants, and desires."

So, because anything I read or think about eventually gets connected to my writing, I started to think about how we authors feel deep compassion for our characters.  We fall in love with them, and want the best for them.  We want them to be happy.

But, then we have the other C word.  You know what I'm going to say: conflict.

The basis of all story is conflict (or tension, if you prefer).  In order to create a story, be it short story, memoir, or novel, there must be conflict.  And lots of it.  The more the better.

But we love our characters!  How can we show them the compassion they deserve (and in my mind, need if we're going to write them) and still create the conflict the story requires?

There's actually conflict in that there dilemma, which is a bit of a starting point.  And, I think for me it helps to remind myself that conflict is the crucible through which we deepen ourselves, our lives, and our capacity to love.  And if it's true for humans, it's true for the human characters about which we write.

In order to write multi-dimensional characters (and I just finished a novel with one-dimensional characters that ultimately disappointed me) we, their creators, must approach them with equal thought given to both conflict and compassion.

As always, I'm feeling my way through this topic as I write it, and the really juicy development of it will happen in the comments.  So, please chime in!  Do you feel compassion for your characters?  How do you bring yourself to torture them with conflict?

Photo by MeHere.


Saturday Writing Tip: Use Yourself as Inspiration for Characters

Spain_reflection_mirror_51847_lI know, duh.

Don't all writers use themselves as inspiration? (Some, such as memoir writers, obviously more than others.)

What I'm talking about today is using your own thoughts, reactions, and feelings as a springboard to create characters.

Here's how you do it:

1.  Write a journal entry as yourself

2.  Now write that same journal entry as someone else--a character you have in mind already, or someone you create off the top of your head.  Soon you'll find yourself veering from your usual voice to something completely new. 

A variation on this theme is to write (or imagine) how your character might react to a situation you find yourself in.  You're going to see a movie.  Now imagine your character going to see a movie.  Which one does she choose?  How does she get there--car, bus, bike? What is she thinking as she travels to the theater, and is the theater a funky, old one that sells pizza and wine or a huge suburban multiplex?  Is she looking forward to the movie or going because someone else is dragging her along?

These kinds of questions about your character's ordinary activities can give you a huge window of insight into her life.  Play with making this a daily practice.  Stopped at a red light, ponder what your character might be pondering.  Going grocery shopping?  Think about how your character does the same chore.

A bonus to this activity is that it is way better than worrying. When your brain turns to obsessing about your finances, or your teenage son, or your lack of a love life, stop that unfruitful line of thought and think about your character instead.  What is he worrying about? 

How do you learn more about your character's lives, inner and outer?  I'd love to hear.

By the way, I've quietly posted the info and registration details for my Get Your Novel Written Now class, which you can see here.  We'll be discussing all the things you need to have in place to write your novel, with tips, tricks and exercises such as this one.

Photo by Robin Taylor.

 


7 Ways to Get to Know Your Character

Iceland-160976-hNo matter what you're writing, memoir, fiction or even web copy, character is everything. You've got to know your character through and through in order to write successfully. This was brought home to me all over again last week, when I spent the week with my daughter and her baby and learned, first hand, what their life is like together.

It is worth it to take the time to learn more about your character.  Otherwise, you'll get midway through your novel and realize you don't understand your character's backstory and hence, her motivation.  Or you'll be rolling along on your memoir and realize there are holes where you don't know some crucial bit of a character's timeline.

So here are some of my favorite ways to advance your understanding of your characters.

1. The Basics.  You gotta know this stuff.  You know, height, weight, hair color, eyes, age, astrological sign, etc.  The absolute bedrock basics you'd know about, say, someone in your family.  Write this stuff down and keep it somewhere you can access it so your character's eyes don't change color from page 5 to page 128, when her new love is gazing into them.

2.  Timeline.  What are the big events in your character's life, and the dates of them?  Things like birth, graduation, marriage, birth of babies, and so on.  You can also do an emotional timeline of important events and put the two together.

3. Ordinary Day.  I'm big on this one, because it is deceptively helpful.  From the time your character gets up in the morning, what does he do?  Start with getting out of bed and proceed in as much detail as you can muster.  You'll learn all kinds of interesting things, because how we spend our days is how we spend our lives, as Annie Dillard says.

4.  The Interview.  Ask your character questions about her life, the way you would if you were a journalist interviewing her for an article.  This can be especially helpful to jar loose secrets, conflict, and motivation.

5.  The Dream.  Author Robert J. Ray recommends this exercise, and its a doozy.  Doesn't seem like it would be worth much, but it can help a lot.  Start by writing, in the dream.....and then keep repeating the words in the dream as you write.  It gets you into a meditative state that will reveal depths.

6.  Look at Yourself.  You can find a lot of inspiration for your characters in how you approach life.  Write a journal entry and then rewrite it in the viewpoint of your character.  See how things change or remain the same. 

7.  Examine Setting.  Landscape shapes who we are.   A character who lives in rural South Dakota has different ideas and opinions than one who lives in Manhattan.  And yet, as Janet Burroway says, setting is so much more than just landscape.  It is the house you live in, the books on your coffee table, the mug you drink coffee from.  All of these things influence our character.

So there you have it, 7 ways to look at character.  Please comment and tell me your favorite ways to uncover the secrets of your characters!

Create a successful, inspired writing life:  Take the time to get to know each of your main characters as intimately as possible.  It will save you time in the long run!

 

Photo by cogdogblog.


Do Characters (And Sentences) Belong Only To One Story?

I was writing away on my new novel when suddenly the ex-husband from a novel I'd started and abandoned walked on.

He's my new favorite character, ever, and his insistent good cheer is going to make a great counterpoint to my confused, grieving heroine.  I adore this guy.  But how weird is it that he came over from the other novel?

It felt somehow wrong at first.  Like he belonged only to the other story.  But then I started thinking about it and realized, maybe he's been lying in wait all this time for the perfect place to insert himself.  He's been waiting for his cue.

Is this weird?

Then I was sorting through old journals and found a sentence from a novel I wrote long ago, that has been lost to the sands of time: And then I watched him walk away from me one last time.  I love that line.  I know, I know, its pretty simple.  But I still love it.  And I may want to use it some day instead of burying it in a journal.

Weird?

Or normal?

Or is there a normal for writers?  Probably not.

This post is uncharacteristically short, without the usual "create a  successful, inspired writing life" tagline because I want to hear from you.  Have you had this experience?  What do you think about transferring characters or lines from story to story?  I'm all ears.

I'm hoping your responses will convince me I'm not crazy.


Tips On Writing: Prepping for the Novel, Part Three--Character

 

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Your novel is on one of these shelves!
First off, I know, I know.  I like me some convoluted headlines, don't I?  You'd think a writer would be good at firing off snappy subject lines, but alas, such is not the case with this writer. I think it's the novelist in me who loves to write long headlines.  Apologies.

 

You've landed on the third part of my series on what you need to do before you write a novel.  You can read the introduction, with a bit about tools, on this post, and part two, about the idea and the process, on Wednesday's post.

Today's post is about character.  It is one of my favorite topics when it comes to novel writing, because I'm one of those writers who believe that all story comes from character.  Years ago my dearly departed mother told me to always make sure there were people in my snapshots, because photographs without people in them are boring.  And you know what?  Unless you're looking at a shot by Ansel Adams or someone of his ilk, she's right.

Novels are about characters in action.  They are about characters in opposition.  Novels are about characters in conflict.  And so on.  Given that novels are about character, it stands to reason that when setting out to write a novel, you should know a lot about your character.  So, here goes.

Wants/Needs/Fears

A good place to start is by figuring out what your character wants.  The novelist Kurt Vonnegut once said, "always have your character want something, even if its just a glass of water."  Desire drives the world.  It will drive your character, too.  (My husband tells the story of the time we were in Paris and I found a jacket I wanted to buy.  Suddenly, my French got really good as I found words to ask for the location of the check-out stand.  My desire for the jacket overcame my fear of speaking the language.)

If you can't figure out what your character wants, maybe it is a need or fear that drives her.  If you can't figure those out, proceed with the rest of the character exercises and then start writing.  It will come to you.

Get a Visual

It can be incredibly helpful to have an image of your character in mind.  Often people begin with a photo of an actress or public figure.  This can be a great starting point, as it can help to write a description to have something to work off.  Do a search on Google Image for multiple views to put on your vision board.  Or use models from catalogs, which also afford you many photos.  Or sketch your character. 

Do a Dossier

You really need to know the nuts and bolts of your character and a bit about her background.  Consider writing the following:

Name, nickname

Age, birthdate and place

Height, weight, build, description of appearance

Marriage and family history (siblings? parents alive?)

Physical scars

Emotional scars

Educational background

Traits

Likes/dislikes

Religion

There's more you can do here, too--this is just a starting point.  As you write this, allow questions about your character to form and jot them down.  Then answer them.

Ordinary Day

What is your character's ordinary day like?  Write it out, from the time she gets up in the morning until the time she goes to sleep at night.  Where does she go?  What does she do?  Who does she see?  I learned this from a screenwriter (whose name I've forgotten) years ago.  It is amazing how useful this little writing exercise is; try it.  You'll learn a lot about your character.

These exercises ought to give you enough material to get going.  In truth, often a character pops into my head and I write a scene or two with her to see if she's got legs.  (Metaphorically, people, metaphorically.)  Once I ascertain that she does, then I return to these writing exercises to learn more about her.

Create a successful, inspired writing life: Find images to represent your character and add them to your vision board.  Then fill out a character dossier and write her ordinary day. 

Please comment.  I'd love to hear how you get to know the characters in your novels and stories.  Do you write up character dossiers?  Take them out on a date?  Interview them?  Do tell.

 PS.  Typepad's spellcheck has been wonky lately.  Forgive errors.  I've gone back over it a couple times, but something may have eluded my eagle eyes.

Photo by Alvimann. 


Writing, Life, and The C Word

Years ago, I heard Margaret Atwood speak.  She announced that she was going to share the secret to writing, and that, indeed, there really was a secret.  The audience, composed largely of writers and readers, hushed, thrilled to be present at such an important moment.  The secret to writing revealed! 

"It's conflict," Margaret Atwood hissed.  It was a pleasant hiss, but a hiss nonetheless.

And so, in case you hadn't guessed, the C word of the title is conflict, the life blood of every writer, the true beating heart of every story, just as Margaret Atwood said.

Marines_training_tank_1390113_l

And conflict is the very thing we all do our best to avoid in life.

Makes for an interesting dichotomy, doesn't it?

I'm paraphrasing here, but Kurt Vonnegut's advice to writers was to make sure your characters want something, even if its just a glass of water.  And then don't let them have it.  Because:

Desire + Obstacle to Getting It = Conflict.

It's that simple.

It is also incredibly difficult.  In all the manuscripts I read, usually the number one problem is a lack of conflict.  In all the critique groups I've been in, the number one thing we say to each other is "more conflict." 

And yet, when I coach people in non-writing endeavors, the number one thing they are trying to accomplish is to reduce the conflict in their lives, one way or another.  This brings to mind a pithy piece of advice that Julia Cameron imparts in her book, The Artist's Way: put the drama on the page.  She writes (and speaks of in person) a time when her then-husband (she doesn't name names, but it was Martin Scorcese) was gallivanting around Europe with a hot actress while she remained back home with the baby.  Fortunately, this was pre-internet days so she didn't have to see their images plastered all over TMZ.  But unfortunately, she had plenty of friends sending her newspaper clippings. Her response was to put her trauma into her creativity.

Put the drama on the page.  Makes perfect sense, doesn't it?  You need conflict in your writing and you don't need it in your life.  Simple solution: take it from your life and put it on the page.  I've had this in mind because I got Fannie Flagg's new novel for Christmas.  It's called I Still Dream About You and its pretty good.  Its a page-turner because she writes in short chapters, creates compelling characters, and most importantly, gives them plenty of conflict. I_Still_Dream_About_You

And here's the deal: her characters have fairly run-of-the-mill lives.  They aren't out saving children in Africa or cutting deals on Wall Street.  They are, except for the Little Person who becomes a real estate magnate, fairly ordinary people living in Birmingham, Alabama.  But she finds a way to create tons of conflict in the moment to moment dailiness of their lives.  And we can all learn from this.

For instance, one of the characters loves to eat and needs to lose a few pounds for her health.  She lives with her sister, who is a nurse.  And, of course, since the sister is a nurse, she's a bit of a nag about health problems.  As we first meet Brenda, she has "accidentally" eaten all of her sister's carton of ice cream, and sis is due home from work soon.  So Brenda puts a box of cheerios and some bananas in a paper bag (we know not why) and heads out the door to find a replacement carton of ice cream.  But then the first store is out of it, so she has to go to a second store, and while she's at the second store, she notices that the yogurt place next door is open so of course she has to get some, and then there's a long line...and by the time she gets home, her sister's car is in the driveway.  Ah, but never fear, she puts the ice cream carton in her purse and walks in the bag of cheerios and bananas.  When her sister asks where she was, Brenda answers that they had nothing to eat for breakfast.  See how much conflict she's managed to get into Brenda's every day life?  And that conflict keeps the reader turning pages, even just to find out if Brenda will make it home before her sister. 

The next time you're writing a scene (and this applies to non-fiction just as much) see if you can't get more conflict in.  Think about giving your character even the simplest of desires (a glass of water) and see how many obstacles you can put in her way, like Fannie Flagg does. 

Also take notice if putting the drama on the page doesn't help to relieve it in your life.  Because I think it will.   Which is why, when you fall in love with your writing, you fall in love with your life.

If you need help falling in love with your life, or your writing, check out my Get Your Writing in Gear sessions.  And if you need ongoing help, I'd love to talk to you about that, too.  Just email me at charlotte@charlotterainsdixon.com.

Photo of Marine by slagheap, from Everystockphoto.com.  I snitched the photo of the book cover from the Random House site, but I don't think they will mind, seeing as how I'm promoting their author's book.


Character Prompts

I've been struggling a bit with my new novel.  I've gotten to know my main character quite well and I adore her, with all her foibles and faults.  But, amazingly enough, she is not the only character in the novel.  I know, shocking, but there it is.  Other characters are giving themselves up to me fairly easily (there's a guy from Denmark that I'm really starting to like, too). 

However.

A very, very important character remains a mystery to me.   She's like second in importance to the main character, so I kinda need to know her.  And I've convinced myself that I kinda need to know her before I get much farther into the writing of this novel.  (Although, if I give the impression that I've made a lot of progress, that is, alas, simply not true.)

So this morning I took myself firmly in hand.  Every day this week it has been delightfully chilly in the early hours of the morning, when I rise, so I make coffee and feed the cats and then light the fire and sit by it and write.  This morning I set myself a plan for all the things I need to know before I can really let myself rip on the first draft of this story.

And chief among them is, of course, getting to know this character.  And so I wrote a list of what I'm calling character prompts, for lack of a better phrase.   I got this idea from novelist Darnell Arnoult, and I think the first two prompts on the list are hers.  The rest of them came off the top of my head, so who knows if I read them somewhere or thought them up myself.  The idea here is to set your character in motion.  You'll be amazed at how much you learn if you put your character in action using these simple prompts.

For instance, take, "reading."  Sedentary activity, right?  But also an activity that your character could do inside, outside, in bed, in a chair, on the couch, in a park, at the beach, and so on.  And then there's the kind of books the character might like, whether they are fiction or non-fiction, trashy romances or YA novels.  Or maybe she eschews books to read only on her Kindle or Ipad.  Or doesn't read books, but pores over the internet for hours.  And for each of these preferences, there's probably a back story that goes along with it, and all this adds up to a window into your character's psyche.

So here's the list of character prompts.  Feel free to add some more good ones  you think of in the comments.

Write about your character:

Under something

Fixing something

Hiding behind something

In the kitchen

In the bathroom

Watching TV

With a pet

Relaxing after work

Building something

Taking an art class

Going on a hike

Listening to a lecture

Driving a long distance

In the park

Doing laundry

Working on the computer

Doing a hobby

Building a fire

In the garden

On a boat

Reading