Developing Character

facesJune 20, 2014.  Prompt #50

To write effectively about characters, it’s crucial to thoroughly develop their fictional lives. Once you have a clear sense of who they are, you’ll be able to better write dialogue for them and describe their gestures, expressions, and habits. How does your character entertain herself, how does he dress, what does she like to eat? Even though you won’t directly incorporate every fact you develop for your character, establishing a strong background deepens all facets of your story.

Instructions

  1. Choose a character from a story you are writing. This exercise can also work for a non-fiction essay.
  2. In a few words or single sentence, answer the 20 questions below about your character. Feel free to change pronouns or details accordingly. Write for 20 minutes.
  3. Here are the questions:
  • Your character’s most prized personal possession is
  • Your character’s favorite color
  • Your character’s favorite holiday
  • Person he loves the most
  • Friends she most respects
  • What people like about her
  • His greatest fear
  • Cruelest thing she has ever done
  • What he most regrets
  • Is she a planner or spontaneous?
  • Her fantasy is to…
  • The most damaging this that ever happened to him was
  • How much money does she have in her savings account
  • He brags about…
  • She is afraid that people will find out…
  • He lives in an apartment, condo, tract house, farm house, restored bungalow, on the streets, or ….?
  • What he most dislikes about his appearance
  • Her most treasured memory
  • He drinks what kind of beer, wine, or juice?
  • The only thing she ever stole was…

Further Writing

  • Expand one of your answers above. Write a 10-minute short prose piece.
  • In your short prose piece, circle 20 words that stand out for you.  Shape these words into a poem, adding additional words as needed.

Variations for Writing Groups

  1. Each writing group member writes down two questions about a character at the top of a blank sheet of paper. For instance, What is the one thing your character does secretly? Describe their pet. or She will lie when…
  2. Mix up the papers and then choose one at random.
  3. Write a one paragraph response to each question. Write for 20 minutes.

Looking ahead

Two of next week’s prompts will focus on editing and revision.  To prepare, find a story, poem, or essay to revisit.  You can use a rough draft or a polished piece with which you are willing to experiment.

 

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Picture {Postcard} Perfect

June 19, 2014.  Prompt #49

denver2Today’s prompt may take you to places unknown.

Have a marvelous journey.

 

 

Instructions

  1. Do you have a collection of old travel postcards?  If so, choose one for this prompt.
  2. If not, in Google image, Flickr, or another image search, type “travel postcards.” Choose a postcard image from it.
  3. Write down thoughts and sensations inspired by the postcard. Write for 10 minutes.
  4. Rewrite your last line on the top of a new page. Write for 15 minutes.

Further Writing

  • Postcards are known for limited space.  Write a haiku elicited by the postcard.
  • Imagine you sent this postcard. What would you have written on the back? Who would you have sent it to? What would you have told them to console them, to lure them, or to make them jealous?

Variations for Writing Groups

  1. Postcards often offer a candy-coated version of what they depict. Write a short prose piece (200 words or less) either building on this lie or debunking it. Start the piece with three adjectives in a row.
  2. Bring a postcard to your group and have everyone write a poem or short prose piece based on it. Write for 10 minutes.
  3. Share your work. Do common themes emerge?
  4. Repeat the prompt with another postcard.

Next Week

Two of next week’s prompts will focus on editing and revision.  To prepare, find a story, poem, or essay to revisit.  You can use a rough draft or a polished piece with which you are willing to experiment.

 

Streets and Neighborhoods

June 18, 2014.  Prompt #48

hettieI’ve been reading the intriguing memoir How I Became Hettie Jones.  A poet, story-writer, and the first wife of Amiri Baraka, Hettie Jones offers fresh, non-glorifying insights of her Bohemian years in New York City as part of the male-dominated Beat Generation. The book’s sections have titles such as Morton Street, Twentieth Street and Cooper Square, all neighborhoods in New York. For today’s prompt, we’ll look at your own personal history of streets and neighborhoods.

 

Instructions

  1. Choose a street or neighborhood from your past. It may be one in which you lived or one you frequently visited. (Feel free to work with a fictional setting as well. It may strengthen your overall story, novel or poem.)
  2. For 10 minutes, write down words and short phrases that come to mind when you think of this home or neighborhood. Try to include a variety of recollections — from physical descriptions, to the people who frequented the area, to your state of mind when living there. In addition to the who, what, where, try to catch the vibe of this time in your life. For instance, if I chose my my second home in Boulder, I might write: University Avenue 23 years old. Intermittent irrigation ditch. Worn oak floors.  Four housemates. Minimum wage job. Endless notes plastered on the refrigerator. Walking the neighborhood that first summer evening, enchanted, alive. A time of great possibility.
  3. Read what you’ve written and circle three phrases that stand out for you.
  4. Write one of those phrases on top of a new piece of paper. Write in response to it for 20 minutes.

Further Writing

  • Describe how the home’s physical appearance mirrored or contradicted your experience there.
  • Write about your neighborhood during two different seasons or during two distinct time periods.

Variation for Writing Groups

  1. Walk together in a neighborhood for a half hour, making notes of what you see and hear there. Bring in sensory detail, noting overall impressions and specific details, such as a red door, a broken branch, a water glass left on a stoop, a tricycle in a driveway, a woman weeding a patch of day lilies.
  2. Write a short, fictional account of an interaction of two people (or perhaps a person and an animal) in the neighborhood. Write for 20 minutes.

Reminder: Next Week

Two of next week’s prompts will focus on editing and revision.  To prepare, find a story, poem, or essay to revisit.  You can use a rough draft or a polished piece with which you are willing to experiment.

 

By The Sea

June 17, 2014.  Prompt #47

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I’ve been steadily editing a novel of mine that takes place at a beach. Even while I am typing away here in landlocked Colorado, much of my brain has relocated to a Jersey Shore beach town circa 1993.

For today’s prompt, therefore, we’ll work with words associated with oceans, bays, beaches and shorelines. May a wave of creativity wash over you.

(For those of you who have been reading this blog closely, you’ll see this is a variation on the post “Plant.”)

 

Instructions

  1. Choose nine words from this list: bay, beach, boat, bob, breakers, bright, brisk, dive, dolphin, dunes, fish, foot prints, kite, life guard, nap, salt, sand, shell, shore, swim, tan, tide, umbrella, wave.
  2. Using the nine words and others of your own, write a nine line poem.
  3. Write for 9 minutes.

Further Writing

  • Use the same nine words and write a piece that has nothing to do with beaches. Write for 15 minutes.
  • Choose one of the verbs from the list and use it in a poem or piece of short prose nine times. Vary it at least three times, using different forms of the verb.  For instance, if you choose dive, try using also using dives, diving, dove, or diver. Write for 15 minutes.

Variation for Writing Groups

  1. Choose one or two words from the list which are both noun and verb. Play with those combinations in a short piece. This is a chance to use repetition in a deliberate way. Write for 15 minutes.
  2. Choose words from the lists that have more than one definition, such as wave, bob, shell, or tan. Write a piece that makes use of their multiple meanings.
  3. Read your writing out loud. What do you notice about its rhythm and pacing?

Next Week

Two of next week’s prompts will focus on editing and revision.  To prepare, find a story, poem, or essay to revisit.  You can use a rough draft or a polished piece with which you are willing to experiment.

 

Self Reflection

June 14, 2014.  Prompt #45

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All photos by Lori

Recently, my good friend Lori visited Chicago’s famous “Cloud Gate” sculpture,  affectionately known as “The Bean” by locals. Designed by Anish Kapoor, this bulging, looming, delightful public artwork reflects on levels. Its mirror finish reflects the buildings, plaza, and sky around it. It reflects the crowds of people looking at it. In turn, its viewers reflect upon it and upon themselves.

 

Prompt #1:  Finding Yourself in A Crowd.

  1. With Cloud Gate’s curves, its reflections distort the crowd gazing upon it. This makes it a (fun) challenge to find yourself and your friends in the giant mirror. Lori wrote, ” I found myself not where I expected to be.”
  2. Write about a character’s sense (or your own sense) of  a) being lost in a crowd, b) being buoyed up by a crowd or c) being changed by a crowd. Be as literal or symbolic as you wish.  Write for 10 minutes.

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Prompt #2:  Mirror Image

  1. A mirror, of course, shows us the reverse of ourselves. Add in the bends and bulges of Cloud Gate and its not surprising that you might find yourself reflecting, as Lori did, on identity. Who is this altered, amended, distorted, or perhaps, freed you?
  2. Write an mini-autobiography of yourself with a few changes regarding your history, appearance, temperament, beliefs, or life experiences. Write for 10 minutes.
  3. Circle a phrase or sentence that stands out for you. Write it on the top of a fresh peice of paper and write for 15 more minutes.

 

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Prompt #3: Reflect Upon Self

  1. With writing group friends or alone, find a place (such as reflective street-level windows or dressing room mirrors) where you can stand among others, either strangers or friends.
  2. A few questions to consider:
    • What makes you unique?
    • What connects you to others?
    • How does your body define you?
    • How do you define your body?
    • Who are you without your body?
    • What is self?
    • What is Self?

    Write for 15 minutes.

 

 

Run Away

June 14, 2014.  Prompt #45

WritIMG_0676e about running away.

Instructions

  1. Write about an actual act or a symbolic one.
  2. Write a true story, a fantasy, or a fictional account.
  3. Consider how running away might vary for a child, teenager, or adult.

 

 

 

Further Writing

  • Write a list of 6 things that you (or your character) plan to take with you when you run away. Build this list into your story or essay.
  • Turn your list into a prose poem.

Variation for Writing Groups

  1. On one set of cards, briefly describe a catalyst for running away. It can be serious (spouse abuse or other dangers at home) or lighter (broken vase, forgetting a birthday, boredom at the office).
  2. On a second set of cards, describe a setting (i.e, the bank of creek, a bus station, the sidewalk outside Liquor Mart.)
  3. On a third set of cards, write an exclamatory phrase, such as Not again!  Hot damn!  All Aboard!  or Keep Out!)
  4. Place the cards in separate piles on the table, either face up or face down. Each writer chooses one card from each pile, intentionally or randomly.
  5. Use the exclamatory phrase as your opening line. Incorporate the setting and situation and write from there. Write for 20 minutes.

 

Thirteen

June 13, 2014.  Prompt #44

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In honor of Friday the 13th, here’s a lucky writing prompt.

Instructions

  1. Write about a superstition that you believe in, don’t believe in, or are on the fence about.
  2. Write for 13 minutes.

Further Writing

  • Make up a superstition. Give it history or cultural background.
  • Write convincingly why we should believe in a superstition that, in reality, you don’t take seriously. Or the opposite.

Variation for Writing Groups

  1. On index cards, write a short description of an existing superstition or one you’ve constructed. For instance, It is unlucky to walk under a ladder. It is lucky to see two magpies together. If it rains on your eighth birthday, you will be prosperous in life.
  2. Place the cards face down. Choose one randomly and write about a character who challenges the superstition. Write for 13 minutes.
  3. Research superstitions from cultures not your own. Write about one for 13 minutes.

13ballFinally, if you drop your pen while you are writing, spin it 3 times on the floor while repeating the word “demiurgic” the entire time it is spinning. This will welcome back the creative spirits.