Character Driven Writing Exercises or the Week
This month on Write or Die Tribe we will be focusing on what we can learn from the short story. No matter what type of writer you are, good writing involves movement, pace, climax, development - all aspects we can learn from short prose.
Short stories are great for helping develop plot and pacing since the writer has to get this done in 20 pages, as apposed to a 300 page within a novel. This allows the writer to focus on the important parts of a story, only telling the reader what they need to know in order to move the story along.
Reading short stories is just as important as writing them if you want to try and develop your writing. Every piece of writing advice ever will tell you that you need to read to become a better writer. Sometimes short stories are even better than novels to help develop your skills. Just as with writing short stories, reading them can help you get a feel for pacing and plot development. You can see how the writers weave together complete characters in such small spaces.
For week 1, this is exactly what we will be focusing on: characters. And in my opinion, the fun part. I will also be including some suggested reading to keep you inspired and learning. These exercises are designed to keep you writing, of course, but the goal is also to help you develop memorable characters, especially if you are writing a character-driven story as opposed to a plot driven one.
Each prompt is made to help you get the know them, explore their emotional states, their surroundings, their home lives, their desires, their opinions.
Character is a type of action as people are defined by what they do. We learn about characters by the choices they make. A great story is often one where the characters make defining choices that move the plot forward. A plot point that happens because someone we care about has decided something is usually superior to one where a random thing drops out of the sky.
Day 1: Opinions
You might feel reluctant to give your characters strong opinions. You might see strong opinions as a flaw, but remember, flaws in fiction are good.
I came across a popular example to explain this point further: “ In the opening pages of Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, the protagonist, Jake Barnes, does nothing but tell all about another character, Robert Cohn, giving opinion after opinion. From the way Jake describes Robert and his accomplishments, we learn some things about Robert, but we learn a lot more about the way Jake thinks. He clearly despises Robert, yet we soon see that the men are also friends, at least of a sort. We sense that they may become rivals. Why? We want to keep reading to find out.”
For this exercise, write about your characters fatal flaws. What do they feel strongly about? What do they love with passion, or hate with an equal amount of fire?
Try writing just a paragraph today. Just get something on the page!
Day 2: Love Triangle
Our emotions are not rational, and our relationships aren’t, either. This is why romantic obsession is a terrifically handy tool for the writer. If you aren’t interested in romance, remember that sexual attraction is a great motivator of millions of bad decisions. Or it can also be a salvation of sorts.
Consider adding a love triangle of sorts to your two main characters and see what happens.
The third party doesn’t even have to be human; it can be an animal, a career, an addiction, a call to adventure, an obligation...anything that gets in the way of the cozy picture you began with.
Day 3: Introspection and Ambiguity
Every story needs some kind of suspense and introspection can be just that. It is also the easiest way to develop your character’s relationships.
But instead of having your character lay everything they think out on the table, consider creating a little ambiguity.
Everybody instinctively understands there’s more than meets the eye. In every adult, there’s a bit of a child. In every cop, there’s a bit of a criminal. In every sadist, there’s a bit of a masochist. And in every human, there’s a bit of a beast—and a bit of a god. Use that knowledge to your advantage.
Explore this today. Write about your character’s inner thought but leave some of the juicy bits out. See if this creates suspense. See if it could leave your reader thirsty for more.
Day 4: Connective Tissue
Connective tissue refers to the small moments that you hardly notice, that help you see how the characters are progressing on their way to the next big stand-out moment. Remember, big moments have to feel earned.
Use what you wrote yesterday, on introspection, and find the bits of connective tissue that can drive your plot.
Or if you did not write yesterday, try to work on some small moments now that will lead to your climax later.
Day 5: Interactions
Let your characters approach others, glance off them, then continue on different trajectories. After all, this is what happens in real life. It’s all in the relationships.
When crafting your characters’ relationships, let the yin-yang symbol be your guide. No relationships are clear-cut, nor are any one-sided. Love can have a little fear within it, or even hate.
If you spend some time thinking about relationships in this way, you’ll see opportunities to develop your characters further. Because characters are people, just like us.
Relationships reveal the various roles we play, the ever-changing masks we all wear, and the yearnings that expose our hearts.
Day 6: Bonus
I came across a prompt on Poets & Writers that I thought it would be fun to rework to align with our character exercises. You’ve done a lot of work this week so this is your fun prompt.
Think of a color that you would associate with one of your main or favorite characters. Write series of short vignettes dedicated to this specific hue.
What memories or emotions come to them when they see this color?
Is there a theme?
Consider Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Theory of Colors for inspiration.