Would you name a character Tundra?

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How do you name your characters? Baby books? Online baby name sites? Do your character names have meaning? Do you fit a name to a character like a leather glove? Do you agonize forever over your character names or do they come easily?

Recently I named a character Tundra. Just as an experiment, to see what kind of character I would create based on such an….unusual name. It was very exciting! (not skydiving, but you know what I mean) I had this full blown image of this woman – her life, her posture, her way of speaking. All from a name.

How clearly can you see your characters?

Exercise

Here are five names. Based solely on the name, use the Character Profile Questions below to create a character. When you read the name, who comes to life for you? 

▪ Aristotle Lutsky
▪ Kennedy McIntosh (a girl)
▪ Hank Walker Jr.
▪ Wynter Lockwood-Sinclair
▪ Juan Diego “Gato” Velasquez

Character is King

Character, character, character. If you’re writing a play your characters must be king. They are the conduit between your work and the audience. How much do you know about your characters? Do you know their background? Their personal beliefs? How does their personality find it’s way into the dialogue? How does their personality affect the conflict? Answer the following questions about your character:

Character Questions

Name:

Gender:

Age:

Nationality:

Physical Attributes:

Best Personality Trait:

Worst Personality Trait:

Relationship Status:

Job:

Financial Status:

Level of Education:

Home Town:

Where They Live Now:

Living Environment: (how do they keep their home)

The People:

Family Origins:

 

Thinking is Writing

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Getting words on the page is vital. If you leave words in your brain, you can’t move forward. 

Writers write, that’s what we do. Words on the page should be your mantra, especially if you’re having difficulty writing consistently. Words on the page makes your writing tangible and concrete.

But rules are meant to be broken. I fully believe in getting words on the page. But sometimes a good think is necessary.

This isn’t general thinking. “I should write something.”  This is specific focused thinking about a work in progress where you let ideas, characters, questions, and plot points run around your brain.

I think a lot when I’m in the middle of a play. It’s an active part of my process because the work is always with me – when I’m grocery shopping, when I’m getting ready in the morning, when I’m trying to sleep at night. I like to have a constant connection with my writing even when I’m not in front of my laptop.

Get your think on

Talk to yourself. Talk yourself through a plot hole. Imagine a conversation with your main character. Imagine the play is being staged, what does it look like, what are the most effective parts? Use your think time to visualize what you’re working on.

Ask questions. Ask questions and come up with a couple different answers. Ask yourself What if? If you give yourself a structure to your think time (like asking and answering questions) it’ll feel less like a free for all and you may indeed solve problems more quickly.

Sometimes you’ve exhausted your time with the page. You’ve written down so many words and none of them are right. You can’t figure out where to go next. Change the method.  Take a comfortable seat, close your eyes and connect to your thoughts. 

My favourite think time is when I’m walking. If I’m stuck and frustrated,  a walk often does the trick. I can let my brain go wild and get some much needed fresh air. Nine times out of ten,  the problem I couldn’t write my way out of unravels itself easily.

And then what?

Write it down. Always have a pen and paper  nearby, or put an ap on your phone (like Google Keep) where you can type in your notes. Thinking is good, and if it leads to writing, even better.

Are you a thinker? If you are, don’t shy away from it because of any “how to write” rule. Make it work for you, make it part of your process. Use every tool at your disposal to get that draft done.

 

Discipline = Feedom

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Do you believe this? What does it mean? Are you a disciplined writer? If you’re writing every day then yes you are discipline – forget how long. It doesn’t matter how long you write.  Unless you have a deadline, the time you write in a session is less important than the number of sessions you rack up.

If you don’t like the word “disciplined” how about consistent? It’s the same thing. Because you will become a consistent writer if you write every day. Not only that, your brain will get used to the idea that it has to come up with ideas on a consistent basis. It will become easier for you to find your creative path. Creativity will become the norm. Isn’t that what you’ve always wanted?

Ten Automatic Writing Prompts

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Start the new year off right…. and write! Sit down right now and use one of these automatic writing prompts. Before you start writing with purpose, warm up. Get your brain used to the idea of writing. Give yourself a small win. Get words on the page in a warm up and it will be easier to do when you start on your project.

Automatic Writing

The goal is simple. Give yourself a topic and a time limit. 2 minutes works well. Write for the entire time limit without stopping. If you don’t really like the topic, write about that. If you get stuck, write about being stuck. If you have to repeat the words “I am stuck” over and over you have fulfilled the exercise. This is an act of writing exercise not a content exercise. All you have to do is get words on the page.

Ten Automatic Writing Prompts

  1. What makes you happy?
  2. What did you do last night?
  3. My ideal day is…
  4. The greatest superhero power is…
  5. The thing that makes me angry is…
  6. Is TV bad for you? Why or why not?
  7. Friendship
  8. If I ran the world I would…
  9. Smoking
  10. I firmly believe that…

 

 

 

 

The Ten Best Writing Warm Ups

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Every writer needs to warm up. We need to get that brain into writing mode, make sure the muscles are limber and ready to get to work.

I use warm ups especially when I don’t feel like writing. Instead of walking away from my desk, I do an exercise. Nine times out of ten by the time I’m done my warm up, I’ve changed my tune.

Here is my top ten list of writing warm up exercises. Do one every day before you start a project. Or, do one every day when you don’t have anything to write about. You’ll still be working on your craft, you’ll still be moving forward. It’s all writing.

TOP TEN WARM UP WRITING EXERCISES

1. Automatic Writing
I talked about this one a couple of weeks ago. Give yourself a time limit, a topic and go. Don’t stop, don’t self-censor, get those words on the page.

2. Personify an Object
If you ever have trouble creating characters, use this exercise. Take an object – a discarded coke can, a rock, a toy car – and get specific with it. If that object could talk, what would it think? What does it do all day? Write an inner monologue for this object. Write a character profile for them.

3. Prompt – picture, headline, object
Start collecting items to use as a prompt. Look at a picture and as a warm up exercise, ask 10 questions about that picture. Writing is all about the specifics and questions are a great way to dive deep. Focus on the who, what, where, when, why? And then try to answer those questions. There’s no right or wrong here, the best answer is the one you come up with.

4. Play a piece of music and write
We all need different stimuli to work. Some respond really well to music – do you? Throw on a piece of music at random and start automatic writing. What characters come to mind? What emotions does the music stir up? What locations do you visualize?

5. What’s going on outside your window
Easiest warm up ever. Every day look out your window and write down your observations. Be specific. Don’t just focus on what you see. What else is there?

6. Write a description of an object or person
Again it’s all about being specific. Take one person and describe them in utmost detail. Describe them using the five senses. Find the one word that describes them perfects. The one action that would tell a stranger everything.

7. Write a response to something you read, a tv show/movie you saw, a play you attended.
Your point of view and your opinion are useful writing tools. Start developing them in full. Watch a tv show and then write down your response. Go beyond “I like, I didn’t like.” Get specific with what’s happening, why you react in a certain way, who are the characters.

8. The Half page monologue
Monologues are key to the theatrical form. Get in the habit of writing them. Go to google news, find a headline, decide on a character who comes from that headline and write a half page monologue for that character. No more though, this is just a warm up.

9. The one location two person scene
After the monologue you need to become an expert on the two person, one location scene. For warm ups, stick to a page. Take two characters put them in a room and have them talk to each other. Define the relationship, define the want. Which one will leave at the end of the page?

10. Write in a specific form
Warm ups are a great place to experiment and explore. On Monday, write your one location two person scene. On Tuesday re-write the scene as a historical romance. On Wednesday, try absurd. Thursday, make it a children’s show. Friday, a musical.

 

Use Fear For Good In Your Work

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What do your characters fear?

Fear is such a wonderful motivator for characters – with both positive and  negative connotations.  Nine times out of ten when a character reacts out of fear it’s going to be worth watching. Fear is captivating because it’s a primal human emotion: Do you know someone who won’t do something because of fear? Who won’t get on stage, or get on an airplane? Who won’t make life changes because they fear the outcome? And on the other side, do you know someone who works to counter a fear – a fear of turning out like their parents? Or a fear of becoming poor? And what about that climactic moment when a character decides to stand up and face their fear? What an exciting moment! When they stand up to their overbearing boss, or jump off the cliff, or walk out the door. The possibilities are endless. These are the traits that make characters three-dimensional and interesting.

Exercise:

It’s important to know what your characters fear, even if it never directly ends up in your script. It will definitely effect how they act in your work and how you write for them. Knowing what your characters fear will make your writing specific, and that never hurts. Take your main character and answer the following questions:

  • What does this character fear?
  • What is the origin of this fear?
  • How do they act when they think about this fear?
  •  How does the fear affect this character’s life?
  • Does any other character know about this fear? Does that bother your main character?
  • Will this character ever be free of this fear? Why or why not?

 

How do you define success?

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If you’re reflecting back at the year that just happened and thinking about the year ahead, it’s inevitable you’re going to consider success and failure. Maybe it’s been a year where there have been more of one than the other. This may be uplifting or send you in a down ward spiral.

If you’re in reflection mode and planning mode it’s vital that you determine this one thing:

What is success?

You not only need to define this for yourself, you need to write it down. Put it somewhere safe (and that you can remember) so you can return to this definition on an annual basis.

It’s important to define success for yourself because there is no one definition. Not in the arts.

An actor can work on TV or on the stage or in movies. Which is the definition of success? Is it TV or movies? Is getting awards the definition of success? Is it money? Is it getting an agent? Is it acting on stage on a regular basis?

A writer can write novels, plays, or screen plays. Which is the definition of success? Is it writing every day? Is it getting a book deal? Is it being produced on Broadway?

Further to that, you can’t define your success on the success of others. This is a trap. As a young playwright I made this mistake time and time again. I lived a bitter life because I looked at the success of other writers and I defined myself on those successes. If I didn’t get what they had, I was a failure. But when I defined success for myself I realized I didn’t really want what they had.

What is success?

When you define success you have a goal. If you have a goal, you can create action steps toward that goal. Steps are important. You don’t want to leave your goals in dream land. “I wish I could do this…. I would love to be that….”

Don’t dream about success. Write down your definition. Take action.

Reflect back. Face forward.

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December is here! That means the end of the year is right around the corner. Are you ready to tackle 2015?

I know you just got your Christmas decorations up. But now is the time (and not in January) to figure out what worked this past year, what changes need to be implemented, and what projects are on the table for the year ahead.

That’s right. You should be planning your whole year, right now.

There was a time when I had no idea what was going to happen from week to week, let alone year to year. Planning a year in advance is actually quite freeing. It not only lets me know when I’m doing certain thing but when I’m not doing things. For example, I have a new play development workshop in the spring and I’ll be writing a new play in the summer/fall. By planning those events in my calendar now, I’ll be able to see when I have free time and when I’ll have to say no to new projects.

It’s not perfect, and there are always the snags that life throws in. I had a number of different plans for 2014 – which was actually my biggest misstep – too many projects. I’ll be amending that for 2015.

Reflect Back

Reflect back on your writing life in 2014. What happened? What were your successes? What failures can you learn from and change? Did you take on too much? Did you plan to finish something and life got in the way?

Face Forward

Now what do you want to happen in 2015? Don’t get bogged down by what you didn’t do or didn’t accomplish this year. Face forward. Look ahead. Where are you going? What do you want to do? What are five steps you can take to make this happen?

 

 

A picture tells a thousand words

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I came across some pretty haunting pictures that are ideal for a writing prompt.

Click here to see the faces of soldiers before, during and after war. The pictures are over at upworthy.com. I keep going back to the look in their eyes in the after pictures. What have those eyes seen? How have they changed? Each face tells a story. It’s one I probably could never imagine in my nightmares. But this is what writers do, isn’t it. Imagine what we have not lived.

Exercise
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Look through the sets of pictures and pick one man. Decide on who this soldier is, write a brief character profile for them. What’s their name? How old are they? What’s their background? Where do they come from? How long have they been a soldier? Where are they coming back from? Are they married? What does their family think of war?

Write a monologue of your character as they are before war, during war, and after. It could be an inner monologue or a direct address. Decide who they are talking to in the monologue and what is it they want to say. What is the inciting incident for the monologue? What’s the reason they open their mouth and talk? What’s something they could say in a monologue that they could never repeat out loud? In that after monologue what has caused that look in their eye?

In a month where we are supposed to remember and more often than not I’m too busy, these pictures say a lot.