What’s in your bag?

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The most interesting characters come alive in the smallest details: a favourite food, a favourite type of music, a fear of spiders, an allergy to plums, a scar from a fall at two years of age, a love of reality television. These details are what makes a character three dimensional and human.

They may seem mundane, but think about what defines you as a person. Is it the grand events in your life, or the day to day? These details of the small add a layered richness beyond the world of the story. The more you know about your characters, the deeper the well you have to draw from, the more specifically you can write for them.

This character development exercise will allow you to create the details of the small for your characters.

What’s In Your Bag?

Empty out the bag you use most regularly, whatever you take with you when you go out. If you don’t carry a bag, think about how you carry what’s necessary to get through the day – what’s in your pockets?

Look at the bag itself. Why did you choose it? How long have you had it? Do you need a new one?

Write out in a point form list each item in that bag. And then answer the following questions:

  • Why do you carry each item?
  • What purpose does it hold in your life?
  • Is there anything emotional in your bag?
  • Is everything in your bag strictly functional?
  • Is there anything in your bag that shouldn’t be?

Once you’ve answered all the questions, look back at what you’ve written. What does your bag say about you? What is expected about your answers? Was there anything unexpected?

Now, apply these steps to the main character in whatever project you are working on. Give this character a bag.

  • What does the bag look like?
  • Why does the character carry this bag?
  • If the character wouldn’t carry a bag, create the reason why.
  • How do they carry what’s necessary for their day?
  • Is this character the type of person who can’t leave the house without a huge bag?
  • Is there a job related to the bag?
  •  What does this bag tell you about this character?

Once you’ve established the bag itself, make a point for list of the items in the bag. And then answer the following:

  • What do the items in the bag help the character to do? 
  • Based on what you know of the character, what items in the bag are expected?
  • Put one thing in the bag which is unexpected.
  • What does that unexpected item say about the character?

If you want to go further, write a scene involving this character and their bag.

Exploring the world of the small in your characters is always going to give you a wealth of material to work with.

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?

 

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.

Playwriting Exercise: The Office

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What does your office look like? Does your office represent you or your work? Are you devoid from your office? Or do offices make your skin crawl? Does the thought of being in the same room from 9 to 5 eat away at your soul?

This Imagur album shows people in their offices around the world. Not just the shiny Wall street office. But offices from Russia, Liberia, India, Bolivia, France and more.

I think one of the comments says it best: “No matter where you are in the world, the look of silent desperation of having to work in an office is identical.”

Exercise

Go through the pictures and choose three. Do the following for each picture.

  1. Automatic write on this picture. What comes to mind when you look at it? Don’t self-judge or critique your thoughts, get them on the page.
  2. Describe this office using the five senses. What does it smell like, what are the sounds?
  3. Who is the person in this office? What do they do? How long have they been at this job?
  4. Write the internal monologue for this person. In this moment, what are they thinking? Where are they in their heads? Where do they long to be?
  5. Don’t be bound by the look on their face. Some people put up a wall when they’re in a place they hate. Think about what’s going on behind the wall.

Have you Ever Tried to Write Wrong?

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We’re all so concerned with being right. Our writing has to be perfect. It has to have the right beginning and the right ending. The characters have to be exactly right. If our work isn’t right, then we’re wrong, we’re a failure, we’re bad.

But is that really true? Is it so bad to write wrong? To try to write in the wrong direction?

Have you ever tried to take your writing in the wrong direction on purpose?

I heard a story attributed to Quincy Jones (I know it’s ridiculous to say it like that but I wanted to be clear I’m adding on to something I heard elsewhere) where he told a group of acting students just that. “Have you ever tried to take your work as far wrong as possible? Have you ever tried to see the beauty of being wrong once you’re there? Have you ever tried to go wrong, enjoy the experience and then figure out the steps to make it right?”

These are all fabulous questions for all of us in the creative field. I tell students all day long – it’s ok to fail, we learn from our mistakes not from our successes, we have to fail – and yet it’s the hardest thing to do. We live in a world of right and wrong where right is good and wrong is bad. And it’s especially hard in that world where everything is recorded and broadcast to fail safely. How can a playwright try something out in front of an audience without the worry of being told they’re wrong?

And yet, I love the concept of “find the beauty in being wrong. Enjoy the experience of being wrong and then find your way back.”

Use this concept as an 2nd draft exercise.

If you’re working on a piece and it’s not going well stop trying to find the right answer.  Take a character in the absolute wrong direction. Have them do things you know this character would never do. Have this character steal something. Stalk someone. Take drugs. Have this character kill another character and deal with the after math. Stop trying to figure out the problems in the plot and throw more problems in. Make a mess and then step back.

You may find the answer you never knew you were looking for. You may find that being wrong is the exact right thing to do. And at the very least you’ll have a creative experience. We spend too much time trying to be right with our writing.

Spend some time being absolutely wrong.

 

 

Write Now. Day Seven.

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Don’t leave the words in your head. Don’t self-censor. Don’t wait for your writing to be pretty and perfect.  Don’t say, “I’ll write when I have something good.” You could be waiting forever. Bad writing is writing. Ugly writing is writing.  Bad and Ugly writing is awesome because it’s better than no writing at all. You can fix bad and ugly.  You can change bad and ugly.  So get at it. Write. Now.

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 Day Seven

 

 

 

Write Now. Day Six.

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Don’t let the blank page win. It’s easy to. It’s easy to stare at that blank page and worry about what you’re going to put on it. What if you do it wrong? What if nobody likes it? Guess what, you will do it wrong and yes someone will hate it. So what? Is that going to stop you? Are you going to let them stop you from writing?  Stop thinking and start writing. Write. Now.

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 Day Six