Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A character's random beginning

Historic LOLs
This is part of an exercise we did at a NaNoWriMo planning party. I tried to get it done before NaNo started but obvious failure.

First, we generated a random job. Which is the part that bogged me down for this post. But someone else has done a much better job using the data I was going to use:

Modern Job Title/Occupation Selector and Random Generator. You can go directly to Option #2 to generate random occupations.

There's also the Bullshit Job Title generator.

If those are a bit too real world for you, Seventh Sanctum has a Skills, Abilities and Traits generator. (As well as a billion other speculative fiction friendly generators.)

Second, generate one or more personal interests. More is not necessarily better! One or two is enough to provide character without feeling crowded. You can choose them from the same generator or different ones.

Third, generate the first letter of first and last names. (Or whatever number of names you'd like to give your character.

Now, come up with a name that relates in some way to the occupation or hobby.

Fourth, quiz your character. In general, I think character questionnaires can lead you to the false conclusion that the more details, the richer the character.

What helped with this questionnaire is it was done as an interview with a partner. The advantage is you're put on the spot to come up with an answer that somewhat makes sense but you can't think about it too much! What it can yield are some unexpected contrasts and connections.

Get your mom to ask. Skype with your NaNo buddy. Or imagine a reporter asking you these questions. The goal is to do them quickly with a bit of thought. The quiz is from the Gotham Writer's Workshop.

Character Questionnaire 1

This questionnaire is found in Gotham Writers’ Workshop’s Writing Fiction.

You might start with questions that address the basics about a character:

• What is your character’s name? Does the character have a nickname?

• What is your character’s hair color? Eye color?

• What kind of distinguishing facial features does your character have?

• Does your character have a birthmark? Where is it? What about scars? How did he get them?

• Who are your character’s friends and family? Who does she surround herself with? Who are the people your character is closest to? Who does he wish he were closest to?

• Where was your character born? Where has she lived since then? Where does she call home?

• Where does your character go when he’s angry?

• What is her biggest fear? Who has she told this to? Who would she never tell this to? Why?

• Does she have a secret?

• What makes your character laugh out loud?

• When has your character been in love? Had a broken heart?

Then dig deeper by asking more unconventional questions:

• What is in your character’s refrigerator right now? On her bedroom floor? On her nightstand? In her garbage can?

• Look at your character’s feet. Describe what you see there. Does he wear dress shoes, gym shoes, or none at all? Is he in socks that are ratty and full of holes? Or is he wearing a pair of blue and gold slippers knitted by his grandmother?

• When your character thinks of her childhood kitchen, what smell does she associate with it? Sauerkraut? Oatmeal cookies? Paint? Why is that smell so resonant for her?

• Your character is doing intense spring cleaning. What is easy for her to throw out? What is difficult for her to part with? Why?

• It’s Saturday at noon. What is your character doing? Give details. If he’s eating breakfast, what exactly does he eat? If she’s stretching out in her backyard to sun, what kind of blanket or towel does she lie on?

• What is one strong memory that has stuck with your character from childhood? Why is it so powerful and lasting?

• Your character is getting ready for a night out. Where is she going? What does she wear? Who will she be with?

Character Questionnaire 2

This questionnaire was invented by the noted French author Marcel Proust. These questions are frequently used in interviews so you may want to pretend you’re interviewing your characters.

• What do you consider your greatest achievement?

• What is your idea of perfect happiness?

• What is your current state of mind?

• What is your favorite occupation?

• What is your most treasured possession?

• What or who is the greatest love of your life?

• What is your favorite journey?

• What is your most marked characteristic?

• When and where were you the happiest?

• What is it that you most dislike?

• What is your greatest fear?

• What is your greatest extravagance?

• Which living person do you most despise?

• What is your greatest regret?

• Which talent would you most like to have?

• Where would you like to live?

• What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

• What is the quality you most like in a man?

• What is the quality you most like in a woman?

• What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

• What is the trait you most deplore in others?

• What do you most value in your friends?

• Who is your favorite hero of fiction?

• Whose are your heroes in real life?

• Which living person do you most admire?

• What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

• On what occasions do you lie?

• Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

• If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

• What are your favorite names?

• How would you like to die?

• If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?

• What is your motto?

Sunday, October 28, 2012

"I set myself 600 words ..."

600 words wouldn't cut it for National Novel Writing Month where the minimum is 1667 words a day if you want t o make it to 50,000 by the end of November, but Arthur Hailey did manage to write some pretty big books on just a minimum of 600 words a day.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Leading articles

Use each pair of phrases in a paragraph or sentence. The sentences don't need to connect with each other, but if you wish a bigger challenge you can use them all in a story or poem.

Under attack
Under a tack

Love affair
Love a fair

Upon arrival
Upon a rival

Checking account
Checking a count

Evening attire
Evening a tire

Return address
Return a dress

From the New York Times crossword puzzle "Leading Articles", November 7, 2010. (Wordplay, the Crossword Blog of the New York Times.)

At the time of this blog posting, you can see the full puzzle at Donald's Weblog, Leading Articles.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Symbolically speaking

Scissor Spiders (from confiscated scissors) by Christopher Locke
I doubt I'm the only writer who avoids including symbols in her writing for fear they'll read heavy handed.

The first trick is to include them as a natural part of the character's actions, just as you might mention a morning cup of coffee. The second trick is to look beyond the obvious purpose of the object to the symbolic functions they can perform. AND to look beyond the obvious action of the character to an overarching pattern of behavior. A break up with a boyfriend may be cutting someone from her life, but where might she also be cutting things from her life?

Look around your room and pick 5 of your own objects. Then pick 5 from the list here. For each, write down actions, emotions, motivations, personalities the objects could represent.

For example: Scissors: cut unwanted things away, cut wanted things out, sever ties, destroy, create, sculpt. They can also stab.

Ceiling fan
Cell phone charms
Pass card
Cast iron skillet
Silver spoon
Child's wooden block
Foreign coin
Composition notebook
Crossword puzzle

and no list of symbolic objects is complete without:


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Playing against type

Take your favorite characters (2 or 3 should do it, your own or someone else's) and cast them in a scene from a very atmospheric genre. Then pick another. Do 3 all together.

Do the characters adapt themselves well or do they feel awkward?

Some ideas for genres:

noir detective
British period piece
alien invasion
monster in the house
buddy cops
zombie apocalypse
high school drama
space explorers
bodice buster
superhero or superhero team
Disney fairy tale
Christmas story

Be as florid as you wish :-)

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Lost antiquities

Sad Herakles before he was returned home to Turkey :-(
"Artifacts, just like people, animals or plants, have souls and historical memories," said Turkey’s culture minister, Ertugrul Gunay."When they are repatriated to their countries, the balance of nature will be restored." (Actual quote.)

So what happens if the antiquities don't get to go home? Can the antiquities influence people? Their environment? Do the other antiquities around them that are in their home lands feel for them?

Does time pass slowly for them or at the same rate as for humans?

What if their "historical memory" isn't a pleasant one?

What if the home they are returned to no longer feels like home?

If they have souls, do they have their own gods?