I realized that in my post on characters, I didn’t mention character prompts. We’ve talked about these before on the blog, so I thought I’d mention which ones I’m doing for NaNoWriMo this year. I’m doing a few new ones this year, although some of them are still based on the ones from the Poets and Writers site.
Here’s what I’m doing:
Have your character deliver a short monologue telling about his or her family. Which family member is the character closest with? Which family members does the character have difficulties with?
2. Pet Fiction
Write a scene where an animal or pet stops a character from feeling lonely, stressed, or on the brink of madness.
3. Express Lane Character Check
Write a scene in which your protagonist is stressed due to a death in the family, a financial crisis, or an unraveling relationship. Place your protagonist in a grocery store at the express lane for customers with fewer than 10 items. Have a lady, pushing a cart full of groceries, jump in line just before your protagonist. “Sorry, but I’m in a hurry,” she explains.
4. Character Speak
Write a scene in which your protagonist must convince a stranger to divulge a deep secret. The context is irrelevant. Use the conversation to show readers who, exactly, this protagonist is. At the end of the scene, have the stranger whisper the secret into the protagonist’s ear.
5. The Good in Evil
Even Pure Evil buys his favorite niece a pony for her birthday. Learn to love your villains as people, and they will reward you as characters. Write a scene where the most despicable character in your fiction does something deeply touching and loving. Then send them on their evil way.
6. Writing Desire
“Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.” This writing axiom extolled by Kurt Vonnegut underscores the importance of human desire. However, desire often stems from human frailty: the need to fill or compensate for something we lack—a mothers’ love, approval from society, the ability to forgive ourselves. Write about what your protagonist’s desires; this is where the story begins.
7. Character’s Fear
What is your character’s single greatest fear? How did your character acquire his or her fears? How does that fear keep the character from accomplishing his or her goals?
8. Where Leaving Takes Us
Sometimes we are emotionally imprisoned by the ones we love. Overbearing parents, paranoid spouses, and needy children can make us—and our characters—feel trapped in an intolerable life. Write a scene where a character in your writing leaves a loved one behind and begins life anew. Use details to express relief, guilt, and anger.
9. Job Search
Write a brief job description for your character. What is his or her job? How did the character get it? How long has he or she held it? What does he or she like and dislike about it? What kind of language would a person with this job use? What kind of equipment? Where would the office be located? Who would be the boss? What would the job title be?
Come up with a “short synopsis” (300 words) and a brief description (100 words) of the novel.
I’m doing the first two tonight–400 words apiece for four of my main characters. If you’re curious what these look like when I get done with them, here are two that I just wrote in response to the first prompt (bear in mind these are very rough, having just been written off the top of my head and having had no editing at all).
I don’t remember my mother properly at all. I just have this vague sense of a pleasant, feminine presence in another room nearby. For my dad, at least, I have a picture in my mind. Or at least I think it’s him. In my memory, he’s sitting in the dark, drinking quietly and—I think this is the important part—ignoring my mother completely. I knew a Minertian sailor once, and before he asked me to—well, never mind that—he told me that Minertian men are prone to become melancholy and drink themselves to death. When I heard that, my few, fragmentary memories of my father made a lot more sense. I suppose it’s no surprise that I take after him. They both died when I was 5 or 6 or so. It was cholera, or so I was told later. A sad end to a tragic romance; mom ran off with dad, just like in a storybook. So even at a very early age, I knew where fairytales end; growing tired of each other and then crapping yourself to death in the same bed. After that, the Joshis, our neighbors, took me in, which was the sort of thing you did for people in that neighborhood. I shouldn’t give the impression that they were more generous than they were, though. I was only with them a year before they sent me around the block to live with one of their cousins. And then a different cousin, and so on. I was never abused, as such, unless you count being ignored and allowed to run free on the streets as abuse. But I was used to that from my parents, so I made the adjustment fairly well. I remember having enough to eat, most of the time. If I was too late coming home, the Joshis would send someone to check that I hadn’t been grabbed by the slavers who sometimes collected stray urchins. And for that, I suppose I should be grateful. I barely knew the Joshis, though. I spent most of my time with other children, mostly older children, and that was where I got most of my education. It wasn’t until later that I realized most of what I was learning was illegal. And by the time I knew, I didn’t care. I suppose that’s the sort of thing that my parents would have told me, if they had lived.
I was 10 when my mother made admiral. I remember the day distinctly, because I was out in the jungle camping with the other Landatid cadets, and our Mistress of Archers made a special point of telling me at the evening roll call. Our task that day had been catching and eating a green viper (we were supposed to do this without being bitten, but I guess that goes without saying). We took too long because I tried to come up with some clever little trap made of vines. And then, after we caught it, I made a mess of skinning it, so when Mistress Kajsa called roll, she told me that my mother would expect better of me. “Oh, and by the way, she’s been promoted,” she added. Just like that: “Oh, and by the way….” I’ve heard a lot of that “by the way” in the nine years since. From a new acquaintance: “By the way, your father’s not the Minister, is he?” From my mother, in a letter: “By the way, your sister Karolina is getting her first command.” From my father, in a different letter: “By the way, your mother mentioned you to Einar last time we saw him.” That’s King Einar to you, by the way. We’re Krigadamites; we wear our insouciance on our sleeves. I don’t hear from my sisters very often, and I think I’m fine with that. It’s not as if I hate them, mind you. I just don’t like being reminded constantly of all the marvelous things they’re doing. They’re all Befalas, like me and mom, and the trouble is that there’s virtually nothing I can ever do in my career that one of them hasn’t already done. When I finished Vattentid, and my captain said she had heard they were looking for Befalas who wanted to join the intelligence service, I jumped at the chance like a terrier on a rat. Intel is one thing none of them have ever done. Mom was in the fleet (now she’s at Arken Castle, just a few doors down from Dad). Karolina and Tessan are in the fleet, too. Olivia is in the Queen’s Guard. That’s not actually part of the intelligence service, but it’s close enough that I thought she would be impressed when I told her I’d volunteered. She wasn’t. She just cleared her throat and said, “Everyone I’ve met from intel is a drunk or a pervert, by the way.”
So that’s what I’ve been up to today.