Explore Your Characters: Be Surprised

You know you should try writing your story in first v. third point of view, but for some reason, you put it off. Why? Because you’ve gotten a first draft of a scene or chapter and you just want to keep going.

It’s exactly the feeling that elementary school children have: “Why do I have to revise?”

Your answer is straightforward: because you are a professional writer. Revising will help you write a book.

You must find the right way to tell this story. I often say that the purpose of a first draft is to find the story, but the purpose of all other drafts is to figure out the best way to TELL that story. Pros experiment, play, explore.

Here are some explorations of character that you can complete in an hour. Just set a time for 5-10 minutes and write something on each of these. If the prompt reveals nothing, drop it. But if it strikes a chord—keep going!

  1. 1st v. 3rd. Write a scene using first person point of view and then rewrite it using third. If you want to play with present tense, feel free. Play!
  2. Attitude. Choose a scene and look to see what attitude your main character has. Maybe, s/he comes in arrogant, sad, discouraged, or excited. At the top of your page/file, write the opposite attitude and write the scene again, working to make the character’s opposite attitude work.
  3. Setting. Choose a scene and change the setting. If it’s in the kitchen, send your characters on a picnic. If it’s set on a spaceship, move the story to a cruise ship on the Mediterranean.
  4. Write a Letter. Give your main character a reason to write a letter to someone. It could be written to a family member or to a Congressman. Let your character vent, rant and cry on paper.
  5. Put something in your character’s hand. Put a physical object in your character’s hand. Perhaps a mother goes into a grown son’s room and picks up his old baseball glove and sits in a rocking chair and oils the glove and remembers something important about her son. Or, a grandmother is in the kitchen and getting ready to cook and pulls out an iron skillet. Write a couple paragraphs or a scene putting the object in the forefront.
  6. Cubing is a way of exploring a topic by looking at it from different angles. I’ve chosen just four ways, but you can think of others.
    • Describe. Using the character’s voice (your choice of POV, tense, etc) describe something important in your story. Repeat with a different POV, tense, etc. if you have time.
    • Compare. Using the character’s voice, compare something in your story. Maybe you want to compare what the character thinks about his/her current situation with where s/he was ten days ago. Or compare two characters. Or compare today’s supper with yesterday’s supper. Any type of comparison that makes sense for your story is grist for this mill.
    • Associate. When your character thinks of roses, what does s/he think? This prompt asks you to enter your character’s point of view and make some associations. While most of your writing in a scene should be pointed, there are places where you can slow down and give the reader a glimpse of how the character’s mind works. When faced with X, s/he thinks of Y or Z.
    • Analyze. What will your character do next? Stop and let him/her analyze what has just happened, thinking about the ramifications of the actions or conversations. If s/he goes this direction, what will it mean for the rest of the story? What is an alternate direction and why should s/he choose that alternate? Analyze, then let the character decide on a plan of attack for the next section of the story.

Take the time to explore your story and your storytelling choices early in your drafting process. It will probably mean fewer drafts—and a stronger story. Great trade-offs for a mere hour of work.

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