Six More Prompts to Develop Your Characters: Employment

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Most characters in most settings have to make a living somehow, which generally means they’ve got a job. How important that job is or isn’t to the story is going to depend on the story, but if we’re spending a lot of point-of-view time with that character, we’re likely to see them on the job; even if we don’t, what their work is should have some kind of tangible impact on who they are. I can’t count the number of romances I’ve read where one or both of the leads has a profession but is never seen at work and never mentions it; or they work in such a generic office setting doing such generic tasks (if anything) that I have no idea what the company they work for actually does. And while I’m most familiar with the romance genre, that’s not the only culprit–how many movies have I seen over the years where I couldn’t tell you, after the movie ends, what any of the characters did for a living, despite being set in modern day, with adult characters?

(I can’t find the source again, but years ago I saw a quote about how, for a while, everyone in the movies was an ad executive, because it meant they made good money but had little responsibility. The implication being, they could do whatever or be wherever the plot needed them to do or be, and also, it was blanket permission to be smarmy, like you’d expect a Hollywood ad executive character to be. I really, really wish I remember the quote better so I could find it again and credit it properly.)

On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve just seen a fantastic example of characters with jobs that matter: Steve and Robin slinging ice cream at the mall in Stranger Things 3. Steve needs the job because he’s not going to college. Robin’s reasons aren’t as clearly articulated, but it’s not unusual for kids to have summer jobs, so we can roll with that. Where they work places them both in a position to be involved with the plot as the season unfolds. Same for Nancy and Jonathan interning at the newspaper.

So, with all that in mind, here are some questions to consider when giving your characters a job, or not.

1. If they don’t work, is it by choice, or are they incapable for some reason such as disability, legal status, etc.? How do they support themselves otherwise?

2. Is this job their dream job, a step along the way to it, or completely unrelated? Do they even have a dream job?

3. What’s involved in the day-to-day work? Is it physically demanding? Mentally taxing? How much time does it take out of their day, and how do they feel when they’re done? Does this effect serve the larger story, or work against it?

4. How long have they been at this job? How did they get it? What sorts of privileges come with their position, if any?

5. Are any of the scenes of your story going to take place at that character’s job? If so, how many coworkers are likely to be there, and how many do you intend to utilize? Are they friends with your character, rivals, indifferent? How does their presence mesh with your story’s needs?

6. If nothing story-related is going to happen on the job, how much of the stress (or happiness, or satisfaction) from working does your character bring home at the end of the working day? How does it affect their mood? Does it affect their relationships, like if they work late constantly, are they missing dates or time with friends?

As usual, some or all of these questions, this advice, might not apply to your story. If you’re not working with a real-world setting, you’ve got world-building to do that’s going to include jobs, some of which might not exist yet. Or if you’re working in a historical setting, you’ve got research to do about what sorts of things people did in that place and era, again, jobs that might not exist anymore. In either case, some of my advice will still be relevant, but not everything. Use this as a jumping-off point to think about to make sure your story isn’t two incredibly bland office drones falling in love outside of work while I, your reader, am shouting internally, but what do they actually do all day?

Dialogue Prompts: #spookyromancenovel Edition

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I am deep in the throes of rewriting #spookyromancenovel, and I am coming across some real gems, some honestly golden nuggets of dialogue in the midst of all the crap I’ve got to change, polish up, or cut completely.

Bonus: out of context, some of them are ridiculous! My favorite kind of writing prompt!

So have fun with these. Technically since they’re from my own work which I intend to publish, I should tell you to change them a little so as not to infringe on my copyright, yada yada, but a) you’re not stealing scenes or story ideas from me since they’re single lines, and b) I’m offering them for prompt purposes.

On top of that, the entire first half of the rough draft came entirely from writing prompts I was given during #fictober18. So it’s time I give some of that love back. Go nuts!

  1. “You know the rules. Prove it’s you.”
  2. “Your fault for being tailed, if that ever happens.”
  3. “My last hideout got taken over by wolves.”
  4. “Everything with you is blood lust and quick death.”
  5. “I’ll let you sleep again when I’m done.”
  6. “Why did you stay away so long this time?”
  7. “You’re the only person in the whole world who’s on my side.”
  8. “Will you be offended if I eat an entire pepperoni pizza by myself?”
  9. “I can’t tell if you’re kidding.”
  10. “I know I seemed calm, but I was panicking inside, you were dying.”
  11. “Scavengers do have their place in the food chain.”
  12. “How can you ask me not to pursue something that might save you?”
  13. “Maybe that will give me some inspiration.”
  14. “I can’t protect you if I can’t get to you.”
  15. “Don’t make this a habit, okay?”

5 More Writing Prompts to Develop Your Characters: Tattoos

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What comes to mind when you think of people with tattoos?

That answer is going to be different for everyone, but according to the bulk of the romance genre, the major types boil down to “bad boy” and “hippie/free-spirited girl.”

Authors, we can all do so much better than that. Tattoos are so often used as shorthand to make a character fall into a certain stereotype, but in reality, many people get tattoos for personal reasons that have nothing to do with fitting into one of those types. If you’re going to give a character tattoos, why not make them mean something? Why not use them to add depth to their character instead of pigeonholing them?

Now, in modern times, a tattoo is a completely voluntary thing that someone pays to have added permanently to their body. (If it’s not, none of my advice applies, and you’ll have a different sort of explaining to do–I’m not touching it here.) So the first question is:

  1. Would your character have a tattoo, and why or why not? “Why not” might not be relevant to the story if nobody’s going to have tattoos at all, but “why” definitely is, because somebody’s probably going to ask them, at some point, what the story is behind their art.
  2. Where is the tattoo? Generally visible to the public, partially hidden, completely hidden? How did they choose where it went? Does their line of work require no visible tattoos? Does their family have strong opinions? Or does the character simply consider it private?
  3. How willing are they to share the story behind the tattoo with other people? Do they tell one story to strangers and another to friends or lovers?
  4. Are any of their tattoos, if they have more than one, mistakes? Do they regret any of them? Have they had any removed, or wish they could?
  5. At this point in their life, would they get another one, and why or why not? What would it be, and how would that decision interact with the story?

6 More Prompts to Develop Your Characters: Living Space

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Time to dig into wherever your characters call home! Whether or not it’s an actual setting in your story, knowing where your character sleeps at night can tell you a lot about them and provide important background for how they live.

As always, I’m using “they” to refer to a singular character of any gender.

  1. Do they live alone? With a significant other? A roommate or two or three? Are they living with family? And whatever the answer, are they satisfied with their circumstances, or would they rather live with (or without) someone else? Why?
  2. Where is their home? City, suburbs, country? How far is it from their job, the grocery, other important destinations? If there’s a commute, how do they travel, and how inconvenient is it for them?
  3. What is the physical building like? Old or new? Run-down or well-maintained? How big is it, and how much of that space is theirs? What interesting physical details make it different from other buildings in the neighborhood (if there are any?)
  4. Are they living where they want to be living? If not, why, and what are they doing to change that?
  5. How are they paying for their living space? Do they own or rent? Is someone else responsible for the bill? Are they living above or below their means?
  6. (For any given room in the place that’s actually used as a setting) How comfortable is this room? Why would they want to spend time there? What could be better? How clean is it kept?

It can be difficult to invent a whole structure out of thin air, or furnish a room without relying on places you, the author, have visited or lived in yourself. This is a great time to search online for reference images–I got the one here from Pixabay with the key words “apartment building;” originally I’d intended to use a more traditional high-rise, but I just love the coziness of small British towns, ever since I visited Nottingham.

And that’s another point to consider–if you’re writing in a real-world setting, the country definitely matters, both socially and structurally. You’re not going to find many American-style front-lawn neighborhoods anywhere in Europe, for example. So if you’re using an actual location as a setting, whether it’s direct or just inspiration, looking at images of that country/city will give you an idea where to start when answering these questions.

Good luck, and having fun building your characters their homes!

Dialogue Prompts: Hearthstone Edition

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I got back into Hearthstone recently after several years away–go figure that novel-writing means I have less time for gaming!

As I was trying to rack up some Paladin wins for a daily quest, I kept playing my Argent Protector over and over, hearing him say “This is my responsibility” in a stern, manly voice. It’s a good line, simple, direct, and delivered well by the voice actor.

And it occurred to me then that since most cards say something when played, and many have another line when they attack, Hearthstone was suddenly an excellent source of dialogue prompts!

A comprehensive list of every line attached to every card would be long and difficult to compile without outside help–I don’t have anywhere near all the cards, especially after years away–but I jotted down my favorites from my last week or so of matches, to get us all started.

  1. “This is my responsibility.”
  2. “Not on my watch.”
  3. “Join or die!”
  4. “Meddlesome insects.”
  5. “Reporting for duty.”
  6. “The light dims, but we fight.”
  7. “I hope you like my invention.”
  8. “Follow the rules.”
  9. “Excuse me, you are on fire.”
  10. “Someday I’ll be just like you!”
  11. “Who dares summon me?”
  12. “Is this really necessary?”
  13. “I’ll show them. I’ll show them all!”
  14. “Don’t tell me what to do!”
  15. “I’ll give it a shot.”
  16. “This guy’s toast.”
  17. “This is our town, scrub.”
  18. “At any price.”
  19. “Where shall I strike?”
  20. “Total corruption, total power.”

Yeah, okay, some of them (especially the ones coming from Warlock cards) are hard to imagine normal people saying in normal conversation, but why shouldn’t we all right weird little drabbles about summoning demons or fighting the darkness, you know?

Have fun, and if you write something based on one of these, feel free to share!

8 More Prompts to Develop Your Characters: Travel

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Even if your story doesn’t involve jet-setters traveling the globe, your characters should have histories, and some of that might be traveling! Whether it’s a young woman who regrets spending her spring break senior year in Florida instead of France, or a retiree who sells his house to cross the country in an RV, most people have been somewhere other than their hometown at some point in their lives. Or they want to!

  1. If they take vacations, how often? For how long? Where to they prefer to go–to visit family, or to see interesting sights?
  2. If they don’t take vacations, why not? Tied to home by responsibilities, lacking the funds? Not interested, or scared to travel?
  3. Where have they been, and how did it affect them? What did they learn from the experience?
  4. Where would they like to go? What appeals to them about that place?
  5. Do they travel alone? With family? Friends? Weekend getaways with their lover?
  6. How do they prefer to travel–planes, to get there fast? Trains or long road trips, to enjoy the journey? Cruises, to get away from it all for a while?
  7. Souvenirs–to buy or not to buy? Do they overspend on whatever looks good, or limit their purchases carefully? Do they collect certain items wherever they go? Do they have a long list of things to bring home for their loved ones?
  8. When they get home, are they ready to be home, or did they want to stay longer?

I hope this helps you think about what past experiences or future travel plans shape your characters. Be inspired and have fun with these!


Want more character development prompts?

Writing Homework #9: Every Song a Story

A long time ago, under a different name on an account long deleted, I was an active participant in /r/WritingPrompts, before it became a default sub and exploded into a crazy pit of meme prompts. I didn’t stick around, and to be honest, I have no idea what the community is like these days.

But I do remember one prompt in particular, to take a song that almost tells a story, and write a scene based on it.

My response to that prompt is lost to the sands of time (and the account deletion) but I do remember I chose “Shape of My Heart” because the song so clearly defines a character, but not the story itself.

So this week’s assignment is to seek out a similar song, not one that already lays out a story in great detail, but one that gives insight into the character or situation it describes, and write a drabble/scene/flash fic based on it.

I know, I know, song prompts aren’t exactly a new idea, but I want to present my take on it.

Have fun and keep writing!


Need to get caught up on your assignments?

15 More Prompts to Develop Your Characters: Alcohol

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In honor of NaNoWriMo, it’s time to bring back my Character Development Prompts series! I opened my own NaNo novel this year with a scene in a busy bar, so alcohol seemed like a good topic to cover.

As always, I’m using they as a singular, non-gendered pronoun to stand in for the character of your choice.

First, are they a drinker or non-drinker?

For Drinkers:

  1. How frequently do they drink, and how much at a time?
  2. In what setting(s) do they drink? Alone, or only with company?
  3. What’s their preferred type of alcohol? How choosy are they?
  4. In social situations, are they more likely to buy drinks for others, or accept free drinks?
  5. How does imbibing alcohol affect their behavior? Their self-image? Their decision-making?
  6. How does the amount of alcohol they drink compare to how much they think they drink? If they had a drinking problem, could they realize it themselves, or would they need someone to tell them?
  7. How high is their tolerance?
  8. If they drink to excess, how badly do they get hungover, and how do they deal with it?
  9. Is there anyone in their life whom they must hide the fact that they drink, or the extent of their drinking?

For Non-Drinkers:

  1. Is their avoidance of alcohol for medical, moral, or social reasons?
  2. Have they always been a non-drinker, or did they give it up? How long ago, and for what reason?
  3. How vigilantly do they avoid situations where they might be asked or expected to drink?
  4. When in those situations, how do they handle that expectation? What do they tell the ones encouraging them to drink?
  5. Do they limit or avoid contact with family, friends, or coworkers because the others are drinkers?
  6. Are they comfortable serving as a designated driver or other type of safeguard? How do they feel about missing out on the “fun” vs. providing a safety net for their friends?

I hope I’ve given you some nice, juicy questions to throw at your burgeoning NaNo characters (or any characters the rest of the year) to help you flesh them out. Not every story is going to have drinking, and please make sure you incorporate appropriate consequences for any truly dangerous behavior if you do–don’t glorify unhealthy drinking culture, but don’t ignore drinking entirely if it’s got a place in your story.


Want more character development prompts?

10 Dialogue Prompts, Movie Edition: Airplane!

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I’m a sucker for a good movie line, and the other day at work, I tossed out “Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue” when things were going very, very wrong.

A handful of coworkers busted their guts laughing, while the rest looked at me funny. Turns out, not everyone’s seen Airplane!

But it gave me the idea to set out some of my favorite lines from the movie as dialogue prompts, because oh, the places they could go.

  1. “It takes so many things to make love last. But most of all, it takes respect, and I can’t live with a man I don’t respect.”
  2. “It’s a damn good thing you don’t know how much he hates your guts.”
  3. “No, I’ve been nervous lots of times.”
  4. “Surely you can’t be serious.”
  5. “You can tell me. I’m a doctor.”
  6. “Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit drinking.”
  7. “But what’s most important now is that you remain calm. There is no reason to panic.”
  8. “I can’t tell you that. It’s classified.”
  9. “No… that’s just what they’ll be expecting us to do.”
  10. “What are you doing here? You can’t fly this plane!”

Have fun with them, and keep an ear open for good prompts when you’re watching your favorite movies!

5 More Prompts to Develop Your Characters: Stress

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A person who never suffers any kind of stress would be rare, and a fictional character, next to impossible. What drives interest in a story? Conflict. And with conflict comes stress.

Reactions to stress can be as simple as a single beer after dinner to mellow out from a hard day at work, or as complex and life-altering as self-destructive behaviors like drug abuse.

Both of those, and everything in between, provide tons of meat for your characters’ personalities.

So, let’s find out what sends our characters in search of their happy places.  As always, “they” = the character in question, regardless of gender.

  1. What do they find stressful? External sources, like work, politics, illness, family, trouble with a significant personal relationship, social obligations? Internal sources, like perfectionism or poor time management or forgetfulness?
  2. How to they react in the moment to a stressor? Physical reactions (flight-or-flight response, upset stomach, nervous tics, for example); internal/emotional reactions (anger, anxiety, or grinning and bearing it); or some combination of both? Do they react differently to different sources of stress?
  3. How aware are they of their stressors, and do they actively seek to avoid them?
  4. What do they do to wind down after becoming stressed?
  5. Are there any preventative measures they take to compensate in situations they expect to be stressed?

I hope I’ve given you a new angle to come at your characters, because while they might be reacting to the conflicts of the story, you shouldn’t be stressing about how they’re going to react.


Want more character development prompts?