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!

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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?

Let’s Talk About Tropes #6: Dreams and Nightmares

Do you usually cringe whenever you have to read about the dream a character is having? Because I do.

So let’s talk about why dreams are written poorly, and what we, as writers, can do about it.

(Caveat: This is meant as a criticism and exploration of dreams in realistic fiction. If you’re writing a world where dreams work significantly differently on purpose, a lot of this won’t apply, but being aware of the potential pitfalls can’t hurt, right?)

Problem #1: Do you really need to include a dream?

A dream scene can accomplish quite a few things, if used properly. The most common attempted purpose I’ve seen is to show a character’s inner turmoil without needing them to freak out in real life, where it wouldn’t be appropriate or in character. And that’s fine.

But how many of us have dreams that lay out our inner turmoil in understandable literary metaphor? Speaking from my own experience, if I’m stressed about my day job, yes, I might have an anxiety dream where something has gone wrong there and I’m being yelled at, or trying to cover for three people who didn’t come in that day, or whatever. And then, if I turn around, suddenly I’m wandering an empty hotel looking for Smurfs (yes, I’ve dreamed that) or chopping veggies in a high-end restaurant kitchen (yep, that too.)

Which brings me to…

Problem #2: Dreams are often absurd.

Lots of people like to ascribe deeper meanings to dreams, but I’m not one of them. Science hasn’t fully explained the function of dreams in our brains to anyone’s satisfaction yet, but mine are usually a scramble of recent memories or daily actions, a smattering of long-term ones (my high school friends will occasionally make appearances if something has reminded me of them, even though I haven’t seen most of them in over a decade), and rarely some recurring theme involving a fear of mine, like spiders or the feeling of running out of time to complete a task.

I subscribe to the theory that dreams allow the brain to decompress, basically. It’s stress relief for your mind, a chance to process new or recent information without the needs of the conscious brain interfering.

So dreams, for most people, are not the clean-cut, detailed mini-stories they’re portrayed to be in books. Too much meaning is ascribed to them in order to justify their inclusion.

But that’s not how they work, so reading that style of dream leaves a sour taste in my mouth, because it doesn’t relate to my experience at all.

Problem #3: Lots of people don’t remember their dreams.

I’ve heard quite a few people state this as “I don’t dream,” but the science doesn’t back them up on this, because REM sleep deprivation has a number of significant effects, and the brains of individuals who are chronically deprived due to various forms of insomnia will overcompensate by falling into REM sleep faster and staying in it longer until the shortfall diminishes. (I don’t have a source on that because I read it in my biology textbook long ago, so feel free to holler at me if that’s no longer sound.)

It’s much more accurate to say these people do dream, but they don’t remember their dreams. I myself dream vividly, but I don’t remember them every night. So unless you make your character a vivid dreamer deliberately and weave that into the story in other ways, turning to dreams often to develop that character (or, blech, move the plot along) is just a plot device.

So what can you do?

  • Keep a dream journal for yourself, if you do remember your dreams. Write down as much detail as you can remember. This will give you an idea of how to write a more realistic dream if you do need one for a story.
  • If you want to have a dreamer character, use the meat of the dream in conversation instead of as a separate scene. (I often tell my coworkers about my strange dreams, because I can usually get them laughing over whatever crazy things happened.) It doesn’t have to be more than a line or two, and it’s a way to work extra information about a character into the story without dragging the reader through the dream itself.
  • Failing that, skip including a dream altogether and find another way to make the scene work.

Now, onto nightmares. If anything, the treatment of nightmares is often worse than regular dreams.

Problem #1: The plot-convenient nightmare.

People have nightmares. It happens. But in stories, it always seems to happen only when necessary for dramatic tension.

(yawn)

Boring.

Problem #2: Nightmares as emotional manipulation.

Forgive me for not linking, but there’s no possible way I could find it again–but when Jenny Trout read and recapped the Fifty Shades series, she made the observation that Christian Grey only seemed to have nightmares whenever Ana shows signs of distancing herself from him. (I tried searching for it, but there’s a lot of individual chapters to dig through, and I read them all as they were published, ie, not recently.)

Now, if E.L. James actually intended Christian to be an emotionally abusive asshat, this is brilliant characterization, because Christian would be using/faking his nightmares as a lure to draw Ana closer, feeding on her nurturing instincts, with actual nefarious intent.

Since the author has made it abundantly clear outside the works themselves that Christian is not supposed to be an asshat, I’m left feeling like the readers are the ones being manipulated, that we’re supposed to fall for that nonsense.

Problem #3: Lots of people don’t remember their nightmares, either.

They just wake up feeling some level of stressed or panicked–breathing heavily, sweating, racing heart, etc.–without knowing what caused it. And that’s okay, too. It’s not realistic (for most people) to have a recurring nightmare, perfect in every detail, dog them night after night after night, as I’ve seen in some stories.

Recurring nightmares do happen, certainly, and are often caused by/centered on some recent trauma–that part, stories often do get right. Goodness knows I had my share of nightmares about a car crash that I was in–but over-reliance on the recurring-nightmare trope, again, usually to make a character sympathetic either to the reader or to another character, is overdone and stale.

So what can you do?

  • If you need to give your characters plot-significant nightmares, sprinkle in some throwaway nightmares too (just don’t devote too much page-time to them), and/or let your character wake up knowing they had a nightmare, but not remembering it.
  • Don’t rely on nightmares to try to make your characters more sympathetic. If he’s an unrepentant jerk while he’s awake, your bad boy love interest isn’t suddenly going to become appealing just because he has a squishy nightmare underbelly.
  • Failing that, again, consider leaving nightmares out entirely. They’re not a requirement for either character development or a good plot, so use them wisely.