5 More Prompts to Help You Develop Your Characters: Music

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It’s been too long since my last prompts post–I really need to sit down and organize my various series, so I can keep track of them better! (You can find all my prompts posts here.)

Since I’ve had music on the brain lately, and the plot bunny that won’t go away while I finish up the current project draft is about a band (squee! I heart musicians!), it seemed like a perfect topic to tackle next.

So, let’s do this.  As always, “they” = the character in question, regardless of gender.

  1. Are they a music fan at all, or do they manage to go through life without being exposed to it much? Do they actively avoid music for any reason?
  2. If they do listen, then to what? Mainstream radio, or a particular genre? Current music, or older music from a particular era, or a particular time in their life?
  3. How do they listen? Vinyl for purism or nostalgia, or have they embraced the digital age?
  4. Where do they listen? At home, or do they have a job where listening is okay? Do they have a job where the radio is always on and they have no choice? Have they got music going at the gym or on a run? Do they sing along in the car or in the shower? Pro lip-syncer, or do they actually sing? Well, or badly?  And do they care?
  5. Do they have friends/family who they talk music with, or is their love of music a solitary thing? Do they live with someone who doesn’t share their taste in music, and how does that affect them, or their relationship with that person?  (Story time: I had a roommate in college who had a CD player/radio/alarm clock combo.  I spent an entire semester waking up to Rent.  I am so very, very tired of Rent, to the point where I can’t listen to it ever again, even now.)

Until next time, enjoy the prompts and have fun fleshing out those characters!

5 More Prompts to Help You Develop Your Characters: The Holidays Edition

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Christmas baking and Christmas crafting and Christmas shopping are all on my mind these days.  (I actually have a batch of cookies in the oven right now, and I’ve got a few things to order this afternoon…)

Not every story needs to feature holiday festivities, and not every setting celebrates Christmas–so if you’re making up your own world and cultures with their own traditions, well, just apply these loosely to your worldbuilding instead.

  1. Does your main character celebrate a winter holiday actively, and if so, which one?
  2. What kind of gift-giver are they?  Gift cards, barely-trying generic presents or well-chosen ones, homemade treats or handmade items?
  3. Who do they celebrate with, and why?  Is there anyone coming the family (or friends) gathering they don’t want to see?  Is anyone likely to cause a scene if someone else says the wrong thing, or something goes wrong?
  4. Is your character’s occupation something likely to make them work on Christmas, or is there another reason they might be away from family?  How do they spend the holiday then–do they celebrate on a different day, call home when they can, or skip the holiday altogether?
  5. What family or childhood traditions might they still keep as an adult? Which new traditions have they introduced since?

Time to go check on the cookies!

It’s Time to Talk About Tropes #2: Long Hair

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(Obligatory “that’s not me.”  My hair, while long and blonde, never behaves that well for photos.)

I’ve wanted to make a tropes post about hair and hair styles for a while now, but in really digging into the topic, I’ve discovered there’s waaaaay too much to cover in just one post, so I’ll start where I’m most comfortable: long hair.  I have it.  I’ve had hair longer than my shoulders since sixth grade, which was the last time I had a chin-length bob.  It was cute, but it wasn’t me.

So, what does having long hair typically say about a character?  The biggest trait associated with it is straight-up femininity.  Girly-girls have long hair.  The more traditionally feminine a character is, the more likely she is to be portrayed as long-haired, and the longer and more lovely the hair is likely to be.

Solution?  Give your guys long hair.  They don’t even have to be in a band to pull it off.  Three of my male college friends had long hair (longer than mine, even, at times) and no one I know regarded them as less masculine for it.  The other solution, of course, is to let your girly-girls and lady-like ladies have any hairstyle at all that isn’t long and flowing.  Give them pixie cuts.  Shave their heads. Anything else.

Moving on: long hair as a sign of childhood and/or innocence, as symbolized by the cutting of it when the character has “grown up.”  I’ve seen this portrayed in two major ways–the hair cutting is an emotional reaction to something traumatic (example: Elizabeth in Bioshock: Infinite) and is part of the growing-up process organically; or the character feels more adult than earlier in the story, for whatever reason, and makes the conscious choice to change their appearance, wanting to shed whatever emotional baggage they had with their long hair. (Not a woman, but Henry from The Time Traveler’s Wife comes to mind when he cuts his hair before the wedding.)

Solution: Don’t do that?  There are lots of other ways to show increased maturity, and if you have to give a character An Important Haircut, then have a good reason.

The last big trope I want to cover is long hair = sexuality.  This is so ingrained in the media I’ve consumed that I hardly feel like examples are necessary, but just to name one, there’s the buttoned-up professional by day, lets-her-hair-down-(literally)-at-night character.  Long hair is supposed to be restrained and contained in a professional setting, so obviously if her hair is down, all bets are off.

Now, this one is definitely a reflection of the real world for a lot of people, and it could be easy to fall into without meaning to, because who doesn’t love a little hair-pulling in the bedroom?  (Lots of people, I’m sure, just roll with this, please.)

But if your character would, logically and reasonably, let her hair down outside the office, in casual situations or in sexy ones, then don’t make that the only physical sign she’s different from her work persona.  Describe the change in her clothes, in her posture–maybe she slouches or her shoulders sag because she’s so tired from work and relieved to finally be relaxing instead.

Or just let her leave her hair up when she’s getting it on.  Maybe the encounter starts too fast to bother with all those pins and hair ties–leave taking her hair down for after. (That could be really intimate, actually, I’m filing that one away for later.)  Maybe whatever’s going on in the bedroom would actually be easier or more comfortable if her hair’s not in the way, so she wants to leave it up.  And again, it’s certainly a trope for a reason, so yeah, let her have her hair down, sometimes, too–but again, make sure that’s not the only sexualized thing about her.

Or, you know, if you already gave her short hair, then just let her get it on without worrying about it.  Problem solved!

Need a Prompt? Take a Prompt!

With NaNo just past half done, grinding out that word count is becoming more challenging, and I’m a huge fan of writing from prompts, so I thought I’d collect all my prompt and character-development posts into a master list, in case someone out there needs a little boost.

10 Writing Prompts to Help You Develop Your Characters

10 Dialogue Writing Prompts

10 Romance Writing Prompts

10 Question Prompts

5 More Writing Prompts to Help You Develop Your Characters: Domesticity

6 More Writing Prompts to Help You Develop Your Characters: Journals

I love making these posts, and I have more ideas–the next one is probably going to be about food–but that will have to wait for a day when I have more words to devote to non-NaNo writing!

6 More Writing Prompts to Help You Develop Your Characters: Journals

Given that I’ve become nearly obsessed over the past few months by journals and the keeping of them, no one should be surprised by my desire to work them into my character’s lives.

A character’s journal could easily be an important plot object, and not just in a “love interest finds her diary” kind of way; but they don’t have to be, either.  Just mentioning it in passing adds to a character’s richness by giving us a glimpse of their routine.  Or their not-routine, if someone means to be keeping a journal but only writes in it when they’re distraught, pouring out their emotions; or if they’re forgetful and they simply can’t establish the habit.  All of those things say something about the person you’re creating.

Actually getting to read the character’s journal can take the reader a step further inside their brain.  In Life Is Strange (no spoilers, I promise), the journal entries serve a functional purpose in recording the events of the previous episodes, so you can look back and remember the choices you made in-game; but they’re also another layer to Max’s distinctive, compelling voice.  You see the scenes play out, but then, reading her journal later, you get below her surface actions and reactions, into her feelings.  (I cannot say enough about how brilliant the structure and storytelling were in that game.  Play it. Even if you’re not a gamer, just to pull it apart and look at it as an example of teenage characters written well, time manipulation done without inconsistency, narrative flow around player choice, and OMG FORESHADOWING.)

So, some prompts on the extra depths of meaning journals can give your characters:

  1. Which of your characters would keep a journal, and which wouldn’t?  Of those who do, would they be art journals or diaries?  Or maybe the hyper-organization of a bullet journal?  A synthesis of more than one type?
  2. Is keeping the journal a habit, a fixed part of their day?  Morning, evening, or whenever they can squeeze in the time?  Do they write a page a day, or however much or little they want to?
  3. What does the journal look like?  A plain notebook, so no one at school or work suspects it’s anything personal, or a fancy leather-bound journal hung with charms, or bound with a lock or clasp?
  4. Do they keep their journal with them all the time to jot down notes in it, or to write whenever they have a moment, or does it stay in one place, like a home office or a bedroom?
  5. Is the journal a physical object at all?  Does your character bare their soul on a social media site instead?  If so, under their real name, or a handle?  Are their readers/followers people they know offline, and if they’re not, what would happen if someone they knew in “real life” found this online space of theirs?
  6. If you need help exploring a character’s emotional response to a plot point, try writing a journal entry about it in their voice.  What could they express in a private space like a journal that they wouldn’t say to someone else?

5 More Writing Prompts to Help You Develop Your Characters: Domesticity

(If you missed it, you can see the first set of character-development prompts here.)

Since I’ve spent a big chunk of today catching up on household chores, leaving less time for writerly endeavors, I thought it would be a good time to offer another set of prompts.  And this set is inspired by those very chores!

Showing your characters doing mundane tasks like cooking and cleaning isn’t necessary for a lot of stories–but if a person’s apartment is always magically spotless without the story ever mentioning how they maintain it, well, that can come off as lazy writing.  People have to cook (or live on take-out), people have to clean (or live in messy places), people have to take out the trash and do laundry and scrub the toilet.  Or they have to hire someone else to!

Sprinkling in little details about how or when these things get done will make your characters, and their homes, seem more real.  (Usually.  As with all writing advice, use it judiciously.)

  1. Food: do they cook for themselves, go out to eat a lot, or order in?  What sorts of meals do they make or order?  How often do they buy groceries?  Are they diligent about keeping the fridge clean, or do they leave food in there long after it’s gone bad?
  2. Laundry: How often does it get done?  Early in the morning, during the day, or late at night?  In a larger household, who does it?  Does Mom do it for everyone or are the kids responsible for their own after they’re old enough?
  3. Bathroom cleaning: spotlessly maintained or slightly funky?  Old stuff in the medicine cabinet?  Damp towels on the floor?
  4. Dishes: Are they washed by hand or a dishwasher?  After every meal? Once a day? Piled up until nothing clean is left and someone has to wash a spoon and bowl just to eat their cereal in the morning?
  5. Kitchen cleaning: Are the counters clean or spotty? Fallen crumbs collecting in the corners of the room? Refrigerator air vents clogged with dust and wheezing?

There could certainly be more, but you get the basic idea–and some chores would be specific to the setting.  Like if someone lives in an ultra-modern, minimalist home with floor-to-ceiling windows, they’d probably care a lot more about keeping them clean than I do about my normal frame windows.

Which I really don’t.  They don’t get that dirty anyway…

So dig into your characters with these and see if they help you enrich your story.  And have fun with them!

10 Question Prompts

These can be opening lines, integrated into dialogue, or just jumping-off points for a theme.

  1. “What are you so afraid of?”
  2. “Who told you that?”
  3. “When does this need to be finished?”
  4. “How did that get there?”
  5. “Why aren’t you answering my calls?”
  6. “What is it you really want, then?”
  7. “Who are you looking for?”
  8. “When are you coming over?
  9. “How was I supposed to know?”
  10. “Why won’t you tell me what’s going on with you?”

Just a quickie today.  Have fun with them!

10 Romance Writing Prompts

Because romance is what I do!

Meet-cutes:

  1. A is moving into an apartment in the building where B lives, struggling with heavy furniture alone.  B offers to help and A takes them out to lunch after as a thank-you.
  2. A and B are both runners that follow the same path through the park, seeing each other nearly every day, but they never speak to each other until A takes a bad fall and sprains their ankle, and B stops to help.
  3. (YA) A is a mid-year transfer student and gets B as a lab partner in science class, because there was an odd number of students before and B had been working alone.

Dialogue:

  1. “I feel like the stars are brighter when I’m with you.”
  2. “Can I kiss you?”
  3. “Anyone ever taken you to the zoo on a date before?”
  4. “I’ve never felt like this about anyone else.”

Story Mashes–Write a story including:

  1. A swimming pool, a thunderstorm, and a first kiss
  2. A case of mistaken identity, some Chinese takeout, and getting asked out on a date
  3. A library, candles, and an emotional epiphany

10 Dialogue Writing Prompts

Just for funsies.

  1. “I don’t think it’s supposed to be that shade of red.”
  2. “Next time, bring a bigger trash can!”
  3. “I swear I didn’t do it.”
  4. “Who was that you were talking to?”
  5. “I’ll be over right after I strangle my little brother.”
  6. “Only if you come with me.”
  7. “Where did you leave the blowtorch?”
  8. “I just want to know the truth.”
  9. “Right, the cat got in there all by himself.”
  10. “I’m thinking about moving to London.”

Feel free to use these however you like, and if you post something you wrote from one, let me know so I can check it out!

10 Writing Prompts to Help You Develop Your Characters

Continuing my brainstorming theme, I’ve dredged the depths of my brain for questions to ask yourself about your characters.  I don’t consider this list a comprehensive character questionnaire–those are useful tools, certainly, but whenever I try to fill one out I end up dissatisfied with the dry and often irrelevant nature of some of the questions.  I’m calling these prompts instead, because you can cherry-pick the ones that seem best suited to your character; and you can answer them simply in one sentence if you like, but you could also delve deep and write up a whole study, if something inspires you.

(For space and simplicity, I’m going to use “they” pronouns in place of repeating “your character” endlessly.)

  1. Do they remember their dreams, and if so, what do they dream about?
  2. If they could change one decision made in their past, what would they do differently, and how would their life be changed by it?
  3. If they lost their home and belongings to a disaster (fire, tornado, etc.) where would they go?  Who would they stay with, and why?
  4. What qualities do they value most in their friends and loved ones?
  5. Who in their family is most important to them, and why?
  6. What aspects of themselves do they try hardest to hide from others?
  7. If your character has a secret, who else in their life knows, and why are they trusted with it?
  8. What skill or hobby do they want to learn, but haven’t?  And what has prevented them from learning it?
  9. What would motivate them to uproot themselves from their current life and start over elsewhere?  Could something even do that?
  10. Under what circumstances would they commit a crime, and how serious a crime would it be?

Have fun poking and prodding at your darlings with these.