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?

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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?

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!