I really hope these creative writing prompts will help you get some words onto that huge white space, once you start the words will flow, I promise.
Change the sex of character
What! I can’t do that, my character is fundamental to the plot. I love them as they are! If so, great, go with it. However if for some reason your character is not sounding honest, if they don’t quite fit in as well as you’d hoped, try switching their sex. If this is your main character it could involve some serious editing, but you are reading this because you are stuck aren’t you? It’s worth a try then. If you can’t face killing your darling [William Faulkner] or at least tweaking them a bit, then try with another minor character who isn’t so dear to you. How about the murder victim, the street urchin, even the narrator. A male friend has recently written as a female narrator, the change in perspective this gave him was inspiring.
Add 20 years onto the character’s age
The memories and history of the character will be opened up by the alteration. If you find ageing your character doesn’t work for you, then try deducting years. A lack of life experience or naivety may be just what you need to explain why the character was so easily drawn into a particular action. I have a calendar spreadsheet, I add in to it key events e.g. Vietnam war, death of dictators, major political or sporting events. I then use this as a resource when building the back story for my characters.
Include an illicit relationship, it doesn’t have to be sexual
The ‘other woman’ has been so many times it’s difficult to get a new angle on it. An illicit connection can be much less obvious, the hints at the unseen connections are often the fun part for a writer. Barriers exist everywhere, between gangs, cultures and religions, old family grudges, the ‘wrong side of the tracks’ or even different planets so investigate some options. Think of someone you know, slightly, the barista, the bank teller, the nurse at the ER who treated your injury, a distant family in-law. Then imagine that you knew them already but from another place or time, you receive a text from them, why? If you enjoy people watching, I’ve yet to meet someone who doesn’t, imagine the people in the queue at the coffee shop know each other, they meet in the rest room, why? Be imaginative, outrageously so if you like, have fun, then build your ideas into your story.
Your characters have a fight
Fist fight or verbal sparring, a good argument shakes things up. Fights hurt, noses get broken, they get bloody. They hurt emotionally. Watch people out in shopping malls, arguments are often quiet, spoken in hushed tones, watch the body language. Be honest about how you deal with aggression, do you diffuse it or rise to it? Do you easily make up again or bear a lifelong grudge? What would your character do, and why?
Think about a fight you had, with your partner, family, friend or colleague, dig deep and recall your feelings. Those feelings can be raw, personal, it can be difficult to write down but that is exactly why you should record them honestly. By using real memories it will enable your reader’s to empathise, to feel your character’s pain, it will draw them in. It can be what gives your story depth.
Give your character a ‘barrier’ to overcome
This ‘barrier’ technique is often used in drama at the end of any chase scene, a high wire fence to stop a keen detective or a set of roadworks or large truck to thwart a car chase. You can be more subtle, it doesn’t need to be a major plot line, just a way of adding another dimension if you like, a deeper characterisation. There could be a woman needs to get into a ‘men only’ private club. I recently visited a church in Greece where only women can enter which made a refreshing change from the norm. How about Ironside, a TV detective who used a wheelchair? Language is a common barrier, it can cause misunderstanding with humourous or tragic consequences. I always laugh at the bar scene in Star Wars with aliens of all descriptions shouting at each other. Phobias are another good way of introducing a barrier, it also adds a weakness to a strong character, another dimension, allows the reader to empathise with them, remember Mr T and his fear of flying?
Read books in your genre to see if they use any of these ideas to enhance their work. Watch films or TV, if they use one of these ideas did it work or was it too predictable or cliche?
Speak to other writers, ask friends, watch people. Please always be professional, don’t stereotype, do your research. I look forward to reading your work…
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