Writing Exercise: Three Lists of Three

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While creating characters is easy, creating unique characters is hard. Generic waitress, cab driver, teacher, romantic lead, detective, etc. It can take some time to develop a character into a multi-dimensional person.

The challenge, especially when writing short stories, is reducing that process to maximize the story impact while also getting a story written quickly.

WRITING EXERCISE: One way to do this is three lists of three characteristics of the character. (1) Basic things the character is/does. (2) Basic things the character is not/does not. (3) Brainstorm quirks.

She has long blond hair, works as a mystery shopper, and lives in an apartment with two other roomies. She does not return phone calls, wear sneakers (only high heels for her!), or clean out her car. Quirks include never eats at the same restaurant twice, prefers bad horror movies, and always drop a dollar into the bucket of a street performer.

Remember the basic things the character is NOT, shouldn’t just be the opposite of what the character is. For example: The character is female; the character is not male.

Think about appearance, occupation, living arrangement, hobbies, clothing, and food faves. These characteristics may change as the story develops. Some may need to go away, and some are never mentioned.

You can also use this exercise well into a story. Discovering a new quirk can take a sagging middle into a new direction. For existing characters write out all everything for (1), (2), and (3) which have been presented in the story. Draw a line and then write the things that you know which haven’t been presented lists. Then, draw another line and add one new item to each of the lists.