Thursday, March 19, 2009

fiction exercise: 5 things

When I'm writing a lot, and stuck in a piece, I keep this book close to me. It's from the only really good class I took in grad school. Inside the book, there's a green publix shopping list on which I've written Liddie is the sort of person who: followed by ten answers to that question.

Avoid all of the minute character descriptions {is short. is allergic to tomatoes. hates to drive at night.} The point of this exercise is to let your mind wander, using the things you know about your character to dig you in a couple of steps deeper. When I do this exercise, the first three are usually throwaway. Uninteresting. If you're lucky you'll end up with five good ones on a list of ten:

2. is unashamed about the gap in her front teeth, the width of a dime laid on end, because her family didn't have dental care when she was young.

3. tucks scraps of food into her bag for the compost bin, then forgets to take them out until they've started to rot.

5. likes to buy lingerie from the Salvation Army.

7. tried to train parakeets in the backyard to work as messenger pigeons.

9. cleans the apartment every three months, using an old gym shirt of mine without first asking if I still wear it.

The story this character is from is dear to my heart, if difficult. I haven't looked at the story in three years, but I still carry her around and sometimes I think of that piece. From those five things, you might see her as thrifty, whimsical, a little self righteous, somewhat entitled, somehow a romantic, probably idealistic. Maybe you'd like to have coffee with her or maybe you'd get up and move if she sat next to you on MUNI.

I wrote 8 things for my character tonight in this chapter I'm desperately trying to get to the end of {not sure why, because the chapter after it will be even more of a headache to manage}. This guy goes to the opera alone, and keeps no photographs of family members in his house. Not as interesting, maybe, but his voice is frantic and dramatic and I think he needs ways to be quiet. I understood that he crosses the street to avoid people with babies and dogs, so I gave his best friend a cat. Just to make my character unhappy.

I've got to train a new cook on Saturday. I'm putting some thoughts together for a post on training. I think I'll only have two days with this girl and then she'll be on her own...and it's a lot harder to fix someone's mistakes when they're working independently and you're catching it days after the fact.

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