Writing Challenge: A Fun Exercise in Character Development

This week I thought it might be fun to throw out a challenge to my readers and author friends. When I was earning my M.F.A. in Creative Writing, we were given various writing exercises, of course. To demonstrate an interesting way to develop a character, one of many, by creating a character from the characteristics of an inanimate object. It might sound strange, but honestly I can remember having a lot of fun with this particular exercise. The object I was assigned was a butter knife.

First, we were ask to do a free write about the object, associating it with characteristics which came to mind. Next, we were asked to create a character who possessed some or all ofthose characteristics, using a Proust questionaire, which is a really good tool, but any means of creating a character profile so that you really know your character would work. As always, the more you know about your character, the easier it is to write them in a scene or a story, or maybe even a series. Lastly, we were asked to write a scene that introduces the character.

You’ll find the scene that resulted from this exercise back in 2013, and I’d love to see the results of any of you who would like to accept my challenge and create their own character and scene. I had a lot of fun with this exercise and I think you will, too. My inanimate object was assigned, but you can pick one from the following list or choose one of your own: butter knife, salad bowl, spoon, fork, spatula, plate, frying pan, wine glass, corkscrew, turkey baster, tea cup, coffee pot, dish towel, broom, feather duster, brillo pad. I chose a bar scene for my introduction, but yours can take place anywhere you like. Explore the possibilities for setting as you work through this exercise in character development.

If you are up to the challenge, pick an object and do a free write about it. Then, create a character and get to know them well. You can even make your own questionaire. What are your character’s favorites: food, color, song, etc…? What do they do for fun? Occupation? You get the idea.

Then write a scene that introduces your character and send it to me at kayebooth@yahoo.com. Don’t forget to tell me what your object was. If I like it, I may ask for permission to share it here. Yours doesn’t have to be as long as mine, just keep it to a single scene that tells us who your character is.

My Introduction to Betty Lou (Butter Knife)

“Come on. Don’t be such a stick in the mud!” Christa said, urging her friend to live it up a little. “One drink is not going to kill you. I swear.”

Betty Lou sat on the bar stool with her legs crossed, hands folded in her lap. Her back was as straight and upright as if she were practicing the principles outlined in Debrett’s Etiquette and Modern Manners, with a book perched atop her head. “Oh, all right,” she said. “But, just one. You’re sure it won’t make me look foolish?”

“I’m sure,” Christa said, waving the bartender over. As he approached them, she said, “Two long island iced teas, please.”

“Iced tea?” Betty Lou asked, with a discernible sigh, thinking anything with iced tea couldn’t be too bad.

The bartender placed two tall glasses of tea colored liquid on the bar in front of them. Christa placed some bills in his hand and picked up her glass. “Come on. Drink up,” she said, talking a long swallow.

Betty Lou picked up her glass, sniffing the pungent aroma of liquor in the glass. “It doesn’t smell like iced tea,” she said, wrinkling her nose.

“You said one drink,” said Christa, placing a hand on top of Betty Lou’s, gently pushing up toward her lips, “Now drink up. Go on.”

Betty Lou took a small sip.

“No…, drink,” urged Christa, tilting her friend’s hand up with her own, gently forcing her to take more of the liquor in her mouth.

Betty Lou choked down a swallow, making her eyes water. “That sure doesn’t taste like iced tea,” she said when she had regained her composure. “Yuck!”

“You get used to it,” said Christa, working on her own drink. “Oh good, the band’s getting ready to start.”

Betty Lou took another small sip, wrinkling her nose once more. She doubted Christa’s statement. How could anyone get used to the taste? She watched attentively as the band members came out onto the stage and began tuning instruments. “Remember,” she said, turning to her friend, who perched a cigarette on her lips and was lighting it, “I’m only staying until ten o’clock.”

“Loosen up,” said Christa, offering her a smoke from her pack. “Tonight could be a whole new beginning for you. Relax and finish your drink.”

“Couldn’t I just have a seven-up?” Betty Lou asked, plucking the offered cigarette from the pack. “I just had a rocky ending. I don’t think I’m ready for another beginning.”

“No way,” Christa said, offering her a light. “You agreed to live it up a little, remember? No taking the straight and narrow tonight. Besides, you know every time one door closes… ”

Betty Lou bent slightly to light her cigarette as Christa flicked her Bic. “Okay. Okay,” Betty Lou said. “But, only until ten. I have to debug a new program tomorrow. I want to be alert. I need a good night’s sleep.”

“Finish that drink and you’ll sleep good, I promise,” Christa said with a wink.

A man stepped onto the stage to introduce the band, as the house lights lowered. He was short and stocky, with shoulder length hair pulled back in a ponytail. The black leather pants and vest that he wore made him look like a throwback from a seventies biker gang.

“Good evening ladies and gentleman,” he said. “Thank you all for coming out.” Whistles drifted up from the audience, as he addressed them from the stage. “We have a great show for you tonight. Please allow me to introduce to you, The Ripe Melons!”

As the band began to play, Christa downed the last of her drink and signaled the bartender for another. She began to sway on her bar stool to the beat of Lynard Skynard’s, Gimme Three Steps, which The Ripe Melons managed to do a fairly good job of cranking out. Wisps of bleach blond hair fell over her eyes and she absently brushed them away.

Betty Lou took another careful sip. Maybe Christa was right. It didn’t seem so bad now. She could feel the vibrations from the music in the floor beneath her. “Do they have to play so loud?” she asked, raising her voice to be heard over the music.

Christa smiled at Betty Lou and shook her head. “Lighten up, girl,” she said. “Let your hair down.” She reached up behind her friend and yanked a pin from the tight bun on top of her head.

“Hey!” said Betty Lou, as her bun unwound and her long black ponytail unrolled and hung straight down her back.

“Come on,” Christa said. “You look so uptight.” She reached up behind her friend and pulled the hair tie out, letting her onyx hair fall loosely, softening her high cheekbones and angular jaw. “There,” she said. “Now you don’t look like you’re waiting for your last rites. You have pretty features when you just ease up a bit. You always pull your hair back tight from your face and it makes you look like your spring is wound a bit tight.”

Betty Lou was stunned by her friend’s boldness. Would she be undressing her next? She took another sip of her drink and smiled just a little, as the image of Christa reaching over and unbuttoning the top buttons of her blouse flitted through her head.

But, Christa’s hands stayed to herself as she downed her second drink and crushed out her cigarette in the ashtray. “Let’s dance,” she said, sliding down from her barstool.

Betty Lou shook her head adamantly. “No, you go ahead,” she said. “I’ll wait here and finish my drink.” She looked down at it, noticing to her own surprise, that it was almost half gone.

“Oh, come on!” said Christa, grabbing ahold of Betty Lou’s hand. “You need to get laid. Let yourself go a little.”

It took effort to stay upright on the barstool with Christa pulling on her like that, but she managed to pull her hand away. “No, really, I’m fine,” said Betty Lou. “I’ll just watch you.” She took a rather large swig from her glass as if that might convince her friend to go without her.

“Suit yourself,” said Christa, heading for the dance floor.

Sipping her drink, Betty Lou watched Christa as she approached a handsome guy with blonde, feathered hair, sitting in the second row of tables. She bent down and said something to him, then he stood and walked out onto the dance floor with her. Betty Lou couldn’t believe how bold Christa was. She could never be that forward. Even when she’d been with Matt, Betty Lou had always let him take the initiative. She had always followed his lead. They had been the perfect pair. That seemed like another life now.

A hand on her shoulder startled her out of her reverie. She turned to find herself face to face with the most gorgeous man she had ever seen. He was tall, maybe even taller than her own 6’3’’, with a muscular build that said he didn’t sit behind a desk all day. His brown hair matched the brown eyes that she found herself staring into.

“Would you like to dance?” he asked, smiling a smile that would melt any girl’s heart.

She straightened her back. Her heel began tapping on the rung of the barstool, making her knees bounce. “Uh—me?” she asked.

“Well, yes,” he replied, glancing to either side of her. “You’re the only pretty girl I see in the immediate vicinity.”

“Um…, I couldn’t,” she stammered, “I mean, um, well…”

“You don’t dance?” he asked.

“No,” she said, feeling her face flush. “At least,… not very well.”

“May I buy you a drink then?” he asked, raising a brow.

“Oh,… thank you, but I have one,” she said, holding out her glass, only to realize that it was empty.

He smiled at her again. “Looks like you need another,” he said. “May I?”

How could she refuse? “Uh,… sure,” she replied. How wishy-washy that sounded. She did her best to save face, adding, “That would be nice.” At least, it didn’t sound quite as lame as her stammering all over herself, like a school girl who’s never talked to a good looking man before.

He flagged the waitress over and ordered them each another round. Betty Lou was surprised at how at ease she felt as she sipped her new drink while they talked. Normally, when talking to members of the opposite sex, especially good looking ones, she could feel the tension build inside of her, materializing on the outside as sweaty palms and stiffened muscles through her back and neck, but she felt none of those things now. It must be the alcohol. Up until tonight, the strongest thing she’d had to drink was a wine cooler. She wasn’t used to the strong effects of hard liquor, even in a mixed drink.

“Are you sure you wouldn’t like to dance?” Kyle, which is what his name had turned out to be, said. “You can step all over my toes, if you like. I walk on them all day anyway.”

Betty Lou started to decline once more, but then his corny joke registered and she burst out laughing instead, the most recent sip of her drink spraying out over his pants. “Oh, fiddlesticks! I’m so sorry,” she said, grabbing her cocktail napkin off the table and dabbing at his pant leg. “This is not a good beginning, is it?”

Kyle chuckled and took it all good naturedly. “It’s okay,” he said, taking her hand in his own and looking into her eyes. “But, now you have to dance with me, even if you have two left feet.”

feltBetty Lou gazed into those big brown eyes of his, noticing a few flecks of gold in them. She’d never seen eyes like that before and now, she never wanted to look away. He offered her his hand, and she took it, letting him lead her out onto the dance floor. He pulled her in close to him and held her there as they began to sway to music. Betty Lou laid her head on his shoulder and closed her eyes, allowing him to lead her. It felt good to be held against him so firm, heat flushing through her body, as she felt his stiffened member pressed against her leg. Maybe this wasn’t such a bad beginning after all.

Adventures in Writing

Last week I started reading The Writer’s Adventure Guide: 12 stages to Writing Your Book, by Beth Barany. The first stage that she outlines involves beginning where you are, but you must discover where that is first. The first exercise involves a 20 minute timed writing that discusses what writing means to you, what your goals are as a writer, and identifying your strengths and weaknesses which stand in your way or help you to meet those goals. She asked that you look at both the inner strengths and weaknesses, as well as those presented by the outer world around you. Part of the objective of this exercise is to help you begin viewing yourself as a writer, and although I’ve been doing that for a long time, I chose to do the exercise anyway. You never know when you may discover something unexpected by doing an exercise that you don’t think you really need. So, the following is the results of that first exercise for me, but I have great ambitions, so I didn’t stop at twenty minutes, but followed it through until I had covered all the areas suggested.

I am a writer. I live to write. Writing makes me feel free, because I can express myself through it. When I write, I can block out the outer world as I explore the inner world of the story or poem. My goal is to become a paid author, able to make enough to support my family and finance my writing career. I see myself 10 years from now traveling from place to place giving lectures, teaching workshops and signing books. I would also like to be attending conferences and workshop to increase my knowledge about writing, as I feel that writers must always continue to learn and grow and to develop their craft.
When I’m not writing, I am reading. I love being the Southern Colorado Literature Examiner and doing my blog, Writing to be Read, because I get to meet other authors and do book reviews. I also do book reviews for Webb Weavers. Doing book reviews puts me into both of the elements that I love. I get to read good books and then write the reviews for them. It’s the best of both worlds. Plus, by functioning in these capacities, I am able to increase my own visibility within the literary community.
Of course, this all revolves around the assumption that I will be a successful author by that time. I already have a children’s book being published, which I am waiting for with much anticipation. I have others written that will follow in the series, that are just lack polishing. Since I already have a publisher for the first book, I think that the chances are good that they will agree to publish the other in the series. I am waiting to submit the second story though, because I want to enter it in a Writer’s Digest writing contest. I truly feel this story is good enough to possibly win. I also have other children’s stories that wouldn’t fit into the series, but I think they might be good enough to stand alone.
In addition, I am planning to attend college this summer to get my MFA in creative writing, which will lend credibility for me as a teacher and help me to complete my novel. I have the story in my head, but I don’t know where to start to put it all in print. In the past I have written short stories and poetry. I have always just sat down and begun writing and the stories just have flowed out for me, but a novel length story presents a challenge, because it requires more detail and more than one or two characters be developed. Acquiring my MFA will help me to gain the skills that I need to overcome my weakness and write the novel that is now, only in my mind.
One day, I also plan to put together a collection of my best poetry, with illustrations. Publishers for poetry may be more difficult to find than they are for books or children’s stories, so I might consider self-publishing my poetry collection, maybe even as an E-book. E-books seem to be the rage these days. I wonder if poetry does well in the E-book format? I think that it might.
Also, in my head, there lies a memoir about my son Michael and his tragic death at the tender age of 19. I have begun many times to write such a book, but there are so many loose ends still, three and a half years later, that I don’t know how to end it. Even a memoir has to have an end to the story, does it not? Before one can see the tragedy of his death for what it is, they must understand who he was, which requires details about his childhood. I can remember details about his life as if they had occurred yesterday, but how much of this actually needs to be relayed to readers? No one will ever know Mike the way that I did, no matter how many words I put down on the page, or how eloquently I relay those details. That’s the problem. Because my words don’t seem to me to express what I want to say adequately, I always end up putting this project down only to start over at a later date, maybe from a different approach, but ultimately with the same results. I have been working on a nonfiction book, as well. It is still in the research stages, but I need to get a better idea of how I want to present the information. Again, I think an outline might help me to clarify my direction in my own mind.

As I said, I have thought of myself as a writer for many years. This exercise did make me look at my unfinished projects and evaluate the reasons why they are unfinished. I do fine with short stories, but longer books are intimidating to me. I think that outlining my story ideas might help in this area. As far as my memoir goes, I think I may still be too close to the story in real life. It isn’t over for me, and I don’t know if it ever will be truly. There are so many questions that I may never have the answers to. I think I need to let more time go by before I attempt to tackle that particular writing project.
So, I did come out with a better idea of my weaknesses and some ways to overcome them, or at least deal with them. I also was able to look at my strengths and the actions that I am taking that push me closer to my goal. My discoveries in this area pleased me. I think the things that I am already doing or have planned for the immediate future are a good start in the right direction.
The rest of the exercise consists of being aware of how my goals might change over the next week, now that I am more aware. Again I will follow through with the exercise, although I don’t think that they will change much. Barony instructs to start your book in this coming week, as well. For me, that will entail constructing an outline and exploring my characters. I’ll keep you posted on my progress, so be sure to drop back in for next week’s blog post.