This writing exercise, you guys. This writing exercise.

So I’ve never given much, if any, stock to the idea of writing out passages that will never be read by others. Shouldn’t writing the stuff that people will (ideally) read be enough? If I don’t write in enough character on those pages, then I have no business writing fiction.

Oh, I’ve tried to get to know my characters before. The character sheet approach doesn’t work for me, except as a thinking exercise. Taking psychological tests doesn’t work either. Interviewing, for whatever reason, also doesn’t work. I figure there is an element of human analysis involved with these methods that I just don’t get, for whatever reason.

It’s turning out to be a different story (HAR) when I write events out. The most mundane stuff, which is never going to show up in a story because it’s so tangential as to be meaningless in a tight three-act structure. Characters waking up. I mean, isn’t that one of the cardinal sins of a newbie writer, to write only about someone waking up? Characters working their day jobs. Man, day jobs. I like mine, more or less, but it’s not going to be riveting to read about me programming or designing or, gods help us all, engaging in meetings.

But hey, it’s an exercise in a class I’m paying money for, so I gotta do this. Only 250-500 words, which I can easily do these days (thank you, NaNoWriMo and struggling through December and January with a daily word count of 500+). Write about the character going to bed, or waking up, or preparing a meal, or eating a meal (seriously?), or earning a living, or spending a significant sum of money.

Thus I wrote up a little thing of one of my characters waking up. While I did this, I couldn’t help but add details and… I’m really not sure what the hell happened. I must know my characters on some level, because taking them through their routine (and his routine is not normal) was… um… revealing. Character traits came out, like I had drained water from a basin and there were these gem rocks revealed.

Last night, he made a comment as to how it wasn’t fair that there were no synonyms for “seal (n) aquatic mammal” at That was when I stopped writing.

I woke up this morning (he hasn’t spoken since last night, but I’m sure if I start researching about aquatic mammals or fish or anything he will) and wrote about the other character working her day job. Which involves other people spending significant sums of money. And, hey, character traits came out again. A little omniscient POV gave some insight into how she viewed herself and how others viewed her were not the truth. How would I know something like that?

Now I’m very sure if I walk into a clothing store she’s going to complain when she sees something out of place thanks to careless customers who exist at every price range.

You know, I thought all the writers who went on about how they have an entire cast of people in their heads were either (a) exaggerating for the benefit of the young’ns, or (b) insane. Possibly I’m insane.

And I’m getting addicted to this methodology of discovering character, I swear. It’s not the easiest writing I’ve ever done (which would be while I’m doped up on cold medication and viruses), but it’s not difficult either. It’s like candy.

Why does this work for me? It makes no sense. Why this, when character sheets and personality tests and even Tarot card readings have failed? Is it because I’m observing my characters in their natural habitats? Is it because I need to let my imagination have free reign and the only way this happens, for me at least, is through the act of writing?

Oh, good gravy, he’s talking again. Now he wants to prepare a meal for her. You only know how to cook fish, man. A gal’s going to get tired of that. No don’t try to cook a bird oh gods this is going to be a disaster and no the Butterball hotline is not available right now and you know what? Let’s go get this over with.

4 thoughts on “This writing exercise, you guys. This writing exercise.

  1. For me, I find it helpful when I know a character well enough that I can get inside his or her head. I think voice is a very powerful thing when it comes to learning who a character is, and the ability to speak to them as if they were a different person from myself. Kind of like when we were kids and used to play roleplays with our toys.

    Interviews, biographical sketches, slice of life sketches and so on are hence more valuable to me than third person character sketches, psychological analyses, RPG statistics etc, when they’re narrated from rather than talking about the character. I guess it’s similar to how we often learn better through doing than learning about something.

    I think I stopped doing this for a while when I was writing short stories because I didn’t believe I’d have the time to invest in character. In hindsight to me though, it’s invaluable practise, and once you know a character well, you can reuse him and her in a variety of stories.

    It’s a necessary part of story telling I guess…

    • I miss being able to roleplay through toys.

      And yeah, the character reuse is nice. At least, these days I have characters in my head (though they weren’t talking by themselves before) before I encounter any story idea, and then it’s a matter of reshaping story premise to fit the players.

  2. P.S. I think interviews are a little more restrictive though in the sense that the narrative flow is controlled by the interviewer, and not necessarily so much the character.

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