Following are several exercises from “Ready, Set, Novel!”
The Love List (pg. 12)
- Make a list of things that excite, inspire or intrigue you. (the book contains approximately 50 spaces)
- Circle at least nine things on this list that you would be excited to see in your novel
Pull Your Novel Out of a Hat (pg. 13)
- Write the nine things you selected from your love list onto nine scraps of paper
- Put the scraps of paper into a container such as a coffee can
- Pull out three scraps. Jot the three onto an index card (or similar)
- Repeat until all nine subjects have been selected and noted on cards.
You now have the the germ for three novels – or more if you are an overachiever. Or very indecisive.
The What-If Game (pg. 14)
“Thinking up interesting scenarios and exploring the stories that might unfold from them is a great way to kick-start a book. To play this brainstorming game, take your favorite story ideas from the previous activity and increase the intrigue by building some what-ifs around it. Example: What if a woman finally met Mr. Right … on her honeymoon? What if every inhabitant in a small town woke up one morning and discovered they’d all had the same dream about dancing the tango? What if DNA advances allowed scientists to bring a village of Neanderthals to life?” (pg. 14)
“When you’re in the wasteland between your plot idea and your actual plot, it’s your characters who keep you company. They inspire you to keep writing and to keep fighting toward resolving their needs and wants. Put quite simply, your characters will get you there.
If you don’t pay a shred of attention to anything else written here, these are the three things we think you should know about creating characters:
1. Don’t be shy. At this stage, the more characters, the merrier. They may not all end up in your novel. In fact, you may harvest the best of each and create a Franken-character. But whatever you do, don’t limit your imagination in creating a vast roster of characters.
2. Get detailed. Get really detailed. As if you were a cop, and the perp were a detail, tell him you’re gonna take him down to Chinatown. That’s how detailed. The nuances, quirks, and history you attribute to your characters will infuse them with dimension and – whether they’re losers, heroes, or hiss-worthy villains – relatability.
3. Find the motivation. Not your own motivation (though you’ll need some, too) but that of your primary characters. What gets them out of the bed in the morning and allows them to sleep at night? What is the one thing each one wants more than anything else in the world? Find that, and you’ve got yourself a story.” (pg. 21)
What does a character need? Following is a list of prompts to get you thinking in specifics. Don’t be limited by the list here, feel free to add, subtract and alter at will. Make it yours.
Character Sketch Questions
- Birth date
- Birth place
- Eye color
- Hair color and length
- Weight and build
- Marital status
- Children (ages)
- Birthmarks or distinguishing marks
- Favorite color
- Favorite food
- Favorite free-time activity
- Favorite type of music
- Favorite movie
- Life goals
- Biggest fear
- Favorite childhood memory
- Worst childhood memory
- What does the word mother mean to you?
- What does the word father mean to you?
- Worst habit
- Past relationships
- Religious values (if any)
- Biggest secret
- Biggest regret
- Greatest strength
- Greatest weakness
- Harboring any secrets or secret shame
- If the character could change one decision in the past, what would it be and why
The emergence of character is a bit miraculous. They seem to actually live. Like Pinnochio or the Velveteen Rabbit, they become real.
Baty, C. (2004). No Plot? No Problem!. San Francisco: Chronicle Books.
Baty, C., Grant, L., & Streit, T. (2011). Ready, Set, Novel!:a Writer’s Workbook: Plan and Plot Your Upcoming Masterpiece. San Francisco: Chronicle Books.
Collodi, C. (1880). The Adventures of Pinnochio. Florence, Italy: Il Giornale per i Bambini .
Williams, M. (1922). The Velveteen Rabbit, or How Toys Become Real. New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc.