How to develop your character from random words and avoid premature grey hair

Not only can staring at the monitor turn your hair grey, but it can turn you into a robot. Really!

Staring at the blank page on the monitor can turn your hair grey early.  Okay, I don’t really know that because I have dyed my hair for a long time now and have no idea what color it really is.  But I can remember sitting and looking at the blank page on my screen and grinding my teeth in frustration.  That can’t be good for you.  Still, nothing was coming; I had a deadline and it was drawing ever closer.  A friend of mine had posted this little exercise on the forum that I manage, and I decided to try it out.  Here’s how it works.

Below is a list of five words.  You take each word and write a paragraph (one paragraph only) about that word from one of your character’s perspective.  You don’t have to use the same character.  If you would rather write a description of a place, do so, but keep in mind the story you are writing and the voice you are using (we will talk about voice in another post).  Note:  You can write more than one paragraph if you are including direct dialogue, since you need to use a new paragraph for each speaker in turn.

1. Air
2. Apples
3. Beginning
4. Bugs
5. Coffee

I know it looks very simple but you would be amazed at what you find out about characters just describing something simple.  Here, I’ll show you (this is right off the top of my head and not pre-written).

AIR

I couldn’t seem to get enough air into my lungs.  It was as if something dark and heavy were sitting on my chest pressing me into the ground.  Even my healing powers had deserted me.  My vision was growing dim, with intermittent flashes of light in front of my eyes.  Even so, I noticed that the rest of the group hadn’t noticed my distress; I was being left behind.  I knew they would come searching for me once they noticed, but would I be able to hang on until help came?  I gasped and strained to gulp in the air, but it was no use.  The darkness grew complete and I knew no more.

This is a very interesting little bit.  The speaker is Emerald Verity, the former Battle Cleric of the title and the main character of my WIP (Battle Cleric the Novel).  So far though, I have not written anything about this episode.  I have no idea what has happened, but it is intriguing enough that I might follow it.

APPLES

Feldspar reached forward and took an apple out of the bowl on my desk.  Holding it delicately, he took a huge bite out of it and started chewing, the sweet juice dribbling down his chin.  It annoyed me that he hadn’t asked permission but just helped himself.

Perhaps he had read my thoughts, for he said, “Sorry, milady, that was rude of me.  I’ve had naught to eat for the past twenty-four hours, and the apple promised to stop those miserable growling noises of my stomach.”

How can you stay annoyed at someone like that?  “It’s fine, Feldspar,” I said.  “Help yourself to as many as you need to stop the hunger noises.”  I found I had to hide a smile as his stomach rumbled like a catapult being winched up.

Same here.  So far there is no episode like this in the story.  However, it is a good character bit for both Feldspar, a rogue that Emerald used in her spy system, and, of course, Emerald.

You get the idea.  Just let it flow, keeping in mind that the paragraph must have some connection to the word.  You don’t have to post your paragraphs here, but it would be great if you did.  I love reading these snippets and people are so creative with them.

P.S. The exercise saved the day, I wrote enough paragraphs to get me going, and I made the deadline 🙂

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