This is a writing prompt from Helen Stubbs.
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Sometimes a character in one of my stories doesn’t feel as fleshed out as the others. He or she is more like a cardboard cut-out. This exercise is designed to help bring that character up to the standard of the other characters. I’ve used this method a few times. It’s very simple!
Here’s what you do.
As a separate piece of writing to the story, write some first person or close third person from the problem character’s point of view. It could be a diary entry, a mission statement, or a scene in the actual story. You might take them through their day; describe how they feel about or interact with other characters in the story. They might recall influential events from their childhood.
The aim is to get to know that character, so when you redraft your story you know enough about them to insert the nuances of their personality and reasoning.
Just write as much as you need to. Perhaps only a page, or if you’re enjoying being that character you might get carried away and write a whole story from their point of view!
But really – this exercise is backstory or working writing, no one ever has to see it. I often keep these as a separate file to my main story file… lets see if I can find one. Yep, I did. It’s attached below.
An example of where I did this to develop the character Nurse Riley, in my story “The Stormchilds,” in Winds of Change.
Fire is my element. I run before the wind, yet I curb nature’s power. I devour old growth so that new life will sprout. I warm people; I make life possible. But I am dangerous when out of control. The wind speaks to me, treats me as inferior and servant. But I am much more. I cull life; it runs before me.
I’m Nurse Riley. I live alone in a basement beneath the ground, lit by a hearth fire, because fire burns within me. I am the balancer of out of control natural forces. I reduce, and I bring life through death.
I see the man calling out. I’ve been watching the tent since he set it up and his wife waddled in, clutching her belly because she was already in pain. I’ve heard the warning in the coming days, the jeering winds saying they are coming down. The South and the Eastern wind, so strong and playful, threatening that they have a trick to play on the other two. And I found myself drawn to this woman, hiding behind bushes behind her house, until I was evacuated this morning to the mall. And then today the police brought her here, and I see her waddling in.
There was quite a bit more, but you get the idea!
Helen Stubbs lives on the Gold Coast of Australia. She writes stories that are dark with pointy edges. Some have been published in anthologies and magazines, including Subtropical Suspense, Next, Midnight Echo, and Winds of Change. In 2010 she won the Worldcon amateur short story competition. She’s an interviewer for Galactic Chat and tweets @superleni. You can also find her at her blog.
Sam van Zweden was Writers Bloc’s Online Editor from 2013 - 2015. A Melbourne-based writer and blogger, her work has appeared in The Big Issue, Voiceworks, Tincture Journal, Page seventeen, and others. She’s passionate about creative nonfiction and cross stitch. She tweets @samvanzweden.