Character Exercise

I have been writing and writing for the class I'm taking online, but have not shared any of it! I'm halfway through, and am thinking about turning some of what I've started into longer pieces, so I have not shared it here, but here's a fun exercise on character that really challenged me.

Exercise #4:
This exercise is more generative, and perhaps more for fiction, and definitely for a writer who is just sort of starting to create a narrative and is struggling to find a character to inhabit that story or essay. Let’s start this simply.  We are going to essentialize a character in this exercise. Essentializing a character simply means “distilling a character’s essence from any abstract construction or classification of that character—breaking down a character to discover who they truly are, at their core.”

To do this, let’s give a character two choices in their fictional lives, and then let’s help that character make that choice, only to discover two more choices. Let’s keep giving our character two new choices for every choice they make, and let’s get a sense of who we are looking at, working with, living with, studying and learning from. Let’s make great, surprising fiction that comes from the choices and decisions our characters create with us as writers.

It’s just a simple game. It’s just giving your character two options, letting them choose one, and then giving them two more to choose, and then following them as you begin watching and intuiting/feeling/guessing after what they will or would do in a given set of choices/circumstances. If you pursue this for 21 steps (which is your exercise!) you will begin to see who you are working with, who this person is and how they behave or may well behave in their fiction. You will begin to know the essence or core of your character.

So, for this exercise, please name a character, give them two options (go to the grocery store or go to play golf), and then see what happens next. Do this for 21 steps. Have fun!

And here's my attempt:

  1. Lucy will either go for a run, or she will not.

  2. If she does not go for a run, she will do a quick clean of the house to get ready for friends to come over that night, while worrying about the calories she will not burn before the dinner party, or she will check the fridge to make sure she has all of her ingredients for the meal.

  3. If she checks the fridge to make sure she has all of the ingredients, she will either have what she needs, or she will discover she is missing fresh parmesan.

  4. If she discovers she’s missing fresh parmesan, she will either go to the grocery store herself, or she will text her husband and ask him to pick it up on his way home.

  5. If she texts her husband, he will either reply or he will not.

  6. If he does reply, he will say “yes, no problem,” or he will say, “I won’t be home until the guests are already there, and don’t you need to start dinner before then?”
  7. If he says the latter, Lucy will either text back right away, or she will wait a few minutes, so that she isn’t so irritated when she replies.
  8. If she texts back right away, she will either say “OK, let me know when you’re on your way,” or she will say “I thought you were planning to leave early because of the party.”
  9. If she texts “I thought you were planning to leave early because of the party,” she will immediately second guess herself, or she will feel liberated and proud of herself for saying what’s on her mind.
  10. If she second guesses herself, she will either try to distract herself with that cleaning, or she will text again immediately, apologizing and letting him know she’ll get the cheese herself.
  11. If Lucy texts again, she will then immediately lace up her sneakers to go to the grocery store, or she will watch her phone to see if he replies.
  12. If she goes to the grocery store, she will either run into a friend in the Starbucks line, or she will skip coffee and go right for what she needs.
  13. If she opts for coffee, she will either ask the friend to join for dinner, too, or she will decide one couple is enough and that it might be awkward to add another person.
  14. If she doesn’t ask the friend to join, she will quickly suggest going to yoga together the following day,, or she will ask her a lot of questions about her job.
  15. If she asks her friend questions about her job, Lucy will either listen fully to the answers, or she will realize that she needs to get home and cook.
  16. If she realizes she needs to get home, she will politely excuse herself, saying “I’d love to hear more about this, but i need to get going,” or she will look at her phone.
  17. If she looks at her phone, her friend will get the message, and it will either feel awkward between them, or it will feel okay.
  18. If it feels awkward, Lucy will ruminate on it on her way home, or she will be distracted because her husband hasn’t replied to her text.