I will dig a well

pixabay images modified by author

The Carrot Ranch Literary Community ran a Flash Fiction Rodeo during October. The variety of prompts were loads of fun.  As the competition closes and the winners are announced, I’m delighted to share my contributions.

Challenge #1: Cast yourself back to six years of age, knowing what you do of life in the present; what would you want to be when you grow up and how would you go about achieving that goal? Tell us in 100 words, no more no less. It can be real or imaginary, serious or light-hearted.

I will dig a well

When I grow up, I want to dig a well as deep as the Baobab is tall. With my hands, I’ll fill buckets and pass them up a ladder to my sisters’ eager fingers. Water will rise, turning the dry dirt to mud, and I’ll hold my breath and labor in the earth’s wet coolness. And on the day my well draws pure and clear, the village will sing, but praise is not what will lift my song. That day, my mother won’t walk to the ditch to reap sickness with our water, and my sisters will dance to school.

***

To read Hugh Robert’s winning submission click here: Carrot Ranch

Creating Rich Characters – Prompts

steampunk-1809590_640

While my days are spent grinding out my WIP, I thought I’d share an old post about writing character bios, specifically about using prompts to expedite the process.

The prompt-list below looks more complicated than it is (a result of explanations and examples). For some prompts, a word or two is sufficient, while others require some contemplation. Unsurprisingly, I force my main characters to endure the entire process; incidental players get a pass with a mere smattering of details, and everyone else falls somewhere in between.

Ultimately, I believe that this pre-work pays off, not only in rich characters. To me, the process of writing flows with greater ease. My characters are immensely cooperative in telling their own stories when they know who they are.

The External Character

woman-1801830_640Physical Description: Appearance goes without saying, but add at least one remarkable feature: glass eye, cleft chin, crooked teeth, chewed nails, scars, moles, beady eyes, or rumbling voice. Remember, even beautiful people are imperfect.

Gestures, Mannerisms:  A distinguishing physical habit not only defines a character but makes him memorable. A character may habitually pick his teeth, clear his throat, rub his jaw, trace an old scar, purse his lips, fidget with a button, wink, spit, raise one eyebrow, stroke a beard, belch…

Quirk: A distinctive behavior that goes beyond a gesture: Won’t eat anything green, corrects improper speech, loves bad puns, doesn’t like to be touched, is afraid of heights, always misses the bus. There are numerous lists of quirks on the web.

Attribute, Trait: People have a blend of traits. Pick one or two for your character that stand out. Maybe she’s stubborn, lucky, picky, impatient, naïve, or flippant. Lists of attributes are also readily available on the web.

Skills, Abilities, and Interests: No real person is great at everything, and neither is your well-rounded character. Does your character have an education or special training? In what skills does he excel? Where is he lacking? What does your character do for a living? What does he do during down time?

Mix it Up: People are multi-dimensional. Villains can have redeemable qualities. They may rescue animals, love old movies, grow roses, or play chess in the park. Likewise, heroes have their flaws. They drink too much, have hot tempers, always run late, get easily flustered, or are slobs.

Don’t Overdo It: Creating a one-eyed, belly-scratching, kind-hearted, hypochondriac swordsmen with a penchant for chocolate is fun, but most characters will require much more subtlety.

The Internal Character

woman-1596954_960_720Backstory: Each character has a formative life that shaped him. What was the character’s childhood like? How strong were/are his family ties? Where are his parents and/or siblings? What significant event of the past shaped who the character is today? What was the character doing before the first page opened?

Secrets: A secret impacts a character’s attitudes and behaviors. It adds interest to the story because it can create tension or mystery in interpersonal dynamics. What is the character’s secret that no one else knows?

Goals: What does your character desperately desire? A protagonist’s overarching goal will often drive the story, and conflicting goals between characters may be a major source of tension. Consider that the main characters will have goals related not only to the main plot but to subplots.

Obstacles: What is the main obstacle that stands in the way of the character reaching her goal. This may be a nemesis, a personal flaw, or a condition of the culture or world. Remember that villains aren’t the only ones that can stand in a character’s way. Obstacles can be large and small and there are usually lots of them in the protagonist’s path.

Active Pursuit of Goals: At some point in the story, the character moves into an active role in overcoming obstacles and achieving goals. What triggers the change for the character? How does the character take or attempt to take active control?

posing-1022162_640The Big Fear: This is the one that terrifies – betrayal, loss of control, inability to protect loved ones, failure, death, aloneness, disgrace, insignificance, poverty, aging. It may drive the character’s goal or be an obstacle he must overcome. Fears have a basis in experience – where did this fear come from?

The Mask: A character’s mask is directly related to his fear. The mask describes how a character compensates for the Big Fear, or hides it from the world. For example, a character fearful of betrayal, may act overly independent or refuse to get close to others. Often the mask comes undone during the course of a story and the character is forced to face and perhaps overcome her fear.

Cross-Character Relationships: Another way to add interest and tension is by creating similarities between conflicting characters, and differences between companionable characters. What might the protagonist and villain have in common? Perhaps they both love horses, appreciate fine wines, or fear water. Along the same lines, how might the protagonist and his cohorts clash? One curses constantly and the other finds it offensive; one might play an instrument poorly while his companions cover their ears.

There you have it – my prompts. I hope this is helpful. Let me know if there’s something I missed!

 

**Images from Pixabay**

Don’t Pass Gas

If the title of this post captured your attention, well ha ha, it’s not what you think.

Today I chanted, “Don’t pass gas! Don’t pass gas! Don’t pass gas!” on the steps of the Oregon State Capitol.

I loved this homemade sign.

I loved this homemade sign.

As an author, I often place my characters in situations where they need to speak up and take a stand for what they believe. They use their wits, voices, and skills to protect their families and communities from great danger. Their enemies often wield vast power with a ruthlessness that disregards the welfare of the common folk. The villains are greedy, righteous, deceptive, and utterly relentless.

I have high expectations of my characters, and they expect no less of me.

That's me in the sunglasses.

That’s me in the sunglasses.

A gigantic energy conglomerate wants to transport fracked natural gas through Oregon to the Pacific coast for shipment overseas. A monster pipeline would traverse my tiny mountain town, cut through our water supply and plow through miles of forests dry as tinder in the summer months. My characters told me to quit complaining and do something about it.

Holding someone else's sign while they take pictures.

Holding someone else’s sign while they take pictures.

So, for the past few months, I set aside my fantasy writing to apply my skills to detailing the real-life facts about fracking, pipeline failures, and environmental catastrophe. The risks would make your head spin.

Our Senator who supports Passing Gas

Our Senator who supports Passing Gas

Today, I went to my first rally with all the other aged hippies. Now you know what the senior citizens do on a Tuesday afternoon in Oregon.

We didn’t get pepper-sprayed. It was a blast. I suggest you try it.

Separately we are small as mice. Together we roared, “Don’t Pass Gas!”