Writing Excuses exercise 10.5 – auditioning three characters

Posted: February 10, 2015 in writing exercises
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Making myself do the Writing Excuses exercises is a good way of refreshing my brain. I realised as I did this exercise that, as well as forcing me to think about character choice differently, it was giving me a break from working on long term projects, shaking the dust from neglected creative gears. The exercise from episode 10.5 was:

Take three different characters and walk them through a scene. Convey their emotional states, their jobs, and their hobbies without directly stating any of those. The scene in question: walking through a marketplace, and they need to do a dead-drop.

I added two extra complications for myself.

Firstly, I used a variation on this exercise that Mary mentioned in the podcast, in which I only have three sentences for each scene. I liked the way this forced me to think about conveying character efficiently.

Secondly, I decided to use characters I came up with for the last exercise. It seemed like a good way of helping me decide between the most likely protagonists for my weird western story.

And here’s what I came up with…

An old Plains Indian woman

Ezhno’s bag of mended clothing bounced against her back as she hobbled across the marketplace, her walking stick tapping at the dirt, beads clacking against its sides. She stopped beside Crazy Wolf’s soup stall, glaring at the jabbering bustle of white men and women as she quietly dropped a cloth bundle and nudged it beneath the stall with her toe. She still needed to return the clothes to their owners, and to make sure that they paid, but she had time first to see what the horse traders had brought in this month.

An escaped slave

Rough cloth chafed at the raw skin of Sarah’s wrists and ankles, cheap clothing concealing the places where her manacles had been. Fighting the urge to glance around, to give herself away in her anxiety over not getting caught, she stopped at the third stall along, just like Seneca had told her to, and dropped the note he had written her into a tin cup. The man behind the stall whistled a few bars of a spiritual, and as Sarah joined in she felt her spirits lift.

A Chinese railroad worker

Ju-long hurried through the marketplace, intent on completing his task before the railroad foreman noticed he was gone. As instructed, he stopped beside a pair of elderly gentlemen playing a close-fought game of go, and taking a playing pebble from his own pocket dropped it beside the board. By the time he was back to hammering spikes, his vote would have been counted and the future of the cabal would be decided.

And the winner is…

OK, I still haven’t decided who to use, and the downside of this exercise is that I’m now more attached to all three characters. One of the biggest challenges was getting across hobbies or similar interests in a setting like this, where there’s not as much leisure and entertainment on display as in our modern world. That stretched me, and is probably the part that shows the least.

If you’d like to share your own attempt at this exercise in the comments then I’d love to see it, or a link to where you’ve done the exercise elsewhere. And let me know what you think of my scenes as displays of character – what works well, what doesn’t, who’s interesting and who isn’t?

  1. We seem to be on a similar timeline! I just posted my exercise today. As far as your characters, the Chinese Railroad worker was the most interesting to me. I want to know more about the cabal! Also, great job on the three sentences. I probably should have done that, because my scenes definitely ran away with me.

    • Cool, I’ll have to go have a look at what you did.

      I have to admit, I partly used the three sentences to stop me spending too long on the exercise. But it was also useful for encouraging leaner writing.

  2. casblomberg says:

    Another fun one! And I’ve switched loyalties. Now I like the last one. I actually leaned forward, anxious to keep reading :-).

  3. glenatron says:

    I still like the last two best, pretty awesome.

    • Thanks. Think I’ll try writing the story with Ju-long, as he’s the one who got the most positive responses. Now I just have to work out what shape that story takes with him as protagonist.

  4. […] Writing Excuses exercise 10.5 – auditioning three characters […]

  5. […] Writing Excuses exercise 10.5 – auditioning three characters […]

  6. […] Writing Excuses exercise 10.5 – auditioning three characters […]

  7. Steve Hartline says:

    Each scene trumped the previous. The third was damn near perfect!
    Obviously I am so far behind pathetic as an adjective doesn’t give it justice. http://www.notchtopping.com/writing-excuses-10-5-boring-characters/

    • Thanks. That third one really seems to have caught imaginations, which is cool.
      Looking forward to hopping over and reading yours now – and hey, one of the joys of online courses is that it doesn’t matter if you fall behind!

    • Hm, I couldn’t leave a comment on your blog for some reason, so I’ll put it here.

      I really liked the sound of your second story. The detail was fascinating, and the character clearly had a real drive to change things. But the imp also sounded interesting, and you can never go wrong channelling the great Mr Pratchett!

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