The Street

Character Exercise

Describe a world (350+ words) where:

A character of your choice is walking down a city street. This can be suburban, urban, with shops, or houses. It can be contemporary, historical, futuristic, fantastical (be that steampunk, fäerytale, it can even be a world of bubbles if you want). Picture the details. What’s the road like? Cobblestones, tarmac, dirt?

1. Now imagine the weather. How does this affect your character? What are the clothes your character’s wearing (if you’re writing about an underwater city, and your character is a merfolk, alien, or the like, is there an equivalent?), and are the clothes appropriate for the weather? Is your character in shorts and tee-shirt, perhaps being on a seaside or lakeshore town/city, and a gale breaks in? Perhaps it’s raining ash from a volcano (perhaps the poor city is in a similar position to Pompey). Maybe it’s just bright and sunny and your character may or may not have sunglasses. Does the weather alter your character’s mood?

2. Is your character alone, with someone, someones; is the street crowded, empty, or somewhere in between? Who’s there? (If you’re strapped for ideas: what about a child, a mother pushing a pram (‘baby carriage’ for my American readers), a street vendor, an escaped robot (maybe a vacuum cleaner robot), a priest/nun, tourists (with or without cameras), historical reenactors, shoppers).

3. What is your character thinking about, or feeling? Perhaps he/she/it doesn’t notice or care what’s going on because of some inner process. Maybe they just had a burger that didn’t agree with them, or are hungry for fish-sticks; maybe they just had their heart broken or they can’t wait to go and watch a new movie/play at the theatre. Maybe they’re on their way to court. (Whether that’s a royal court, or a trial is up to you!). Maybe they just witnessed – or are witnessing – a robbery! Maybe they are the robber – a highwayman! Maybe they’re a child playing in the street (this does not preclude them from being a robber!).

Most of all, just have fun and write. If you can’t think of a character, try writing yourself; if you can’t imagine a street, pick one you know. The object of this exercise* is to try and consider things from an angle you might not otherwise, to get your mind thinking, and to hone your writing. Write for ten to thirty minutes, (or more, if you want); try setting a timer and seeing how far you get. Keep your first draft, make a copy if you want to revise it.

Taking it Further

If you want to do this with the same character in different time periods, it’s a great exercise in thinking how a street and city change over time, and how that changes a character’s behaviour and mannerisms. For example, chewing gum – a fairly recent invention. What else might your character be snacking on?

Anyway, that’s just a few ideas. I’d love to see what you come up with!

If 350 words are too few for you, try 500. If this grows into a page or more, let it =). If you only manage 150, that’s okay too! Just see where your imagination leads you.

*This is an exercise that came to me this morning when I was thinking about something completely different (which tends to be when many of my ideas strike.) – and no, I don’t remember what I was originally thinking about…).

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