Write the first draft of a scene using only dialogue: no speaker tags or actions. What can you convey about the characters through their voices or interaction? Avoid the temptation to use dialogue for exposition or back story. Instead, focus on developing character. Let what’s said—or not said—build tension and reveal the workings of a …
A woman sits on her apartment fire escape, observing the busy city street below. What does she notice first? What does she not see? Explore her character through her perspective and observations. How do her observations influence what she does next in the story?
While riding the bus, a character becomes absorbed in thoughts and misses his or her stop. The character disembarks at the next stop, and encounters something surprising. What does the character find? How does this incident affect the character in the future? Describe the bus and bus stop with vivid sensory details.
Begin a story with the following line of dialogue: “Eat this.” Use sensory details including taste and smell to make the scene come alive. How does the food item develop or change a relationship between characters?
Write a story about a character’s summer spent working in an ice cream shop. What is this character like on the first day of work? What changes over the course of the summer? Who visits the ice cream shop? What do their ice cream selections say about their characters? Create vivid scenes by describing the …
Trace the history of a piece of clothing in a thrift shop. Who made it? Who first wore it? What happened to the character while wearing it? Who else wore it? How did it get to the thrift shop? Use the clothing’s history to illuminate the characters’ lives.
Develop a story based on the classic premise “a stranger comes to town.” What makes this stranger different from the locals? What qualities or talents does this character bring to the town? What happened in this character’s past? How does the stranger’s arrival change (or not change) the town and its people?
Imagine a teenager’s birthday party: a sweet 16, a quinceañera or a bar mitzvah. Describe the decorations, the food, the gifts and the guests. What happens at this party? How do the party guests interact with the teenager? How do these interactions affect the character?
As we celebrate America’s Declaration of Independence, write a story about another group of individuals who must come together to make a radical decision.
Alice McDermott, born on this day in 1922, masterfully captures moments and emotions in her characters’ lives. Use her writing advice to explore the feelings, hopes and dreams of a character. How has a seemingly insignificant moment shaped the individual? Delve deep into the character’s emotional psyche.