on invoking and developing characters, at Arcadia's Creative Writing Summer Session

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Yesterday, thanks to the generous invitation of Gretchen Haertsch, I spent time with the talented writers of Arcadia University's Creative Writing Summer Weekend in the sensational "castle" illustrated above. I taught a master class. I then reflected on the empathetic imagination as I read from my four Tamra Tuller novels—Small Damages, Going Over, One Thing Stolen, and the upcoming This Is the Story of You.

(Thank you, my friends, for coming to see me. Thank you, Soup and Aimee, for the fireside chat.)

In the master class I was focused on the osmotic process I alluded to here. We undertook linked exercises designed to help the writers diagnose their strengths and fears and to help them locate new wellsprings of ideas and possibilities. One element in the lesson plan involved character development. I presented the writers with a number of character-invoking questions. I invited them to add to the question list. We next considered which three or four questions sparked the respective imaginations of each writer. Characters and creatures emerged.

I was asked if I might share the list of provoking questions and so I do, below. Perhaps a handful will inspire you.

Character Invokers

How does it interact with reality?
In what kind of weather does it thrive?
What kinds of arguments does it have?
What secrets has it shared with no one?
What questions does it chase?
What is its shoe size?
How does it deal with crisis?
Where does it find peace or solace?
How does it exercise its curiosity?
How does it greet or ignore the skies?
What does it miss?
What will it stand up for?
What would it change about itself?
Who are its heroes?
Does it dance, and if it does, to what music?
What songs was it sung when it was young?
Does it seek to be rooted in or to escape?
Does it crave lonesomeness?
Does it have faith in another day?
If it were colorblind would it be heartbroken?
What is its favorite word?
Who and what does it trust?

And from the writers:

What haunts it?
What is its least favorite vegetable?
What sense would it most not like to lose?
What does it value more than its own life?
How far would it go to achieve its goal?
Who or what gives it meaning?
Where would it like to travel?
Is it experiencing an existential crisis?
Is it afraid of crowds?
What makes it hopeful?
Does it like water?
What superpower does it wish for?
Where is it from?
How was it raised?
Does it long for the past or dream of the future?
Did it sleep last night?
What is its greatest fear?
What does it fear of the future?
What is its favorite color?


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