Writing Exercise: A Character’s Outfit

I’ve recently discovered the awesomeness of shopping at thrift stores. My shopping trips tend to be very hit-or miss, I either find a bunch of stuff that speaks to me or walk out empty-handed. The time that I’ve spent walking between shelves and racks of knickknacks and clothes made me wonder if I could craft a character inspired by an outfit. So I decided to do a writing exercise where I did just that.

This is the outfit I used as my inspiration:

photo (7)

 

I encourage anyone looking for a writing exercise to do this one. 🙂

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The last time I wore a skirt to the shop, six people mistook me for the secretary. One even commented on how great it was that the owner finally hired eye-candy, and I took great pleasure in banning him—for life—from the Gold Fire Racing Garage. The look on his face when he realized not only that I owned the business but that those trophies in the Plexiglas case were mine: priceless.

“No comments,” I said when I stepped onto the shop floor and every single head twisted in my direction.

The jaws that dropped snapped closed again an instant later. Well, all except one.

“What happened to you?” Gordon Penn asked. “You look like a girl.”

“I hope that’s not supposed to be an insult,” I said.

The racecar in front of me, primed a gunmetal gray ahead of this week’s paint scheme that’d be applied later tonight, sat in line with two other identical cars in the row. One difference was that this car had a pair of red legs sticking out from under the front end and a pair of men hunched in the space between the hood and the engine compartment. Three cars, one primary and two backups, for the race on Saturday. Not too shabby for a one-car team.

“Never,” Gordon said. “A girl owns this place.”

I resisted the urge to give him a one-fingered salute and instead gestured to the three cars. “Is there something that you’re not telling me about the team?”

“Nothing overly important,” he replied. “Annabelle’s Liquors upped their sponsorship, and I hired a new driver. He’ll be here in ten minutes.”

My jaw almost dropped. I spun around to face him, staring hard as if I could see through his amber sunglass lenses.

“You’re kidding me,” I said. “There’s a stock car driver out there who didn’t try to punch you during the interview?”

“Two,” he said. “And why is it so unbelievable that I could decide on a driver? I have standards, but they’re not completely ridiculous.”

“Because a little bit ridiculous is okay,” I said.

I didn’t punch Gordon in the face four years ago during my interview because he’s my cousin—granted he’s twenty years older than me and we’re only related because his uncle is my stepfather—but he asked the dumbest questions. What would I do if a driver tried to wreck me because I refused to let him sleep with my boyfriend? Would I be willing to drive a race with a stuffed panda bear taped behind my seat? Would I object to polka music being played through the radio during cautions?

I answered with wreck him, why?, and go ahead, I’ll just unplug my radio.

Gordon co-owned and oversaw the day-to-day operations of Penn Motorsport Racing, Incorporated. For years, PMR, Inc. operated three teams in the top tier of national stock car racing in the United States and half a dozen other teams in local circuits across the country. But then PRM, Inc. went bankrupt four years ago, and Gordon bought the team his father and my stepfather, Stephen Penn. They renamed it Penn before his father decided to retire and the Gordon and my stepfather split the share.

The hinges on the front door of the shop let out a screech that made the hair on the back of my neck stand straight up. I’d forgotten that it needed a generous coat of lubricant.

“Toss me that can of WD-40, please,” I said to the engine builder who stood next to the shelves.

“You’re going to risk ruining that pretty skirt?” Gordon asked.

“One of the hazards of owning a garage.”

I headed around the corner and through a white hallway with waist-high windows looking out into open space of the garage. On the other wall hung framed photographs of drivers and their cars in winner’s circles. I didn’t bother checking the pictures to see if Gordon replaced any of them with an old photo of my #89. I checked this morning, and he wasn’t good enough to get one up in the short time between now and then.

Maybe Stephen slipped in without me seeing and left the brownies Mom made on my desk. He was probably still in the office since there’s no way that anyone in the building wouldn’t know that Gordon was in the shop. And I needed to talk to him about the small team out of the Iris Dirt Track in northern Charlotte who wanted to rent the outbuilding at the back of the property.

A hard body caught my shoulder as I turned the corner, and I slammed into to the wall. The body let out a grunt.

“I’m sorry,” a man said. “Are you all right?”

I straightened up, readjusted my skirt, and turned away from the wall. My shoulder throbbed from where it smacked into the body. But I shook it off and plastered a smile on my face.

“I’m fine,” I said and readjusted my glasses. “Are you okay? That was quite a hit.”

“I’m fine,” he said quickly.

The man must have been in his early thirties. He wore a pair of blue jeans and a red golf shirt; the impact knocked his otherwise immaculate black hair out of whack. His eyes took in my outfit, and the wheels turned inside his head.

Maybe I would be banning someone from the garage today.

“I didn’t see anyone up front,” he said. “Though I see you’re on your way back.”

“Actually, I’m on my way to the front to fix the door.” I held up the lubricant can. “You obviously didn’t notice the six inch layer of dusk on that desk. No one been here without an appointment in a year.”

He stiffened, a frown creasing his lips. “Mr. Penn is expecting me. I am the new driver for Penn Motorsport Racing.”

I took a step back and looked him up and down. Really took in his appearance. His clothes spoke professional racer on his first day of work with a brand new race team, but he stood with his chin raised, shoulders squared, and his jaw set. Defiance dripped from his eyes.

Oh hell, I had to see this. Gordon was going to eat him alive.

“I’ll take you to the garage,” I said. “What’s your name?”

I didn’t think it was possible for him to stretch himself any taller. He did, though.

“Danny Blake,” he said. He didn’t hold out his hand.

“Nice to meet you, Danny,” I said. “I’m Penelope Penn, and this is my garage. Follow me, please.”

I spun on my heel and felt pretty damn satisfied that it took three steps before he started to follow.

 

Camp NaNoWriMo: T-minus 22 days

Day 4: Raising Public Stakes

Step 1: As briefly as possible, write down your novel’s overt and outward central conflict or problem.

The central problem in the novel is that the city is under attack from the bad guys and they probably won’t realize it until too late.

Step 2: What would make this problem worse? Write down as many reasons as you can.

The bad guys are hiding within the city’s government and suppressing any information about an attack. The unwilling parasite soldiers are unable to speak up. There is a division in the city’s government that has led to tension between supporters. The police/military is gradually being siphoned away from the city in order to help neighboring cities. The parasite soldiers are sabotaging the police/military. The city is having money issues.

Step 3: When you have run out of ideas, ask yourself, “What would make this problem even worse than that?”

The city is rebuilding from a recent attack on its defenses. The parasite soldiers insinuate themselves into positions across the city and are each given a plan of attack. There is one parasite soldier for every four citizens and each soldier has advanced military training. The bad guys within the government are sneaking top of the line firearms into secret storage with enough to arm the parasite soldiers twice over and are providing the parasite soldiers with more than enough devices to sabotage the entryways/exits to the city.

Step 4: When you have run out of steam, ask, “What are the circumstances under which my protagonist would actually fail to solve the problem?”

The city government doesn’t believe Lia when she tells them out the attack and is imprisoned during the attack. The other teens don’t believe her when she tells them she’s innocent even though she’s a parasite soldier. Lia is injured and unable to communicate a warning to the city government. The bad guys in the government remove Lia from the city before she can help the city government. Lia decides to keep her sister safe and return to her home with her sister rather than help the city. Lia’s parasite forces her to participate in the attack on the city. The parasite is removed from Lia, leaving her paralyzed and unable to help.

Step 5: Have your novel conclude with your protagonist’s failure. Can you pull some measure of happiness from this ending?

Lia joins the survivors as they leave the wreckage of the city and vow to help guard other cities from the bad guys. Lia understands how the parasite soldiers operate and so can add a lot to the knowledge base.

3 Days to NaNoWriMo 2013: Combining Roles

Two days to NaNoWriMo. I’m not panicking. Not yet, at least. Here’s another exercise from Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook.

Combining Roles

1. In two columns, list the following: (1) The names of all major, secondary, and minor characters. (2) The purpose of each in the story.

Character Purpose in story
Danielle Glasgow Protagonist
Ace Glasgow Support/Challenge protagonist
Dustin Olmstead Flesh out King’s Guard/Foil for Ian
Ian Olmstead Supports protagonist/Complication
Chris Guest Flesh out King’s Guard (Medical support)
Austin Woodward Complication
His Majesty Mycroft Woodward Special knowledge/Encourages protagonist
Her Majesty Karen Woodward Central to plot
Penelope Swift Antagonist
Anderson Swift Flesh out Swift family
Heather Swift Complication
Mercury Jackson Supports Antagonist/Complication

2. If you have ten or fewer characters, cross out the name of one. Delete him from the story. If you have more than ten characters, cross out the names of two.

Character Purpose in story
Danielle Glasgow Protagonist
Ace Glasgow Support/Challenge protagonist
Dustin Olmstead Flesh out King’s Guard/Foil for Ian
Ian Olmstead Supports protagonist/Complication
Chris Guest Flesh out King’s Guard (Medical support)
Austin Woodward Complication
His Majesty Mycroft Woodward Special knowledge/Encourages protagonist
Her Majesty Karen Woodward Central to plot
Penelope Swift Antagonist
Anderson Swift Flesh out Swift family
Heather Swift Complication
Mercury Jackson Supports Antagonist/Complication

3. Your cast list is now shorter by one or two, but there remain one or two functions to be served in the story. Assign those fuctions to one or more of the remaining characters.

Character Purpose in story
Danielle Glasgow Protagonist
Ace Glasgow Support/Challenge protagonist/Foil for Ian
Dustin Olmstead Flesh out King’s Guard/Foil for Ian
Ian Olmstead Supports protagonist/Complication
Chris Guest Flesh out King’s Guard (Medical support)
Austin Woodward Complication/Central to plot
His Majesty Mycroft Woodward Special knowledge/Encourages protagonist
Her Majesty Karen Woodward Central to plot
Penelope Swift Antagonist/Flesh out Swift Family
Anderson Swift Flesh out Swift family
Heather Swift Complication
Mercury Jackson Supports Antagonist/Complication

This exercise was really difficult. I’ve spent so much time with these characters and have always imagined them to be part of the plot. Heck, I can’t believe I crossed out Her Majesty Karen Woodward as her plot point was supposed to lead to revealing the antagonist. But maybe I can move that to Austin, making him an even more important character. I do like removing Ian’s father from the King’s Guard, adding stress of the unit being down a soldier, and allowing Ace to be Ian’s reminder of his father’s legacy. This gives Ace a bigger role apart from just serving as Dani’s foil and also shows the closeness of the families. I don’t know if I’ll keep these changes, but they’re growing on me.

Have you ever eliminated characters and then assigned their roles to others? How did it work out?

A Book of Lessons

The amount of writing advice books I own is kind of embarrassing. I won’t say the exact number, but let me just say that they fill most of two small bookcases. Some of them I’ve only cracked open to flip through the pages. Others, I’ve gone through each page and highlighted passages as I read.

One of those books that I highlighted a lot was literary agent Donald Maass’s Writing the Breakout Novel, which happens to have a companion workbook. I’ve done a few of the exercises in the workbook, and I figured that I’d try out another one.

So, here goes nothing.

Adding Heroic Qualities

1. Who are your personal heroes? Write down the name of one.
It’s hard to choose. I could list fictional heroes for the rest of the day. Atticus Finch is one, and so is Sherlock Holmes. As for people in the real world, I’d have to say NASCAR star Mark Martin or writer Stephen King. But I have to chose one, so I’ll say Mark Martin.

2. What makes this person a hero or heroine to you? What is his or her greatest heroic quality? Write that down.
Mark Martin always  owns up to his mistakes. If he wrecks other cars, he apologizes and takes the blame. But he also races the other drivers like they race them. If they race dirty, then he will give it back just as good as he gets it. So his greatest heroic quality would have to be a tie between owning up to his mistakes and playing fair yet not being taken advantage of.

3. What was the moment in time in which you first became aware of this quality in your hero/heroine? Write that down.
I don’t remember the exact race I realized that Mark Martin owned up to his mistakes and played fair but wouldn’t let other drivers take advantage of him. It would have been during an interview after a wreck. He made a mistake, and he admitted it right into the microphone. He apologized to the other drivers involved. As for that he plays fair, I remember it was during a race when he was battling Kyle “Rowdy” Busch for the lead. Kyle banged  into Mark, and Mark banged right back. Then Mark raced another driver, Carl Edwards, cleanly a few races later when Carl raced him clean. Both instances were when Mark was in the middle of what he did best, racing.

4. Assign that quality to your protagonist. Find a way for he or she actively to demonstrate that quality, even in a small way, in his or her first scene. Make notes, starting now.

  • Julie realizes that she personally made a mistake in not going into a hotel room in order to confirm that there was plenty of blood for a particular, demanding vampire guest
  • She takes the blood up to the room and faces the angry vampire instead of putting the responsibility on one of her employees
  • She confronts an old, powerful vampire, threatening him with the repercussions from her family after he threatens her

That certainly got the creative juices flowing inside my head. I’m liking how Julie is starting to shape up, and I think I might have start plotting this novel after I finish the storyboard for King’s Shadow.

Do you have any writing exercises you particularly like? Do you have a go-to book of writing advice?