Continuing where last week’s Unblocker left off, we remain focused on childhood.
This series of Unblocker writing exercises combines Legacy Writing (writing with a focus on personal history) with exercises you can use to break free if you’ve found your fiction writing to be stuck.
My theory is this: The legacy writing exercises can also be good for fiction writers who have hit a creative wall with a character. Just as the legacy writer can use these questions to unlock the important things that happened in their past, a fiction writer can use these same questions to learn new, important things about a character..
Legacy Writer: If you are using this exercise to help you with your own legacy writing, what you are looking for is a prompt to get you writing. Take the prompt below and just begin to write, free-writing style, with no concern for format or even content. All you want to do is get the pen(cil) moving. So, answer the questions below with as much detail as you can remember. If you suddenly focus on one aspect of your response, go with it. Let anything you stumble across that you find yourself writing more about just run on as far as it will go. Don’t worry. The rest of the prompt will still be here, later, if you want to come back to it. If you get to the end of your writing quickly, go back, close your eyes, try to “see” as many little details of your answer as you possibly can, and then write some more.
Fiction Writer: Be your character — the one you are having the hardest time understanding — and answer these questions from that character’s point of view. Pretend you are that character and they are sitting down to do this legacy writing exercise. What would they write? When you find something new and surprising, dwell on it a bit, and see if it is something you can use in your fiction writing.
We are again focusing on childhood, trying to dig up details and memories. To do that, we begin with the details that first spring to mind and then allow our pen (or keyboard, or voice-recognition software) to take over. We allow these early writings to wander around until we find something significant to latch on to. When something wants to take up more space, we allow it to.
With this exercise, we will be focused on childhood friends and childhood activities. For the Legacy Writer, this is all about your experiences, and what you can remember. For the fiction enthusiast, this is about your character’s earliest experiences and uncovering things that may inform, shape, or dramatically alter your fictional world.
Try to write at least one sentence for each question, but a paragraph is better. If you find a question spurs more writing, go with it as long as it is flowing freely.
Who were your childhood friends and what did you most like to do together?
List friends from different areas of your life: school, church, little league, girl scouts. Did different friends have different expectations about your time together?
Who was your best friend in elementary school? Middle school?
How did your friendship begin with your best friend?
What did you gain from that “best” friendship that you didn’t have with other friends?
Did you ever lose a friend? (you moved, they moved, they died, there was a major fight, there was tension between parents, etc)
Did you have any “enemies”, even if that term is too dramatic for the situation?
Why was this person not a friend? What was the issue between you? Was it ever addressed?
Did you have a rival? Someone who wasn’t a friend because you were in competition for something (grades, sports, the girl) but who also wasn’t an enemy?
Think of your school mates: Who were you happiest to see every day at school? Who did you dread sitting next to? Who had the best food to trade at lunch? Who did you feel sorry for? Who did you most want to be like? Who was the first member of the opposite sex that you thought of as more than a friend? Who did you “like” that didn’t return the feelings? Who “liked” you that you couldn’t stand?
What games or activities did you spend your childhood hours playing? Name and describe as many as you can think of. Which ones were your favorite? Where there any games or activities that you participated in, but dreaded or tried to avoid?
Ok, you say, can it really matter to me if I preferred kickball to tether ball, or that there was a girl in sixth grade that I was so moon-eyed for that I tried out for the school musical in the hopes of being on stage with her?
Better yet, can it possibly matter to my fictional character?
In short, it matters because it is one piece of the puzzle. I know if I answer all of these questions thoroughly, I can stumble upon several tidbits of information that I’d not remembered for years. For fictional purposes, it can lead to a simple thing (a scar from the missing tile on the school gym floor that lead to a major cut in the knee) or it can help unlock another layer of why Fernando became a killer (if Rosalinda would have just danced one dance with him…).
I hope some of these questions helped you get your pen moving.