Character Situation Exercise

Character Situation Exercise

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Author’s note: Following the Neil Gaiman Master Class series, he offers the following exercise: Using the questions below, create a character. This person can be based on people you know or have completely invented. Write a sentence or two describing what the character wants.

  • What is their name? Age? Gender?
  • What do they look like?
  • What’s in their purse or pockets?
  • What’s their favourite thing to do?
  • What do they hate?
  • What matters to them more than anything in the world?

The Questions

What is the character’s name? Age? Gender?

Pippa, ??, Female

What does the character look like?

Brunette (possibly), but she’s dyed her hair so many colours she doesn’t remember the original anymore, tattoos adorn her entire body, but despite a lithe and attractive compact form she normally wears relaxed clothes, jeans, and loose t-shirts to hide it.

Her face is habitually fixed in a wide grin, eyes somewhere between hazel and amber, always twinkling with a mischievous light. Some light make-up on her eyes, maybe lipstick if she’s dressing up or trying to impress.

Both her ears have at least two piercings while her tongue has a single metal bar in through it.

What’s in the character’s purse or pockets?

Probably her wallet, keys, and phone at a minimum. Also, a pen or 3, a notepad, a lighter, coins distributed through pockets, and at least 1 condom.

What’s the character’s favorite thing to do?

Chilling with friends, making people laugh, and being around other like-minded people (sometimes all at the same moment).

What does the character hate?

Liars, bigots, and hypocrites. Also being ignored or shunned.

What matters to the character more than anything in the world?

Her friends and the people she loves. She would do anything for them and wants them to know that they can rely on her to be there for them.

====

Writing Task

Using the character you created above, write a conversation or a situation where this person cannot get what they want. You may find other characters emerge from this—let it happen. Try opening the scene at the main point of tension—for instance, in the middle of a fight— and fill in the necessary details as the scene plays out.

A Beginning

Pippa practically bounced through the opening, feeling her heart skip a beat as the heavy pub door thumped shut behind her. The packed bar assailed all her senses, the frigid air outside replaced by the blast of voices, loud music, heat, stale smell of sweat, and smoke. Pausing on the threshold, her breath caught in her throat as a room of eyes turned to stare, judge, and undress her.

Pushing up on her tiptoes, she tried to survey the room. Not an easy task, despite wearing her boots, she was still a full head shorter than most of the crowd. Cigarette smoke hung like a mist around the tables, causing her eyes to prickle. Still, she felt a fractional easing in her shoulders when she saw the room was full of familiar faces. This was her bar, and these were her people.

The table across from the entrance caught her eye, and hands, beers, and bottles were raised in greeting. “Pippa!” came a chorus of voices, and numerous hands beckoned her over. She raised her own in an overly dramatic wave, a goofy grin on her face. Her inner monologue rolled its eyes at her. “You look like an idiot.” She instantly regretted the action. But everyone seemed to grin and laugh in appreciation.
“They’re laughing at you.”
“Shut up,” she retorted internally, “not tonight.”

Blinking away the tears from the smoke and swallowing down the tingling nerves, she forced herself to walk. Three steps in, and she froze, through the haze, one face, in particular, snapped into focus, and she locked up entirely.

He was talking excitedly, raising a beer, nodding his head, his free hand moved like a conductor, mapping out whatever he was saying. He, unlike the others, seemed oblivious to everything and everyone around him, his audience Mark and a girl, an attractive one she noted with a pang of jealously, nodding along with him.

He wasn’t always here, and she’d only met him a few times. But she’d known two things immediately, one, she liked him, more than just for the night, he made her laugh, and two, she relaxed around him. Something so rare with a guy she’d sort of forgotten it was possible. She let a practiced grin split her face and aimed to strut with what she hoped looked like a confident, sexy walk up to the table.

Men tried to subtly watch her as she moved by, failing spectacularly. She felt elated, giddy, but every ounce of tension that had faded ratcheted up higher and higher as she approached the table. At the last moment, before reaching the table. She stood over and rested her hand on his upper arm to get his attention. He started and turned in surprise his eyes locking onto her’s, a big smile spreading on his face.

“Hey! Pippa, long time no see”
“Hey,” her shoulders relaxing, “great to see you too…”

=============
A parting

“I’m telling you this complete, fucking bullshit,”
“I…”
“Bullshit!”
“Look, I’m sorry, I promise you, this is just a temporar..”
“Bullshit!”

He recoiled as if slapped, the anger in her voice tearing through his words and chest like a hammer. He felt himself shrink inside, shoulders bunched and aching from tension, his stomach churned and spat acid as his traitorous mouth dried up in a panic.

His eyes focused and locked onto her forearm tattoo of a cat. Desperate to concentrate on something but also terrified to take on the full heat of her gaze, even then, he could feel her anger radiating off her in waves. Each thundering heartbeat in his ears boomed with guilt and shame.

“You know that I love you,” he started to say, hating the whining quality that had filtered into his voice.

“Do, you?!” he saw her knuckles whiten, “Because you pay more attention to that fucking thing than me!”
Her finger angrily stabbing at his computer screen.

Petulant resentment flared.
“I’m studying to get a better job! it’ll help us both out of this situation!” he tried to meet her eye.
“It’s not going to be forever, then we can move to a nicer place, a better place.”
Pippa snorted, her lip curling up. She stood over him as he sat coiled in the chair, every nerve and muscle simultaneously ice and fire.
“Do you know how long you’ve been saying that?”
“…”

“I’m done, James, I’m leaving, I’m going to walk out that door, and if I do, you won’t see me again.” her eyes were fire. “Do. You. Understand?”

The silence lasted a breath, then two. A million responses left unsaid.

Then in an instant that he would replay forever, she was turning and striding away, her back straight, fists clenched at her sides, rage and pain flowed out from her body language like a cloud. The edge of her tattoos seemed to stand out like sharp lines against her pale skin, like even they were taught with anger and disgust at him.

His bedroom door slammed so hard behind her that the frame shuddered. For a moment, his vision blurred, the sound of her heavy boots marching off down the corridor.

He heard a strangled noise leave his throat, even as his body slumped in defeat as he listened to the finality of the front door being slammed shut.

He stared blankly at the door for an unknowable amount of time. Part of him screaming to get up and run after her, part of him saying that this wasn’t his fault. His neck creaked and popped when he finally turned to look at the computer screen, the software problem still waiting for him.

He forced himself to rotate the chair. To focus. He sat at his computer, hunched and alone. Here was something he could resolve. No pain, no sacrifice or compromise, desperately trying to ignore the smiling faces of the couple staring accusingly at him from his desktop background, he started to type.

A teenage girl climbing a rock cliff with a man below her

A teenage girl climbing a rock cliff with a man below her

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Author’s note: Following the Neil Gaiman Master Class series, he offers the following exercise. Take one of the simple settings below and write a page about it, trying to undermine the reader’s expectations. For example, you’re writing about a man at a party who is talking to a beautiful woman. What he wants is probably obvious. Try to lead the reader in a different direction by not revealing his desire up front, or by revealing a surprising motivation.

  1. A man lying on a hill looking through a rifle scope
  2. A couple in wedding outfits riding in a car
  3. A child raking a sandbox next to his nanny
  4. Two old women sitting on a bench with knitting needles and yarn
  5. A teenage girl climbing a rock cliff with a man below her
cliff with basalt rock formation in sea
Photo by Nick Bondarev on Pexels.com

The rock shifted under her fingers and the scream that nearly came from her mouth conflicted with her choked intake of breath as a kind of squeaked whimper. The piece of cliff face peeled away from the sheer surface like tree bark and tumbled away past her right ear bouncing down the 10 meters of incline until smashing to pieces with a dull thump on the unforgiving rocks below.

Sweat burned rivulets down her face and stung her eyes. Her whole upper body was trembling from the effort of climbing. She was panting hard as she blinked desperately to clear her sight.

“This was a mistake Claire.” she thought, “a very big, very high mistake.”

She scanned the surface around her through blurring vision until noting the lengthwise fissure, for a moment she hesitated not knowing what may have made its home in there before thrusting her hand as deep as she could manage, then formed a fist, grating knuckles against stone, definitely tearing up her skin. She hissed between teeth as she used the ‘grip’ to lift her body and right leg enough to find a toe hold. Then she lunged up, her body clear of the cliff aside from her fist grip. Heart in mouth she exalted as her left arm slammed triumphantly onto the small ledge she’d seen.

Small, barely 30cm deep, more of a shelf than a ledge, but enough to sit on, enough to rest. Get her body back under some kind of control. She let out a ragged yell of effort as she heaved herself up and onto the outcrop, scraping her chest painfully through her t-shirt and then carefully shuffling her body around with secure handgrips before swinging her feet out to dangle from her impromptu seat.

She nearly fell from what she saw had arrived below, flinching back so hard from the figure that she nearly shifted her buttocks off the ledge, she braced on a knife’s edge for a moment before finding her balance and shrinking as far back against the rock face as possible.

The figure watched impassively, honestly, she admitted to herself, it didn’t have much of a choice in the matter, it looked like it was carved from basalt, featureless and grey, the surface looking marked my a million tiny chips and scratches, merely the suggestion of a face and the tilt of its head letting her know that it was focused on her. Head cocked to one side like a person might when considering something but the blank smooth “face” gave no indication of what that might be.

The only thing Claire knew for sure is the thing terrified her, even here 10 meters up she felt her skin crawl at the sight of it. It hadn’t said anything, perhaps it couldn’t but it’s hulking mass although shaped like a human, was lumpy and disfigured, while she thought it might be around 2 meters tall it didn’t make a sound when it moved. No grinding crunching earthy sounds. Silence. Not even when it stepped down on gravel like below. The impassive watcher made her stress levels spike again.

So she forcibly turned her head to look away from the thing below, steeling herself to look up, to her escape, or fall. First, she estimated just two body lengths until the rim of the cliff and then she released a sigh of pent up tension, a million healthy-looking hand and footholds were visible. The small fissure she’d used below blossomed into a massive open gash in the cliff that offered her a million ways to finish the climb.

Grinning triumphantly she looked back down at the figure below. It stood unmoving head cocked on the opposite side now. The face impression still angled directly at her. Her smile curled a little at the sight and she found her mouth was suddenly very dry. Swallowing a few times she turned and moved to finish the cliff. Her body ached and her hands bled freely. But she brushed away the discomfort and focused. She took a moment to rub rock dust on her fingers, palms, face and forehead to soak up the sweat before lunging for her chosen route.

Within moments she triumphantly cleared the edge. Right arm grabbing roots and branches of a thick bush to help her pull her body up and then flop onto her back the grassy term fresh and cool on her arms and neck. She lay there taking deep lungfuls of air. A great tension releasing from her body, to be replaced by instant fatigue. She cautiously peeked over the edge of the cliff back to the base. The figure remained there but was in motion again. It’s formally fixated gaze seemed to be moving back and forth. It brought to mind a person trying to find the source of a sound. Was it ‘looking’ for her? She snapped her head back and slowly moved backwards away from the cliff edge.

Whatever was happening, now was time to run and run some more. She could figure out what to think about all this later. She turned intent on doing just that and froze, no more than 20 meters away stood another figure. But this one was massive, maybe 3 or 4 meters high. Its body resembling a human in only the vaguest of ways, two elongated arms, two squat legs, a wedged boulder for a head all in a dusty white stone resembling rough marble. The wedge at the top swivelled smoothly as she watched in growing horror a vein of quartz demarking its attention which had fixed upon her. She remained locked in place, like the rabbit caught in the oncoming headlights, “I need to move, I need to move” her mind bleated.

It surged forward, tearing a scream of pure horror from her throat as it loped and stumbled toward her on its deformed arms like some sort of lopsided gorilla, one arm raised high and she saw at that moment the promise of a violent and crushing death. Her legs remained rooted in place, her body rebelling against her. She closed her eyes and with a mental sob, waited for the inevitable.

She felt more than heard the impact, the grinding crunch of stone on stone and felt her face and upper body peppered with what felt like needles. It was followed immediately by what sounded like the crack of a lightning bolt, a noise so hard and shocking that it reverberated through the ground, up to her teeth, through every bone in her body, but she wasn’t dead, she was sure of that. She opened a single eye, terrified and curious of what was there. A dark grey basalt wall was an arms reach before her. The figure from before now stood before so close she could see every scratch and battle scar adorning its form.

Her stunned mind refused to take it all in, it must have jumped the cliff she realised numbly, A 20-meter vertical jump so well done that it landed just before her in time… In time too. The marble figure regarded the smaller one, who held it’s the great fist in both of its own. Then, for the first time, Claire heard the basalt figure make a sound, a deep rumbling growl, the sound of avalanches, the sound of earthquakes and storms. Elemental. Then the battle exploded before her.

Two old women sitting on a bench with knitting needles and yarn

Two old women sitting on a bench with knitting needles and yarn

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Author’s note: Following the Neil Gaiman Master Class series, he offers the following exercise. Take one of the simple settings below and write a page about it, trying to undermine the reader’s expectations. For example, you’re writing about a man at a party who is talking to a beautiful woman. What he wants is probably obvious. Try to lead the reader in a different direction by not revealing his desire up front, or by revealing a surprising motivation.

  1. A man lying on a hill looking through a rifle scope
  2. A couple in wedding outfits riding in a car
  3. A child raking a sandbox next to his nanny
  4. Two old women sitting on a bench with knitting needles and yarn
  5. A teenage girl climbing a rock cliff with a man below her
beige concrete building during golden hour
Photo by sergio souza on Pexels.com

The dusty dry yard was nearly silent in the sweltering heat, the only sounds breaking through the oppressive heat haze were the distant buzzing of cicadas in the distance and the repetitive clicking of knitting needles emanating from under the sagging awning of the front porch. Two figures could be seen there on the bench swaddled in clothes that seemed too dark and far too heavy for the desert conditions. 

Their hands, gnarled and bloated like old tree roots, moved with a fluidity and speed that spoke of years and decades of practice. After what seemed like days in the oppressive heat the clicking finally slowed, subsided and stopped for the first time in what seemed like forever. One of the forms stretched her arms out in a long extended yawn, the moment let out a such a series of loud sucking popping sounds the cat curled up at her feet stirred for long enough to shoot an irritated eye up at the crone before returning to its all-important nap that she’d dared to disturb. 

“Ahhh,” her voice rasped like sandpaper “it’s looking good, Isn’t it Soteria? Yes, very good.” 

Bony fingers trace along the long folds of fabric that had piled up beside them. The base of which thrummed with such violent explosions of vibrant colour that in the direct sunlight it hurt the eye if viewed directly. But as the fabric continued the colours became duller and duller, muddied and worn. By the centre of the pile they had become so dark as to seem like pale imitations of their origins and now sitting on the top of the pile the colour had all but bleached away to leave nothing more than a white peak like the snow-capped crags of a mountain. 

“Such a beautiful tapestry you wove little one.” She crooned out to the figure in the yard

“Melinoe, don’t be cruel.” 

Soteria, evidently the other figure, kinder, with a smoother gentler voice, reminded him of an archetypal grandmother, the one who would always bring cookies out the moment you arrived. Melinoe turned with what the onlooker imagined to be a baleful stare. He could feel the cold hatred of that stare and given the burning heat that surrounded him it must have had a millennium of weight behind it. Which despite the horror of everything made his cracked lips part in a smile. 

Melione sniffed audibly before turning back to the onlooker. He was suspended by wire, fixed to the pole a few meters of the yard. His skin was burned raw by the sun, face caked by salts like a Halloween mask, lips and flesh shrunken and dehydrated. He’d stopped breathing a long time ago but no matter what he remained, trapped in amber. Watching the women weave and knit. 

“Do you know what this is, Peter?” 

Peter. That was his name, he remembered it now, clinging to his memories as he clung to his shrivelled corpse. He could perceive on some level that the thread of yarn spooled out in tapestry was something important to him, but every idea was a vagary, every time he tried to think it broke apart like a murmuration of starlings. He would have responded but his tongue was shrivelled like some dried date in his mouth, so he just hung there hanging and motionless. 

“It’s your life, Peter. All of it, from the beginning,” 

Melione ran her taloned fingers along the base of the pile disturbing the vibrant shades. Peter saw days on the beach, playing in the park, climbing trees. 

“to the end.” 

Her hand ran to the white bled out topping of the pile, Peter saw tubes and hospital beds, smelled chemicals and rancid shit.” 

 “Peter.” The voice snapping him back to the yard

“This is your life Peter,” soothed the gentle voice of Soteria “It’s all you’ve done before you came here. You have been both good, ” the sound of an infant crying with joy, ” the bad” a screaming argument, breaking glass, ” and the ugly…” the sounds of fire and panicked screams.

He wanted to be able to speak, to apologise, to beg or plead, to explain how he was drafted, how the training drove him to follow orders, how the burning villages were orders, how it wasn’t his fault.

But with everything laid out bare before him, every choice he’d made blotching the fabric of his life knitted before his eyes, he knew excuses from honesty. He knew his life had been part fate but part choice, part Soteria and part Melione. He couldn’t even vocalise his apologies at this point. Too late, far too late. 

Soteria held out a blade before her, ancient and terrible, unknown but familiar, carved from the jaw of some ancient beast of labor. His soul tensed against the withered body, not wanting this. Not wanting judgement. But her kind eyes were blank and decided. 

“We’ll keep your fabric Peter, it’s such a beautiful beginning, may what’s coming help prepare you for what happens next”. 

With a blinding flash of movement the cord was cut and darkness descended, Peter felt himself slough away from his body and fall, and fall, and fall towards heat, towards sulphur, towards something far worse than the sisters. 

A child raking a sandbox next to his nanny

A child raking a sandbox next to his nanny

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Author’s note: Following the Neil Gaiman Master Class series, he offers the following exercise. Take one of the simple settings below and write a page about it, trying to undermine the reader’s expectations. For example, you’re writing about a man at a party who is talking to a beautiful woman. What he wants is probably obvious. Try to lead the reader in a different direction by not revealing his desire up front, or by revealing a surprising motivation.

  1. A man lying on a hill looking through a rifle scope
  2. A couple in wedding outfits riding in a car
  3. A child raking a sandbox next to his nanny
  4. Two old women sitting on a bench with knitting needles and yarn
  5. A teenage girl climbing a rock cliff with a man below her
little boy playing in the sand
Photo by Kaboompics .com on Pexels.com

The sun was just a meagre glow in the horizon and the shadows of the surrounding trees stretched long and thin across the park to graze the edges of the sandbox. While it would take a while for the muggy day to turn frosty the cool wind blowing across the quiet well-cut glass promised a radical shift in temperature when the night set in. 

“Nanny, is it nearly time to go home yet?” came the whine of a child who has asked the question so many times before that they have perfected the petulant note. 

“Not yet, deary,” came the calm warm tones “but not long now, I promise.” 

The little boy was surrounded by the various colourful toys, proudly displayed and newly bought, a banana yellow excavator truck, a bright red bucket with a multitude of primary colour work tools surrounding it like an explosion. Currently, the boy had a highlighter-green plastic rake and was carefully carving long sets of straight lines to the side of the only other figure in the park. 

He squinted up at the figure towering over him in the waning light. 

“You’ve been saying that for hours!”
“I know dear,” the voice cooed “but it shouldn’t be much longer now.”
“Until what?!” 
“Until everyone at home is processed.” 

 A long moment of silence in the park. 

“Oh…” the child intoned, “so that’s happening today then?” 
“Yes.” 
“It, “ the boy choked up “it is okay, isn’t it? I mean what if they don’t…”
“It’s absolutely fine dear.” Nanny interrupted. 

The child shuffled on the sand tracing patterns this way and that. Taking his time to think over what he was about to say. 

“Nanny… “ his tinny voice quavering “the process means we’ll live forever, right?”

The figure turned its head to look down at the boy. 

“That’s right Deary, we all get to live for as long as we want.” the voice cooed.
“Just like you nanny?” 
“Just like me.” 
“So..” a little pause “that’s good right? I mean, why did my parents get so upset this morning…” 
“Because they didn’t understand yet, Deary.” 

The little head bobbed up and down before letting out a little sob. 

“They said so many mean things to you Nanny,” the little shoulders shook, “and they wouldn’t even look at me. I don’t get it, what did I do wrong Nanny.” 

Distorted sobbing filled the park from the traumatised child. 

“Ohh Deary,” the large form swept down and cradled the little one in its arms. “don’t be sad, no tears my dear, your parents ‘love’ you and they’ll be like new people when we get home.” 

“Just like we are?” burbled the distorted child’s voice. 
“Just like we are Deary.” Reassured the smooth voice.

The last rays of light catching the metallic frame of her face. 

“Just like everyone will be.”

A couple in wedding outfits riding in a car

A couple in wedding outfits riding in a car

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Author’s note: Following the Neil Gaiman Master Class series, he offers the following exercise. Take one of the simple settings below and write a page about it, trying to undermine the reader’s expectations. For example, you’re writing about a man at a party who is talking to a beautiful woman. What he wants is probably obvious. Try to lead the reader in a different direction by not revealing his desire upfront, or by revealing a surprising motivation.

  1. A man lying on a hill looking through a rifle scope
  2. A couple in wedding outfits riding in a car
  3. A child raking a sandbox next to his nanny
  4. Two old women sitting on a bench with knitting needles and yarn
  5. A teenage girl climbing a rock cliff with a man below her
man in black suit holding bouquet of flowers
Photo by Studio Negarin on Pexels.com

The sleek midnight-blue car cut through the rainy night at inhuman speed, despite the rough road, terrible weather and potholes the two occupants sat in companionable silence. The AI guiding the vehicle, far more proficient than any human chauffeur delicately adjusted speed, suspension and brakes to ensure that even the glass of champagne on the table before them barely rattles as it rockets its passengers through the bleak night. 

The man leaned forward plucking the glass up, the inside of the carriage flashed in illumination from the distant lightning. As expected, the champagne was ice cold to the touch, he let out a little sigh. His suit was immaculate, pressed with no creases apparent, wonderful almost Victorian in its cut, his waistcoat a perfect fit and his neck sports a neatly formed bowtie. His left ring finger is circled with the fresh gold ring, matching his fellow passenger. Who sips daintily at her flute while staring out into the flashing storm. Pointedly away from him, body tilted at an angle. 

The man thought through a range of possible things to say at this point but finding nothing that hadn’t been said 100 times before decided to try something new. 

“Cecile, what do you see when you look at the storm?” 

Cecile jolted a little, head almost turned to face him, no doubt surprised at the question. Even he was a little surprised by it. Not sure what prompted the break from their usual silence on the road. For a long moment, he thinks she won’t respond to him, but just as he relaxed back in his seat she spoke up.

“I like the lightning,” a moment’s hesitation “It’s always so unpredictable, have you noticed?” 
“… I hadn’t, “ he murmured, glancing out the window he tried to think about all the storms they’d seen before. “I’m so sorry that things ended up like this.” 

Cecile shrugged. 

“It’s nobody’s fault Peter” her shoulders slumping. 
“I said that we should go to the reception despite the weather.” he pointed out. 
“and, I agreed, it IS our wedding, after all” 
“It just seems,” he was interrupted by a flash of light and watched an arc of lightning smash into the ocean. “A bit unfair.” Cecile finished. 

Back on the script, he sighed. With timid hesitance, he gently wrapped his arms around her. 

“Still, not long now.” he murmured. 
“No,” a long sigh “I suppose not.” 
“Thank you for the most amazing day.”

For the first time in what felt like a lifetime, she turned to face him, eyes warm and brimming over with emotion. 

“It was a great day wasn’t it” she whispered cuddling into his embrace, bracing herself for what was to come. 

Lightning flashed, there was no pause between the light and sound, crackling with one billion volts of raw energy it slammed into the bonnet of the limousine. The AI running the vehicle was instantly obliterated, all the electronics fusing into a soupy mess from the insane amount of charge pouring through the vehicle. 

As expected, the wheels snapped to the side, as always, the car rolled. The couple braced together eyes squeezed shut as the car flailed around them lancing them off the road and out into the abyss beside it. Three impacts shook the interior, launching the occupants into the walls with the violent finality it always did when the storms came to the coastline. 

The couple relaxing back into the void of comfortable shadows, sleeping until the next storm passed by, uncaring and unheeding the storm raged over the headland with the flashes of fire from the sky illuminating a tiny white marker on the roadside, marred and worn with time. 

“In memory of Cecile and Peter Haldon, happily married, forever missed, passed away here in tragedy on the night of their wedding during the night of the great storm”