Exercise 1 Results – Who Are Your Characters?

This Tuesday, I asked a pretty simple question:

Who are your characters?

Exercise 1: Who are your characters?


Here are each of the simple descriptions I came up with, followed by short sentences that tell you where they are at the very start of the story.

  1. Rookie newscaster 

    William Flynn is a rookie newscaster who is chosen to report from a colony ship on its way to a new planet.

  2. Heartbroken teacher

    Daniel is a heartbroken teacher who is talked into hiring a prostitute by his co-worker.

  3. Retired superhero

    Darren is a retired superhero and a single dad who is trying to leave his old life and superpowers behind.


Trying to describe your character in one sentence can lead to awkward sentences, yes, but it’s still a good exercise. It forces you to simplify the elements of your story into the most basic terms, which will help you develop your elevator pitch for the story later on.

In each example, I’ve stopped short of telling you about the actual conflict of the story (that comes later). The point here is to know your character’s situation before the story begins.

I hope you will post a few sentences about your characters!


Writing Exercise – Who are your characters?

I’m starting a new feature and putting up some quick writing exercises every week.

This month, I focus on Characters.


Exercise 1: Who are your characters?

I want you to tell me about three different characters you want to work with in your stories. You can use existing characters or create new ones, the only rule here is that they must be yours.

We’re going to start with simple adjective noun pairs to describe these characters. As examples, here are characters from my works.

  1. Rookie newscaster

  2. Heartbroken teacher

  3. Retired superhero

Not much to go by, huh? But this is just a start. After you have three characters described in simple terms like above, you can extend each description into a sentence. I want you to summarize the character as he or she is just before the story and its conflicts begin.

For example, my number 1 is William Flynn from Far Flung, and his sentence looks like this:

Flynn is a rookie newscaster who is chosen to report from a colony ship on its way to a new planet.

Notice that there is no real story just yet – I didn’t give you any idea what Flynn’s real problems will be. For now, I’m leaving you hanging, imagining all sorts of things that might happen to him. (Unless, of course, you’ve read my other blog.)

I want you to do the same – write three sentences, each one describing a character and his or her situation at the very start of your story. Don’t have a story? No problem! Just set up a character and any sort of situation that might lead to interesting challenges.

I’ll share my own answers with on Thursday. Let’s see some good characters!


Planning out a writing course, week by week.

Trying to figure out what I'll tell these students...


I’ve talked before about my writing course that I’m teaching in September. The planning is slow, but I keep chugging away at it. I changed my textbook – now I’m using Fiction Writer’s Workshop by Josip Novakovich. I choose it because the exercises there are easy to reword for my ESL students.

I’ve also had to devise a way to “filter” my students. I hate to impose any kind of filter on my class, but I feel it will be necessary to turn away students who have not had practice with basic creative writing. I plan to give a very simple exercise in my very first class, and I will tell students that it is a sort of test. Any students who struggle too greatly with it will be advised to take more basic writing classes instead of mine.

My new choice of book has made creating homework much easier! Every chapter in the book has great little exercises, and I’m finding it easy to reword these into assignments for the students. Each week, the assignments will practice some aspect like Setting, Characters, POV, etc. I think I will handle evaluation mainly with in-class readings and peer-review sessions.

After the midterm test, I have a series of lessons that focus specifically on short-short fiction. As you can see in the picture above, I’m not going to be incredibly strict with the definition of “Flash Fiction” – I’d rather see my students tell whole stories coherently before we worry about the word count.

During these lessons, the students will each write 3 short pieces. In the editing phase, they can choose 1 of the 3 to revise again and again into better work. They will give me that best piece at the end, instead of writing a final exam.

I hope I can get a good class out of this plan. It’s still very much in the works – as you can see, I have until September 4 to plan things out. It feels very good to work on this, though. No matter what, I’m certain that I can give my students a writing experience that they will appreciate and enjoy.

I’m Teaching a Writing Class!

Well, I can’t believe I proposed it, got accepted, and I’m going to do it.

I’m going to teach a flash fiction course at my university.  The students are mostly Koreans who speak English as their second language. What can I teach them?

I know what I CAN’T teach them – I can’t teach them to be expert, professional writer (even if I actually fell into that category myself). I’ve 15 weeks of semester, so that’s just not possible.

Okay, so what CAN I teach them?

I will run through the basics of writing, with Making of a Story as one guide, and a multitude of internet resources. I can share flash fiction pieces I find online, and I can get my students reading sites like Every Day Fiction. I can teach basic critical analysis, and I also plan on giving a primer on the world of e-publishing.

There’s no final exam in my plan for the course. Instead, I’m thinking of having a self-published anthology of the students’ best works that goes up on Smashwords, Kindle, Lulu, CreateSpace, and anywhere else that accepts self-published writing.

This gives the students a look at the basic process, and my university likes the idea because it puts the name of the institution on internationally published work. Will the book be a masterpiece? Well…. let’s say I hope it at least gives the students confidence that they CAN keep improving and that they CAN get published.

After I’ve done this course once or twice, I plan to publish my curriculum and syllabus – I hope that what I get out of this will also prove useful to other aspiring writers.

If you, my readers, have any ideas or suggestions for what I should put into a flash course, please leave your comments!

Until next time, I’ve got A LOT of work to do!