Writing Exercise #1: Character Development

I’ve recently joined a local writing group. We start most of the bi-weekly meetings with a quick writing exercise. This week’s task was to select a random picture from a stack, imagine that the person was in front of us, and write his or her backstory. I’ve been thinking about my characters for NaNoWriMo, and so I decided to write about one of them.


Houston Jones sits across from me, his gaze darting around the diner.

“Want a drink?” I ask, hoping to calm him down.

He shakes his head. His hands, at first clasped tightly in his lap, clutch the edge of his chair, then drum a beat on the table.

“So…” I prompt him.

“It’s tough, ya know?” My expression must say clearly that I don’t know. “Being here. All this.” His hand sweeps at the patrons, the tables, the whole city.

“You need a job.” No sense wasting time. His agitation is only increasing, and I don’t know what will happen when he reaches his breaking point.

“We didn’t have cell phones. The internet. Think about that. You wanna meet up with someone, you call from a payphone. Plan ahead. Now everything is available, immediately. People ain’t planning no more. They’re in such a hurry, but they ain’t got nothing to hurry to. I learned, the last thirty years, there’s never nothing to hurry to.”

He takes a deep breath, as if to go on, but remains silent. His chest heaves slightly, like he’s been running, and maybe he has, only it’s his thoughts been running for the last thirty years he was locked up, and now they’re out but the world has changed and maybe he’s right; where do you run to?

“I need that job. No more running. I lost thirty years. I ain’t got no time to waste being like this.”

“It’s working in a garage, hauling scrap, general maintenance. Think you can do that okay?”

He laughs, a biting sound that hurts my heart. “I ain’t got much choice.”


This book will be about five people coming together in the face of tragedy. I’m toying with the idea of making it twenty-five short stories, almost like episodes of a sitcom, that are loosely linked and come together with the equivalent of a season finale. Thoughts?

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