Saturday, August 28, 2010

Writing Prompt/Turning Characters Inside Out

I am pleased to announce my next Guest Blogger, Picture Book Author Sue Fliess, who I met this year at the SCBWI LA Nationals through our mutual friend, Picture Book Author Margaret O'Hair. For those of you who have not attended the four-day LA National Conference, I must warn you that a casual meeting on Thursday (most arrive one day early) can not only foster friendships, but bring out some spectactular "character development" by Saturdary night LOL

(Picture l. to r. Voiceover Artist/Writer Connie Marie Mustang, PB Author Meg O'Hair, YA Author Jay Asher, PB Author Lynne Marie, YA Author Carolyn Mackler, MG/YA Author Rachel Vail and our featured PB Author Sue Fliess)

Know Your Characters From The Inside Out by Sue Fliess

This exercise can work for any genre or age range. I write mostly picture books, but am writing a middle grade right now, and find these types of writing exercises help me not only to discover what is truly motivating both my main character and my antagonist to act and think the way they do or say the things they say, but also help me develop sympathy for my antagonist. To truly know how your character would act or react in any situation, try throwing her into a new one.

Your main character runs into the most popular girl from school at the coffee shop.
Are they friends?
Why or why not?
How does your mc react and why?
Does she wave?
What is the popular girl wearing?
What is your mc wearing?
Where does your MC buy her shoes?
What's going through her head as they talk or go their separate ways?

Now reverse it. Get into the popular girl's head. Yes, you need to know her too. She runs into your main character.
How does she react with her body?
Does she stiffen?
Turn her back?
Open her arms?
What is going through her head?
Is she 'above' your mc?
Secretly jealous of her?
If so, why?
Did they used to be BFFs?
Does she break away from her clique to talk to her? If so, what does she share?

Picture book writer?
Have this meeting take place at the park or playground. What you write may not be so heavy on the verbal communication, but nonverbal communication speaks volumes.
Does the other little girl cross her arms?
Hug your mc?
Is it a boy?
Does he throw sand in her hair?
Take her toy? Why?
What is your mc wearing?
Does the other girl have more sparkly shoes?
More ribbons in her hair?

It may just be an exercise, but perhaps you've just written your coffee shop scene!

Sue Fliess is the author of three forthcoming picture books. The first, Shoes for Me, will be out in March, 2011 with Marshall Cavendish Children's Books. A freelance writer and marketing professional, Sue lives in Mountain View, CA with her husband, two young boys and their guinea pig, Mocha. Visit Sue at

Hippo needs new shoes! She and Mom set out to the store and Mom lets her choose her very own pair of shoes. But with so many choices, will Hippo find the perfect pair?
Sue FliessShoes for Me, Marshall Cavendish, March 2011
A Dress for Me, Marshall Cavendish, 2012
Tons of Trucks, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012


  1. Yeah Sue, great post! I love this... I think I'll take my MC out for coffee. ;)

    Meg Fleming Lentz

  2. I think we should take our MCs (and Sue) out for coffee at Starbucks! Thanks for the great start, Sue!