Teachers Write 7.5.16 Tuesday Quick-Write with Lisa Papademetriou

Good morning! Today’s guest author is Lisa Papademetriou, author of the Confectionately Yours series and A TALE OF HIGHLY UNUSUAL MAGIC. (Fun fact… Lisa’s alter-ego Ivana Corrrectya has a hilarious grammar blog!)

Plot, Character, and Destiny

When I was ten years old, my grandmother gave me a magic book.


It was a book of fairy tales, and it was in English. This was extraordinary to me, because my grandmother was from Germany. She explained that this book was a gift to her from her father, my great-grandfather, who had bought it from a bookstore in France during World War I. He had wanted his daughter to learn English, and she did. It was helpful, no doubt, when she immigrated to the United States just before the outbreak of World War II. For some reason, my grandmother never gave it to my father. She gave it to me. My father became an architect; I became a writer. That book had an effect on my life, but I don’t think that it would have had the same effect on just anyone. It affected me, in part, because of who I already was, and who I was becoming. As Heraclitus famously said, “Character is destiny.”

My husband says that every person is a package deal. No one is perfect in every way—every single one of is a mixture of good and bad qualities. By the same token, your characters will be a mixture of good and bad qualities, and his or her destiny is linked to those qualities. The seeds of their journey exist at the beginning of the story. By the end, those seeds have borne fruit.

In the Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle said that too much or too little of any virtue becomes a vice. For example, in Macbeth, his main virtue is ambition. That is the seed of his character that grows throughout the play. But the balance of this virtue steadily falls out of balance. Too little would make him lazy. That’s not his problem. His problem is that he has too much, and it makes him ruthless.

Let’s look at another character. Dorothy, from The Wizard of Oz. At the beginning of the story, her virtue is that she is spontaneous and a dreamer. But too much spontaneity is recklessness, and too much dreaminess is foolishness. These flaws lead her into her adventure, the end of which is the correction of these flaws. Right? She sees the “man behind the curtain.” And she realizes that there is no place like home. 

In other words, there are two things at play in any destiny, the character and the character’s destiny, which is simply another way of saying plot. E.M. Forster pointed out that, “Incident springs out of character, and having occurred it alters that character.” As the plot moves forward, the character will change by degrees, until his or her destiny is fulfilled.

How do you know which way your character is going to go? From virtue to vice, or from vice to virtue? Well, are you writing a tragedy or a comedy? I highly suggest that you begin with the end in mind. Even if you do not know exactly how your book will end, you probably have a sense of the ending, what feeling or response you would like to provoke in your reader.

Today’s Assignment: Let’s work on our characters a little bit. I want you do explore your character’s virtues and flaws. Write a scene or memory in which his or her main virtue is clear. Then rewrite the scene with the virtue out of balance—make it into a flaw, and see what you can come up with. Have fun – and feel free to share a paragraph or two from today’s quick-write in the comments if you’d like!

43 Replies on “Teachers Write 7.5.16 Tuesday Quick-Write with Lisa Papademetriou

  1. Thanks Lisa – what a helpful character-building process! I confess – vice came out first, so that’s what I’m sharing. Virtue was blander. So grateful for this thoughtful exercise.
    “I’m making my mark,” said Leah as she twirled the lock until it opened with a click.
    She took a fat black marker out of her bulging backpack and wrote, ‘LEAH WAS HERE!!!’ inside the back of her locker. She leaned back and smiled with satisfaction.
    “Now I’ll be remembered forever.”
    Marcia stopped filing her filled up notebooks in alphabetical order by subject and peered at her friend’s words.
    “Leah! I can’t believe you defaced school property! You’ve never broken a rule. In Kindergarten you’re the only one who didn’t put a handprint on the wall.”
    “It’s not like I’ll be caught. Next week I’ll be on the other side of the world.”
    As Leah capped the marker, she had the feeling that someone was watching her every move.
    Just then Marcia punched her arm. “Look,” she mouthed silently.
    Turning Leah saw Mr. Bellow, the principal, staring and standing with his hands on his hips.
    “How long has he been there?”​

    1. Oh, the angst of being caught in the act! I like the build-up of tension between the two girls and the unanswered questions (Where is she going next week?) I’m also intrigued why Leah felt the need to leave her mark on the school, especially when she’s always been such a rule-follower. Great start!

    2. Hah, what fun! I actually think I can see the virtue peeking out here–there is definitely virtue in being bold, in “making your mark.” But vice in terms of TOO much boldness!

  2. Thank you for this. Hannah, my MC, is overly cautious and thoughtful, turning her virtue into a vice and this recommendation came at a perfect time in my WIP.

    He strode over to the trailer and banged the door open. “Where is it?”
    “Where’s what?” I said. “Why are you so mad?” I tried to make my eyes wide, and it wasn’t hard. He was mad. I’d return the part in a day or two. I knew they had the jumps pretty much ready to go. Emma and I had seen them with the woods when we were out back. I’d make it poke out slightly from under the shelf. I could look like he missed it. I could still blame the cat.
    “I know you took it. I know you think it’s dumb that we’re going to bike the pit, but it’s my bike, Hannah. Don’t mess with my stuff.”
    My stomach clenched. I didn’t like it when people were angry. I could feel my heart beating faster. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said back.
    “You do so!” he yelled, slamming his fist on the table.
    “It’s not my fault you leave your parts all over the garage.”
    He glared at me. His face was red. I moved back, closer to the window. “If I find out you’ve got it, Hannah…” His voice trailed off. He left and walked back to the house, glancing back at the trailer and mumbling to himself the whole way.
    Adam was good at biking. He hadn’t broken his arm or done anything dumb like some of his friends. He pushed himself, but always a little bit at a time until he could do it. He often ended up being able to land tricks his other friends couldn’t over time. It wasn’t him I didn’t trust, though. It was Keith.

    Really like your Ivana Correctya site. I’ll definitely be using it next year with my 7/8s! I need them to take responsbility for their own grammar!

    1. Stephanie,
      I took a peek at your blog. As soon as I opened the page I felt at home. You’ve a lovely and cozy place there. I am a Teacher Librarian with a background in Social Studies. I sometimes miss the regular classroom….but have too much fun in the library to ever leave.

      I know it’s not the point….but I laughed over “I could still blame the cat”. That’s such a perfect line.

      Wow, Hannah is real to me. She wants to take this brave step but the regret eats at her almost instantly.

      I agree with you on the Correctya site. My 7th graders are in for some time with Ivanna!

      Nice to meet you here at TW

  3. My character’s virtue is courage and vice is foolishness. Courage is first. I am working on poetry this summer, so my scenes are written in verse.

    They’re picking on her
    Why can’t they just leave her
    She can never do anything
    Her hair
    Her clothes
    The way she talks
    The books she reads
    It’s always
    They pick
    And pick
    And pick
    Until she starts to cry
    And then they
    But not
    Is going to be different
    I will be with her
    She won’t be 
    Not today
    I don’t care about her
    She’s just a regular
    Like me
    Like them
    When they start in on her
    I step up
    and say

    When the fight breaks out
    I step in
    Three punches
    And I’m on the ground
    Guess I should’ve
    About all those bodies
    I rushed in to help
    My bravery hurts

    1. As I am writing my draft of the story and my character, I keep coming up with the idea that this story has totally been written before. And then I am getting writer’s block and cannot think of a story that has not been made up before.
      What can I do to get around this! Any suggestions in order to help!?

  4. Just want to say that all these exercises are so helpful! I may not be able to get to everything now, but these are great tools to use any time. Thanks!!!

  5. Decided to share my companion virtue piece (see comment #1) to show their contrasting characters. Thanks!

    “I’ve made my mark,” Leah said as she stuffed the straight-A report card, debate trophy and good-bye cards into her backpack.
    “Things won’t be the same without you, said Marcia twirling her lock open.
    “Senior year’s busy, you won’t even notice I’m gone.”
    “Of course we will! Who will play the lead in the musical? Lead the debate team?”
    Marcia got busy taking down her peace and Beatles mini-posters from her locker.
    “You know there are tons of girls waiting to take my place,” Leah said as she slammed her locker for the last time.
    “Who’s going to be my best friend,” Marcia said as quietly as a tiptoe.
    She didn’t look at Leah but instead focused on folding her posters so that they wouldn’t wrinkle in her backpack.
    Leah put her arm around her friend’s shoulder.
    “I’ll be back next summer, it’s not forever.”
    Behind them, Mr. Bellow, the principal strode up.
    “Sorry to interrupt,” he said, “I just wanted to tell you Leah, that you’ve been a model student and we’re going to miss you.”

  6. Had a little fun with this. Brought the character I described in an earlier post along for this exercise. Still not sure where I am going with her.

    As the waitress approached my booth, I was deep in thought. I hardly heard her speak.
    “…for you this morning?” She smiled broadly, pen and tablet in hand patiently waiting.
    “Well, I guess I will have the cheese omelette. No, wait. Let’s make it the special with home fries, crispy please.” I looked up to see if she understood. “Over medium for my eggs and rye toast – no butter. Coffee too.”
    I took out my notepad and began to write as soon as she walked away. Eating alone is no fun but I had learned to make the best of it. Sooner or later I imagined I would get better at this. If I didn’t bring my notepad or a book to read, I’d have to endure the pitying glances or, even worse, the small talk table visits that were always about Joe. It was always about Joe.
    “So, how are you doing?” Sad face waiting for me to explain how damned depressed I was. I’d have to relive the entire ordeal over and over again. Sad face, head nodding, sympathetic eyes. I had found the best defense was to come armed with plenty to look occupied with, as if I would have no way to survive without him. As if.

    Vice: impatience ? Intolerance? Secrecy? Not quite sure.

    1. Hi, Gretchen! I’m really responding to the voice here. I’m wondering if the vice something like “self-doubt,” or “indecision,” which really comes across in the breakfast order. And the virtue, then, would perhaps be caution, or something like that. Just wanted to put that out there. I think you’ve got a lot to work with!

  7. Okay… Here’s my attempt. I have a scene where the character’s virtues (generosity and kindness) have the potential to be detrimental when she impulsively puts others’ needs above her own on this particular day.
    Grace rifled through her purse for some money. “I know I saw a bill in here somewhere,” she said, remembering a stray five-dollar bill she had received as change the day before.
    The homeless woman stared at her blankly and shifted back and forth as she waited for Grace’s kindness. “I’d really appreciate anything you could give,” she urged. “Anything would help me out right now.”
    “Oh, I completely understand. I know I have something.” Grace spied the bill. “Here!” She retrieved it from the bottomless pit of her knock-off Coach bag and handed the crumpled bill to the woman.
    The woman opened and smoothed the paper. It was a $100. She gasped discreetly, then covered her mouth with her mittened hand. “Well, thank you very much,” the woman said quietly. “Really, thank you.”
    Grace stared at the bill, realizing her error. She had needed that money to pay her overdue electric balance. In fact, that was why she had taken this particular route to work that morning. Grace started to speak, but instead stopped herself. The woman quickly turned from Grace and scurried toward the corner with its growing group of pedestrians ready to cross.
    “I’m glad I could help . . . you,” Grace spoke softly as the woman walked away, a shadow of regret tingeing her words. The woman disappeared into the crowd.

  8. Jean Paul is ten, and like most children that age he is guileless. If he has a thought, he says it aloud.
    Here, his naive approach is harmless. Later, it nearly kills him.

    “Where are you from?” asked Jean Paul. “I noticed that you are not wearing sailing gear, and you have no lace or embroidery on your clothing like most of the businessmen around here. Your clothing seems more streamlined, like a careened sloop stripped of barnacles. Your nails are well trimmed as is your beard.”
    The older man and Aunt Elise both laughed. “Elise was right, you are an observant young pup. I travel a bit,” replied Jacques, “but my family is from Tortuga. I help your aunt during the shrimp season, and she gives me a berth. As for my clothing this evening, I am wearing my gambling clothing. It tells little about my worth, and leaves my opponents guessing.”
    “You must gamble often then, to have a special outfit for it. You must also tell Mother Marilu where you are from. Her family is also from Tortuga, and she came to New Orleans as a cook for a wealthy family. When her master’s wife and children died from Yellow Fever, Monsieur Renauld left Mother Marilu his boarding house in his will. He also gave her her freedom writ.”
    “Gambling takes more than one form, young man. These clothes have more of a workout than you might imagine, particularly during my business negotiations.” Jacques casually laid his hand across Aunt Elise’s tiny one that rested in the crook of his arm. Jean Paul noticed that she did not react, so walking arm in arm must be familiar to them.

  9. Delving deeper into my character, Marissa.

    Character Virtue

    It is only dusk, but Marissa sees the fireflies appear, their golden orbs blinking as darkness envelopes her shoulders with a wisp of cooler air. She stretches her long legs away from the bench, pulling herself up to walk back to the cabin. She already knows what to say. She will be gentle with her rebuke, her words of kindness wrapping her daughter, Erin, like a soothing salve for the open wound left by her daughter’s friends. “Time heals all wounds,” she whispers to herself as she approaches the walkway now shrouded by night.

    Character Flaw

    “You ALWAYS say that!”

    The door slams as Marissa stares perplexed at the space that once held her daughter. There were no hugs. No head on her shoulder, no shared mother-daughter bonding. The stifling silence is an impenetrable wall of anger, an unexpected quandary that freezes Marissa’s heart to the core.

    What had she done wrong? She always knows the right things to say. Her daughter, Erin is an open-book when it come to skirmishes with her friends. Typical teenaged angst, usually about bodies or boys, always healed by a few words of a wisdom and a double scoop of mint chocolate-chip ice cream piled into a delicately laced waffle cone.

    This time is different. The anger is real. The door is locked with silence and hate. Marissa no longer holds the keys of comfort, her words absorbed by the wooden door separating mother and child.

  10. Good afternoon, Lisa!

    Character Virtue: Curiosity

    I feel great after I wash up and change out of my sweaty clothes. My body is physically exhausted, and as I climb into bed, I think that I need to start exercising more often. My sixty-something year old grandma is in way better shape than I am, and I am thirteen years old.
    My eyes are starting to get very heavy, when I am startled awake by Grandma calling to me from downstairs, “Steven, can you come downstairs? I need your help with something.”
    I climb out of bed, hoping that we are not going for another beach adventure. When I get to the bottom of the stairs, I find Grandma standing with two plastic bags filled with popsicles.
    “I need your help bringing these down to the neighbor’s house,” Grandma says.
    It sounds like we are on another Grandma adventure. I know that it is not worth telling her that I don’t want to go, so I grab the bags and follow her down the back stairs.

    Character Flaw: (Too little) Curiosity

    I feel great after I wash up and change out of my sweaty clothes. My body is physically exhausted, and as I climb into bed, I think that I need to stay in the house this summer. Sweat is disgusting. I never want to be like my sixty-something year old grandma.
    My eyes are starting to get very heavy, when I am startled awake by Grandma calling to me from downstairs, “Steven, can you come downstairs? I need your help with something.”
    If I say nothing, she will think that I’m sleeping. I don’t want to go on another stupid adventure. I need to look at my texts and play a game or two on my phone.
    The faint creak of the stairs is announcing her sneak arrival. I lay completely still and begin my heavy, snore-like breathing. Just go away!

    Great activity! The character trait of curiosity drives my character, and in turn, drives the story. I struggled to make him not curious or apathetic. The story doesn’t move. I will write that his curiosity (too much) does get the best of him later in the story.

    Thank you.
    Happy writing!

  11. Lisa, thank you for the writing advice. I had never thought of my characters in this light. While I’m not at a point to share an example of the writing concerning my character, I can see through your exercise that her virtue is her desire to protect her friends but it becomes a flaw when it leads to her making dangerous decisions to protect them.
    Thanks again for the instruction.

  12. Valuable exercise, Lisa. Thank you! I have been struggling with showing this character as one who is sympathetic, but who made a bad choice. This excercies is helping me flesh that out. Here’s what I came up with for virtue and vice:
    Timmy sat on the deck with his cereal smiling and watching Claire splash and swim out in the lake. He knew that she swam down toward his house in the hopes that he would see her and come out. His neck and chest warmed at the thought. She was amazing. Beautiful, funny, athletic, and she liked him. She gravitated to him like the moon to the earth. Find Tim and Claire was not far behind.
    She was nine years old when it all began. His grandfather had died that winter and he was angry and acting out. That summer, Claire had sat quietly beside him and listened. Her mere presence calmed him in ways he couldn’t explain. He knew he was angry and quirky and sometimes hard to like, but she liked him, and that was all that mattered.
    “Little early for a swim, don’t you think?” Tim called down to Claire.
    “Never too early or too late,” she called up to him smiling before diving back under the crystal clear water and doing a handstand. Her feet, big for a girl, made her long, athletic legs appear even longer. Tim was taller than Claire now, but at the rate she was growing and given the size of her dad, he may end up losing out to her by an inch or two unless he had a growth spurt soon.
    Minutes passed and Tim watched Claire in silence as she flipped and flopped and romped in the lake. All the while, he thought to himself. I am the luckiest guy in the world. She loves me. She loves me. She loves me.
    “Come on, Claire. You love me don’t you?” Tim said in frustration leaning back on the dock as the water kissed the shore in gentle waves.
    “You know I do, Tim. That’s not it. It’s just… I don’t know. I just don’t think I’m ready for that.” Claire held onto Tim’s legs as they dangled into the water over the edge of the dock. She kicked her feet out behind her making a small wake that disrupted the gentle lapping of the water onto the shore.
    “We go through this every summer, Claire. We spend every minute together for weeks and then we don’t see each other again for nearly a year. I can’t do this anymore. It’s too hard. Girls at school want to date me and no one can figure out why I don’t go out with them. They’re hot.”
    “Well, you should, if that’s what you want,” Claire said. She stopped kicking in the water and let go of Tim’s legs. She stood up and made some room between them.
    “It’s not what I want. I want you, but I’m a guy, and a guy has needs. I have needs. I want to show you how much I love you.”
    “You do show me, Timmy. You show me when we laugh about the same things, when we snuggle on the couch watching movies, when you take my side when the cousins tease me. That’s how you show me.”
    “You don’t understand because you’re a girl. Guys have needs. If you really loved me, you would want me to be happy.”
    “You aren’t happy?”
    “That’s not it. I just want to make you happy. I know I can make you happy if you just let me. I’ll be gentle. I’ll be careful. I love you.”
    Claire did not respond. She knew Tim loved her. She knew she loved him. What was her problem? What was his problem? Why couldn’t he just wait for her to be ready? Was she making too big a deal out of this? “I love you, too,” she finally said quietly.

  13. Good exercise! I had to create a character, and as I wrote, I couldn\’t decide what her virtue was or whether it was a virtue or a vice!

    Anne stopped her useless hauling on the jib sheet. It was stuck. The wind was too strong. The orange boat with the hot team of twenty-four year olds from New Orleans was coming on strong. This delay was likely to cost them their slight advantage in winning this race.

    The captain headed into the wind by a few degrees to try to free the pinned sail, but it was no use. He veered off again and she was going to have to climb up on the wet deck and wrestle the sail off the windward stay. The boat crashed through the waves, rising and falling on the swells, spray flying all over them.

    Races are won and lost in these moments. When the captain says move, the crew moves. Fear is not allowed. Words are not necessary after so many years racing together.

    Anne grabbed hold of the “old lady” strap and hauled herself toward the damned jib. One foot after the other, fighting the wind and spray and heel of the boat, it seemed an eternity before she reached the deck.

    As she reached for the stay, to pull herself onto the decks and brace her body to move the sail, a cold wave lifted the bow. The boat crashed down with a splash and a jolt. The sails shook. The jib freed itself and unbalanced the boat. Anne stumbled. She lost her balance. She made a clumsy attempt to grab the boom and keep herself in the boat, but was swallowed by the cold ocean.

    It wasn\’t her first swim in the North Atlantic in June, but it was the first one from falling off a racing boat under full steam. The cold water filled her shoes, filled her waterproof pants and pulled her down, down deeper under the white capped ocean as she struggled to kick off her shoes and raincoat. Her hat and sunglasses were long gone, whipped off her head as she hit the water. As Anne freed herself from her shoes and foul weather gear, she was able to swim for the surface.

    She came back to the wonderful freedom of air to breathe. Her boat had slowed and was turning about several hundred yards ahead. She gave herself a quick triage as she waited for the boat to come back. Other than the lost gear, and lost race, she was in good shape. But as she treaded water waiting for the boat to return to pick her up, she visualized the scene back on the dock. The New Orleans team had seen her tumble out of the boat like a rag doll. She would be the laughing stock of the club.

  14. Lisa,

    I read this post early this morning and have been mulling it over with a character in a wip all day.

    My character’s virtue is that she’s accepting…she makes life easy for others….to a fault in that she loses herself and what she wants…and then has to figure out what she is fighting for.

    Before I share the rough draft of the verse I came up with for my wip….I have to say that the way you wrote the post above is beautiful. I like the way you take ancient and classic ideas and make them accessible to us. I found myself working the words of your post over into a found poem:

    Lisa’s Words

    Character is destiny–
    Every person a package deal.
    Seeds of their journey at the beginning.
    Aristotle said:
    –that too much or too little
    of any virtue becomes a vice.
    And …. there is no place like home
    Change by degrees.
    A tragedy or a comedy
    begins with the end in mind.
    A memory in which virtue is clear
    then out of balance.
    Feel free

    Now the rough of my character’s reaction to witnessing her father remarry a woman she will not become close to:


    Dad faces Trudy
    Simon stands behind him.
    Reverend begins the ceremony
    I shake my head no when he asks
    if anyone objects to this union?
    I smile when he asks, Do you?
    And she says, I do.
    I smile wider when he asks do you?
    Dad whispers I do.
    My pulse punctuates
    with the rhythm of the words
    until death….
    And I see, in my mind,
    the rowboat tied
    to the dock at the pond
    loose from its lines
    away into deeper
    dark waters
    farther and farther
    away until
    I can’t reach it
    to board
    or bring it
    back in.

    1. Wow. Thank you so much for the gift of translating my words into verse! I’m really interested in what you’ve got here. I think a lot of girls struggle with putting others first…

  15. Today’s prompt really made me see one of my characters in a different light. I don’t know, though, if I really addressed the vice idea enough, but I’m excited to at least have a start!

    Sam sat cross-legged on her bed. From the living room, she could hear Aunt Claudie’s rhythmic snores and the blaring television. It sounded like some family had just won $20,000 during the Fast Money round on Family Feud. Sam started flipping through the yearbook that Mrs. Anderson gave her on her first day of school. If she was going to go through with her plan, she needed an alibi. She looked at last year’s fourth grade class and all of the smiling faces. Hilarie and Claire, the twins who always seemed to be laughing at some secret joke, grinned up at Sam. There was brainiac Julia and prankster Charlie. As Sam ran her finger down the page, she stopped at Brianna Jones’ name.

    Brianna was the nicest person in the class. She was the kind of person that you wanted to be friends with. She always had something nice to say and when the drama in Mrs. Anderson’s room started getting deep, Brianna was the one who settled everything down. She was someone who followed all of the rules all of the time. Sam wished that she could get to know Brianna better, but Brianna always seemed to hang out with Hannah and Sam knew that three’s a crowd.

    However, that didn’t mean that Sam couldn’t use Brianna as her alibi. All she had to do was tell Aunt Claudie that she had to work on a school project at Brianna’s house. While Sam knew that her mom would call Brianna’s mom to check things out, but She knew that Aunt Claudie wouldn’t care. If she chose a day when her Mom was working, then she’d only have to tell Aunt Claudie that she wouldn’t be at home.

    Sam dropped the yearbook on her bed and walked out the kitchen. Aunt Claudie was still snoring in the recliner. Sam stood in front of the fridge and looked at her Mom’s schedule. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday looked like double-shift days for her Mom. One of those days would be perfect.

  16. My MC is really perceptive, so the pitfall is that she relies too heavily on her powers of perception. Here’s the snippet I came up with. What fun!!

    “Astrid, you are one smart cookie. Observant. Sharp. You catch on quick. But I think I found your blind spot.”

    “What are you talking about?” the cab of the truck suddenly felt claustrophobic.

    “It’s so obvious!” he taunted. His laugh lines grew more pronounced. Then, suddenly, he was serious. He turned to me and said “Tonight, just take a step back and really observe how it all works. You’re missing out on one key element in this thing we’re dealing with. This is one answer I’m not just gonna give ya. I know you can figure it out and that will make all the difference.”

  17. Vice and Virtue

    Thanks for the exercise. THIS IS ROUGH! I had a really hard time with this. I do have to say, though, the mean girls here are taken directly from my experience in middle school. Ah, good (no–awful) times. 🙂
    Vice: Obedient
    Virtue: Obedient

    Murphy rubbed her eyes and ran her fingers over her unruly eyebrows. Thank you to her Dad’s side of the family for those. She grabbed her phone from the nightstand and saw that it was 7:56 a.m. She also saw that there were no notifications. No surprise there. She wasn’t exactly one of the “cool kids” at school. She grabbed an only-slightly rumpled yellow t-shirt from off the floor and slid it over her head and arms. A pair of jorts, flip flops, and she was set. A quick glance to the mirror told Murphy she probably needed to tame the frizz today. She gathered her curly hair back into a ponytail holder, sprayed some gel, and felt much better about things.

    Breakfast was “fend for yourself” today, so she grabbed a Kind bar and plopped onto the couch.

    “Honey, you need to remember to feed Amber tonight because I’m going to be home late, OK?”

    “Sure thing, Mom.” Murphy grabbed a sharpie from the end table and wrote “FEED CAT” on her hand.

    “Oh, and Hon? Please get a load of towels in the laundry tonight. That would be a huge help.”

    “Will do.” Murphy added “towels” in small letters onto her hand.

    Her mom always joked that Murphy was such an easy child, so obedient. She never had to worry about her Murph.


    “Murphy, please tell Ron that he can’t be part of our group because he smells like greasy hair.”

    “Um, OK.” Murphy walked over to where Ron was sitting. “Hey, Ron, you probably need to join another group, OK? You smell.”

    Jessica and Kaitlyn burst out laughing. “I didn’t know you’d actually say that to him! Dang, girl, you’re mean! Murphy, you are so funny! Oh my gosh, what else can we get that girl to do? Murphy, get us cookies at brunch. Make sure the lunch lady give you hot ones. Oh, and we don’t have money, so you’ll have to pay.”

    “Yeah, I mean, I’m going through the line anyway. I guess I could do that.”

    1. Yes–I’ve seen girls exert this kind of power. Poor Ron! I think you might capture a little more tension of we sense Murphy’s regret, and her feeling of powerlessness. But the actual action is exciting! And I can totally see how this is the same character in both scenes, driven by the same internal forces.

  18. Andrew turned to face the house wondering what he’d find inside. Andrew loved his mother, she was all he had, but their roles had changed dramatically since his father had disappeared. With a cheerful look pasted on his face, he entered hoping to find her in the kitchen working on dinner. When she wasn’t anywhere downstairs, the heavy gray blanket of his life covered him. She’d probably spent the day imprisoned, hiding cocooned, in her bedroom. Resentment wanted to pulse through his veins, but Andrew didn’t have the energy to let it in. The sun had set adding to the gloom as

    Andrew climbed the stairs. Quietly he knocked on her door. “Mom? I’m home. Sorry I’m late.” The room was dark, his mom a pile of bedding. “The teachers needed a group of us to help…” Andrew stopped listening to himself. Words came out automatically, what was said didn’t matter, the tone just had to be soothing. Andrew wasn’t worried about being caught in his web of lies. He knew his mother wouldn’t leave the house for anything. In fact, he worried what she’d do if the house caught on fire. “Do you want to go with me to the concert?”

    “No, I can’t Andrew,” she struggled to sit up, “I have too much work to do here. Your uncle is expecting me to finish creating the index for a gardening book he wants published before February.”

    “Did you work on it today?” he felt guilty for asking.

    “No, I didn’t get to that. I wasn’t feeling well today.” she lay back down. “I think I may be coming down with something.”
    Andrew thought about forcing her hand and suggesting she go to see a doctor, but why bother. He already knew all of the lines in this play and that scene didn’t get them anywhere. “You’d better rest then. I’ll work on dinner.”

    His mother bolted back up, distressed, “Oh, I don’t know what we have in the fridge. I meant to work on a grocery list.”

    Andrew bent and gave his mother a kiss on the cheek to stop her rising panic. “Don’t worry; I’ll take care of it.” He watched her until she lay back down, and then frustrated, he trudged back downstairs. Would this ever get better? Thinking about the close call earlier, he shuddered. He couldn’t let anyone see his mom like this or he’d end up losing her as well.

  19. As I am writing my draft of the story and my character, I keep coming up with the idea that this story has totally been written before. And then I am getting writer’s block and cannot think of a story that has not been made up before.
    What can I do to get around this! Any suggestions in order to help!?

  20. This is a great exercise. This is exactly the issue I need to address to get a current character and his arc unstuck! Thanks! (Headed to place writer’s butt in chair)

  21. Thanks, Lisa! I really enjoyed this.

    In a couple of other posts, I’ve touched on the fact that I’m just beginning to explore an idea for a picture book (or maybe even a series of books). Until TW, I had only written a four-a.m. list of potential characters I woke up thinking about, along with a couple vague notions of what they might be like. Your exercise and Jo’s warm-up from this morning are really the first activities that have started me delving into who these characters might be. I wrote and wrote and wrote! What I found really interesting is how many of my own attributes seeped into my thinking about my characters. Confidences, anxieties, childhood memories of being teased, memories of joyful events. These exercises helped me to take lots of things into consideration!