Writers’ Tools, What Don’t You Know

Here’s an all-purpose tool for you. It works as an exercise. It works as a character sketch before beginning a project. It works to break writer’s block. It’s just plain fun.

Take a character or a setting or a situation. It can be something you’re noodling around with, something you’ve written yourself into a corner with, a situation you find yourself stuck in, a person (sitting in an airport, at a boring lecture, in traffic, the lady who was crappy to you in the line at the grocery).

Make a list of ten things you know about the person/setting/situation.

Now make a list of ten things you didn’t know about the person/setting/situation. If you’re starting from reality, you’ll have to invent these just as you invent them for people/settings/situations you’re imagining. Just free-write it. Doesn’t have to be anything profound, though it can get there.

Example: You’re having trouble getting through a scene with your villain. During the course of writing ten things you don’t know about him, you start writing about this dog he had who got injured in an accident. Young Villain McStinky tried to pick him up, and the dog bit him. He picked him up, anyway, and carried him to someone he hoped could help him, with the dog alternately biting him and rolling its eyes in apology. When McStinky gets the dog to help, the professional refuses to do anything for the dog unless he’s paid up front. McStinky doesn’t have any money–He’s a kid, for God’s sake. (Name that reference.)

You crank out a few of those, and you can go back to your scene and, most likely, write it. You don’t necessarily put any of that IN what you’re writing, but it informs the character for you.

This is a rich mine of Stuff. I have a three-ring binder filled with bits that I could fill out with this method–and some bits that I created with this method. There just isn’t enough TIME!

Especially on the days I have two or more posts to do. Today, I’m also posting at The Write Type on a closely related exercise to this one. Close, but different. Please join me there.

WRITING PROMPT: Do the exercise!



I was born in Louisville, Kentucky, but now live in the woods in southern Indiana. Though I only write fiction, I love to read non-fiction. The more I learn about this world, the more fantastic I see it is.

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