The Longest Character Workshop Ever: Part 1

(Hint: It’s the longest one ever because I don’t have any direction for it planned, I’m just going to give you workshop assignments every other Friday until I run out of ideas.)

Part 1: The Fast Method

Did you ever play MASH as a kid? If you did, you can skip most of this and go to the instructions at the bottom.

So, you had the sort of useful, diligent childhood that meant you never wasted an afternoon and an entire notebook of paper in middle school planning your eventual life with hash-marks? Wow. I’m sorry.

Well, that’s alright, we’ll grab a notebook and I’ll walk you through the actual game before we start twisting it to our purposes. Take a piece of paper (normal sized, lined or unlined, whatever color) and write M A S H across the top of it. This stands for Mansion, Apartment, Shack, and House. Below that leave a space that’s about a third the surface of the paper.

Now it gets sketchy. See, when you were twelve you’d have written four names of people you wanted to potentially wind up with (or your friends wrote the names of the one you wanted to wind up with and three people you really didn’t). But you’re probably not twelve now, and that’s probably not a criterion you’re leaving up to a game on a piece of scratch paper anymore. Just write um…four people you’d like to meet. That’s close enough. Now write another column that’s your four preferred dream jobs. Then your four preferred cities to do them in. Got all that?

Good. Now go back to the blank space you left and draw a giant spiral at a random speed for a random designation of time or until the person you’re playing with tells you to stop. Count the spirals, and go through your sheet and count through with your spiral number. Mark off the last one you land on ever time. Do this until there’s only one option left in each category.

That’s your future. You’re welcome.

But You Said Something About Instructions: The Instructions

How does this work for writing? I’m so glad you asked. It’s almost exactly like the game you played in junior high. Only instead of potential husbands/wives/houses/whatevers you plot out your characters lives. So. I need a hero. I write down M A S H because he needs somewhere to live, obviously. And I draw a giant spiral but I don’t count it yet (I’m weird about doing things linearly) and then I exit to crazy town on the categories. Four first names, four last names, four hair colors, four eye colors, four weird habits, four relationship histories, four tattoos, four pets, four worst experiences of his life. All The Things.

Now, what you’ll discover as you do this is that what it’s the most useful for is that moment you knock something off the list and realize it was the thing you really wanted. Sort of like how nothing makes up your mind faster than flipping a coin. number of characters who are important but not fully formed in your head yet this is the method for you.

The Assignment: Because It’s Homework Time!

This is a workshop, and yes, now that you’ve read all that I’m going to tell you it’s the kind of workshop that gives you homework. You’re welcome.

So. Homework. You’re going to make a MASH and share it with the group!

Step 1: Make your Mash. Make it colorful and crazy or cramped on a piece of scrap paper. Whatever floats your boat.

Step 2: Take a picture of your mash and share it with us! Probably easier to do that by sharing it in your space and linking it here.

Step 3: Tell the class what you think of this method. Do you love it? Do you despise it with every fiber of your being? There’s no wrong answer (no really. I know that’s usually a think college professors say before you say the wrong answer, but I’m not a college professor. Go to town).

I’ll start you off with an example. Here’s my MASH.


Things of Thingness

Shhh, I’m sneaking on and doing a post. This summer has kicked my butt but good.

So, updates first. This weekend come see us at VA Comic Con in Richmond! And if you haven’t checked it out yet, go look at Romancing the Rainbow on the By Passion Shorn site. We’ve got three colors of the rainbow live for your reading pleasure.

All right. Now that all of that’s out of the way.

*awkward silence and cricket noises*

So. Um. How’s your summer been?

Mine’s been a complete desert. Between family and travel and life in general I haven’t managed to even really think about anything relating to work. Which makes it sound like this summer has been nothing but fun in the sun by the pool right?

Yeah, we can totally hang out in that corner of Makebelieve Land for a while, while I ramble on until I come up with some kind of five-point list that counts as content for tonight, right?

5 Things of Thingness I Learned From This Summer:
1) Inkitt is probably the coolest thing I’ve found in a while no one else seems to be using. You should all get on that.
2) The world is vast and spectacular and horrible and tiny all at the same time. And purpose built to suck the legs out from under you creatively. It’s good to develop a battle plan. It’s better if it involves lightsabers and high-grade explosives.
3) Deadlines are marvelous. They make the most amazing noises as you ignore them and they explode all over your life.
4) New scary things are new and scary, even when they’re not actually new. Pick one and jump, lemming. That’s an order.
5) On a somewhat personal note, it’s important to remember one is a writer and not, say, a personal organizer, journalist, hog rustler, chef, agony aunt, or anything else the world expects you to do. It is, occasionally, important not to think of all the shit and just write.

I’m going to go do that now. Presumably the universe will hold without me for a bit.

And come see me Saturday!

We’re Going to Comicon…

In Richmond, none-the-less. This will be our second Comicon. And this one has a good track-record, so they shouldn’t call us on Monday and say it’s not happening.


It’s on August 29th and will be at the Richmond Raceway. It’s a one-day event, but promises to have some intriguing guests and Cos-play is encouraged, so hopefully, some excellent costumes as well.

There will definitely be some wonderful local artists and several panels. (I’d love to take a glance at the costume contest too.)

Click here to go directly to the site to grab some tickets. VA Comicon

“The entire process is about failure…”

Ta-Nehisi Coates on writing: “I always consider the entire process about failure, and I think that’s the reason why more people don’t write.”

GO, watch a great video here. (Facebook link to The Atlantic.)

Hear that? It’s not just you.

Being a writer is hard. Just see it through and you’ll either have a break-through or break-down. Either one will take you somewhere you’ve never been before.

What was your last failure? What did you learn?

Okay, first watch a bunch of adorable children at a very expensive restaurant. (And a wonderful chef who likes kids and is willing to make some really good choices for their menu.)

Didja watch it? Really? Because there’s going to be spoilers ahead.

Now, what does this have to do with writing or publishing or anything at all?

Well, there’s two take-aways that I see right away:

  • Have fun with your medium. The chef took the opportunity to have some fun with the dessert course. He put chocolate truffles inside of balloons. The kids got to pop the balloons to get their treat. The chef also made sure that he mixed up old and new flavors. He explained the ingredients he was using to the kids. And he was willing to play with them and answer their questions throughout the meal. He was *having fun.* So relax. Have some fun.
  • Don’t be afraid to try something new. The kids gamely tried everything they were served. Sometimes they liked it. Sometimes they didn’t. They were willing to express their opinions, but only *after* they tried something. This is why I don’t necessarily comment on romance much. I simply have never read it. And if you handed me a Western, I’d have very little to compare it to. So, try books outside of your comfort zone. Or better yet, try some short stories.

So what am I really saying today? Enjoy yourself. Try something new. Try mixing up your art and your reading. Read a new magazine. Try out a short story collection in a field you never read. Heck, try out a new poetry style. Or try a writing challenge like using only single syllable words, or not using “e,” or starting each sentence with a different letter of the alphabet.

Go a little crazy and knock yourself out of whatever ruts you happen to be in.

Or, you know, go to a fancy restaurant and try the tasting menu. *grins*

Romancing the Rainbow has started on By Passion Shorn.  Click. You know you want to.