Writing Prompt: A Moment in History

Here’s a writing prompt to practice shaping your writing to the point of view of the character. It’s fairly simple yet fairly difficult at the same time (like most of writing, I suppose). It goes something like this:

 1. Pick a famous moment from history.

It doesn’t have to be a famous moment. It could be a moment from your own life or a specific event from a certain time period. Famous moments are slightly easier simply because they’re better documented, which gives you a list of characters that are ready-made. You can make your own, but since that’s not the goal of the exercise, using existing characters lets you get right to the meat of it. Whatever you pick, make sure that it involves a variety of characters.

 2. Pick three or more of the characters that you want to focus on.

The exercise will be most useful if you pick characters that are diverse in age, background, and behavior.

 3. Write the scene from the perspective of one of those characters.

As you’re writing, concentrate on suiting the style of the writing to that character’s perspective, knowledge, and experience. Without losing legibility. The other characters should be in the scene, as well, but it should be shaped through the eyes of the person you chose.

 4. Write the scene from the perspective of one of the other characters.

Like step 3, focus on one character’s point of view. How can you make it seem different? How can you change the flavor of the writing (so to speak) without drastically changing the scene you’re describing?

 5. Repeat as desired.

If you need inspiration, think of what happens when police interview witnesses at a crime scene. Even if every witness gives an honest account, none of the stories will match exactly. The overlap indicates the most likely truth, but what each person focuses on, the words they use to describe things, and even their impressions of timing all reflect each individual voice, perspective, and background.

That’s your goal as you write.

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