If you don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, you probably aren’t used to people asking you what you’re thankful for every single November. If you do celebrate Thanksgiving, you’re probably sick of it. But if you step outside the holiday mentality (and put the mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, and Black Friday ads down for a moment), I’m sure you can see how turning that question into a “Happy Thanksgiving Writing Prompt” could be useful.
No? Just me then.
What You’re Thankful for: A Happy Thanksgiving Writing Prompt
I’ve been looking back at old articles like “Quick Questions for Fixing Character Behavior,” “Acting Out: Character Motivation and Behavior,” and “Who’s Driving This Plot?” because I was sure I already talked about what the character wants (it’s pretty central to most plots). I still can’t quite believe I skipped it totally, but while all those characterization articles dance around the topic, none of them confronts it directly.
So here’s a little intro…
What Characters Want
What a character wants shows you what the character values: peace in the household, rowdy parties, expensive jewelry, fine coffee, time to read, or a special thimble (you never know…). What a character values can direct motivation as well as build characterization.
What Characters Want to Have (But Don’t – Yet)
What a character wants to have is the character’s desires and goals – the things, people, or experiences that motivate that character (If you think about Black Friday and Cyber Monday, this idea goes well with the Thanksgiving holiday.).
For some books, the kindling of this desire to achieve a specific goal acts as the inciting incident. For other books, the object of desire is lost and has to be recovered.
“Etc., etc., etc.”
What Characters Want to Keep
These are things, status, relationships, and so on that the character already has and values. In Thanksgiving parlance, it’s what the character is thankful for (whether or not the character actually thinks about it in concrete terms). It’s also, very commonly, stuff a character will fight to keep.
Turning What the Character Is Thankful for into a Writing Prompt
There are infinite ways to turn what a character wants into a writing prompt (seriously, that’s all stories – ever.). For this case, the focus will be 1. using a character’s desire for something to drive the plot and 2. using what the character values to determine character actions throughout the story.
- Make up a character / Pick a character you already have.
- List what the character is thankful for (what he/she/it already has).
- List what the character wants but doesn’t have yet.
- Prioritize the lists by importance. What can the character let go? What would the character kill for? What would the character die for?
- Pick one of the more important items on the list and make it the goal of the plot (Getting it back, achieving it, protecting it, etc.).
- Use the list of values to judge the options the character is given as you write/plot: Not only whether the action will help the character reach those goals but also whether someone who values those goals/people/relationships would take that action under those circumstances.
Although more formalized or ritualized than regular writing habits, this writing prompt process provides the basics of brainstorming both plot and characterization. So if you’re having trouble linking those two together, this could be a handy exercise.
And who knows? Maybe, all those “What Are You Thankful For?” homework assignments will come in handy after all because of my great writing prompt. (Or maybe not… I’m gonna go with not.)
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!