I was reading HARRIET THE SPY the other day and was absolutely smitten with Harriet's writer's game from the beginning of the book. Check it out:
Harriet was trying to explain to Sport how to play Town. "See, first you make up the name of the town. Then you write down the names of all the people who live in it. You can't have too many or it gets too hard. I usually have twenty-five....Then when you know who lives there, you make up what they do. For instance, Mr Charles Hanley runs the filling station on the corner."
She goes on to explain that once you know the names of all the families and how many kids they have and what they do for a living, that's when the fun begins. She starts imagining situations that happen in the town and how the people's lives intersect. While one farmhouse is getting robbed in the dead of night, a baby is being born in the hospital and the police chief is strolling down Main Street and senses that something is amiss. And so on.
I thought to myself, now there's an idea.
So many children's books happen in the center of a community: TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, ANNE OF GREEN GABLES, and HARRY POTTER, to name a few. The setting could be a town, a school, a secret government training facility, or a summer camp, but when there's a cast of characters around your heroes, it's good to know who they are and where they come from right off the bat. Then you can start imagining situations that would arise between these characters in this setting, instead of (as I so often do) waiting for scenes and characters to present themselves as you write or outline. I would imagine that this is where great subplots, interesting characters, and plot complexities can emerge. Kind of like real life.
Anyone want to play town?
Let us know if you have any great exercises for constructing characters, world-building, or beginning a new story idea. We'd love to hear from you!