The Scrivener’s Forge 5 – Character and World-building

Interesting tips on character building with an excercise. Check it out!

Neil MacDonald Author

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A new writing exercise every month. When you focus on one aspect of writing at a time, you can concentrate on making it the best you can possibly create. That way you can reach a professional level that may be harder with longer works. We’ll explore one aspect of the craft each month.

If you comment on other writers’ efforts, they’ll usually comment on yours. So you get lots of critiques, advice, and encouragement.

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Character and world-building

Building a character is building a world. This may be a world of fantasy, of wizards and dragons. But it doesn’t have to be. When the physical world and the emotional world are overlaid, everyday things become new and vibrant if…

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The Long Journey Home

Below in bold was the intro we had to use for our story, hope you enjoy.

The four children huddled together on the station platform. At their feet were two old fashioned suitcases. The tallest child, a girl, kept looking around her. Her eyes darted back and forth: two ice blue pools in a small white face.

“Stop looking so terrified Paprika! We are going to have a wonderful time.”

My mother shouts at me from across the platform. She’s at the service desk getting our tickets. Her long bead necklace hit off the desk as she bends over to flirt with the attendant. I’m not scared. I’m trying to make sure no one I know sees me.

“Paprika, will our new home have a TV?” Little Finnick looks up at me hopeful. His friend from school had a TV and he had been dreaming of one ever since he saw it.

“No Finnick, Mother says it’s one of the ways they put messages in your head. Sorry.” I replied as I shifted Saffron from one hip to another. His hope fades. Poppy stood close to me but didn’t speak. She never did. We were heading to Donegal. Our last house was in Cork but it wasn’t our home. I’m not sure we ever really had a home. Or ever will. Mother was walking back over to us. Her long floral skirt skimmed the floor. Her wild red hair swayed as she glides. I hate wearing these skirts. Every other fifteen year old girl is wearing a mini skirt or jeans. I can deal with the mocking but I worry about the others. They’re too young to understand all of this. They haven’t had to deal with Mother and her problems for as long as I have.

“Oh Finnick, Poppy. You are going to love our new home! It has a big field for you to play in. We can even get a cow! Live off the land. No more processed foods. No more poisons going into your bodies. The government won’t know how to find us. We will finally have peace.”

It was time to go on board the train. Mother grabbed her cases and disappeared ahead of us. I shifted Saffron one more time and lifted Poppy up to my other hip.

“Ok Finnick, I need you to hold on tight to my coat pocket. Do not let go no matter what.”

We got on board and finally found Mother sitting in the last carraige. She was talking to a Steward, her hand lightly pressing aganst his arm. A couple of minutes later he came back with some juice boxes and sandwhiches. She didn’t give him any money.

“Is daddy going to come visit?” Finnick pipes up. He’s trying to open his juice box. “Oh yes. We will write to him and tell him our new address.” I take Finnick’s juice and pierce the straw through. I hate when she says things like that. Finnick hasn’t seen his daddy in almost two years. Since he got tired of Mother’s dramas. I haven’t seen my own father in almost ten years, for the same reason.

The train starts us on our new journey. Mother says it’s a fresh start. Different this time. But that’s what she said last time.. and the time before that.

A storm is coming

The hard rain soaked through her cardigan, seeping into her skin. She stood on the corner, asking herself what to do next. She cursed herself for not grabbing her phone. “You didn’t have time to grab your coat Maggie, never mind the mobile!” She reasoned. She wondered if he’d be asleep soon. The last whiskey taking affect. Perhaps the surge of adrenaline would keep him up. Waiting.

“You should have just kept a closer eye on the pork!” She muttered under her breath. She thought of going to Jo’s. It was only a thirty minute walk but she couldn’t handle the ‘I told you so’ right now. Jo never said it but she could always tell what her big sister was thinking. Besides, she’d make her stay the night, which brought it’s own problems. Maggie had no uniform for work which meant coming home in the morning. The hangovers were worse than the night before. He hated Jo, and he knew that’s where she would have been. Knew that was the only place she could have gone.

Maggie caught the eye of a woman at the bus stop but quickly looked away. She knew she must have looked mad. The woman wore a pant suit, her giant umbrella shielding her perfectly preened hair. Was she going home to shouting? Maybe she wasn’t married. A woman all about her career. No one to report to each night. Maggie dreamed of that life for almost ten years now. No dinners to be made. No sour taste of whiskey on top of her in the mornings. Being able to stretch out in bed. Suppose she could do that the nights he didn’t come home. Why did she stay? She stopped asking that a long time ago.

The wind had begun to choke her. She could feel the stares from the passing traffic. It was time to go home. She walked back the ten blocks, her shoes squelching. Half way, she passed their local park. It was small, only one set of swings for the children. She smiled to herself as she thought of the many Sunday afternoons they spent here. She would make a nice picnic for them. He would read the paper out loud while his head rested in her lap. She loved listening, running her fingers through his hair. My God he had a beautiful head of hair. Jet black. Once upon a time.

She stood at the park gate, looking at the beginning of the storm’s results. Rubbish was strewn everywhere, the swings going wild. A thick branch, about two feet long, broken clean off a tree had landed by the gate. Bushes were almost pulled up from the root. Chaos. She carried on. No point in delaying the inevitable. She trudged those five blocks, fighting the gale with all her might. Children were pointing from the cars now. She didn’t care. Just get home.

She barely had the door open when she heard the chair drag along the floor. She ran up the stairs. “Where the hell have you been?” The slurring began, rising in volume. “I’m getting my uniform and going to Jo’s. Do not try to stop me.” Her voice trembled from the bedroom. “Oh no you’re not. I don’t want that bitch knowing our business.” The stomping started on the stairs. As his foot reached the last step, she swung the branch as hard as she could. He stumbled for a second, before falling back. Landing awkwardly near the bottom.

“Frank?” She called over the banister. Nothing. He didn’t stir. She stood there, the branch still in her hand, shaking. “I..I told you not to stop me..”

After Eight

She tapped her nails on the table, glancing at her watch. The restaurant began filling quickly. The band was setting up. She put her hand up as the waiter tried to approach her again. He scurried past, dropping the menu like a ninja. A menu. Did he think she was here alone? That she was stood up? Not this time. He promised her he’d be here. That he was finally going to tell his wife. She grabbed her coat and stormed out.

It only took her fifteen minutes to get to his front door. She peered in the kitchen window to see if he was home. That’s when she saw him. Placing the chain around her neck and a kiss on her cheek. She screamed. They both jumped, looking out at her, terrified. He ran to the door but she ran on to the road. Wheels screeched. He held her close, called for help. She smiled as her eyes closed one last time.

She tapped her nails on the table, glancing at her watch.

The Perks Of The Job

My boyfriend Roger got me a job in the company where he works. Don’t worry we won’t be working together, he actually just got a promotion. He’s on the road a lot while I’m in the office. It’s a pretty sweet deal I get a free laptop and phone, they just take a small contribution out of my wages each month.

I was looking through my new laptop and came across some photos. Someone must have had it before me. I couldn’t help but browse. Some were work photos, holiday snaps, dark ones I couldn’t make out. And. Is that a body? I flicked to the next one and gasped. I slammed it shut.

I asked Rachel in IT do they recycle laptops. “Yeah, when someone leaves the company or upgrades” I was debating showing the photos to the police but wanted to have a name. I asked who owned the laptop before me. “Oh what a coincidence. Roger did.”

A Goodbye Note

Dear Mother,

It is with great sorrow that I write this. I’m afraid enough is enough. I have let this matter go on for far too long. Ever since you let that disgusting feline move in, there has been nothing but chaos around here. Firstly, she has been taunting the birds out in the garden every morning. They are constantly squaking and the incessant hissing which has interrupted my peaceful morning routine. I used to enjoy my run around the garden before relaxing by the door chewing on a rawhide shoe. Now when I go for my run that damn cat keeps jumping in front of me. I know she does it on purpose, trying to get me to react. But I have always risen above it.

It is not just her actions that have prompted this letter. You are different since she came along. You have changed. You used to fill my bowl up first thing every morning, we had a routine. Now when I come down to the kitchen I arrive to an empty bowl and your busy fussing over her. I no longer get the scraps at dinner time because she jumps in before me. The final straw was when I walked into the sitting room last night to find her sitting beside you, her filthy head on your lap. Every night for the last five years, I have sat on that couch with you and watched TV. I enjoyed sitting with you; I felt loved. And that cat sitting there, smirking at me has ruined that.

This was intended to be a suicide note. If I don’t have your love and affection I have nothing. But if I went through with that, then she would have won. I will not let that happen. So I have joined the local gang of street dogs. They have already accepted me as one of their own. We will spend our days running through the streets, play, and feast on all the scraps we want.

I hope you and Felix will be happy although I’m sure you will soon realise your mistake. But it will be too late. I have moved on. I have a new family.

Goodbye forever Mother,

Rover

Just Another Job

The wind was howling, rain hitting against my face. Tonight’s job is in Killiney. I do a couple of jobs there every month or so. It’s usually a good one which means I don’t have to work the rest of the week. I park a half hour away and walk the rest of the way to the job.

I wear my dark jeans, black hoodie and scarf with boots. I have my back pack with me too which only contains my lock picking kit, alarm disabler and night vision goggles. By the end of the night my bag will be filled with cash, jewellery and any other small valuables I can find. I never take phones or laptops, they can be tracked easily. The house I’m going to is a six bed mansion on Killiney Hill. The owner is an investment banker, who made his fortune during the boom.His wife is a socialite, constantly in newspapers covered in jewels. Her ‘guilty pleasure’ as she likes to call them. The house has minimal security, a basic house alarm and no guard dogs. I always scope out potential jobs for a couple of weeks, maybe a month. I don’t rush in, that’s how you get caught.

There is a small gap in the hedge around the back of the garden. I wrap my scarf around my face, pull my hood up and crawl through the gap. I walk up to the back door and take one last look around before putting on my goggles. The owners will be asleep by now. You probably think I’m mad, breaking into a house where the owners are home, but I’m an expert at working in houses with the owners inside. I’m quiet, agile & precise. I never bring weapons, I don’t need them. I pick the lock and disable the alarm. I go through the kitchen, picking up some cash on the counter. Next I try the living room and study, retrieving some small ornaments. I head upstairs;houses like this always have a safe and they’re usually in the bedroom. I get to the first bedroom, opening the door slowly. What I see makes me flip the switch without thinking.

Before me, on the bed was a tall broad man in a flowery dress, with an orange wig kneeling over the investment banker. He turns to me and I can see his face is painted like a clown. His arm is raised with a bloody meat cleaver in his hand, mid swing. I look down and see the bankers lifeless eyes staring back at me, his wife’s mutilated corpse beside him. The walls are painted red wth their blood. I looked back at the clown. We stare at eachother for what seems like eternity, and then my mind assesses what is happening & I turn to run. In the corner of my eye I catch the clown jumping from the bed. I half run, half stumble down the stairs, hearing heavy steps behind me. I enter the closest room and lock the door behind me. I turn the light on and find stairs leading to the basement. I run down and scan the room for some sort of weapon. Bang! He won’t take long to get the through that door. I find a small window and climb on to the table below it. It doesn’t push open. Bang! I grab a dusty ornament and smash the window open. Bang! The door crashes and I hear grunting. I throw my bag through the window and squeeze through the tight space. I feel broken glass cut my face but I don’t care, I’m ou-Ah! He has my foot! I shake furiously until my boot comes off. I stand up,gasping for air. I look down and see piercing black eyes staring up at me. I grab my bag and run to the gap, my face stings as I crawl back through. I see his shadow following me and I run faster than I ever have before. When I get to the corner where my car is parked I stop and look back. There is no sign of life. I take my phone out and dial 112, pausing before I hit the call button. How do I explain what just happened? How I saw the shit I just saw without implicating myself in a crime. No, I will not risk getting caught after all these years. I lock the phone, put it back in my pocket and get in the car. With one last look back, I drive away.

Island Of The Dolls

He only takes the normal girls. The plain ones, ugly you could say. He makes us pretty though.

He takes us in the dark of night, or in a quiet park perhaps. That’s when our journey starts. The island is beautiful, remote. One way on or off; his boat. We go to his workshop.

He examines us, our flaws, our potential. He chooses our new clothes. Pretty cotton and lace dresses with bright colours. He styles our hair. Pigtails, maybe curls. Then the exciting part. His eyes light up as he begins. Drawing on freckles, rouge on our cheeks. A little lippy, but never too much.

Then we meet the others. All so pretty. Drinking tea, playing in the garden, cooking. We were brought from all over. Missouri, Oklahoma, Missisipi and even Louisiana. A new one comes every week.

In fact here he comes with a new doll to play with now.

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