My writing group, the Writer’s Bloc, meets every Monday, and has been doing that for more than ten years. We rotate from house to house. Each hostess plans the writing exercises for the day. Here’s a writing exercise from our Memorial Day gathering that you may enjoy trying yourself.
Your mission is to create two characters based on animal traits.
Our leader used the Animal WiseTarot deck to jump-start our creativity. She invited us to pull two cards at random. After each pick, she asked us to write a character description of the animal. I happened to pick two birds: a chickadee and a grackle. Some people picked animals—rat snake, buffalo, frog, etc. But for some reason, fate decided that I would pick only birds. So that is what we’re going to write about. Birds.
Your task is to select two birds at random. You might think of two that visit your feeder; or you might be more daring: Use a bird book. If you use a bird book, here’s a way to ensure randomness: pick a number between 25 and 400. Open the book to whatever number you chose first. That will be Bird Number One. Repeat the selection process for Bird Number Two. Now you have identified two birds. It’s time to write their traits. If you’re unsure of your bird’s characteristics, make them up. This is about having fun. It’s not an ornithology exam.
Here are the lists I came up with for two birds:
Chickadee: talkative, friendly, black & white, hangs around all year; wears a black cap; seed eater; pinon tree lover; trusting (has eaten out of my hand); says thank you when I take seed to the feeder; loves sunflower seeds; open personality—what you see is what you get; willing to try new things (sips sugar water from the hummingbird feeder); not a complainer (like the pinon jay); sometimes hangs upside down; watches me through the window and lets me know when the feeder is empty.
Grackle: crow-sized black bird with startling yellow eyes; irridescent blackish-purple head; long beak; grain eater; a flocking bird; voice can sound almost human; voice sounds like its name—grackle; pushy; city folk hate grackles—they are noisy, move in and poop all over sidewalks and cars; migratory around here. They winter in Mexico and Texas; breed as far north as British Columbia.
Next, our leader asked us to turn the animal’s characteristics into a human character; name the character; and write a description of this character. Note that I did not include everything about the birds in my descriptions. The characters took on personalities of their own during the writing. We wrote for 7 minutes on each animal. Here are my bird-inspired character descriptions.
Chickadee character: Her name is Cynthia Young. Her family nicknamed her Chickie as a child because of her petite size. The name stuck. As a child she enjoyed swinging on the parallel bars, especially hanging upside down. She is outgoing and friendly, sociable and talkative. Her voice is bubbly and melodious. Chickie was small for her age and as an adult, she stands 5’2”. Her tummy has always been round no matter what kind of exercises she does. She disguises it by wearing maternity tops. She wears a lot of black and white. In her closet there are twelve pairs of black pants and as many types of black, white, and gray tops. She always wears a black cap or beret—her trademark. She married in her twenties, but later divorced, because her husband couldn’t stand her persistent optimism and her habit of singing at the top of her lungs in the shower. Besides, he wanted to travel south in the winter and she insisted on staying put. She refused to go to Arizona with him. Chickie never had children of her own, but she loves them and has taken many under her wing. She is an elementary school teacher. Being short and plump, she feels confident around six year olds, who think she is wonderful. Her cheery disposition sits well with young children. Cynical teenagers make fun of her, but she lets their comments roll off her back. Some of her friends say Chickie is too trusting and open. They think these qualities could allow people to take advantage of her or harm her. But Chickie is discerning and on guard for her safety. She believes in the goodness of human nature.
Grackle character: Meet Gregor Grachek. His lineage is Eastern European and he’s a traveling salesman for a motorcycle manufacturer. His territory covers south Texas to North Dakota, to the Canadian border. His olive skin is tanned and leathery; his hair, collar length and curly with a purple iridescence in the sunlight. His natural eye color is pale yellow—albino in appearance, which is a dominant trait passed down through his family. The pale eye color entered the gene pool because of a mutation several generations back when his great grandfather was helping to develop Genetically Modified corn. Without his dark blue contact lenses, people are terrified of Gregor. But with blue contacts, his eyes are a captivating shade of green. He is obsessively concerned about losing his contacts. He carries two extra pairs with him at all times plus all the contact paraphernalia. As a child, Gregor was shunned and humiliated by other children, so he has trust issues. He has had many relationships with women but never married. He is afraid of exposing his true self. His striking green contact-covered eyes are the first thing women notice about him, and they are highly attracted to him because of this. His eyes can appear hypnotic. Gregor has learned to use this feature to his advantage. But it is a double edged sword because when he takes his contacts out at night, his appearance is frightening. Authentic intimate relationships have been impossible with women. Gregor interacts well with men. He comes across as cocky and confident. He likes going to Sturgis each year with his biker friends. Wears a silver studded leather jacket and an earring in his left ear. He is starting to spend a lot of money on tattoos—has a colorful parrot tattooed on his right shoulder of which he is very proud.
Now it’s up to you! Pick your bird, write your bird description, and your human character sketches. Next, see if you can incorporate the characters into a scene with dialog. The two characters meet at a 25th high school reunion. Write for 15 minutes.