Here's a picture of a writing prompt I put up recently. Simple, yeah? Some colours, a few words, no biggie.
Except, here's the thing about it—it turned into a big thing for me because I had me some thinky thoughts while creating it.
See, I'd put together the nice little boxes of colour, but since I had the dumb that day I couldn't think of words, so Skype-asked my friend Anarion for a few.
She shared what you see: wifi, spin a tale, and empathy and as soon as I started typing them into the boxes I stopped typing.
Cause here's the other thing: I was immediately putting the word empathy with the pretty colour.
And that felt like it mattered.
So, since I often like to stop a knee-jerk creative decision, I asked myself 'why are you doing this?' Same as I have in the past asked 'why is this new character male? What if they're female? Genderqueer? Non-binary? And everything else stays the same?'
So, what if the word empathy doesn't go with the brighter colour because empathy is a bright emotion? What if I put it with the colour black? What thoughts would that bubble up?
For me, it absolutely changed the sort of story I wrote (see the comments). I began thinking of empathy practiced when things are literally or emotionally dark. If I'd have put the word empathy with the burgundy instead, as I originally started to do, my mind would have toyed with grandma-type stuff because there's just something about burgundy for me that says older, the past, soft. I don't know why.
Why Easy Characterisation Makes Me Stop
So when I write—whether these prompts or a story—I try and be aware of characterisations that feel too easy. 'So my new character appeared in my head as a white, straight man.'
Yes but chances are good he appeared in my head that way because most characters I see in nearly all entertainment media are white, straight guys. My subconscious has that default legion on which to model my own characters, whereas it has fewer examples of everyone else.
So a colourful little writing prompt turned into me talking with you about why I like to stop. think. look.
If my character looks like that default legion do they have to? The answer is nope, no, almost never. And no, the story doesn't have to be about them not being white, straight, or male either. It can be the exact same story I wanted to tell originally because guess what? Everyone else in this world can also have adventures, solve mysteries, fall in love, foil alien attacks.
So when you see your newborn characters in your mind's eye, is that who they need to be, or are they modeled after people you've already seen and seen and seen?
Can they be someone else, someone new?
It's up to us of course, it's up to us because we're the writers. And the world is full to beautiful bursting with characters of every description possible.
I for one want to give them their stories, too.
And hey, if you do as well, come talk to me. Here's how to find me.