Want to know one of my writing hobbies? Sticking characters where they don’t belong for fun. Re-molding them to fit in that place where they don’t belong is also fun.
That’s why this is probably my own favorite writing exercise. It’s another exercise in getting to really know your characters – but it’ll also stretch your writing style muscles. All your writing should have your voice, but this exercise will test and work your skills in writing different styles to which you may not be used. (In other news, sometimes I’m not sure the rule about prepositions actually makes sentences sound better every time.)
The rules of the game are few and simple: take a cast of characters, and put them in a completely different, random setting that has nothing to do with their original situation. The characters are all granted just enough change to themselves to allow them to fit comfortably in their new situation – meaning, if from a medieval time period flung into modern, they know about cars and guns and wear modern clothing and lose magic powers, and if flung from space into a historical fiction, aliens are transformed into “boring” humans and all anachronisms are lost and not missed.
My own favorite examples come from a selection of the cast of my saga – a selection because the entire cast is way too unwieldy. This means I pick my overlord, his psychotic minion, his general, and possibly one or two other main minions, my main heroine, the heroine of the first book in the series, a main hero and his minio-er, sidekick, and possibly a few other heroic characters.
The setting of the saga is high fantasy, something kind of equivalent to a medieval period (although their science is advanced pretty far not through technology but magic) and of course includes dragons and spells and many non-human races. My main heroine is essentially a half-elf, the psychotic one is a race of my own division with blue skin (and this character also has wings), the sidekick is a sandman, and pretty much everyone has magic. The other heroine has a tiny pet dragon, too. Dress is pretty varied from traditional medieval robes and dresses to more Victorian style and even stuff resembling the modern T and pants. Depends on the culture and stuff.
So, I want to play Genre Swap. I choose…modern-day office sit-com.
There’s a few things to consider as I place the characters into their new roles. One, how can I best place the characters so that their relationships with one another are most closely maintained? Two, where can I put them that would be most compatible with their personality? Three, what do I have to change about my characters to adapt them to their new setting?
Question three is actually the easiest. First, everyone is stripped of magic and the fantastic. Second, overlord Etheromos needs to switch out his robes for perfectly-ironed dress pants and a white collar shirt. He’ll probably wear a stupidly expensive black tie and shoes. He’ll wear black gems in cufflinks, and he’ll have to have a better haircut. Psychotic Vince will, of course, lose his wings and blue skin for…I dunno, let’s make him an ambiguous tan color. I’ll trade his gold eyes for amber, and he’s going to have to wear a shirt whether he likes it or not. Since he’s not going to like it, it’ll probably be open at the collar and he’ll never wear a tie. NEVER. Although if he did, it would be blue. He can’t get away with going barefoot, either. Main heroine Kauhana can still wear braids in her hair, and she can still wear her semi-casual shirts, even if they’d be considered a little old-fashioned. She’d probably wear a pencil-skirt. And of course she’d need the facial modifications to switch her from half-elf to human. You get the idea.
Luckily, question one and two tend to go hand in hand. Etheromos has a superiority complex, and all throughout the story, he’s been pretty obnoxious about his being more important than anyone else – even as an overlord, when he kind of actually is. Sure, I could make him an office employee that thinks he’s the best worker there, but why do that when he clearly would make a perfect…middle manager? And what about that dragon-bearing other heroine, Sharra? She’s pretty young for most of the story, a teenager, so she doesn’t belong in the office. Besides that, she and Vince have an interesting relationship that would make her far too uncomfortable to work in the same place as him. Besides that, it’s really hard to see her wearing anything too business formal…While, technically, in step three, I should just make her old enough to work in an office, I’d rather put her in a different position such as package delivery. If I could figure out how to give her a pair of shoe skates and a newsboy hat and stick her in the office from time to time, that would be perfect. And who would be the CEO of the company? Or at least, a CEO? General Annie, of course. Yes, in the saga, Annie is a lower rank than Ether; here, personality fits better for her to be CEO, even if it destroys her relationship with Ether to some degree. It better maintains her relationship with others, as does Ether’s position.
The stage is set – now, I must write a story with this “new” cast in a new setting. Just invent a few plot arcs, write them out, and enjoy.
Another favorite genre is modern-day high-school. Again, the characters are stripped of non-human race and magic, but they’re also all converted to teenagers. I learned some particularly interesting things about Etheromos when I realized the clique in which he’d best fit was the preps.
Give it a try – not only is it a lot of fun anyway, not only do you learn a lot about your characters, but you also learn a lot about a genre about which you might have previously known little. Writing outside of your comfort zone stretches your writing muscles, and helps them to become stronger.
Let me give you a few ideas of other genres – film noir, urban fantasy, paranormal mystery, telenovela, and not just sci-fi but the genre-flipping time-traveling sci-fi. If you don’t like these, try google.
I can’t wait to hear about your results and discoveries!