In our writing group, we used this exercise from The Five-Minute Writer by Margaret Geraghty, p. 122:
Imagine you've found someone's bag, briefcase, purse, or other smallish container. You don't know who its owner is but you decide to find out by being nosey. You open the bag and pull out the contents. Without thinking too hard, list at least six items. Don't just go for the obvious mobile phone and tissues, although you can of course include these, too.Here is my list of time:
Now write a short character sketch based on the items you've discovered.
- Calculator--solar powered
- Pencil-used golf pencil (no eraser)
- Receipts--grocery store, Target
Mandy's job had changed a lot about her life. She had been free-lancing as a nanny for a few years but never found any long-term gigs. She was a little bit too tall and too shapely and too pretty for recent mothers to feel comfortable. The contrast between the young, striking nanny and the sleep-deprived mom once drew a comment from a clueless dad and then drew a pink slip from the mom. Some parents were more understanding or cared less, but Mandy's thoroughness left a bad taste in their mouths. She'd really needed an employer with more confidence, more security, more chutzpah to get a long-term job.I felt as I was writing that the situation is pretty ridiculous but people in the group commented that it seemed realistic. The idea is intriguing to me.
Mandy was somehow both direct and sly. She could read a situation quickly and react with precision if not always gracefully. Her actions were tougher than her looks. She finally found a stable job when started nannying for the mafia.
She liked to keep track of things; she'd taken notes on store receipts of what was hers and what was the family's. She'd even divide out the taxes to make sure everything was above board. She'd have been a great asset to the Don but her first job with the mob was nannying for one of the mid-level guys (she never used the word "lieutenants" but she often thought it). Her situation was especially tricky since she was nanny for his mistress's child. Mandy was kept on the fringe of the "family" business--only meeting the business associates, not the rest of the "family."
She wasn't so worried about it. He'd been good to her, to his mistress, and to his wife. He was looking out for a lot of things, which meant trouble could come in any direction. So he'd asked Mandy to carry a gun, just in case. She was smart enough not to say no to him, but kept the gun empty. It was just for show, hopefully never really to be seen. Like the mistress, and therefore like Mandy.
The mafia, unlike her regular jobs, was a place Mandy could go far if she was noticed.