Ninja Writer Academy is a weekly series. Every Saturday morning, I post a lesson here. You can do the work, then come share it on our Facebook group. I’ll be on Facebook on Sunday for Office Hours for an hour so we can discuss the lesson, or anything else writing related. If you’d like to join the Academy and get an email on Saturday with a link to the lesson, plus notification when Office Hours start, click here.
This week’s exercise should help you to flesh out your main character (MC) and bring them into brighter focus–make them more of a living, breathing person–by placing them in their space.
The Lair Assignment
I want you to close your eyes and conjure up a good mental image of your MC. Think about what they look like, how they hold themselves, what kind of clothing they wear. When was the last time they slept? Do they need a shower or are they always meticulously groomed? Do they wear vintage thrift store clothes or J. Crew straight out of the catalog or haute couture? How do they wear their hair when no one is looking? Do they wear lipstick when they don’t expect to see anyone?
No go a step further. Think about your hero’s surroundings. Where are they most comfortable? Where are they the most at home? Where do they feel safe?
Is it their bedroom? Their cubicle at work? A corner booth at a local bar?
Really look around. Get nosy. Poke into drawers, open the medicine cabinet and the fridge, look between the mattress and the box springs. Read their journal. Peek into their closet.
What color are the walls? How does their lair smell? What can they hear? Who is nearby? Who would they never invite in? Who do they wish they could share their space with?
Everyone has a lair. I bet you do. I know for sure that I do. We all have the place we go when fight-or-flight kicks in and we run. This week, I want you to think about what that place is like for your hero.
My work-in-progress is a Robin Hood retelling set in modern day Las Vegas.
Rob Huntington is seventeen years old. He holds himself with the easy grace of a teenage athlete who has grown up knowing that he’s the Prince of Las Vegas. He’s been away at boarding school, but for him the whole world is the Nottingham Casino–and he has always known that he would inherit that world someday. He is the center of it and he has never wanted anything else. He wears basic teenage boy clothes–blue jeans, t-shirts, hoodies–but of a high quality. His father was white and his mother was African American. He inherited his mother’s coloring, except for his father’s light eyes. He wears his dark hair cut very short. He’s strong and capable, but a little pampered when the story starts. He’s aristocratic and a little arrogant.
Rob Huntington has lived most of his life in a ‘villa’ on the property of the Strip casino that his father owns. It’s modest, which captures the imagination of the city–sad Las Vegas royalty, grieving the loss of their wife and mother. For as long as Rob can remember, it has just the two of them in it. His best friend, Mattie, and her father live in the villa next door. The villas are mid-century two-bedroom cabins designed to be rented to guests.
Rob’s lair isn’t in the villa, though. The place where he goes when he has to run somewhere is the little swimming pool that was built for employees to use, but that really belonged to Rob and Mattie. Barely bigger than a hot tub, shallow and shimmering like an oasis, the pool had gone unchanged in the sixty years since it was built. It’s lined with a million glittering tiles in different shades of blue and surrounded by small, shrubby desert trees growing in planters. It’s tucked away, where guests can’t access it.
Rob and Mattie thought, when they were younger, that they were sneaking into it, but Rob’s dad knew they are the only ones who use it. They were safe in the pool and running around the casino because his employees keep an unobtrusive eye on them. They were literally surrounded by adults who are dedicated to keeping them safe. They’d run through the casino in their swimsuits, kick off their sandals as soon as the first blast of hot hair took their breath away, and sprint across the burning concrete like fire walkers. They’d splash into the water that was sometimes almost too warmed by the unrelenting sun that beat down on it, and duck into the shade of the little trees. The pool water smelled of chlorine and left their eyes red-rimmed and their vision tinted with rainbows. Mattie’s blonde hair had a green tint to it in the summer from all the time she spent swimming with Rob. The day that Rob comes home from boarding school, the day he finds out his father has died, when he can’t bear the weight of one more grieving person’s condolence, he runs to the pool and Mattie knows exactly where to find him. He hasn’t seen her in nearly two years, but when he does again, in that place, he can finally breathe and start to mourn.
Here’s your homework this weekend, Ninja!
Are you in this week? Leave a comment here and let me know. Ninja Writers are ALL about the big A word: Accountability. Post here that you’re going to be part of the Academy this week, then do it, Ninja.
Spend sometime today thinking about your hero’s lair. Where do they go when they can’t fight anymore? Describe their safe place.
Come by Facebook and share your work today. I’ll be there tomorrow at 1 p.m. PST for office hours.
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If you haven’t joined the Academy yet, you can do that by clicking here. It’s totally free–when you sign up, I’ll send you a link every week to the Academy post and an invitation to my Sunday office hours.