Robert Ray, author of The Weekend Novelist Writes A Mystery, had a couple of starting points for free writing that produced some good results in our group:
“I am the killer. My name is _________. And I made my first kill at the age of _______ in a place called ___________. Where the black wind ___________.” Using this prompt, he had everyone write for five minutes.
He also suggested we do timed free writing about:
- His/her first day at school.
- The first time he/she bled.
- The last time he/she saw his/her mother.
These could be from the hero’s or the killer’s POV - or do it for each.
Chelsea Cain, author of Heartsick, had some good tips about character:
Her characters frequently drink coffee and/or smoke while speaking, to give them something to do that speaks as loudly as their words.
If there’s no coffee or cigarettes, she has them do something together, like paint a wall
She puts them in embarrassing positions. She had one character get caught masturbating. She thinks its good to write scenes that make you nervous.
She likes to show characters - even villains - at a moment when they’re vulnerable.
Another tip I didn’t get at the conference but heard recently and thought was good (I think it was from the guy who devised the Snowflake Method of plotting). I understand that he says you don't need to outline your book in advance but you'll always need a beginning, three disasters and an ending. The first disaster can come from the outside, but the second two should probably be a result of the main character trying to make the situation better.