It’s that time of year again: spring cleaning. As the plants come back to life outdoors, you attempt to breathe life back into your home with a nice deep clean. You get rid of old clothes, clean out your drawers, and reorganize your bookshelves. By the time you’ve finished, your home is feeling so much more clean, comfortable, and functional. And going through a deep spring clean can truly make you feel refreshed internally as well.
Putting one of your characters through a spring cleaning writing exercise is an excellent way to practice showing rather than telling your readers character details through scene-work. For example, let’s say your character is spring cleaning and decides to get rid of an old exercise bike. Have they stopped exercising and don’t plan to begin again anytime soon? If this is the case, is your character depressed or simply not a fan of exercise. Or did they instead get a gym membership and that is preferable to them? One item and the choices they make surrounding that item can say so much about who they are and/or their current state.
Let’s say your character is cleaning out their closet. What types of clothes do they hold onto and why? Do they donate some clothes as they go through their wardrobe? What sorts of clothes do they decide to get rid of and why? Perhaps some of their clothes have holes or stains in them, where did that wear and tear come from?
Is this person’s home already fairly organized or are they finding old pieces of gum in various drawers? If it’s the latter, that could perhaps indicate that the character is going through a hard time as of late. Or maybe it can show the reader that this person is just generally messy, their home and life mimicking one another.
What does your character have that is sentimental in their home? An old note their Mom left in their lunchbox back in their Middle School days? Ticket stubs from a movie they saw with their partner years back? Half of a ‘best friends’ locket? Anything sentimental will have a story behind it and, when the character sees the object in real-time, it provides you with the opportunity to tell those stories. And, whether the character decides to hold on or let go to these items, says a lot about their level of sentimentality and/or the state of their relationship with the person about whom the memory shows.
Writing Prompt: Take a character from your manuscript or create a character for this exercise. Write about a spring cleaning day for your character. If you choose to use a character from your manuscript, choose a spring cleaning day from a significant year in your character’s life. Presume your readers know nothing about this character and give them character details solely by using the action of spring cleaning. Highlight important items and details around their home, tell the stories behind them, and use action to show how they feel about these objects.