What Are Your Characters Grateful For? Fiction Prompts about Gratitude
Posted November 18, 2012on:
With Thanksgiving almost upon us, we find ourselves naturally turning toward counting our blessings and perhaps beefing up (or beginning) a gratitude practice. At the beginning of the fall season, I wrote about slowing down long enough to tap into the wonders of gratitude.
Recently I thought about using gratitude as a lens into character development and got very excited. What if I played with the concept of gratitude in my characters’ lives? Are my characters grateful people? If so, in what ways do they display gratitude and for what reasons? How might exploring gratitude in their lives help me know more about their motivations? Gratitude is part and parcel of strong emotions including love. We, of course, can also be grateful that something bad we thought was going to happen to us didn’t. Gratitude seems like ripe territory for developing a character’s emotional life.
Running with this idea, I turned to Lorraine Simmons, a main character in my novel. Lorraine is a twenty-something African American woman and the disillusioned founder of the People’s Corner, a community center in the midst of a troubled Brooklyn neighborhood. Receiving an anonymous call about a mystery virus in her area, she initiates her search for the truth and clashes with enraged local leaders who spread rumors about a medical conspiracy.
Since I know Lorraine’s interior landscape pretty well, I thought it would be fun to explore how gratitude operates (or doesn’t) in her life. I sketched out some questions:
-What are the moments of grace that have shaped her life?
-If she died suddenly, what are the five things she’d be grateful for?
-Is there anything in her life she feels like she should be grateful for, but isn’t?
After freewriting answers to these questions, I landed on a scene in the novel where I think I can explore gratitude more explicitly.
There’s a pivotal moment toward the end of a chapter where Lorraine is lost in an old hospital basement. She has spent the last week chasing down a number of frustrating leads that yielded nothing. She’s lost and disoriented both physically and emotionally. In the snippet I share below, a deaf hospital worker finds her:
The man, with a gray and black goatee and big ears, signed back, “You are on the bottom floor. All construction. Oldest part of the building. Follow me.” He offered her his hand and helped her get to her feet. She shuffled alongside him. I have been lost for sometime, huh? How does one find herself? she wondered. None of her friends were lost. Pitzer, Pepper, and Lila–they were more themselves than ever, she reflected. Everyone seemed to becoming more and more of himself or herself while she was losing herself. This is the biggest paradox in my life, she thought. How long had she been lost?
He tapped her gently, “Be careful, this exit leads to the back of the hospital and there’s lots of junk lying around. Could really hurt yourself.”
The scene goes on and the hospital worker unknowingly provides a clue about the mysterious virus. The scene ends with Lorraine making an important decision:
The sky was still as gray as it had been when she entered. Across from her some construction workers sat on a long concrete bench eating lunch. Their contents displayed around them, Sunny juice, bits of aluminum foil, roast beef sandwiches, a hard-boiled egg, shells littering the ground. One waved at her and she smiled, happy to be back in the continued gloom of the day and released from the dark cavern. She could see that she was on the left side of the building and would have to wind her way back to the bus stop. She’d walk back through the green wilderness once more, but she wasn’t alarmed anymore. The lost feeling left her and allowed her to concentrate back on the issue at hand. Rosa’s grandmother and aunt were lost and so were other women from the neighborhood. She would not admit then that it was easier to focus on those lost people than her own lost self, but it was what she could hold on to for now. The question itself curled back into Lorraine’s being. Yes, I am lost, but I am determined to go on. For them, if not for me.
In my rewrite, I’d like Lorraine to display more gratitude to the hospital worker and more importantly, later in the novel, I want to draw on the gratitude she feels for her resolve to go on. Gratitude can become a bigger touchstone for Lorraine’s emotions, especially as the crisis heightens.
If this concept intrigues you, I encourage you to assess how gratitude operates in your characters’ lives. You might just be grateful you did.