Marilyn Atlas Exercises

from Dating Your Character

More than just taking a snapshot of a place and then transcribing it, you're setting the mood for the scene. You're seeing how all these disparate elements contribute to the vibe of a place. Scenes are about communicating feelings, senses ...

Practice noticing the details that add up to the personality of a place.



Go to three venues of the same type. Be prepared to spend half an hour at each. You don't need to take notes while you're there, just absorb your immediate impressions ...

Note: You don't have to do this all on the same day.

After you've soaked in the atmosphere of one venue, consider the following:

  • Is this place part of a well-known chain or an independent outfit?

  • How hard is this place to find? (Is that part of its charm?)

  • Who does this place cater to? (Students, hipsters, mid-level professionals,retirees?)

  • What emotional connotation is the lighting trying to set? (Romantic,
    warm, blithely efficient, etc.?)


  • What is the demeanor of the regulars - both workers and customers?

  • What are its pluses and minuses?



You and your character have both agreed to meet up for some reason. Write a scene where you speak to your character.


  • You could be interviewing for a job...

  • You're a potential client looking to secure her interior design services ...

  • You're interested in learning more about adult education opportunities in your neighborhood and she's a teacher...

Whatever it is, come up with a scenario that makes some kind of sense, according to her career or how she spends a good deal of her time.

Spend a couple of minutes writing without censoring yourself; not stopping to think, or edit. Don't stop typing/don't lift up your pen.




Afterward, consider the following details to analyze how your character expresses herself -

and what, if any, inferences you can draw about her.

Dialogue Checklist:

Her accent.

Her style and range of vocabulary used.

Her conversational pacing and its rhythms. 

Her degree of consideration before answering.

Action Checklist:

Her habits.

Her body language. 

Her level of intentness in you. 

Her interaction with other people.