Written by Sarah Yoon (FireStarters Sneak Peek)

Looking for ways to hone your creativity this year? Give this writing prompt from our upcoming book, FireStarters, a try! FireStarters is all about inspiration, the differing creative types, and how to harness your particular creative energy to generate your best ideas. 

Have you ever written a character who resembles you a little too much? It’s easy to go for what’s safe and easy, the average person living his or her average life, but that leads to boring stories. One way to create round, unique characters is to draw inspiration from others: your friends or your family. Even look to strangers for inspiration. For this prompt, look into photographers’ books of portraits. They collect snapshots of hundreds, all unique and with a story to tell. All you need to do is gather the clues and put them to use.

1. Obtain a portrait book or flip through old National Geographic.  Any bookstore will offer you plenty of material to work with.

2. Pick three people. They don’t need to have similar global locations, nationalities, or personalities. Some can be homely, and some bizarrely expressive. Your choice.

3. Use visual clues to get insight into this person’s character. Clothes, jewelry, tattoos, and religious symbols help you guess their backstory. People carry their identities on their sleeves.

4. Set them in room together, throw in some external or interpersonal conflict, and see what they do. Are they waiting for a delayed flight to New York, or did they start a fight during an AA meeting? It’s up to you.

The beautiful book Portraits by Steve McCurry is an excellent resource. Another great source is Brandon Stanton’s Humans of New York. If you’re having difficulty with backstory, look under the images for helpful interview snippets.