Three Things and Recurring Characters

Many of you have heard me talk about my “Three Things” writing exercise, but let me explain it for those who have not. Many years ago I developed the exercise as a way to keep me writing. I wasn’t working on any novel at that time. This exercise lends itself to any form of writing, but it’s particularly fun for fiction.

Old Chevy Highway My rules for the “Three Things” are that you find three random things and write until you’ve mentioned all of them. The more haphazard the things, the better – it makes your mind reach further. For instance, if you had road, Chevrolet, and sunset, you don’t have to work very hard to write until you’ve mentioned those things. You have probably already thought of a single sentence that includes all of them. Haven’t you? I like to let mine take form as part of a story. It might be the beginning, middle, or end. However, the point is to write as much as you can, whatever you’re writing.

It can be oddly difficult to keep coming up with things that are truly random on your own. I like to ask my friends to send them to me. I also keep a big jar filled with little scraps of paper, each of which as a thing written on it. Sometimes I flip through TV channels jotting the first thing I see on a station. (It’s remarkable how much alike they all appear when you’re looking it from that point of view.)

When I first created this exercise, every day I asked a friend to give me my three things. He was good at throwing me disconnected things. When he saw that I was paying attention to my writing, rather than to him, he started trying to stump me with increasingly absurd things. Unfortunately for him, that’s when it really got fun! Rather than doing separate exercises each day, I strung the daily Three Things together and created a crazy, fun little mystery story. Where the story went was entirely dependent on the random words of the day. I’m sad that I lost that tale, along with several others… but that’s another story.

Reading articles from other writers I’ve found that I’m not alone in one phenomenon – recurring characters. Before I started writing “The Dead of Winter,” I had gone back to the “Three Things” exercise. I found that every now and then, the handful of unplanned words brought up a young girl who lives in a small desert town. Her name is Harley. Here is one of her “Three Things.”

(Anna’s Heir, do these sound familiar?  I think you may have sent them to me back when.)


 Jambalaya, 1950s, Mom and pop business

Despite her best efforts to be on time that morning, Harley had missed the bus. Her mom was always pissed if she had to take her to school. Harley understood that it meant taking time away from the morning rush at the little mom and pop business her mother ran. Harley sighed, aggravated at herself. She wasn’t late on purpose, she just couldn’t seem to help it.

She kicked a rock on the dusty road as she walked home from the bus stop. A gust of wind sent a tumbleweed rolling past. Harley watched as it bounced toward town and wondered if the tumbleweed would run the single traffic light. Would sheriff Carson write it a ticket? The idea made her laugh for the first time that day… maybe for the first time that week. She chuckled as she headed up the gravel drive to the house where she lived with her mother, and sometimes with her older brother – when he was in town. It was a 1950s rambler. Between the three of them, they managed to keep it in good repair.

She took a large plastic bowl of Jambalaya out of the freezer so it could begin to thaw before dinner time. That might improve her mom’s mood – something from “back home,” where she had spent her girlhood. Harley knew the aroma of Cajun cooking always made her mom happy.

7 thoughts on “Three Things and Recurring Characters

    1. Thanks for visiting and leaving a comment, David.
      I think the Three Things can be used for most forms of writing.
      Just to get everyone thinking…

      Lawn mower

      Sorry — I couldn’t resist!


  1. Those were not my words. I don’t even know what jambalaya is except its food. I was thinking the words “mom & pop” and “1950s” were until the last word. It a good exercise-the three random words-and you seem to enjoy it and are good at it from the ones I have been able to read.


  2. “Harley watched as it bounced toward town and wondered if the tumbleweed would run the single traffic light. Would sheriff Carson write it a ticket?” I love this part. Very imaginative.

    You’ve given a whole lot of information in a limited amount of words. I really like this little story and the creativity involved.

    I’ll see how often I can send you three words. I’ll try to keep cowboy out of the mix. 😉


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