1. My outfit. Does my ensemble “ring true”? Does it speak to the moment? Do I have the authority to wear these clothes?
2. My hair. Does it need to be washed? Is the color working to my advantage? Are other characters envious, and if not, then why not? Why exactly not?
3. My partner. What do you think of this flawed character’s job title, income, predilection for free jazz, hairline? Does he show signs of growth? Does his dialogue draw you in or make you want to nap? Can I trust him with my email password/bank account/heart/children’s bedtime?
4. My kids. Have my choices (about their last names as first names, enrollment in kiddie Broadway classes, and restriction of television to shows in French) made my children interesting secondary characters?
5. My career. Do you need more backstory as to how I landed my underpaid job? Are you concerned that during the last Microsoft Teams meeting I slipped some Pinot into my coffee mug? Was my second-grade teacher correct: Should I be a professional writer instead?
6. My house. Do the daily obligations of living in a 2,200 square-foot split-level on a quarter acre—the obligations being: learning to operate a weed-whacker, waiting twenty minutes for hot water, weathering the neighbors’ accusations of luring racoons to knock over their garbage cans—add to the forward motion of the story or slow it down? Is this the right setting, or should I have stayed in the city?
7. My car. Too nice or too shitty for a character of my income, taste, and personality?
8. My life. How has my life, to this point, either fulfilled or diverged from the expectations set in earlier chapters? Is the pace dragging? Do you care what happens next? If yes, would you prefer updates via Instagram, SMS, or face-to-face interaction?
9. My personality. Do I come across as a middle child with first-child energy? Would you recommend treatment for my character, and if so, from a sliding-scale social worker or a psychiatrist? Meditation or medication? Out-patient or in?
10. My past/childhood. Seen through the lens of the trauma plot, which of the following scenes should I write to explain my heart palpitations while parallel parking and watching my children perform in school plays:
A) My father gambling away his pension at the local racetrack.
B) My older sister’s boyfriend using my toothbrush.
C) The visceral high I experienced as a child beating the shit out of a piñata.
11. My thoughts. Is there an obvious correlation between hours per week listening to TV-recap podcasts and the likelihood that I will ever complete my novel?
Rumpus original art by Natalie Peeples
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