Kayllisti's Quill

10 Things You Should Know About Your Character: A Questionnaire

By August 30, 2016 Short Story Prompts

10 Things I Know About My Character

Forget those character questionnaires with hundreds of questions. There are only 10 things you really need to know about your character to get your story started.

1) What is the most notable feature of their appearance?

You may know that the character’s eyes are the color of the sea and they have a strong straight nose and peach colored skin and hair like golden wheat…and blah blah blah. The point is, laundry lists of features bore readers. Think of their most notable feature and a unique way of describing it. Short stories rarely demand full physical descriptions.

2) What is their age?

This is important in establishing tone. After all, we expect that a child, teenager, and an adult will have different ways of speaking and thinking.

3) What is something they are good at?

Everybody is good at something and your character should be too. This can be skill based– art, math, mechanics, video games..etc. This can be social– maybe they’re natural leaders or good at making friends.

4) What is their biggest weakness?

It’s not a résumé, be honest with your character. They should have flaws. Sometimes that’s the driving force behind the story, a severely flawed character. But in fantasy and sci-fi, where heroes reign, many characters suffer from a lack of weakness. Check out these 123 Ideas for Character Flaws from Writers Write.

5) What is their signature action?

This is often a physical manifestation of the character’s inner state. This can be a quirk, a physical tic, a habit. Examples: they can’t make eye contact in conversation, they wring their hands when they’re nervous, they fidget when they’re bored, they run their hands through their hair when confident…etc. Don’t be limited to the usual- a unique signature action can become the basis of a short story on its own.

6) What secret have they never told?

Your character should have a secret. One or two people might know this about the character, but it’s something that the character does not freely share. This can be a source of pain or triumph for the character. Keeping the secret or the reveal of the secret can be the basis for the plot. Maybe you don’t even mention the secret in the story, but knowing this about your character determines nearly everything about them. Check out author Angela Ackerman’s post on discovering your character’s secrets.

7) What is their fear?

beasadistListen to Vonnegut. You may have to do horrible things to your characters. Knowing your character’s fear allows you to exploit those fears for your plot. Test your characters. Push them in unfamiliar directions. Bring them right up against those fears.

8) What do they care about/believe in?

Everybody cares about something, even villains. Discover what your characters believe and care about. This is a great chance to think about their morality, their religion, their spirituality, the people in their lives that they love, and/or what they would fight for. Think about whether or not their beliefs challenge or fit the society in which they live. You can also use the differing beliefs of two characters to create tension.

9) Where do they live and with whom?

This will tell you a lot about your character, from their financial state to their relationship status and so much more. Get a good picture of their habitat and who they may share that with. Never forget to ask yourself why they live in that situation and what it says about them as a character.

10) What do they want?

Chances are, your character wants something, and that’s why you’re writing this story. Many stories begin with a character asking for something. They want adventure, they want to set something right, they want the big job, they want to get the girl, they want to win the race. What does your character want? How will they try to get it? Will you give it to them?

Bonus* What is their name? Names are only important when they’re important to you, the writer. Some writers choose names at random, and for other’s this is a painstaking process full of meaning. If you like to give your characters names with meaning, this can be an important thing to know about them.


This list has been adapted from a writing exercise developed by the author, Charles Baxter. 

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The Best Jane Austen Screen Adaptations

By August 13, 2016 Geeky, TV/Movies

If you like Jane Austen novels, don’t miss these great screen adaptations:

1: Sense & Sensibility (1995)

Stars: Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, James Fleet

Emma Thompson makes this adaptation of Sense & Sensibility the irrefutable best. Thompson not only plays the sensible Elinor, she wrote the screenplay.

2. Pride & Prejudice (2005)

Stars: Keira Knightley, Matthew Macfadyen, Brenda Blethyn

This was difficult. The 2005 adaptation has my favorite Elizabeth Bennet, but the 1995 adaptation has my favorite Darcy– though Macfadyen’s Darcy is quite good too!

3. Mansfield Park (1999) 

Stars: Frances O’Connor, Jonny Lee Miller, Alessandro Nivola

While many people hate on this adaptation of Mansfield Park, I find it to be an excellent movie. All the characters are given a bit of a personality boost, and the scandals are exaggerated. It’s not a faithful retelling of the novel, but it doesn’t have to be.

4. Emma (2009) 

Stars: Romola Garai, Michael Gambon, Jonny Lee Miller

This is by far the most charming version of Jane Austen’s Emma thanks to Romola Garai who portrays the clueless girl in a way that’s both likable and accurate to the book. It’s not easy making Emma likable.

5. Northanger Abbey (2007)

Stars: Geraldine James, Michael Judd, Julia Dearden

The 2007 adaptation may not be totally faithful to the book, but those changes fit very well with Jane Austen’s tone. Felicity Jones’ Catherine is perfectly naive and sensational in just the way the novel demands.

6. Persuasion (2007)

Stars: Sally Hawkins, Alice Krige, Rupert Penry-Jones

My favorite adaptation of my favorite Jane Austen novel. Sally Hawkins perfectly portrays the anxiety and hopelessness of Anne Elliot, the 27-year old woman who has lost her bloom and is far too old for love.

7. Love & Friendship (2016)

Stars: Kate Beckinsale, Chloë Sevigny, Xavier Samuel



This may be the only adaptation of Jane Austen’s Lady Susan, but it’s also delightful. Perhaps more scandalous than Austen’s other works, it follows the scheming Lady Susan who is determined play matchmaker for both her daughter and herself.

* Honorable Mention: Clueless (1995)

Stars: Alicia Silverstone, Stacey Dash, Brittany Murphy



Okay, this may just be the best Austen adaptation ever. Based on Emma, Clueless has not only cemented its place in 90’s culture, but it is also the perfect update to the 200-year old novel.

*Honorable Mention: Bride & Prejudice (2004)

Stars: Martin Henderson, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Nadira Babbar



Setting Pride & Prejudice in the traditionally more conservative India just works. It’s also just so much fun–Austen with musical numbers.

What’s your favorite Austen adaptation? 

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Street Harassment: The Things Men Say to Me

By July 28, 2016 Personal Posts
woman walking

Do you know the power of a smile?

I think of myself as a strong woman. I speak my mind; people who know me know this too well. I am tall, taller than a lot of men, and I walk with quick and confident stride. Yet, everyday, for a few moments, I will feel fear and smile. That smile affirms that I’m not as strong as I think I am. That smile puts me in my place. That smile is not freely given but demanded of me, and I give it because I am afraid.

It happens everyday. I live in the city, and I walk everywhere. I can’t walk anywhere at anytime of day without somebody demanding my time, my attention, my smiles. They shout to me as I walk down the street, and I smile in hopes of neutralizing the situation. They turn my own neighborhood into hostile territory. They rob me of my confidence–my safety. They believe that they’re entitled to power, and they seek to steal it from me. I’m ashamed when it works.

Recently, I decided to change what that smile means. I still give it to avoid further conflict, and they may interpret that smile as they wish, but I know what it means. My smile means, you are predictable, you are small, you are ridiculous in my eyes. For me, this smile no longer holds pain, but power.

So here it is: an incomplete guide to the things strange men have said to me. I assume that I have backwards engineered this guide from the one these men are given at puberty, because, for whatever reason, there’s a lot of repetition. Each bullet point below represents one and also dozens of encounters.

  • “Nice tits, jailbait!” This was the first time I remember being harassed. I was 12, walking to a Beanie Babies store when a car full of guys decided to slow down and shout this out the window. I remember asking my mother later what “jailbait” meant.
  • “I’d climb you like a tree!” Please, don’t. 
  • “You smell like a baby. Buy me a burger.” Okay, this one is unique. It raises so many questions. And yes, the guy got so close to me he pressed his nose to my hair.
  • “I see that ring, come have a fling with me.” The Dr. Seuss of street harassment. Also, not very observant, the ring was on my middle finger.
  • “Damn, you’re thick, I like thick girls.” How do they manage to say “thick” like it’s the most disgusting word in English?
  • “Nice hair. You a dyke? I can fix that.” I wore my hair short as a cry of help to straight men everywhere. Please, save me from my gayness. 
  • “You a fine ass walker. Yeah, walk away.” Thanks, I’ve been practicing this whole walking thing since I was a toddler. 
  • “I’ll give you $50 if you come back to my place.” We were trapped in a public elevator together. I said nothing, and before I got off, he grabbed my arm and tried to pull me back into the elevator. I spent days trying to figure out what I had done to make him think I was a prostitute. I had just gotten off work and was wearing a black suit (something I feel the need to say since so many people ask me what I was wearing when I tell them this happened).
  • “Look at me. I know you can hear me.” The man then tried to grab at my earbuds. I kept my eyes on my feet and tried to walk away as fast as possible.
  • “Mmm, you’ve got those leggings on. You know what you’re doing.” And here I thought I was just trying to stay warm. I was wearing leggings under a parka that went to my knees with snow boots covering the rest. You know how sexy we dress in Minnesota winter.
  • “God bless you, beautiful.” What’s so wrong with this you ask? The way it’s said–like their invoking God in their right to do and say whatever they want to me.
  • “Got a cigarette? I want to smoke with you.” That’s nice, sir. I, however, just want to get to the grocery store, and you following me for two blocks after I said “No” won’t make me change my mind. 
  • “You look nice. You live around here? I’m going to follow you home.” And he did. For four blocks he followed me, but he was so drunk he couldn’t keep up. I had my finger hovering over the emergency call button on my phone.
  • “Give me your number.” I said no and kept walking. He caught up with me and grabbed my arm, “Give me a dollar.” He tried to grab for my purse, and I pushed him into traffic and ran. I ran until I couldn’t see him.
  • “Bitch! You think you’re better than me?” Well, considering I have never once shouted such disgusting things to anyone, yes, I do think I am better than you. 
  • “Learn to take a compliment.” I thank thee, kind sir, for having given me the assurance that my “tits are nasty”. Thank you for the etiquette lesson as well. 
  • My name is not: “sugar“, “honey“, “baby“, “girl“, “tits“, “bitch“, “legs“, “amazon“. Those are terrible guesses, but thanks for trying? 
  • “Smile!”


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Empowering Playlist – Walk Like You Got Hotsauce in Your Bag

By July 19, 2016 Music

You’re walking down the street when that perfect songs starts to stream through your earbuds. Your pace picks up to match to the beat and you’re stomping down the sidewalk like it’s a runway.

beyonce empowering playlist

Songs You Can Stomp To


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Express Your Inner Unicorn: How to Get Purple Hair

By July 11, 2016 Geek Wear & Gear

Purple Hair, Don’t Care

When I was a child, I use to pretend that I had a magic brush that would change the length and color of my hair instantly. I would wrap towels around my head and pretend to have long, colorful locks. I have always wanted my hair to look different, whether that be the pixie cut I got at twelve, the orange bangs I gave myself at 19, or the extreme asymmetrical haircut (shorter on the left side than the right) I sported at 21. When I graduated college, I found myself struggling with my image. I was going into education, and I knew I’d have to give up my uniform of bodycon sweater dresses, tights, and thigh-high boots. So, naturally, I decided to buy a professional wardrobe and dye my hair purple.

I’ve had some shade of purple off and on for two years, and I have learned a lot about the process. I’ve had it done at salons, which was not only expensive, but I didn’t get nearly as good results as when I just did it myself. I’ll share with you what I’ve learned so that you too can get the purple hair of your dreams.

What You’ll Need

Start with the right materials. Sally’s is your friend. If you don’t live near a good beauty supply store, you can find the tools and products online. I cringe every time I watch a Youtube how-to video and see girls just slopping the stuff on their heads. If you want professional-looking results, get the proper tools. You’ll thank yourself later.


  1. Latex or vinyl gloves
  2. Stylist cape or an old t-shirt
  3. Plastic shower cap
  4. Glass/plastic bowl for mixing
  5. Application brush
  6. Developer (I prefer Wella 40 volume)
  7. Blue or purple lightening powder bleach (I prefer Ion or Wella)
  8. Plastic hair clips
  9. Vaseline
  10. Cotton Balls
  11. Color-safe shampoo and conditioner
  12. Towel that you don’t mind staining
  13. Deposit-Only Dye: More on this Later
hair dyeing kit

My hair dyeing kit

Got all your materials? Great! Let’s get started.

Lighten Your Hair

Do you currently dye your hair? Do you have dark hair (ie: darker than a light blonde)? Then you need to start by lightening your hair. Even if you want a darker color of purple, you need to have pretty light hair to get the color vibrant. Refer to a hair shade chart. I bring mine to an 8 to achieve the color that I have now. Decide on the shade of blonde you need to achieve. If you want pastel hair, it needs to be very light. For darker purples, the lighter your hair is to begin with, the brighter and more noticeable the purple will be.

  1. You should do a strand test. I can’t stress this enough. If you’re not used to bleaching, you should start with a test to see how your hair will hold up. This will let you know about how long your hair should process, how light you can get it, and how your hair quality holds up to bleaching.
  2. If the strand test went well, you can move on to the rest of your hair, now that you know what to expect. Use the hair clips to divide your hair into thin sections horizontally. I usually do mine in nine sections, but this will depend on how thick your hair is. Dividing your hair will make the application much easier and leaves less chance that you will miss a spot.
  3. Use a cotton ball to apply vaseline to your forehead, ears, and the back of your neck. This will protect your skin from the bleach.
  4. Mix your lightener in a glass or plastic bowl with a plastic spoon or your application brush. I prefer a 2:1 ratio of liquid developer to the powdered bleach. Mix it until it is smooth. Do not use metal spoons, bowls, or clips with lightener. It can cause an unintended chemical reaction.
  5. Apply the mixture to your hair with the application brush, releasing one clip at a time, moving from the back of the head to the front.
  6. Wait and watch. It typically takes me 20 min to get to the desired level, but the amount of time will be different for everyone. You should never leave bleach on your hair for more than 40 minutes. Watch your hair and do strand strength tests. To aid the lightening process, work the bleach into the hair rubbing it gently between your fingers. You may also apply heat to quicken the process. Don’t let the bleach dry out.
  7. When your hair is finished processing, rinse it in cool water until all traces of the bleach are removed. Then, condition your hair. If you plan on waiting before you dye it, you should deep condition. If you are going to dye it right away, use a normal conditioner and don’t leave it on longer than normal. Your hair might feel dry, but the dyeing process will give it some more life.
  8. Pat your hair with the towel then let it air dry fully before moving to the dyeing process.

Dyeing your hair

  1. The first step in the dyeing process is choosing the dye itself. I use deposit-only dyes, and you should too. These dyes cause no damage to your hair because there is no processing involved. The dye really just sits on top of the hair follicle. Some people refer to these as temporary dyes, and while they do fade fast, they are not truly temporary. They will definitely stain your hair. I have used Ion Color Brilliance, Manic Panic, and Arctic Fox. Of the three, I recommend Arctic Fox. It just seems to last a lot longer and get better coverage than the other two brands. You can buy it online (they don’t pay me to say this or give me free product: I just like the brand). Make sure that you buy enough dye for full-coverage. Sally’s will let you return extra unopened dyes, but you can also keep it around for touch-ups. For my shoulder-length medium-thick hair, I use 3 ½ tubes of Ion or 2 jars of Manic Panic or ½ bottle of Arctic Fox.
  2. Now that you’ve chosen your dye, it’s time to divide your hair with the clips. Use the same method as you used for bleaching: thin horizontal sections.
  3. Use the cotton ball and vaseline to again protect your hairline, ears, and neck. This will help keep the staining to a minimum. Keep it handy while dyeing, and should dye drip onto your skin, you can wipe it off easier.
  4. Mix your dye. One of the great things about deposit dyes is that they can be mixed freely within brands. Always opt for a little darker dye than you wish for your hair to be. The lighter the dye is, the less pigment it has, and you need to be able to cancel whatever color you already have after the bleaching. I also take the opportunity to scent my dye. While you could probably use a fancy essential oil, but I am a full-grown adult, and I mix in a packet of grape Kool-Aid, which smells awesome to me. (Note that the Arctic Fox already smells like Kool-Aid and probably doesn’t need it).
  5. Apply the dye to your hair from back to front with your application brush, releasing one clip at a time. Be sure to fully-coat the hair. Once finished, cover hair with the plastic shower cap and wait. How long? Well, I typically let it stay on for 2-3 hours. While you can see results in as little as 30 minutes, you will get better and longer-lasting coverage when you leave it on longer. Remember, deposit only dyes are not damaging to the hair. I have seen some girls leave it on overnight. I did that once, and it really wasn’t more effective than the 2-hour time period.
  6. Rinse the hair with cool water and apply a color safe shampoo. Don’t wait until the water runs clear, you don’t want to undo any of your work. Rub at the scalp, not the hair to remove the inevitable scalp staining. Then, condition hair and rinse with cold water.
  7. Style as usual and marvel at your new magical hair.

Maintaining Your Hair

Fashion colors like purple tend to fade fast. Protect your new color by learning to maintain it.

  • For the first couple days, the dye has a tendency to rub off on pillows and shirt collars. It also tends to bleed in water. One girl said, “I may look like a mermaid, but I certainly can’t get my hair wet”. I haven’t been in a pool, but I imagine there would be a cloud of purple following me.
  • Wash your hair in cool or cold water. Warm water opens the follicle and will cause more color loss than cool water.
  • Use color safe shampoos and conditioners. You can also mix some of your leftover deposit dye into the shampoo and conditioner for an extra boost.
  • Limit how often you wash your hair. Dry shampoo has become essential to my routine, allowing me to extend the time between washes, which allows my color to last longer.
  • Fashion dyes typically require reapplication every 2-4 weeks. This is a commitment if you want to maintain your color.

Reactions to Your Unicorn Hair

Purple hair is attention-grabbing. You will get comments. Some comments are good while others will be weird. You will get it from your cashiers, coworkers, and strangers on the street. I, personally, believe that if you’re going to go with purple hair, you should try to take people’s comments with grace.

purple hair

Going to an all-night Prince party with my purple-haired sister. It runs in the family.

The things people say and the questions they have:

  • Hey! Nice hair! Usually shouted from across the street. 
  • My job would never let me do that! How boring of them!
  • Is your hair purple for Prince? I live in Minneapolis, where it’s all about Prince all the time right now. No, my hair is not a tribute.
  • Is your hair purple for the Vikings? Minnesota. And no, not for the Vikings. Ninja Warrior is the only sport I recognize.
  • Is purple your favorite color? Is your favorite color blonde? – Haha, no, I don’t say that. But no, purple is not my favorite color. I genuinely think it goes well with my complexion and eyes.
  • Did you bleach your hair? Absolutely.
  • How long does it last? About 2-4 weeks depending on how well I take care of it.
  • How much did that cost you? Salons can set you back around $200 to lighten and color your hair purple. I spend about $13-$20 per application. The first time will cost more because you have more supplies to purchase.  
  • My 2nd-grade students: Why is your hair purple? It just grew out of my head like that! – If they seem incredulous, I will admit I dyed it. Which usually prompts them to say things like, “You should dye it blue next time.”

Have questions? Post them in the comments section, and I’ll do my best to answer them. Want a video? Say so, and I’ll film my next dyeing session.

Good luck, my fellow at-home stylists and future unicorns!

**** Obligatory disclaimer: I am not a professional stylist. I have been dyeing my hair at home since I was twelve, and I have often dyed my friends’ hair. I have been dyeing my hair purple for two years. These tips are taken from my personal experience and the advice of friends and other bloggers. I am not responsible for your hair results. Please be thoughtful, responsible, and careful whenever you dye your hair at home. ****

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