We’ve all had bad days. The trolley we needed to catch pulled out of the station just as the one we were on was pulling in, the food slips off our fork the one day we were wearing our nicest clothing… yeah. Not the kind of bad day that changes your life forever, just the kind of bad day that makes you mutter, “Why is this my life?”
It’s pretty likely our characters have them as well—the downswings in their usual routines, the unpleasant hiccups in what should have been a perfectly good chain of events. Granted, they’re not ours—different worlds, different social stations, you name it—but a good portion of the fun I’ve found in characterization is figuring out where, amid all the world-saving and the dirty politicking and the situations where blackmailing the vampire seems like the best possible way of handling the situation, the characters and I still have common ground. And what can be more common ground than “Why does this always happen to me?”
So for this exercise, take a character, and try to figure out what he or she considers to be a ‘bad day’. I don’t mean absolutely horrible, just things going obnoxiously wrong—this might involve physical danger for someone who has to deal with it on a day to day basis, but is more along the lines of “why did I just spend the last forty minutes explaining to my familiar that prophecy isn’t a poison?” What is it? How is the character reacting to it, and (if this is in first person) what tone is he or she taking?