My favorite exercise is making grocery lists for my characters. It helps to figure out what kind of lifestyle choices they make (or are forced to make.) If I'm just trying to get a jumpstart on a story, I'll make out a grocery list of 10 items 5 times. No list can have the same items. Then I write a little paragraph story about the person or family that made each list.
I can't remember where I got this exercise from but it sure is fun!
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