Make the Reader Feel Emotion

The other night, over a writer’s dinner, my friend Angie mentioned a writing tidbit she’d received from a class she’d taken with James N. Frey, of How to Write a Damn Good Novel fame. (Not the James Frey of A Million Little Pieces fame.)

It was this: make your reader feel the emotion, not just your character.

Photo by Bernard Hermant on Unsplash

Simple piece of advice, and yet it was halfway mind-blowing, mostly because I could see in many books I’d read lately where the reverse of this applied.  In other words, just because you, or any other author, feel the emotion, doesn’t mean readers do. I thought of so many novels that had fallen flat for me and realized that this was the diagnosis.

The remedy for this is manifold, and encompasses many of the old familiar writing recommendations. However, as with so many things, viewing these old tenets through a new lens can make them more meaningful.

So how do you ensure that your reader as well as your writer feel emotion? Here are some suggestions.

–Show don’t tell. Yes, I know you’ve heard this one before, probably a million times. But it is so often repeated because showing brings a story to life and makes us relate to the character. Showing makes it much easy to be certain your reader is feeling the same emotion you do. Most often, this means writing in scene.  Narrative summary most definitely has its place, but the bulk of your writing should be in scene.

–Use character types.  Make your character sympathetic, or conversely, unsympathetic. Either extreme will arouse emotion in the reader. Classic ways to make a character sympathetic include making them unjustly accused of something, making them good at something, making them physically attractive, make them actively trying to achieve their goal, make them sacrifice for another, make them courageous.

Photo by Ken Treloar on Unsplash

–Rely on the power of character wants, needs, and fears.  This technique has to do with motivating your character from the get-go. What motivates her? What does he want? What keeps her awake at night? Answer those questions–and then put your character in action to deal with her wants and needs and fears.  A passive character will arouse very little emotion in the reader, just as a  passive person often arouses very little interest in real life.

–Remember style. Word choice is important! And so is sentence structure and grammar. Don’t use gentle, serene words to describe a character’s anger and don’t indulge in long, flowery sentences to evoke it, either.  Neither will get your reader actually feeling the anger. Instead ,you’ll probably get him to close the book and wander away

–Ladle on the conflict.  Always easier said than done. We fall in love with our characters and hate to torture them. But torture them we must. Because, there is no story without conflict. And whether you realize it or not, the books that keep you turning pages are the ones that create tons of conflict–whether it is emotional or otherwise.

Again, none of this is probably terribly new for you, right? But think about each point specifically in terms of how you can ensure the reader is feeling the emotion.  Question yourself: is it just thinking this is a good idea for your character? Is it possible it is just you who is feeling the emotion? Are you going deep enough to make the reader feel  it, too?

I know this is something I’m going to be paying a lot more attention to in the future. Let me know if it resonates for you.

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Hip Surgery + Writing + Character Insight

“Everything I learned about human nature I learned from me.” Anton Chekhov

So, in November, I’m going to have surgery on my left hip. I’ve never had surgery on anything before, never  been checked into a hospital (not even for birthing my babies). So this is a bit daunting for me–but I’m ready, because I’m tired of this pain.

Funnily enough, for years I’ve been battling knee pain. Like, severe knee pain. I’ve been to two chiropractors, an acupuncturist, two physical therapists (one rather loony), a naturopath, a nurse-practitioner, a specialized knee clinic (charlatans, it turns out) where I paid lots of money for injections that didn’t work, and gotten two cortisone shots in my knee. Finally, I made the decision to go the surgery route and made an appointment with the knee surgeon my primary care doctor recommended. Who promptly sent me back to the x-ray lab to confirm his suspicion it wasn’t a knee but hip problem.

He was right. I’m down to bone-on-bone in my left hip, which explains the pain. Ya think? I’d get surgery tomorrow, despite my dislike of hospitals and general fear of doctors, but I’ve got teaching trips to France and Nashville lined up. And I couldn’t talk the surgeon into doing it before I left for Europe–international travel is not recommended immediately after surgery. Funny thing, that. Not.

Talk about mind blown. All these years I’ve thought it was my knee? All these years doctors and healers have tried to heal my knee? And really it was my hip all time? It was hard to wrap my brain around for a couple of days.

Coincidentally, yesterday I took Debbie to get her second cataract surgery done and sat in the spacious waiting area for several hours reading The Art of Character.  I LOVE this book and highly recommend it. (It’s where I got the above quote.) Author David Corbett writes about how in theater, the term “personalization” is used to describe the act of bringing the actor’s own emotional and sense memory to a portrayal. Which is what he advises doing, at least as a starting point. He has a whole chapter about mining characters from your past for inspiration, and also makes the point that you must know yourself before you can fully understand your characters. He provides  lots of great exercises and prompts to help.

As I read, I pondered  my hip surgery story–how the pain I thought was in my knee for years is actually coming from my hip. How it totally changed the way I think about my body. And that got me thinking about giving my changed view about something of importance  to a fictional characters.

I was also influenced in this line of thinking by the novel I’m currently reading, No One You Know.  Author Michelle Redmond does something similar with the main character–she has spent the past 20 years believing something about a seminal event in her life and suddenly finds out it is not true.

And it is not just a changing world view that might be utilized in fiction. I started thinking about all the ways  my hip experience might play out in a character:

–A character afraid of doctors (that’s me, even though my grandfather was an M.D.)

–A character in denial

–A character not dealing with reality

–A character whose world view is shaken to the core

–A character who has a rigid belief system

–Or, conversely, a character who is so loosey-goosey about things that she just trusts all will work out.

I probably should be embarrassed to admit that all of these scenarios fit me, at least to some degree. And this, my friends, is why being a writer is so great–you can funnel all your neuroses and weirdnesses into your work. I should also add that the ways of the subconscious are mysterious and any of these might combine with something completely unrelated to create a scene in your novel–or become a cornerstone of your theme.

So the point of all this is to look at your own life story for your characters and plot. You don’t have to write a memoir–you can transmute your everyday dilemmas into story gold.  Your missteps become fodder for the conflict in your next story. An added bonus is that writing about things that happen to you through the lens of a fictional character will help you to understand your own self better.

Have you used personal experiences in your fiction? Do tell, please.

And also, I have room for one client this summer.  I can coach you to finish your novel or start it, help you figure out a plan for your career, crack the whip so you send things out, or whatever help you might need. Email me and let’s set up a time to talk!

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Arc in Your Writing

Does your writing show clearly defined arcs? In story, scene, and character?

I spent last Saturday afternoon teaching about arc and it has gotten me thinking about it a lot. Whenever I teach, I do a lot of research to add onto what I already know. That research got me paying more attention to the arcs of my own scenes (more on that below), and re-examining arc in my own work.

It is a useful concept that can help you with the macro–the overall story–and the micro–individual scenes–as well as characters. So let’s take a look.

What is Arc?

The purpose of arc is to show change, whether that is in plot, the overall story, or character.  Because, in most cases, a story or character that doesn’t change is flat and, well, boring.

Arc in Story

Here’s a blurb from Wikipedia: 

Story arcs in contemporary drama often follow the pattern of bringing a character to a low point, removing the structures the character depends on, then forcing the character to find new strength without those structures. In a story arc, a character undergoes substantial growth or change, and it ends with the denouement in the last third or quarter of a story.

Note how story and character are intertwined in this explanation–as they will be  in your story itself. Think about it this way: your story will end in a different place than it started. And I don’t mean location, though this might well be true. You start out with a bored frustrated attorney who hates his job? By the end he will have found his truly calling as an organic farmer. Or something.  And yes, I’m veering from story to character here–because story is character, character story. Unless you are writing an obscure, plot-less novel of some sort. Good luck to you–but I’m not going to read it.

(Although, it must be said that tons of people have lapped up the Elena Ferrante books, which to me were essentially plot-less. Okay, I only made it through the first one and that because I was trapped on an airplane with nothing else to read. But they were pretty formless.)

Arc in Character

The basic idea is that your main character is faced with conflicts that take her away from her normal life and things she can depend on. This is change. But then your character has to deal with this change–and it is through doing this that she is transformed. Because of the need to confront the conflicts in her life, she is different at the end than she was at the beginning.  I especially like Michael Hauge’s statement that this transformation is from identity to essence.  All of the heroines of any novel I’ve ever written have followed this path, from trying to be somebody they are not to their true selves. In one way or another, it is a journey we all take.

Arc in Scene

As Robert McKee says, every scene should turn. This means it starts one place and ends up in another (sound familiar?).  A scene can have rising action or falling action. Here’s McKee on the topic:

Look closely at each scene you’ve written and ask: What value is at stake in my character’s life at this moment? Love? Truth? What? How is that value charged at the top of the scene? Positive? Negative? Some of both? Make a note. Next turn to the close of the scene and ask, Where is this value now? Positive? Negative? Both? Make a note and compare. If the answer you write down at the end of the scene is the same note you made at the opening, you now have another important question to ask: Why is this scene in my script?

This is a brief intro to the topic, but I hope it helps you see how important arc is, in every aspect of your story.

Some books and links that might be useful:

What is Narrative Arc? A Guide to Storytelling Through Story Structure

How to Create a Satisfying Story Arc 

Plotting Your Story Arc (book)

Story (by the above-mentioned Robert McKee)

Creating Character Arcs (book)

What do you think of the concept of arc? Leave a comment!

**We have a couple of spots left in the writing workshop in France this September. Check it out here.

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Writing Scenes to Unearth Character

He had plenty of character!

As many of you know, I’m a fan of all kinds of novel prep, including creating character dossiers to allow me to learn more about my characters.  I use them to keep a record of the external stuff (really helps when you need to remember someone’s eye color mid-way through a book) and to start to dig into their desires and motivations, all the good juicy stuff.

But lately I’ve been experimenting with something else, and that is writing actual scenes from my character’s backstory.  I resisted this idea terribly when I first came across it in Lisa Cron’s book, Story Genius.  Because, it seemed like a waste of time.  Who wants to spend time writing a scene that might not appear in the novel, when you could spend that time writing one that will?  Then I picked up The Art of Character, by David Corbett, and he suggests the same thing. Sigh.

So I decided to try it. And I’m starting to be sold.  Here are some of the reasons why I like writing backstory scenes:

  1. First and foremost, you’ll learn more about your character–and character is all, isn’t it, class?
  2. It’s good writing practice.  Like practice practice. Sometimes it’s easy to get bogged down in all the things you need to do to plan a novel and forget what it’s like to write a scene.
  3. It’s very freeing–and fun.  We don’t let ourselves have fun with our writing often enough, as far as I’m concerned. (Or maybe that’s just me?) Let loose from the idea that this scene will appear in the book, you’re free to take it wherever it wants to go.
  4. On the other hand, you may end up using the scene, or parts of it, in the novel eventually. Who knows?
  5. Or maybe it will turn into something else.  Like a story that is a companion to your novel. Or, if you’re writing a series, maybe it will appear in the next one. Nothing is ever wasted in writing! (I wrote about this for my newsletter this Sunday. If you’re not a subscriber, just fill out that form to the right.)
  6. The more you write, the better you get at it, and this is especially true of scenes.
  7. It can blast you right out of a block.

Give it a try. Figure out some things you need to know about your character and then write a scene around it. You may be surprised at what you learn about her.

What have you done to learn more about your characters?

Photo by cmx82.

Characters at Cross Purposes

Light_lights_cross_220357_lBefore I started the actual rewriting of my novel, I did a lot of prep work.  One of the things I did was make a chart listing the goals, motivations (what the character wants), interior and exterior conflicts of each character.  These are the kinds of things that you generally at least have a vague sense of as you write the first draft, but need to be nailed down more specifically as you embark on the second time around.

And, as I discovered for the umpteenth time, these are also the things that are sometimes really, really hard to get specific about.  I mean, I know what my main character, named Madeleine, wants in a sort of wafty, overall sense, but defining it in a definite, precise, manner is difficult.  It drives you down into the heart of the story–which is why it is a worthy exercise.

I also did this for each of the important characters in the book.  And then I took a look at my charts. And realized–pa-dum–that some of them had similar motivations.  One could even say they had the same motivations. Which doesn’t work.  Why?  Because if all your characters want the same thing, they can all work together, united as one, singing Kumbaya.

This aggression cannot stand.

Because what is the most important element of all fiction?  That’s right, conflict. And if characters are all united as one, there won’t be any.  All good fiction is about characters in action, and characters at cross purposes with each other create conflict in action.  And so you need to put your people at cross purposes with each other, which is as simple and complicated as giving them conflicting desires.  Here are some simple suggestions as to how to get yourself thinking that way.

Finish Your First Draft First

Don’t argue with me.  You just have to.  You will know more–way more–about your characters when you get to the end of the draft then you do at the beginning.  Write it fast (which more and more I’m coming to believe is the ticket), or write it slow, but write it.

Look at yourself.  

Ask yourself what you want.  If you’re anything like me, you’ll likely get a list of garden-variety desires like lose weight, make lots of money, travel the world, have successful relationships with friends and family.  And guess what?  It is fairly likely that your main character wants those same, garden-variety things as well.  Now think of times you’ve struggled to get what you want.  Did your mother-in-law bake you a chocolate cake for your birthday, despite the fact you’ve been on a strict Paleo diet?  It’s not that she wants you to stay fat–she just wants you to enjoy her cake she baked for you. It is still in conflict with your goal.

Tweak a bit

Let’s continue on with the above situation, your MIL baking you a cake for your birthday. Maybe she has a deeper motivation.  Maybe she wants to make you gain weight so that her darling son will leave you.  That is an excellent cross purpose.  The simplest of actions can have devious motivation attached.  And in this case, all it took was a little tweak.

Brainstorm and free write

I realized my character Madeleine has a nicey-nicey relationship with her sister.  Bor-ing.  The two of them don’t need to be at war with each other, but don’t all siblings have some tension embedded in their relationship?  I did some free writing and realized that Madeleine was very close with her late mother.  Her sister?  Not so much.  This is the cause of some friendly “Mom liked you best” rivalry that ends up going deeper than expected.  And I got to it the way I get to all things–by writing about it.

Think up the absolute worst conflict

What is the worst thing that could happen between your two characters in the fictional situation you’ve set up for them?  You don’t have to use this eventuality, but pondering it can help you get some strong-ass conflict into your novel.

How do you create characters with strong conflicts?

Just for fun:

Photo by reuben4eva.

Writing in France (Or Anywhere)

Bon jour.

I am in Pezenas, France, down near Montpelier and Beziers (where we stayed Friday night and had an experience on the free bus trying to find our hotel that still makes me laugh out loud every time I think of it).  We–six of us–are staying in a house that could more accurately be called a mansion, with three floors and a grand marble entry on the inside, and a koi pond and swimming pool with a swag of oleander dripping above it on the outside.

Every morning at 9:30 we meet to workshop attendee's stories and discuss our book in common (Me Before You, by Jojo Moyes).  Our subject this year is character, so everything is viewed through that lens.

And every afternoon we write.  (I got in five pages yesterday).  Then at 5:30 we meet for wine, olives, pate, cheese, and bread–lots of bread.  (Paleo people just have to put aside their thing about carbs.  Besides, the wheat is better here.  And so is the butter.  And the eggs.  I'll stop now.)

In between, when the writing is done, there are walks into town (curvy streets barely wide enough for cars, restaurants tucked into every alley, shops and art galleries and lots of people smoking) or into the country side (vinyards and big old stone houses).

But notice I said, when the writing is done.

Because that's the point of being here, after all.  And it is surprisingly easy to get writing done, even in paradise, when you've got a whole houseful of people doing the same thing.

Between this experience and the Book in a Month class I took before I left (which entailed writing 20 pages a day for 14 days, thus finishing a draft, and then rewriting it the last two weeks of the month)I've come up with new knowledge of how to get words on the page and, as always, I am here to impart this wisdom to you.

Are you ready?  It's a multi-part process, so it is imperative that you pay close attention to the very end.  Here we go.

1.  Write

2. Write some more

3. Take no longer than one minute to ring your hands about how bad the writing is and then get back to it.

4. Write more

5. Notice you are writing utter crap and charge ahead anyway

6. Write, write, write

7. Finish your goal of pages or words for the day and breath a sigh of relief because you did it.

So, yeah, I'm being a bit tongue in cheek here (ya think?) but the gist of it is true.  I'm come to realize that we (myself included) make the act of writing way too complicated and emotional, when really, it all boils down to one thing: getting words on the page.

It doesn't matter how good or bad those words are, your only job is to throw them at the page.  To sit your butt down in the chair and write.  Because the wonderful thing about writing is that it can always be revised–and revision is ever so much easier when you actually have word on the page to work with.

What about you?  How is your writing going? What tricks do you use to get yourself to the page?

9 Ways to Create Characters Readers Will Identify With

I have a bad habit of creating characters that are, um, unlikeable.  Or, in the parlance of the publishing industry–unrelatable.

(As a brief aside, I do worry about what this says about me.  People seem to like me when they meet me in person, and I do try hard to be nice and positive.  But you never know.  I could be horrible and people just aren't telling me.)

This happened with Emma Jean, as I have written about a lot here.  People start out wanting to shake some sense into her (as a fellow blogger said) and end up loving her.   And it happened recently again–I was toiling away on another novel and when I took it into my writing group, everyone told me how much they didn't like the main character.  Which was actually a huge relief, because I didn't like her either.  She really had no redeeming features.  (At least Emma Jean was funny.)

So I set that novel aside, and now I'm working on another one.  The heroine of this novel is a character who has been with me a long time.  I wrote a mystery novel with her as the protagonist years ago (I recently found this novel and its actually not half bad, I just didn't have the fortitude to market it back then), and I've written short stories about her as well.

I think she's likeable.   And relatable.  But I want to make sure.  And somewhere in the dim recesses of my mind, I remembered reading a screenwriting book that had a section on making characters likeable.  So I went to my bookshelf and found Writing Screenplays That Sell by Michael Hauge, which sure enough, has a whole wonderful section on creating characters, one part of it called Establishing Character Identification.   I found his tips very helpful, and I paraphrase them here:

1.  Create sympathy for the character.  "This is by far the most effective and widely used method of creating reader identification with the hero," Hauge says.  One way to do this is to make your protaganist the victim of some undeserved misfortune.  For instance, in the novel I'm writing, my heroine gets laid off.  It could be a family member's death, a child being bullied, racism or sexism–you get the idea.

2.  Put the character in jeopardy. Thrillers and adventure tales do this well.  I see it used a lot in women's fiction when say, the protagonist's husband runs off with all the money, or she faces some other "soft" threat (as opposed to a situation in which she faces bodily harm or death).

3.  Make the character likeable.  Would that this were easy!  Hauge says that the more we like the character, the more we will identify with her and root for her throughout the story, and he names three ways to make it happen:

–Make the character a good or nice person

–Make the character funny  (too bad this didn't work better for Emma Jean–though it was her saving grace)

–Make the character good at what he or she does.

Hauge emphasizes that writers must use one of these methods to be sure you establish character identification.  And, he says, you have to do this right away!  No meandering warm-ups–let us know who your character is and why we should care about him immediately.  Here are the rest of his ways to establish identification:

4.  Introduce your protagonist as soon as possible.  Sometimes I read manuscripts that confuse me because I can't tell who I'm supposed to be rooting for.  Often writers put auxiliary characters in first.  Uh-uh.  Get your hero onstage first.

5.  Show the character in touch with his own power.  Love this one.   It can be power over other people, power to do what needs to be done, or power to express one's feelings despite what others think.  We are fascinated with power–because so many of us don't have it.

6.  Put the character in a familiar setting.  Time, place, home, and family all create a sense of familiarity.  Maybe you've never lived in or visited New York City, for instance, but you have a basic familiarity with it because you've seen it on TV and movies a gazillion times.

7. Give the character familiar flaws.  Addiction is a perennial favorite because we all know someone who has struggled with it–or perhaps you yourself have (it is a writer thing, after all).  Or, Hauge says it can be less serious, like social awkwardness or clumsiness (correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't that a trait of Bella in the Twilight series?). 

8.  Make your character a superhero.  But only if you're writing fantasy or adventure.  There's something primal about these larger-than-life figures that resonate with readers.

9.  The eyes of the reader.  Hauge says that reader identification is strengthened when we find out information at the same time as the hero.  This works great in mysteries, for example.  (And does it drive you as crazy as it drives me when we see the detective figuring out the key to the whole crime but aren't privy to it?)

That's it–the nine ways to create character identification.

News flash: a 20th anniversary edition of the afore mentioned book, Writing Screenplays That Sell, was recently published.  Hit Michael's website for more info. (I have the old version, so don't yell at me if the new one you buy isn't exactly the same.)

Also: yes I know that most of you who read this blog don't write screenplays.  But for my money, the screenplay guys (and gals) are the absolute best when it comes to structure and story.  So read them and apply it to novel or memoir writing.

Have you used any of these methods to create character identification?  What are your favorite ways to make your character relatable?

Creating Characters: Compassion and Conflict

I was quite taken with this post from Sandra Pawula on compassion when I read it last weekend. (I'm actually quite often taken with admiration for Sandra's posts.  If you haven't discovered her blog, go read it now.) Paper-pink-texture-64137-l

In the post, Sandra writes about how compassion is linked to boundless, deep love and then, and this is what really blew me away,  she defines love. "This is one truth I have come to know with certainty: When you love completely from the depth of your heart, your wish for another person’s happiness becomes greater than your own perceived needs, wants, and desires."

So, because anything I read or think about eventually gets connected to my writing, I started to think about how we authors feel deep compassion for our characters.  We fall in love with them, and want the best for them.  We want them to be happy.

But, then we have the other C word.  You know what I'm going to say: conflict.

The basis of all story is conflict (or tension, if you prefer).  In order to create a story, be it short story, memoir, or novel, there must be conflict.  And lots of it.  The more the better.

But we love our characters!  How can we show them the compassion they deserve (and in my mind, need if we're going to write them) and still create the conflict the story requires?

There's actually conflict in that there dilemma, which is a bit of a starting point.  And, I think for me it helps to remind myself that conflict is the crucible through which we deepen ourselves, our lives, and our capacity to love.  And if it's true for humans, it's true for the human characters about which we write.

In order to write multi-dimensional characters (and I just finished a novel with one-dimensional characters that ultimately disappointed me) we, their creators, must approach them with equal thought given to both conflict and compassion.

As always, I'm feeling my way through this topic as I write it, and the really juicy development of it will happen in the comments.  So, please chime in!  Do you feel compassion for your characters?  How do you bring yourself to torture them with conflict?

Photo by MeHere.

Saturday Writing Tip: Use Yourself as Inspiration for Characters

Spain_reflection_mirror_51847_lI know, duh.

Don't all writers use themselves as inspiration? (Some, such as memoir writers, obviously more than others.)

What I'm talking about today is using your own thoughts, reactions, and feelings as a springboard to create characters.

Here's how you do it:

1.  Write a journal entry as yourself

2.  Now write that same journal entry as someone else–a character you have in mind already, or someone you create off the top of your head.  Soon you'll find yourself veering from your usual voice to something completely new. 

A variation on this theme is to write (or imagine) how your character might react to a situation you find yourself in.  You're going to see a movie.  Now imagine your character going to see a movie.  Which one does she choose?  How does she get there–car, bus, bike? What is she thinking as she travels to the theater, and is the theater a funky, old one that sells pizza and wine or a huge suburban multiplex?  Is she looking forward to the movie or going because someone else is dragging her along?

These kinds of questions about your character's ordinary activities can give you a huge window of insight into her life.  Play with making this a daily practice.  Stopped at a red light, ponder what your character might be pondering.  Going grocery shopping?  Think about how your character does the same chore.

A bonus to this activity is that it is way better than worrying. When your brain turns to obsessing about your finances, or your teenage son, or your lack of a love life, stop that unfruitful line of thought and think about your character instead.  What is he worrying about? 

How do you learn more about your character's lives, inner and outer?  I'd love to hear.

By the way, I've quietly posted the info and registration details for my Get Your Novel Written Now class, which you can see here.  We'll be discussing all the things you need to have in place to write your novel, with tips, tricks and exercises such as this one.

Photo by Robin Taylor.

 

7 Ways to Get to Know Your Character

Iceland-160976-hNo matter what you're writing, memoir, fiction or even web copy, character is everything. You've got to know your character through and through in order to write successfully. This was brought home to me all over again last week, when I spent the week with my daughter and her baby and learned, first hand, what their life is like together.

It is worth it to take the time to learn more about your character.  Otherwise, you'll get midway through your novel and realize you don't understand your character's backstory and hence, her motivation.  Or you'll be rolling along on your memoir and realize there are holes where you don't know some crucial bit of a character's timeline.

So here are some of my favorite ways to advance your understanding of your characters.

1. The Basics.  You gotta know this stuff.  You know, height, weight, hair color, eyes, age, astrological sign, etc.  The absolute bedrock basics you'd know about, say, someone in your family.  Write this stuff down and keep it somewhere you can access it so your character's eyes don't change color from page 5 to page 128, when her new love is gazing into them.

2.  Timeline.  What are the big events in your character's life, and the dates of them?  Things like birth, graduation, marriage, birth of babies, and so on.  You can also do an emotional timeline of important events and put the two together.

3. Ordinary Day.  I'm big on this one, because it is deceptively helpful.  From the time your character gets up in the morning, what does he do?  Start with getting out of bed and proceed in as much detail as you can muster.  You'll learn all kinds of interesting things, because how we spend our days is how we spend our lives, as Annie Dillard says.

4.  The Interview.  Ask your character questions about her life, the way you would if you were a journalist interviewing her for an article.  This can be especially helpful to jar loose secrets, conflict, and motivation.

5.  The Dream.  Author Robert J. Ray recommends this exercise, and its a doozy.  Doesn't seem like it would be worth much, but it can help a lot.  Start by writing, in the dream…..and then keep repeating the words in the dream as you write.  It gets you into a meditative state that will reveal depths.

6.  Look at Yourself.  You can find a lot of inspiration for your characters in how you approach life.  Write a journal entry and then rewrite it in the viewpoint of your character.  See how things change or remain the same. 

7.  Examine Setting.  Landscape shapes who we are.   A character who lives in rural South Dakota has different ideas and opinions than one who lives in Manhattan.  And yet, as Janet Burroway says, setting is so much more than just landscape.  It is the house you live in, the books on your coffee table, the mug you drink coffee from.  All of these things influence our character.

So there you have it, 7 ways to look at character.  Please comment and tell me your favorite ways to uncover the secrets of your characters!

Create a successful, inspired writing life:  Take the time to get to know each of your main characters as intimately as possible.  It will save you time in the long run!

 

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