Sunday, February 17, 2008

Purpose of character building

The purpose of this lesson was to make me think about my characters as multi-dimensional people. It certainly accomplished that. A character isn’t a physical description or a bunch of emotions and traits that can apply to anyone. They have to be an individual that other people can relate to and care about.

The 250 word maximum forces me to focus on the big ticket items; what they want desperately, what they fear most and what makes them memorable. My profiles fell short in those areas. I know the answers to those 3 questions.

Anne desperately wants to connect emotionally with other people and stop pushing them away, fears being a failure and ending up alone therefore fulfilling her parent’s assessment of her, and has an uncanny ability to identify and solve problems. She has a quick wit and can find the humor in any situation.

Tim wants desperately to find someone to love who doesn’t want to change him, fears spending his retirement alone in front of the TV eating take out and being fixed up with every single woman in town and is a par golfer who always has his clubs with him and was the town hula hoop champion in his teens.

There’s a lot more to say about them and the reasons they are this way but if I have to boil it down to the big 3, there they are. I’m working on expanding the profiles and creating secondary character profiles. I’m also defining my settings and trying to keep Josephine Damian’s advice about the 3 act structure in mind.

What’s exciting is that as I do this the story is beginning to shape itself. Things flow naturally from certain characters and settings. I’m not ready to sit down and bang out the manuscript yet, but when the time comes I think it’ll be easier to do because I won’t be stumbling on minor decisions that might impede my progress.

I think of this as my story’s GPS system. Even if I get off course it will quickly bring me back.


wordtryst said...

This is all very instructive. I usually write by the seat of my pants, but I'm beginning to rethink my process. Thanks for posting this - I'm learning along with you.

Josephine Damian said...

AW, thanks for the link. I'm a recovering pantster turned plotter. I think even having a brief outline, or act-structure completed helps keep the story and the writing moving forward.

Precie said...

Excellent! Those are people I want to know more about! And the way you explained those most significant details hints nicely at how they're lives may intertwine.

WriterKat said...

I love that. Just in your answering the questions, you bring out the story between them. It's like you are thinking from the inside out. Great job!

Mary Witzl said...

Again, this is so helpful, and once again, you are making me think about how I could improve my own character building.

I love the bit about Tim being the town hula hoop champion! Based on that alone I already want to get to know him.

In case no other nitpickers come along, AW, "parent's" should be "parents'" -- though I think if you narrowed this down to "mother's" or "father's" it would be even better. And feel free to pick my nits any time -- I've got plenty, and all ripe for picking.

Demon Hunter said...

Thanks for sharing, AW. This is so interesting! :*)

Merry Monteleone said...

Nicely done!!! It's a difficult exercise but I think well worth the time to keep your focus in through the writing.

I ran across this link on The Murder of a Peep and thought you might enjoy it... remembering how you loves your peeps

John Elder Robison said...

You know, you read that and it all sounds sweet and innocent, but what happened when Anne ate the mescaline?

Yes. Now you remember.

And Tim. Years of frustration, fixed up with countless girls, until he realized the truth: He was gay.

Ello said...

Excellent! And informative, what more could you ask for? So what is next?

The Anti-Wife said...

I'm too easily distracted to write by the seat of my pants. I need some structure.

The 3 act structure makes sense to me. It's logical and so am I.

Thanks. I'm trying to stop being so clinical and concentrate more on the emotional in my descriptions.

Thanks. As I profile the characters in more depth, they seem to be leading me in the direction of their story.

Oops! Thanks for the reminder. And I was really good at the hula hoop so this is fun for me.

Happy to share and glad you're getting something from it too.

Poor Mr. Peep! I hope they find the culprit and fry him!

Shhhhhh! Drugs, what drugs? And Tim gay? Hmmmmmmm.

Next lesson is on Characterization and Point of View.

Bernita said...

And those "minor decisions" can be the very bugger, responsible for hours of dither.

Carleen Brice said...

Having a GPS system is great...just don't be too surprised if you find out things about your characters as you write that contradict what you thought you knew about them. At least that's my experience. I'm half plotter and half pantster.

The Anti-Wife said...

Those minor decisions can be frustrating and stall the process. Anything to get them out of the way quicker works for me.

Welcome. One of the things I look forward to most is seeing how my characters develop as the story progresses. I see their profiles as the starting point.

Lana Gramlich said...

I wish you continued success with your writing!

The Anti-Wife said...

Welcome and thanks!