Michael Lee West
Creating Memorable Characters: Part I
byon June 28th, 2011 at 04:33 PM (350 Views)
If you want to create a fictional character, use the leaf technique.
Start with the stem (character's gender and age), and branch out. Where does she (I'm using "she" for simplicity) live? A farmhouse at the end of a dirt road? A villa in Italy? A high-rise off Fifth Avenue?
What about values and beliefs? Did she go to a rural Baptist church or was she raised by Buddhists? Is she a backsliding Catholic or agnostic? What's her personal motto? What image does she strive to project to others? Why? Is she successful or does her true personality break through in words and actions?
What is she hiding from you? Make her tell you.
Do she have a mannerism? A favorite saying?
What scares her--really, really scares her? What's her strength? Weakness? What happened to her at age 3 that shaped her world-view? Find 6 milestones and describe an event that impacted her.
Do you know her name? If not, don't worry. Pick one. Then wait for the true name to fall out of the sky. Just like a leaf.
Pay attention to everything. No vein is too small. You can't learn enough about this person. Listen. How she she talk? Is her voice rough and gravelly or soft and lispy? Strident, nasal, girlish? What's her accent? Does the gap between her front teeth make her self-conscious?
No, you won't put every detail into your book/story/blog post. But those details will shine between your words. The more you know, the more it shows, and your character will leave a distinct scent on the page.
[I]It's impossible to know too much at this point.[/I]
Question: But isn't this difficult and time-consuming?
Answer: How much do you want to write?
Question: Speaking of air, do I have to pull these details out of the air?
Answer: Yes and no. But you can learn simple techniques to jump-start characterization.
[U]Assignment 1[/U]: Buy a notebook. Write your character's name on the first page. If you don't know it, give her a temporary one. Start writing details. Write fast. If you get stuck, use the "clustering" technique. You can change her eye color or geographic location later; but for now, start branching and exploring.
[U]Assignment 2[/U]: Find a tray and "shop" your house and yard, looking for totems and objects that relate to your character. Or find photograps in magazines. If you're writing steampunk, look for inspirational images online. Print/cut out the pictures and place them on your tray. Does your charactere drink tea? Add a cup and saucer. Does she live in the desert, mountains, plains, or near the ocean?
These details will help you inhabit your character's world--and if you inhabit it, so will editors, agents, and readers.
[SIZE=3][FONT=Times New Roman][U]Assignment #3[/U]: Create a photo mosaic to help ground you in your character's world. You can pin the mosaic to your wall or use it as a screensaver. [/FONT][/SIZE][FONT=Times New Roman][SIZE=3]I made a mosaic in [/SIZE][/FONT][SIZE=3][FONT=Times New Roman]Picnik (see below). Another great source is [URL="http://www.bighugelabs.com"]www.bighugelabs.com[/URL].[/FONT][/SIZE]
[SIZE=3][FONT=Times New Roman][URL="http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-_q5DBvVaYHM/TglYfeteh1I/AAAAAAAAAhY/KmJ3I_y94XQ/s1600/Picnik+collage6.jpg"][IMG]http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-_q5DBvVaYHM/TglYfeteh1I/AAAAAAAAAhY/KmJ3I_y94XQ/s640/Picnik+collage6.jpg[/IMG][/URL][/FONT][/SIZE]
[FONT=Times New Roman][SIZE=3]Next Post: A simple way to jump-start a character and fill in these details. [/SIZE][/FONT]
[FONT=Times New Roman][SIZE=3]Coming in July: Solitude and Everything Else: Writers Talk About Writing[/SIZE][/FONT]
Piper Maitland is a pen name for the novelist Michael Lee West. She's the author of seven books, including the bestselling Crazy Ladies and Gone With a Handsomer Man. Her vampire thriller/romance, Acquainted With the Night, will be published November 29 (Berkley/Penguin USA). She loves Savvy Authors.
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