Friday, August 10, 2012

Friday Tidbits

Who Is This Person? - Getting to know your character

There are SO many different methods out there to help writers get to know their characters on a deeper, more personal level. I have writer friends who "cast their characters," picking actor or model images to "play the part" of the character in their heads. I have writer friends who spend long hours interviewing their characters about everything under the sun, from their favorite ice cream flavor, to the darkest secret of their suppressed subconscious, to what might be found in the glove compartment of their car. Spread sheets, character charts, long family histories . . . the methods are many, and varied!

I've used some of these methods myself. But not anymore. It may work beautifully for you, and that's great! For me, it tends to distract me from the work at hand, and I have actually found that I lose the true sense of the character while playing with these various methods. (But you should probably experiment with all of them at some point to see what works for you.)

However, there is one trick that I have used that has actually stood me in good stead and which I continue to use to this day. So I'm going to suggest it to you as a possible addition to whatever other methods you are currently trying.

Write your character as a child.

Here's the thing: The childhood Me is as real and present in my memory as the adult Me. While I've matured, I don't feel all that different. Grown-up and married Anne Elisabeth is still little girl, tomboy Annie . . . just a bit taller with a few more experiences under my belt. What makes me Me, down at the very core, was already in place when I was just becoming aware of Me.
The thing about children is that they are equally complicated as adults, but they tend to be more honest. As adults (beginning when we're teenagers) we have to start wearing certain masks of social expectations. When we were younger, however, we were just OURSELVES.

My husband teases me that I have more childhood memories than any person has a right to. I vividly recall events and scenes of my life from as early as three years old . . . and, indeed, I have at least one crystal clear memory from before I turned one year, a memory of my big brother splashing in the kiddy-pool then running up to give me a kiss while I sat in my motorized swing. My childhood is still very present to me.

Not everyone experiences this. But, whether they remember it or not, every person is made up of who they were as much as who they are. The same goes for your characters!

So, in an effort to get to know my characters better, I will spend time writing scenes about them as children. Often these scenes work so well to establish the characters that they make it into the final novel itself! Look at the opening prologue of Heartless. Look at all of Part One in Veiled Rose. Even in Moonblood, there are several scenes throughout of Lionheart, my protagonist, as a little boy with his nursemaid . . . scenes that clearly illustrate exactly who Lionheart is. Many of these scenes began purely as exercises to learn more about these characters of mine.

What about you? What kind of child would your protagonist be? Popular? Confident? Eager ? Shy? Wallflower? Bookish? Makes friends easily? Makes enemies easily? Close with parents? Not-so close? Naughty? Helpful?


Clara said...

I love these Friday tidbits! They are helping me so much Anne Elisabeth! I was just wondering this how I could make my character seem more real and more developed...I think I now know how to do that!

Jenna K. said...

Hmmm I might use this!! =D remember stuff from when you were like 1? I barely remember stuff from when I was 3! :D

Celtic Traveler said...

Thank you! I'll definitely try this first chance I get.

Nadine said...

This is so wonderfully helpful! As you stated, the other forms of interviewing do not work for me either, but I can see this technique holding a lot of potential.

If my character was a child, I think she'd probably excited to make friends, but awkward enough that it's not very easy for her. She'd be tough and get into fights easily when she's offended, but never win. Even though she appears independent as a child, she still holds on to the apron strings.

Wow...I'm inspired already. :)