Monday, August 16, 2010

Who Did You Say You Are?

    Writers have different techniques to flesh out characters. Some use a list or fill out a form that reminds me of some of the job applications companies used in the bad old days (before they were told they couldn’t do it anymore): physical description, religion, background, moral and philosophical viewpoints, political leanings, best and worst life moments, social organizations, best and worst qualities, etc. Or writers will use sketches on index cards, a check list, and so on. I tried these approaches, but usually came up with pretty silly responses. For example, under the column of “best qualities,” because it seemed vague and generic to me, I groped for entries. One time all I could think of was, “Can hold his breath for two minutes.” Wow. That was a big help. And not even true.
    These particular methods are great, but not for me.
    In my mind’s eye, my characters are all famous actors so I know what they look like. Occasionally I'll use the random neighbor or other real-life person as a secondary. (For the villain in Homeward Hearts, I used a UPS delivery guy who was an especial pain to deal with.) I’m working on the early chapters of a book, the characters of which I thought I knew. A couple of them haven’t been cooperating though, and sometimes the best way to handle this is through interrogation, um, I mean a character interview. It’s a kind of Ouija board Q&A, in that if I can think of the right questions, the resulting answers are not only helpful but can be surprising.
    1.  What is your name? (That much I usually know but it gets the ball rolling, and seems like the polite thing to do.)
    2.  What is happening right now in your life?
    3.  How did you get to this point?
    4.  How will you fix this problem?
    5.  Do you wish you had done things differently? How?
    6.  What’s the one thing I can give you that you’d like above all else?
    7.  What do you fear I’ll do to your part of the story?       

     And so it goes. The questions always vary, depending on how problematic the character is and how important to the rest of the book.
    Ah, I see one of them has arrived for her appointment. Let’s see what she has to tell me.

1 comment:

  1. Ooo, I can't wait to hear her responses! Do tell more....