Learning about your character

Thursday, September 10, 2009
Okay, what is it you REALLY want to know about your character(s)? Do you really know everything about him/her? You are writing a piece of fiction and you have already pegged a character's eye color and her eyebrow plucking habits. But where do you go from there? How do you share the inner thoughts of a character? Yes, she does have them. How do I know? Because you created her to be well-rounded, multi-dimensional...and someone to jump off the page.
So, I'm staring at the words describing my young adult character as he reacts to something. I'm excited. I feel I've captured the essence of something incredible. And then I shared the scene with someone, whose reaction deflated my character, right there on the page. I then felt the air go out of me, as well.
Disheartening? Yes, definitely. But it also gives me the opportunity to return to my character, breath some more life into his actions, rifle through his pockets, find out what he carries in his backpack, traipse through his room (as only a mother can) and learn every dimension of his life.
Will I need all of that? Probably not within the actual story, but I am convinced that the brand of jeans he wears will probably inform what kind of summer job he has or if he even needs a job. The reaction he has to extra homework will add shading and texture to his reaction to losing something dear to him.
The picture is painted of him, complete from his favorite chewing gum to his well-worn socks. I need those images of him to make the dimensions tangible to my reader so the next time I share the character's reaction to a monumental event, my reader is with me and can feel the anguish I know he feels, as he jumps off the page.

One fiction exercise I have loved giving and receiving is emptying out your character's pockets or purse. What is in there? Why? And if that seems too tiresome, you might do what I do: instead of writing, I clean out my own pockets and purse and ask why.... ;)

Elizabeth King Humphrey is a certified Kaizen-Muse Creativity Coach and freelance writer. She also blogs at www.CoastalCarolinaMoms.com and www.TheWriteElizabeth.com, delving into creativity in everyday places. She is looking forward to introducing you to her well-drawn character someday soon.


Miss Footloose said...

Another question to ask yourself about your character is this:

What does s/he write about on her Facebook messages? Or tweet on Twitter.

Miss Footloose
Tales of the Globetrotting Life

Analisa said...

Love this. These little details are in my head. Like I have a character who is beautiful a very intelligent attorney who has few friends, none women.Just on the spur of the moment this is what is in that very expensive handbag. A lancome make up bag, a gold cardcase, her wallet,with one family picture of her and her brothers as children, a cigarette case and Dunhill lighter. A blackberry, she does not have time to play with an iphone and hates it childish apps. A comb she rarely uses instead she runs her hands through her hair, when it gets unmanageble she calls her stylist.

Elizabeth King Humphrey said...

Miss Footloose and Analisa,

Those are brilliant!

Thanks for sharing,


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