Monday, March 29, 2010

Know your characters

Okay, now that I have your attention--(Isn't this a great pic? :))Down to business, computer troubles kept me from blogging last week. But did not keep me from judging contest entries and I was struck by a few things that I often see in contest and critique entries: stilted dialogue, odd robotic action, misplaced action/reaction and incomplete scene setting. In my opinion these can all be solved by doing one thing--getting to know your characters.
Now I don't mean simply making a list of hair color, eye color, height, weight and build. Or even writing down their goal motivation and conflict, although these things help. I mean getting to know them as you would a friend. How do you do that?
There are many, many ways. Some people interview their characters asking them odd questions to see how they react and what they would say. (Think interviewing for a local newspaper article or blog.) You can interview them for a job and ask them what they perceive their strengths and weaknesses are--and how they think they can add to your story. What makes them the best character for the story or the scene. Some people work up astrology charts for their characters. Think Aquarian meets Scorpio and things don't go so well, etc.  Spend time with them while you do your regular chores. Picking up the kids from school? Imagine your characters in the car seat next to you. How would they react? What would they think? Jogging or riding your stationary bike? Imagine your characters jogging with you or riding beside you. Would they complain? Would they get competitive? Would they tell you they'd rather show up in your shower? Eat, breathe and live with your characters for a full week without writing anything on your story. Spend time with them as you would a new friend or a date. After seven days, sit down, open the story and Ask them to tell you what they see, where they want to go, what they feel, touch, smell, taste and think. Let them talk in your head and take notes. You'll find that your story may not always go where you want it to go, and your characters may not be who you want them to be, but I promise your dialogue will improve, your action/reaction will improve and your characters and scenes will come to life.
Try it for seven days-then write. Let me know what happens. cheers~

10 comments:

Craftycmc said...

Thanks for the tips. I'm usually a little more 'down and dirty' (we fight #alot) with my characters, but hey, that's just me! :-)

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Crafty thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. Isn't the pic nice? :)

Charmaine Clancy said...

Good post - I think the first thing I ask my characters is 'what's WRONG with you?!'. Flaws are great ways to find subplots. Once I know what they dread the most, well I'm just mean enough to throw it at them ;-)

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Can I ask Nathan a few question...?

Yeah, he got my attention!

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Charmaine, that is a fabulous question to ask your characters. I'm going to add that to my library of good things ot know. :)

Hi L. Diane, isn't he a doll. sigh.

Marilyn Brant said...

Nathan Fillion!!! (Happy sigh...) Oh, yes, characters--that's what we were talking about! Great post, Nancy. I have a bunch of afternoon errands that I think my heroine should join me for today...

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Marilyn,
We are such girls, aren't we? :) Thanks for stopping by. Cheers~

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

Good ideas. I like the suggestion of interviewing a character - I’m going to give it a try along with a couple of other of your hints.

By the way, I loved “Mr. Charming” and wouldn’t mind getting to know him better at all!)

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Jane, Thanks for the note on Mr. Charming. So glad you enjoyed it!
Have fun interviewing your characters. Cheers~

sanjeet said...

Once I know what they dread the most, well I'm just mean enough to throw it at them ;
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