To Quote Hemingway – Wednesday Prompts and Inpsirations

chalkboard-3-A “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

Ernest Hemingway

 

Bleed.

I asked myself what it means to bleed when writing.

I think another word, equally interchangeable with bleed, is purge. For me this means to empty myself until at the end of my writing day, I am exhausted.

Not unlike some other writers, I often type with my eyes closed to block out the visuals which ground me to the present. Eyes closed, I can watch my characters act on my mind’s stage, see their gestures, envision their movements, hear their dialog with greater clarity, and enter their thoughts.

Following is a partial list of what it means to bleed when writing.

YOU MUST

believe in what you are writing.

feel joy and excitement from what you are writing.

reveal your character’s fears and desires.

connect your reader to your characters by revealing their strengths and weaknesses and motives.

lead your reader by the hand and show them what is crucial and why it is crucial in each scene.

take your reader deep into the mind of your protagonist.

imagine yourself in the shoes of each of your characters, and write with their unique personalities in mind.

involve the five senses in your writing especially smell, a powerful, underused memory inducer.

not only describe the actions of your characters, but give reasons (motives) for their actions as well as their thoughts over the outcomes.

know the back story of your characters, not to bring to light necessarily, but to keep in mind so your characters feel real.

crush your protagonists hopes.

Place speed bumps in your protagonist’s path.

keep your protagonist from achieving their goal until the very end.

 

Happy writing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Want To Play A Game? – Wednesday Prompts and Inspiration

chalkboard-3-AAs I move forward in writing my middle grade novel, I continue to define my cast of characters. (remember my 75 point character development questionnaire?) Part of understanding my characters so they feel like real people involves creating a list of defining items for each. My main character is a fourth grade ‘girly’ girl with a strong dislike for camping (one guess what her class is doing on the weekend).

As a writing warm-up for this task, I wrote the names of some people I know along the top of a sheet of paper. Beneath each name, I listed defining things/items.

If you try this exercise, you can test your lists for accuracy. Without revealing the names, see if others, who know the people, can figure out who each list belongs to.

WANT TO PLAY A GAME? This exercise can also be turned into a fun family and friends game: choose four or more people everyone in the room has in common. Then ask everyone to list 5 or more things that come to mind when they think of each listed person. When you’ve all completed this, pass the nameless lists around the room to see who can match  the most names to the right lists.

What you’ll learn is more than you expect…

Beyond your list of items that shows your relationship to each person, you will see how others perceive these people, too. In writing, it is important to remember that, like in the real world, the relationship Anne has to her best friend, Linda, is different from the relationship Anne’s mother has with Linda. If Anne and her mother both made lists to define Linda, you would see two different lists. If Anne and her mother interact with Linda in your story, you’ll want to take the time to make both lists.

Whether you are making these lists as a writing exercise or as a game, you could include other items…

Habits: clicking nails, twisting a strand of hair, jingling coins in their pocket.

Hobbies: exercise, stamp collecting, reading, swimming, golf, gardening, etc…

Expressions: Whatever, gotcha, you know it, etc…

Positive personality traits: uncomplaining, willing to lend a hand when someone needs help, volunteers, kind to everyone, sets goals and achieves goals, organized, …

Negative personality traits: Complains often, no situation is ideal, finds flaws in everyone and everything, nags, lazy, untidy, undisciplined…

Defining Items individual would use at home, always or often take with on a car ride, always keep in their pocket, purse, or wallet: small notebook, pen, photo of someone, goals list, particular snack, magnifier, etc…

 

A FICTITIOUS EXAMPLE:

George – microscope, reading glasses, science magazines, strong coffee, workaholic, generous.

Megan – sketch pad, pouch of colored pencils, mini trampoline, bike, hair accessories, doesn’t put things away, artistic, creative.

Liza – exercise bike, workout clothes, cup of tea, Kindle, stretchy headband, spearmint gum, organized work space, often too honest with comments.                                    

After I filled in the list of items for some of the people I know, I made a column for myself. Why? Because as writers, we often look to ourselves when creating our characters.

Leslie (me)Stack of small notebooks (No surprise there. Right?), favorite wood pen my husband made for me, jar of highlighters, laptop (Of course…), coffee, my pets, stack of favorite books (too long to list), focused, determined, works so hard at her writing she often neglects doing the dishes and laundry.

If you play the game I outlined above, I hope you’ll learn a lot about those you know and have fun along the way!

Happy writing!

An Eye-Opening 3rd Grade Field Trip – Wednesday Prompts and Inspirations

chalkboard-3-AI missed last week Wednesday’s Prompts and Inspirations because I added one extra item to my day. I realize one extra to-do doesn’t sound like much, but in my case, it involved volunteering at my daughter’s elementary school to join her class on a field trip. Normally I’d choose writing over hanging out with twenty, nine-year-old kids on a field trip, but I viewed this outing as research. If I’m going to write for this age group, I figured who better to spend the day with than my intended audience?

I arrived in my daughter’s classroom promptly at 8:45, in time to join a chorus of sweet voices in the Pledge Of Allegiance. I was surprised that after ___ years, I remembered all the words. The teacher informed the class if they wanted to leave their hats, scarves, and gloves at school they could as the entire field trip would take place inside a nature center where they would study water. Twenty, nine-year old students exited as if the room was ablaze to stow their hats, scarves, and gloves in their lockers. The teacher asked if I would like to ride the bus or drive my own car to the nature center. With research in mind, I joined the class, figuring I could listen in on conversations and immerse myself in the language of these children.

Wrong.

Have you ever visited a pet shop that sells birds? If not, picture the sound of a hundred crows chattering into a microphone with the volume stepped up. I couldn’t pick out a single word.

Once at the nature center, we were informed that the hands-on activities would take place mostly outside. After a one-hour hike, twenty, frozen kids raced inside to thaw during a short lecture. Then we followed a young man outside, who clearly had no patience with children, for a hands-on experiment. Each child was instructed to put their hands in a bucket of cold water to retrieve a rubber tube for an experiment in air and water pressure. That’s when the temperature took a sudden plunge from 50 to 30 something, and a freak snowstorm moved in! Everyone chattered and complained to the teacher about her instructions to leave their hats, scarves, and mittens at school. Some of the kids were clearly worried about getting frost bite and losing their hands because of the icy water the center provided for the experiments. I felt terrible for the children. Red hands, teary eyes, and shivering, little bodies. I moved around the group, warming as many children as I could by wrapping their hands in my scarf and rubbing their icy fingers. Four hours later, we were on the bus, heading back to school.

What I learned:

Despite the teacher’s daily immersion in the lives of nine-year-old children, she clearly didn’t take seriously their age-appropriate worries and fears. I see this among my friends who have children. So often adults belittle children’s concerns. As adults, we have learned along the course of our lives that many of our fears are unjustified. But knowing better doesn’t give us the right to brush a child’s fears away. For their handful of years on this earth and their limited life experiences, a child’s fears are as real to them as ours are to us.

And what did I observe when the teacher shooed her students away and told them they were being ridiculous for worrying about frostbite? Those children turned to other children for advice. I zipped forward into their teen years and pictured them facing age-appropriate issues that their parents might brush off as ridiculous. The result? Those teens turning to other teens for advice. Hard as it is, It’s important to take a child’s concerns seriously and help them realize that a parent or teacher is the best person to turn to. 

Another age appropriate issue:

On the bus ride to the center, my daughter boarded the bus well ahead of me and found herself seated between two boys. (To a nine-year old girl, this is a fate worse than broccoli for dinner.) So on the ride back, my daughter pleaded with me to sit beside her to prevent a boy from sharing her seat again. Did I laugh, snicker, or tell her she was being silly? No. I slid beside her on the seat and offered her my hand and a feeling of security.

How this relates to my writing:

Writing for children not only means developing a believable and likable child or child-like, adult character, but it also means bringing a problem into the story that is age appropriate. If I’m writing a picture book for 3-7 year old children, the problem needs to be one this age group can relate to, otherwise why would they want to listen to the story? It’s challenging to think back to when I was a child and remember my worries. So, my advice to writers is this… spend time with the age group you are writing to. And if possible, spend time with that age group in the same setting you have chosen for your book.

Happy learning and writing!

 

Reveal Character Through Setting – Wednesday Prompts and Inspirations

chalkboard-3-AListen. How many sounds do you hear?

Open your eyes. What surrounds you?

Breathe. What smells linger in the air?

Touch what is before you. Describe the surface.

Taste. (I’ll wait…. Head into the kitchen, nearest coffee shop, or vending machine, and get yourself a cup of coffee, tea, or snack.)

Now place yourself in the setting of your novel. Where are you? What time of day is it? What year is it? What season have you selected? Who is near you? What surrounds you? What does the air smell like? What surface are you touching? What do you feel? What can you hear? If there is food near, what does it taste like?

Building your setting with these tools helps bring your writing alive for your reader. These tools allow your setting to become an active player. But to use them to reveal character, it is crucial to include those things that are important to each player in your story.

EXAMPLE: Take Janet and her boyfriend, Mike. They decide to hike through a rain forest. Upon seeing the towering trees, both standing and fallen, Janet sees history before her. She wonders what the world was like when the trees were saplings. How did people dress then? What did those people hold sacred? Janet marvels at the lush, green moss dripping from the branches. The wild, curly moss resembles her best friend’s hair she braided when they were kids. The intoxicating, woodsy scent brings her back home to the incense her mother burned at the holidays which triggers the scent of cherry wood tobacco her Grandfather smoked when he visited at Christmas. The bounce under her feet, as she steps on the moss-covered trails, causes her heart to flutter with giddiness as she recalls the bouncing on a trampoline as a child in gym class with her favorite teacher, Miss Henkley. She sighs because of the many gifts she has received here and promises herself she will make time to come back, if only to enjoy the wonder of so many cherished memories.

Enter Janet’s boyfriend, Mike. Upon seeing the fallen trees, he sees the ragged bark, the decay, the slugs that fill the crevices. He breathes out sharply, trying to clear the smell from his lungs–a smell that whisks him to a mountain cabin where, on a vacation when he was a small boy, his uncle beat him. The wild, curly moss resembles the pasta his mother served day in and day out to save money because of his father’s low paying job. And as for the moss-covered, bouncy trails…Jack recalls a time his brother tripped him, causing him to break his ankle, which in turn caused him discomfort and instability when he walked. Jack grumbles at the anger this place his filled him with and promises himself he will never step foot in this forest again to spare himself so much heartache.

As you move through your setting, place yourself in the shoes of each character. Focus on each one’s personality, quirks, history, hopes, and dreams. If you were that character, what would you see, hear, smell, feel, and taste? If you were that character, what memories might those things evoke?

Keep in mind that adding details with the goal of setting the stage creates a generic environment. If you want setting to reveal character, you must become that character. You must be aware through all of their senses when you write.

 

75 Character Development Questions: Wednesday Prompts and Inspirations

chalkboard-3-AYou get an idea for a story you can’t let go of. You know who the main character has to be. You remember a woman of about 30, tall, blonde, a bit of a neat freak. She is someone you met on a flight last year. You remember how everyone took notice of her. And just after the in-flight movie ended, she shared her deepest secret with you, a stranger she’ll probably never see again.

You flip open your laptop, and for the next five months, your story takes shape. Finally, your first draft is finished. You’re proud of what you’ve accomplished. You send it to your critique group, anxious for their praise. The e-mails roll in, and everyone says the same thing. Your MC is flat.

What? But I can picture her, I can still smell her perfume, I recall lots of people turning their heads as she passed. That tall, beautiful woman whose secret I’m keeping. All of this is not enough. You barely know her.

So how do you flesh out a character?

Before I write the first words of any story, I take each of my characters through a lengthy interview process. This goes beyond deciding upon their name, hair and eye color, birthday, country and town they live in.

I gained this good habit in a writing course a number of years ago. The instructor asked us to answer twenty questions about our main character as well as other prominent players in our story. I skimmed down the questions. “This could take hours, even days!” I moaned. “All I want to do is write my story.”

The instructor knew what she was doing. “Take your time,” she said. “Don’t answer the questions quickly. Think about your character. Put yourself in his/her shoes as you address each question.”

A few days later, I had mapped out my main characters. I was stunned at my intimate knowledge of these people. Yes, people. They had shifted from imaginary characters I dreamed up to flesh and blood, real people. I felt I knew them like I knew my friends…like I know myself. I e-mailed my instructor two words. Thank you.

You are going to spend a great deal of time with the characters in your novel. In order for your reader to cheer them on, to disagree with them, to understand them, and to cry with them, you need to get to know them–intimately.

Could you list ten things you know about your best friend? About your spouse or significant other? About your child? Think about your closest friend. How much do you know about the person you trust with your thoughts and feelings? What is it about them that you like? What is the glue that bonds your friendship?

As serious writers, we spend more time with the characters in our novels than we do with our friends. To write characters into reality, we have to get to know them. We must befriend them. Below is my 75 point questionnaire to ground you in the souls of your characters.

 

75 POINT CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT QUESTIONNAIRE

Name: (Are they named after someone in their family?)

Age and birthday:

Does MC share their birth date with anyone they know?

General physical description:

a. height

b. weight

c. eye color

d. hair color

e. any distinguishing features

Describe the place your MC calls home:

If MC is a child, describe their bedroom:

Type of neighborhood:

What is his/her occupation if an adult:

What are his/her chores if a child:

If child, grade in school:

Mother and/or wife’s name, background, and occupation:

Father and or husband’s name, background, and occupation:

Where does MC live (city, state, country, on a farm, in an apartment, in a research station on Mars)?

What landmarks are near them (park, shopping, friend’s house, beach, school, etc…)?

List all siblings, their names, ages, and one or more sentences to describe them and their relationship to your MC.

How does your MC view each of his family members and friends?

What is his/her position in the family? (parent, oldest, middle, youngest sibling, the pet?)

Pet(s) — What kind and how long have they had them?

How did they come to get this pet and/or what do they like best about their pet(s)?

Where do they keep their pet(s)? (horse boarded or in barn on property, fish tank in kitchen or bedroom, indoor or outdoor dog, etc…)

Favorite piece of jewelry or accessory they always or frequently wear: (earrings, watch, purse, shoes, etc…)

If female, what items does she always carry in her purse? (if child – list items in their backpack.)

If male, what photographs or information does he keep in his wallet?

Is he/she prompt or late for most things:

Organized, sloppy, etc…

Mode of transportation:

What options are available if their car broke down, if they missed their bus or train?)

Favorite sports:

Interests or hobbies:

Dress style:

Relationship to men and/or boys he/she knows:

Relationship to women and/or girls he/she knows:

Leader or follower: (he/she must be like others in dress, mannerisms, and taste? Marches to own beat?)

Their favorite expression: (Way cool!, No way! Whatever, Don’t get me started, etc…)

Habit: (bites fingernails when nervous or fingers necklace pendant, rubs hand over beard when thinking, etc…)

Their personality type: Glamour queen, no frills, down-to-earth, wishes he/she could disappear, jock, rugged, outgoing, know-it-all, etc…)

What are they good at (skills)?

What is their greatest ambition?

What is their best quality?

What is their worst quality?

Sense of humor?

Temper? What sets your MC off?

What things do they like?

What do they dislike?

Quirks:

Favorite foods and beverages:

Who is their closest friend and why?

Describe their perfect day.

How do they speak? (with an accent, stutters, lisps, in a monotone, etc…)

How do they walk? (with purpose, drags feet, limps, etc…)

What is their greatest fear?

What is their greatest regret?

What are their flaws? (lacks confidence, shy, speech impediment, fear of something.)

Based on their fears, dislikes, and, worst qualities, what problem would they least likely want to face?

Who does he/she love and care about? (parent, child, friend, pet)

To hear your character’s voice you need to take this one step further.

Instead of you filling in the blanks about your character, take what you learned from above and imagine you are having a conversation with your character or a letter exchange: Ask them to tell you in their own words…

Who are you?

What do you most want?

What freaks you out?

What is your first thought when you wake up?

What is the thought you fall asleep with?

Considering the challenges you have planned for your MC, ask – How would you feel if…?

What would you think if you heard your friend, sibling, parent, spouse say…?

What is the worst day you can imagine having? What could make it even worse?

What is the best day you can imagine having? What could top that?

If you inherited or won a sizable sum of money what would you do with it?

If you got a promotion at work, or if you aced your finals, who would you want to share this news with?

Now that you and your MC are best friends, go deeper.

What do you think is your best feature or personality trait?

If you could, what would you change about yourself?

Who do you wish you were more like?

What is the biggest secret you keep?

If a tornado or other disaster threatened to destroy your home in the next twenty minutes, what would you save?

 

You’re ready to write.

Character Soup – Wednesday Writer’s Prompts and Inspiration

chalkboard-3-AAs writers, we all have a natural tendency to people watch. Each day we sit beside, pass on the street, get honked at, speak to, and get called on the phone by possible characters for our stories. Our world is a veritable character soup!

Some of my favorite places to jot details in my pocket notebook are coffee shops, train stations, and, nearly everyone’s favorite people-watching location…the airport.

Have you ever sat across from a group of people and absent mindedly stared at one person in particular? What was it about his appearance that set him apart? His advanced age? his dated clothes? Something resting on his lap or clutched to his chest? A look in his eyes filled with joy and contentment of having lived a good life?

Next time you’re wondering about someone, reach for your notebook and begin speculating.

Start by describing their appearance.

* The fashion-conscious woman–she wears the latest in Vogue, her gold necklace rests perfectly above the neckline of her designer dress, her carry-on bag matches her purse, and her polished nails match her lipstick and belt.

* The confident man– he wears a button-down, white shirt with jeans–worn at the knees. His back pocket is loosened at one corner and bulges with the outline of his wallet. He finger-styles his hair, and when he sits you notice his western boots.

* The homeless woman–she wears several layers of clothes, a torn garbage bag nests in the protection of the grocery cart she rests her hand upon. Her shoes have holes in the sides and the heels are worn. Her tangled, brown hair is pulled back under a frayed, knit cap.

What does the individual have with them? A briefcase? Purse? Stack of folders? A puppy in a pet carrier? A stroller with an infant? A letter? Absolutely nothing? What can you tell about the person from this?

What is this person doing? Checking e-mails on their mobile device? Scribbling details of you in their pocket notebook? (Yeah! A fellow writer.) Feeling in their coat pocket occasionally to check on something. (Hmmmm, possibly suspicious…)

If you’re at the train station or airport, can you speculate where the individual might be going, what awaits him/her there, and what they might need to do there? Are they returning home or beginning their journey? Who did they see? What business brought them to this point?

What about their activity can begin to paint a picture of their personality? If they are writing, do they crumple a sheet of paper with only a few marks on it, or do they use every possible writing space available on that page? Wasteful vs. Frugal.

BEFORE TODAY IS THROUGH, see how many new character sketches you can create.

And maybe one more…(?)

Observe yourself. Yes, you are a potential character for your stories, too. Do you know anyone better? How are you dressed today? What do your clothing choices say about you? What do you carry with you that others can observe? Is the tone in your voice irritated, hostile, happy, or pensive? When in public, what do you talk about that others might overhear? What do you say that a fellow writer in the crowd might document as an example of REAL dialogue?

And while you are creating fresh characters, keep in mind that the details you include are a fine exercise for show don’t tell.

Don’t tell us the man is old…show us his time-worn facial features, shaky hands, and dependency of his cane.

Don’t tell us the woman is stylish…show us her designer outfit, her long-legged, confident stride, and the shiny, silver heels of her black pumps.

Do you already keep a notebook for on-location character sketches? Have you ever been a character in one of your stories?

I’d love to hear from you.

The Destructive Power Of A Harsh Critique

But first, the story that leads to the critique…

Since my daughter was a baby, I either read a picture book to her at bedtime or told her a story from my childhood. (These days, she prefers to do the reading herself.) Back when she was four, she asked for an animal story. I recalled a mouse our cat had cornered by the front door when I was ten.

Here is the extremely condensed version. (Please read the opening dramatically.)

Inches from pouncing on a helpless, half-frozen mouse, the wind howled, and the bell, dangling from our cat’s leather collar, rang. Inside our house, my mother heard the faint jingle and opened the front door. With agile speed, she snatched the quivering mouse from our cat, trapping it in her cupped hands. Then, my mother brought in a terrarium from the garage, (Doesn’t everyone keep a glass terrarium in their garage for those “just-in-case” moments?)fashioned a suitable home, and placed the terrarium in the kitchen. A minute later, the cat went bonkers, and my Mom released the mouse to the great outdoors. The End.

“What happened next?” my daughter asked.

I shrugged. “Who knows? My mother opened the door, and the little fellow dashed under a bush. We never saw him again.”

I turned off the light and wished her a good night’s sleep. I wasn’t three feet down the hall when she let out the boom…the question that kept me glued to my computer for the next few years.

“You’re a writer. MAKE SOMETHING UP!”

She can be very persuasive.

As the outline for the story grew to sizable proportions, I decided to enroll in a middle grade writing course (Up to this point, picture books had been my main focus.)

My instructor passed a piece of “writerly” wisdom to me. “It’s obvious how much you care for your main character. Now get back to your computer and let life happen to him. Chase him to the edge of a cliff, throw rocks, give him bad food…just don’t kill him.”

“The writer is both a sadist and a masochist.

We create people we love,

and then we torture them.”

Janet Fitch

My daughter came up to me as I reworked a scene. “WHY are you crying?” She looked at me stunned.

“Mommy is crying because she is challenging the existence of her beloved main character,” I choked out.

“What?” she rightfully questioned for a child of her age.

“You see, sweetheart, Mommy found a way to reach her main character’s heart and hurt him where it really matters.”

“Stop it! she pleaded. “You LOVE him!”

“I’m doing it to improve the story and make it publishable,” I said.

“The don’t do it. Pleeeeeeeeease. Keep the story as it is just for me.”

Well, I kept hurling those rocks, and when I finished the novel, I realized the distance I had grown as a writer.

By the time the course ended, my instructor wrote she was captivated by the tale as well as the development of my characters and encouraged me to get it published. Wanting a second opinion, I researched various copy editors to find a good match to critique my manuscript. Her price seemed high, but I deemed it a good investment.

A month later, I received my manuscript along with the promised forty page critique. The first pages rang of high praise and the rest…. My spirits were crushed, dashed, destroyed, annihilated, terminated, and obliterated. Should I go on, or are you grounded in the picture? (This experience, I am certain, seats me in the same boat with countless other writers.)

I turned my back on my story. (Shame on me.)Today, two years of dust blanket the returned manuscript pages and critique.

Yesterday, while out running errands, my daughter asked me to remind her about the novel.

During the retelling of the adventure, I found myself missing the whole crew of characters I had so carefully created. I missed the swashbuckling adventures and the mishaps. I choked on tears as I told of the near-death moments, and the triumph of survival. It was there, in the car, that I realized the critique I received was one person’s opinion. So, for the first time in two years, I’m going to blow the dust off my story, literally, read it with (extremely) fresh eyes, change what needs changing, and prepare to send my manuscript out into the world.

As I prepare to submerge myself back into my most cherished story, I wish you all happy writing.

Feel like sharing a critique memory of your own? I’d love to hear it. Scroll to the top of this post and click Comment.

The Power Of A Mask

Minesota leaves-bannerAutumn is my favorite season. Fat pumpkins sit on the front steps of the neighborhood houses. Farms in my rural community open their gates to the public, welcoming them with horse or tractor-drawn hay rides, pumpkin patches, corn mazes, face painting, and stands with tummy-tempting, hot, spiced, apple cider and applesauce doughnuts.  This outing is the highlight of October for my family.  (That, and the chocolate chip pumpkin bread we bake together.)

And what has this got to do with writing?

This year at the farm we visit, I decided to conduct an experiment in altering one’s personality.

As writers, this is exactly what we do when we create a character.

My unsuspecting volunteer… none other than my daughter.

maze-4034The three of us wandered around the farm, petting goats, jumping in piles of corn, climbing enormous, rubber spider webs, and then, as the wind pulled up, and the sky darkened… we entered the seven acre corn maze. (Actually, it was a warm and sunny day, but didn’t that make it more seasonally dramatic?)

Families were charging around the rows, walking into dead ends, retracing their steps, laughing and asking everyone they passed if they knew their way out. (We got there early enough to make sure we’d have plenty of daylight to get ourselves ‘un lost.’) As a large group was following us, I stopped and asked my daughter, who is nine, to pretend she was a cat.

“Go ahead, honey,” I said, “meow, paw at the air, pounce on something.”

She looked at me with that  you-have-got-to-be-from-another-planet  look and started walking away from me a little faster.

“Oh, come on,” I coaxed.

She hid in the cornfield.cat-4038

This is where the experiment began… “Well!” I said, “Would you look at the strange thing I found in my purse?”

That got her attention. She peered from behind the dried corn leaves, eyes widening as she saw the paper, cat mask I pulled from my purse.

“Wow! You brought that for me?”

cat-2-4034She put the mask on and instantly lost her shyness. She couldn’t care less what the families around her thought or said. Behind that mask she could be anyone. And at that moment, she transformed into an amazing cat. She hissed, she pawed the air, she pounced, and she couldn’t stop posing for the camera.cat-4041

Isn’t this, to some degree, what we do when creating characters? Aren’t we giving them masks to try on as we write and rewrite their personalities?

 

 

Here’s a character making example:

We give our character a name.

We give them an appearance.

We add some quirks or habits.

We sometimes  add a phrase or comment the character says.

We give them history/background info.

We give them a family.

Eventually, we have created a character we can move through the pages of our novel.

But what happens when a personality trait doesn’t mesh with a twist in our plot?

I’ve created a fairly confident character. He’s accustomed to winning. A big annual competition is coming up at work, and he’s already won five years in a row. When the scene comes up, will my reader perch on the edge of their recliner with streams of sweat streaming from their brow, wondering, hoping (knowing) he’ll win. Nope.

We switch gears and change our gallant hero to the underdog. He’s quiet, a tad on the shy side. This poor guy has been teased by his older brothers since he could talk. He’s never had enough money to buy any stylish clothes. Girls don’t notice him. He always gives his best, but always falls short of winning. This likable guy needs this win if only to give him a taste of success.

So, we find that changing the personality of one of our characters is similar to trying on different masks. Except as writers we exchange paper masks for words.