Tuesday, January 11, 2011

10 A Writer's Tip: Turn Social Networking into Character Development


"Plot springs from character...  I've always sort of believed that these people inside me- these characters- know who they are and what they're about and what happens, and they need me to help get it down on paper because they don't type."  

- Anne Lamott
 
Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve shown you a few tools to get your story in shape to make good on all those new writing resolutions. Important stuff, sure. But all that pre-writing work is just a warm-up for the real thing. The story doesn’t really feel like a story until your characters come alive. Until they seem so real our nose wrinkles with the smell of acne medicine in the morning.

There are tons of awesome character cheat sheets out there. Like here. And here. And here. Also here.
Shameless plug, I know I know. But if you’ve got a shred of OCD in you, these worksheets are like chocolate-covered espresso beans in an empty cupboard. Are they necessary? Maybe not. Are they the equivalent to Match.com between you and your character? Totally.

Great! But… are they fun to do?

Well, depends on who you ask. It’s no Scrabble night, that’s for sure. But much can be learned during the discovery process of fine-tuning all the details you see and don't see on the page. There are writers galore who hug on their character sheets like they're…well, like they're chocolate-covered espresso beans.

For me, I always start out wanting to create a sparkly encyclopedia for each character, complete with charcoal renderings lovingly sketched by hand…or something. And the ‘character bible’ method is practically a must if you plan on writing a series with lots of characters or species, each with their own set of rules to track. I get it. I do. But it’s not really FUN-fun, you know what I mean? (Although I know there will be plenty of you who will still argue with me on this. I bet you also enjoy cleaning, huh? :))

So if, like me, you want the value of discovering more about your characters without the mundane task of notating where each birthmark, scar, or stray hair rests, then maybe this craft tip is for you.

My friend and 2011 debut YA author, Gwen Hayes, mentored me last year and as her first order of mentorly business, she told me I didn't know diddly-squat about my characters (she may have put it more tactfully than that). Obviously she had something up her sleeve, so I wholly expected her to send me one of those standard character worksheets to fill out. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I wasn’t already sharpening my pencil to drive through my hand in an attempt to get out of it, but luckily she didn’t have me do that. Instead, her homework was this:

Create a blog (or Myspace, Facebook, or other social networking page) as if you’re your character.

• What is the blog called?
• What song plays when the page opens?
• Are there pictures posted of friends or family?
• Is it used as a public diary or more for updating friends with a quick recap of the day?
• What kind of wallpaper is in the background —does it ooze school spirit or flourish with artistic flair? Or maybe it’s bare bones with the generic theme.

What the blog/page looks like will show—not tell—how your character views herself and her world. Maybe she’s new and doesn’t have any friends yet, so she blogs like she’s talking to her old best friend who now lives hundreds of miles away. What would her first post say? Or maybe your character is an artist and she posts a poem or a random observation at the end of the day.

This kind of creative exercise helps you get into the mindset of your character while keeping it FUN. It doesn’t have to take a lot of time and if you’re worried about others viewing your page don’t worry – with both Wordpress and Blogger, you can set your blog as private so that only those you invite to view your blog can see it -- like maybe a critique partner who knows your character well. And...if you sell your book, how cool would it be for readers to feel like they're really getting a glimpse into your character's life outside the pages of the book?

Another advantage to creating a character blog is that it can also act as an online record of your character’s growth. Does it seem like the same person who wrote the last entry wrote the first? Are the differences evident in just the entries or has the opening song changed, too? What about the background theme or pictures? What about the frequency in entries/status updates?

If you’re a blogger, take a look at what you wrote a year, a month, a week ago. A year ago this week I wrote about getting to know my characters. Talk about coincidence. What’s even creepier is that in my post, I linked to a contest given by Nathan Bransford where the assignment was to write an intriguing fictional teen diary entry. I swear I didn’t plan this! But that was such a helpful exercise for me and just goes to show that you should always be thinking about your character and find ways to make getting to know them more interesting.

If you don't want to make a pretend blog for your character, then why not create a collage with magazine clippings of all the things important to them? Tera Lynn Childs talked about this during WriteOnCon last year. Not crafty? Try taking up your character's cherished hobby or interest for a week. Read books or watch movies you think your character would like. Or take photographs from your character's perspective. Maybe she always looks at the ground when she walks, or vice versa -- what does she SEE? Take a picture, print it, and tack it to your bulletin board to remind you when you sit down to write.

Tell us, what do you do to learn more about your characters? Does this make it easier or harder to write in their voice?



Exercise: 
For this week's writing exercise, I’m going to do something different and not post a picture as a prompt. Instead, copy and paste your answers to this Getting-To-Know-You meme in the comments to introduce your main character to us. (You’ve probably gotten one of these in your inbox from a relative or friend who likes to send them out every other week with an ominous threat of bad luck if you break the chain. Next time you get one, put it to good use and have your character answer it on her blog. Maybe you'll learn something new about her.) As always, we’d love to hear from you even if you don’t participate in the meme.

1. WERE YOU NAMED AFTER ANYONE?
2. WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU CRIED?
3. DO YOU LIKE YOUR HANDWRITING?
4. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE LUNCH MEAT?
5. WOULD YOU BUNGEE JUMP?
6. WHAT DO YOU NOTICE FIRST WHEN YOU MEET SOMEONE?
7. WHAT IS THE LEAST FAVORITE THING ABOUT YOURSELF?
8. WHO DO YOU MISS THE MOST?
9. WHAT WAS THE LAST THING YOU ATE?
10. IF YOU WERE A CRAYON, WHAT COLOR WOULD YOU BE?
11. FAVORITE SMELLS?
12. WHO WAS THE LAST PERSON YOU TALKED TO ON THE PHONE?
13. SCARY MOVIES OR HAPPY ENDINGS?
14. WHAT COLOR SHIRT ARE YOU WEARING?
15. HUGS OR KISSES?
16. WHAT BOOK ARE YOU READING NOW?
17. WHAT IS ON YOUR MOUSE PAD?
18. FAVORITE SOUND?
19. JAY-Z OR KINGS OF LEON?
20. WHAT POSITION DO YOU SLEEP IN?

And before I forget, the winner of last week's giveaway of Rampant by Diana Peterfreund is:

Heidi Phelps

Congrats Heidi! I'll be mailing out your copy this week.

Today's giveaway is a pre-order of Falling Under by Gwen Hayes. All you have to do is leave a comment on this post and fill out the entry form. The contest is open to US residents and will run until Jan. 17 at 8pm EST. The winner will be announced next Tuesday. Good luck!


Happy character-learning!
Cam


10 comments:

  1. Great suggestions. I'm going to be developing my characters as I get ready to start a new project. I'll try some of your suggestions. Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  2. When I was new to the internet back in the mid/late 90s, these questionaire e-mail forwards were huuuuuuuuge among my friends and I. However, there's only so many times you friends want to hear that your favorite books are Animorphs and your favorite ice cream is chocolate. So it wasn't long before we started forwarding them and filling them out as our favorite book/movie/TV characters-who we were also writing fan fic about, so these questions seem like perfectly natural ones to ask of your characters!

    ReplyDelete
  3. FUN! Love the fresh and new ideas for getting into my character's head! Very timely, too, as I am at this planning stage with my new work in progress. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  4. This is a really fun idea. I'd actually thought about doing this for a lot of my characters, kind of a virtual reality thing. Also know somebody who did this for the main character in his screenplay, but he added friends neglecting to let people know it was a fictional character.

    More about character development here: http://www.ninetydegreesmedia.com/?p=154

    ReplyDelete
  5. Caenus. Caenus of Iolkos. Pleased to make your acquaintance. Let's get this interview overwith shall we.
    1. WERE YOU NAMED AFTER ANYONE?
    Yes, great warrior from Thessaly
    2. WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU CRIED?
    When my father banished me from my homeland for losing the Isthmian Games
    3. DO YOU LIKE YOUR HANDWRITING?
    Bah... chicken scratch, it is
    4. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE LUNCH MEAT?
    Spit roasted boar meat
    5. WOULD YOU BUNGEE JUMP?
    Bungee who?
    6. WHAT DO YOU NOTICE FIRST WHEN YOU MEET SOMEONE?
    Eyes. Definite eye man.
    7. WHAT IS THE LEAST FAVORITE THING ABOUT YOURSELF?
    My hair. It's too long.
    8. WHO DO YOU MISS THE MOST?
    My older brothers. They were killed at the Isthmian Games. Or so I'm told.
    9. WHAT WAS THE LAST THING YOU ATE?
    Grapes, figs, apples
    10. IF YOU WERE A CRAYON, WHAT COLOR WOULD YOU BE?
    Brilliant blue
    11. FAVORITE SMELLS?
    The berry and honeyed aroma of Kalliste's hair.
    12. WHO WAS THE LAST PERSON YOU TALKED TO ON THE PHONE?
    The what?
    13. SCARY MOVIES OR HAPPY ENDINGS?
    I don't know what a movie is but, I'll take happy endings.
    14. WHAT COLOR SHIRT ARE YOU WEARING?
    My tunic is blue with gold trim
    15. HUGS OR KISSES?
    Kisses. Especially if they're Kalliste's.
    16. WHAT BOOK ARE YOU READING NOW?
    The Iliad
    17. WHAT IS ON YOUR MOUSE PAD?
    Mouse? Where? *grabs sword*
    18. FAVORITE SOUND?
    Kalliste's voice.
    19. JAY-Z OR KINGS OF LEON?
    I don't know who this Jay person is. Doesn't sound Greek to me. I'll go with these kings you speak of. Where is Leon, by the way?
    20. WHAT POSITION DO YOU SLEEP IN?
    Spread eagle.

    ReplyDelete
  6. That is a NEAT idea, making a private blog from the viewpoint of your character! How fun. Yeaaaah, I tend not to like the idea of figuring out every freckle and toenail shape beforehand; I rather like a few surprises as I'm writing. But on the other hand, I probably could use some deeper delving into my characters, to make them more real with more details. Thanks for the great post!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Thanks for the comments everyone!

    Christopher...or should I say, Caenus...thanks for stopping by and introducing yourself. I'll be sure to call on you when there's a real mouse scampering about the blog!

    ReplyDelete
  8. I love doing these for my characters. So much fun, and so insightful.

    1. WERE YOU NAMED AFTER ANYONE? - The government makes your parents pull a name from a bucket. I'm sure the government got the name from somewhere, but where I don't know.
    2. WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU CRIED? after betraying everything I've ever known
    3. DO YOU LIKE YOUR HANDWRITING? It's ok. I've not had much formal training though.
    4. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE LUNCH MEAT? Fresh lunch meat. Beggars can't be choosers.
    5. WOULD YOU BUNGEE JUMP? In a second (though I'd be terrified, I'd never show it)
    6. WHAT DO YOU NOTICE FIRST WHEN YOU MEET SOMEONE? Their clothing. That's the only sure fire way to know their status and how to greet them without risking death.
    7. WHAT IS THE LEAST FAVORITE THING ABOUT YOURSELF? I lack some certain social graces. I'd love to be able to play the game and fit in
    8. WHO DO YOU MISS THE MOST? My parents. And Jon.
    9. WHAT WAS THE LAST THING YOU ATE? Scrambled eggs.
    10. IF YOU WERE A CRAYON, WHAT COLOR WOULD YOU BE? Yellow.
    11. FAVORITE SMELLS? Fresh pine trees
    12. WHO WAS THE LAST PERSON YOU TALKED TO ON THE PHONE? Members of my class don't have phones. If I had one, I'd call my parents to make sure they were alright.
    13. SCARY MOVIES OR HAPPY ENDINGS? Happy endings so I can escape reality.
    14. WHAT COLOR SHIRT ARE YOU WEARING? White. It's a little dirty
    15. HUGS OR KISSES? hugs, but only from family. And Jon. Otherwise, don't touch me.
    16. WHAT BOOK ARE YOU READING NOW? The book of poems and memories my father gave me. It's the only book I read.
    17. WHAT IS ON YOUR MOUSE PAD? If I had one, it'd probably just be whatever I could scrounge from a dump.
    18. FAVORITE SOUND? rain hitting the roof
    19. JAY-Z OR KINGS OF LEON? Neither of these sound like government approved musicians. So I'd take either, and listen to them in secret.
    20. WHAT POSITION DO YOU SLEEP IN? curled in a ball.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I LOVE character questionnairres!! My fav topic when teaching my young writer workshops.

    Though, my Protag is a bit less enthused with "finding yourself" esp. in the form of quizzes, but alas, she's under MY command
    1. WERE YOU NAMED AFTER ANYONE?
    Nova sounds like a shortened ethnic name, doesn't it? But, no, my mom was really into astronomy and couldn't get my dad to agree on Andromeda, so, yeah.
    2. WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU CRIED?
    Probably when I was like , 3 and couldn't stay up late to watch The Science Channel. There was a special on, well, it doesn't matter
    3. DO YOU LIKE YOUR HANDWRITING? Um, no, fancy curly-ques is Cally's job
    4. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE LUNCH MEAT?
    Ew. I don't eat meat - lunch or otherwise
    5. WOULD YOU BUNGEE JUMP?
    I guess, if there were nothing better to do
    6. WHAT DO YOU NOTICE FIRST WHEN YOU MEET SOMEONE?
    How quickly their eyes shift when a cute girl walks by
    7. WHAT IS THE LEAST FAVORITE THING ABOUT YOURSELF?
    I can be a bit "intense." Whatever.
    8. WHO DO YOU MISS THE MOST?
    mom
    9. WHAT WAS THE LAST THING YOU ATE?
    does black coffee count?
    10. IF YOU WERE A CRAYON, WHAT COLOR WOULD YOU BE?
    I'd like to say purple, but that would be my mentor, Violet's color, obviously. I guess, gray?
    11. FAVORITE SMELLS?
    The Woods, dirt, and Isaac's spearmint gum
    12. WHO WAS THE LAST PERSON YOU TALKED TO ON THE PHONE?
    Isaac, he's making me promise to finish my stupid essay for Ms. Kindall
    13. SCARY MOVIES OR HAPPY ENDINGS?
    Most scary movies are a joke, but I'd take those jokes over sappy-happy anyday
    14. WHAT COLOR SHIRT ARE YOU WEARING?
    why? are you some kind of perv?
    15. HUGS OR KISSES?
    handshakes, thank you.
    16. WHAT BOOK ARE YOU READING NOW?
    more than one, and really, none of your business
    17. WHAT IS ON YOUR MOUSE PAD?
    I don't use one. Graph paper and hard cover notebooks work just fine
    18. FAVORITE SOUND?
    Cally laughing
    19. JAY-Z OR KINGS OF LEON?
    Kings of Leon, but I'm more into female bands
    20. WHAT POSITION DO YOU SLEEP IN?
    again-why? weirdo!

    ReplyDelete
  10. Cool ideas, just discovered you....so much awesome info here!!

    ReplyDelete

Tell us what you think. We'd love to hear from you! :)