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Posts from the ‘characterization’ Category

Please loosen the corset

I’m smack in the middle of a rewrite.  When I say rewrite, I don’t mean simple revisions.  I mean ripping out the guts, adding in another 1/3 of the story and changing the narrative from third person to first person.  This is the type of revision that terrifies me.  Give me a full-length line edit and I’m in heaven.  Armed with my red Uniball pen and my Post-it notes, I can whip through a manuscript in a couple of days.  But this ripping out the innards, twisting them around and placing them back in the same body can cause any writer a severe case of anxiety.

Here’s how the week has gone:

Day 1: After weeks of scheming and planning, I was hesitant but happy to drag myself back to the computer. I even got a few new words down on paper.  The first person voice was bland, but Anna, my main character, is tricky.  (At least that’s what I’m telling myself.) And phew, it feels good to have 2,091 words under my belt.

(The truth: 1,800 of the 2,091 words weren’t new at all.  I copied and pasted scenes from my old manuscript, cleaned up the verbiage and changed the tense.  A few new dialogue tags and we’re ready to move on.  Right?)

Day 2: Coffee.  Computer.  Quiet house.  Ready to write. BUT nothing is happening.  I’m internally flogging myself for being a cop out.  Cut-and-paste was not the intention of the second draft.  So instead of setting off on the yellow brick road in search of my courage (and my MC’s voice), I’ll just draft a few blog posts and find out what’s happening with Hurricane Isaac instead.

Day 3: Run from meeting to meeting – all the while distracted because I’m the Cowardly Lion of writing hiding in a PTA mom’s body.

Day 3: (8:14 p.m.)  All’s quiet on the Miller front. Kids are in bed and hubby is checking the baseball scores.  The first line of my revised manuscript just floated through my head.  It’s odd and a little edgy, but it works.  I sit down and manage to spit out 379 polished words in 21 minutes.  And boy are they a complete departure from the original manuscript!  Anna has suddenly taken on a life of her own.  She’s opinionated and shy and bold all at the same time.  And she’s talking about condoms.  Whoa!  Where did that one come from?  You know what?  It felt great – condoms and all.

Here’s the beauty of it.  I was playing.  Playing with words and playing with ideas.  We get ourselves all wrapped up in the seriousness of our craft.  (At least I do.) Thoughts of deadlines and ditching the dangling participles can paralyze us.  I, for one, get very Victorian when I’m writing — trussed up tight and worried about how my words will be perceived.  On Day 3, however, I threw caution to the Victorian winds and loosened up the whale-bone corset.  And once those strings were free I felt like I could play.  My MC’s voice came to life.  She was throwing off the lace tablecloths that covered her dining table legs, she was using the word “leg” instead of “limb.”  She was even talking about… condoms.  I was blushing (and she was blushing). Our collective Victorian chasteness was threatening to tighten that corset back up with every keystroke.  But I filled my lungs with air, exhaled and tore those laces to shreds.

Here’s hoping that playtime will continue with every writing session.  It’s so much more rewarding to write when you’re having fun doing it, and it secretly feels a little bit exciting to throw off those Victorian shackles along the way.

What about you?  Have you (or your characters) done anything surprising this week?

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The Characters – Create a visual library to get to know your characters: Novel Writing Prep Series

Sometimes no matter how much time you spend getting to know your characters, a picture is worth a thousand words.  Pardon the cliche, but it’s fitting for this topic.  I can spend hours creating detailed character outlines, but sometimes I don’t feel like I truly know my characters until I find a picture that speaks to me.  As authors we spend a lot of time focusing on the internal characteristics of our characters.  Are they responsible? What makes them angry?  Does he/she have any physical or speech tics? How will we break through her facade of selfish boorishness and get to the insecure little girl inside?

I often forget to think about my characters’ physical appearance.  So, I spend some time with my favorite friend, the internet, until I track down some pictures that speak to me.  And then I save these images to my character sheets.  Eventually I end up with something like this:

This collage offers a glimpse at some of the characters in my historical fiction novel.  I print this out and hang it above my desk while I’m working.  I have one of these for every work in progress.  It isn’t always the physical appearance that speaks to me.  Although I must say that my character Konrad is the spitting image of Harvey Keitel.  The minute I created that character, Keitel popped into my brain.  My character of Tom, however, doesn’t look exactly like Matthew Modine (circa 1995), but there’s something about Modine’s expression in this photo that pulls me right into the seriousness and intensity of my character Tom.

Per usual, an activity like this needs to be limited.  The internet, as we all know, can be a time suck for authors.  I usually give myself a day.  I surf with wild abandon looking for just the right photo for each character.  At the end of the day I usually have a fairly good stack of images to sort.  I put them together in pairs.  Do Ivy (my MC) and her best friend look too much alike or do they offer up a visual contrast?  Is there any resemblance between Ivy and her parents or have I created an adoptive family rather than a family of blood relations?  I rework my choices until I’m comfortable with the combinations.

Then I answer one question about each of the final photo choices.  “What is it about this photo that represents my character?”  The answer to this question may be simple.  In the case of Konrad, the answer is, “He looks exactly like Harvey Keitel.”  In the case of Tom it might be, “Matthew Modine’s angular chin and the faraway look in his eyes make me think of Tom.”  These sentences are often very revealing.  Until I defined the reason for my photo choice, I didn’t realize that the faraway look was important to Tom’s characterization.  This exercise often reveals personality traits that are important to my character’s underlying motivations.

Once I have those images staring down at me, the hard part begins – weaving the physical attributes of my characters into my writing. It’s tough to describe the curly mass of hair on Natasha Lyonne’s head (bottom row center) without sounding cliche or slowing down the pace of the story.  We’ll talk more about this in another post.  But for now here is a wonderful article about describing your characters’ physical attributes.  For now, I’m off to work on my WIP’s character collage.  Happy writing!

P.S. Sometimes I see people on the street who are the epitome of my characters.  Just yesterday, there was a high school-ish girl walking into the grocery store with pink flannel house slippers and long dark hair with a blond streaky feather woven in.  The way she tossed her hair and slouched along in her slippers would be perfect for a character in my WIP.  I thought about pulling out my cell phone and stealthily snapping a photo of the girl.  But then my level-head get the best of me.  How would it look if the 30-something mom who was hanging out in her car in the grocery store parking lot was snapping photos of the high schoolers on their lunch break.  Hmmm…  not good.  I put down the phone and today, I’ll spend some time searching for a photo online that might replicate the look of my local teenager.  Or maybe I’ll get brave and try to draw her picture.

What about you?  Have you ever created a collage of images to get to know your characters?

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