|by Rose Ciccarelli, Editor|
Who is this person? Find out all you can by using questions to dig deep and jot down what you discover. You probably already have an image in mind, so physical details such as race and ethnicity, age, height, weight, and hair color should all be easy. Delve deeper. Does your character have any physical or mental defects? How about complexes? What about inherited attributes?You may have thought about occupation and education, but what‘s she like with family and friends? How about her place in the community? Does she do volunteer work? Is she affiliated with a religion or a political party?
How does she go through life? Optimist or pessimist? Frustrated or determined? Is she in a static place or evolving? If she’s the protagonist, she’ll need to grow or change (but even minor characters don’t have to remain static). What’s the arc of her particular story? A famous playwriting adage is: “In Act One, get the protagonist up a tree. In Act Two, throw rocks at him. In Act Three, get him down.” Plot out your character’s story arc on index cards, a flow chart, whatever works for you.These exercises will help you think your way into your character. However, successful storytelling means that you don’t tell readers all you know. You show them who she is so they make discoveries on their own. Readers come to know characters by interpreting what they do and say. Here’s an exercise that lets you show rather than tell something about a character. Describe your character’s favorite space. What does she do in that space?
How does your character act when she’s under stress? Is she tired, afraid, or angry? How does she move? What does she eat? (Does she binge on pomegranate seeds or ignore food altogether?) What does she do to get what she wants? Is she direct or manipulative? Does she use distraction or humor?As you write, you’ll discover new things about your character. She may act in ways that you never would have expected. And once you’ve written, evaluate. Is she acting consistently or in response to the demands of the plot?
Bringing a character to life is an ongoing process of learning all you can, discovering more on the way, and reassessing as you go … maybe it is like being in love after all.
Thanks to Rose, my most excellent editor for contributing to SimplyLife this summer. If you'd like to contact Rose, you can find her on FaceBook.