Here’s the fifteenth episode of the Writing Talk Podcast.
In this episode of the Writing Talk Podcast, we’re looking at creating memorable and genuine characters.
Plus this week’s writers’ toolbox tip and some listener feedback. There’s also a quick review of my news.
Hope you enjoy listening.
NB: You can support the show by subscribing from the links above. Please also consider sharing the show with your writer friends.
Since last week, I’ve been getting into a new project, or rather, I been reinvigorating an older one. It’s often tempting to get involved with too many projects at once, and there’s always a danger that something new will entice you away from your main focus. It’s just as well to be wary of this sort of thing when you’re writing, because it’s easy to become overwhelmed, and then, if you do have to back out of something, you can leave your readers disappointed and your collaborators in a fix. But sometimes, if you can see a useful end goal in sight, then it’s good to get stuck into a different project so that you can vary your work routines over a typical week. For instance, if you’re heavily involved in writing a novel, or a series of novels, having a period during the week when you work on a non-fiction project can be beneficial, especially if that work can later be used in another context, e.g. published in a book. So I am paying a bit more attention to the site over at thecollectivescifi.com and I’ve started writing a new serial. It’s a sci-fi story set on an alien world and I’m going to be putting out a new episode every week, both on the website and on wattpad. The working title is Conspiracy but that will almost certainly change. I must confess that I’m planning this story out as I go along, and while that seems to go against a lot of what I’ve said in earlier episodes, you must remember that I’m writing this story for a bit of light relief; it’s a break from my more intense writing and I’m enjoying the process. If it all goes well, I will consider rewriting it, editing it, and then putting it out, perhaps as a free download. Of course one of the things I’m enjoying about this new story is inventing the characters, and that takes us onto the main topic of the show, meeting your characters.
One of the most engaging, entertaining, and thrilling aspects of writing fiction, is the people you meet. And I don’t mean the real ones. I’m talking about the people you create in your imagination.
Where do they come from? What are they trying to tell us? What do they want? What will they be prepared to do to get it?
All these are fundamental questions. We hold their fates in our hands. Literally. They live and die according to our whim. The power!
So this is an area of your work where I want you to dig deep, but I want you to have fun with it as well.
When I talk about digging deep, I’m not suggesting that you drum up an endless level of character background information. I mean deep in the sense of an in intense emotional connection. For that, you have to open yourself up. Subconsciously, you’ll be baring your soul, it’s just that you will be using your characters to do it.
I once listened to a well-known theatre actor being interviewed, and he told a story about a particularly intense role that he’d been playing. After the performance, a friend asked if he was okay. The actor replied that he was fine. “In that case,” the friend said, “you’ll be able to tell me when your birthday is.”
The actor couldn’t remember. He also had problems recalling a host of other small details from his real-life. He’d gone into the character so deeply that he’d lost himself. And he realised that after each performance, he needed to take time to decompress.
Now, I’m not suggesting that you go quite that far, but you do need to enter a similar state of engagement with your characters if you’re going to make them come to life on the page. And this will only happen if you let it.
But how can you get there?
To me, this is all about daydreaming. It’s about having the freedom to let a scene play out in your mind in several different ways, without worrying about which one is right. The trick is, to play with the scene until the characters’ actions feel right.
Imagine a scene. A handsome young woman is alone with the man she has dreamed of for years. They’re in a bar. The music is loud and they sit close to one another so that they can talk. The woman has had too many glasses of wine on an empty stomach, and she flirts with the man, holding eye contact for a little too long. No. The woman is sober. She is tired from a long day at work. The man senses she wants to be alone, so he makes his excuses and leaves. No. The man realises she’s tired, and he says he knows a nice little restaurant nearby. It’s quiet and the food is good. “We won’t have to talk,” he says, “not if you don’t want to.”
And so on. We could play around with this simple scene all day, getting a feel for the way characters behave by altering their interactions until they feel genuine. It’s a playful process. It’s fun and it’s imaginative.
What this is not, is filling in a form or premade character profile. I don’t use them and I don’t recommend them either.
Who cares what the man’s favourite food is or where he went to school? Who cares if the woman likes rhythm and blues or once won a handwriting prize at school? Not me.
Think about this. If we met and you said hello to me, you wouldn’t judge what kind of a person I was from my history or my taste in clothes. You’d judge me on the things I said and did. I could be scruffy or smart or trendy or dowdy, but if you said hello and I smiled and said, “Lovely morning” you would get a certain impression of me. Whereas if I glared at you in silence, you’d be wary. And if I burst into tears, you’d be disconcerted. And so on.
Let your characters speak volumes through their actions. Let them walk and talk and rant and rave, or sing and smile. Let them breathe. But don’t, for goodness sake, wrap them up in an arbitrary character profile. Leave the form filling to the bureaucrats. Go out and have fun with your characters. Make some new friends. Then make some new enemies.
Having said all that, if you find that writing character profiles fires your imagination and encourages you to see your characters as real, then by all means carry on.
And that takes me into the next segment of the show, because it’s time to get your feedback.
How do you get into your characters? Do you have a set technique, or do they just come to you? Do they arrive fully formed or does it take you a long time to build them up? Any comments on this week’s topic will be very welcome, especially if you have any tips that could help other writers. Please leave your comments below.
As always, good tips and comments will be read out next week show and you’ll get a link from the show notes.
Last week I asked for comments on the things that people do to keep writing when things are rough or to get started again after a break from writing.
Author Sheri Williams (thesheriwilliams.com) says that after a break she utilises Flash fiction to get her writing mojo back, usually via Chuck Wendig’s site. I’ll put a link to Chuck’s site in the show notes, but it’s called terribleminds.com and it’s very popular with many writers. One of the things that Chuck does every week is to put a flash fiction challenge up on Fridays. I’ve had a go at some of them myself. They’re often fun and they’re always interesting. Well worth a look, and if you participate and post your work up, you might get some feedback from other writers. Of course it’s only fair that you read some of your entries and provide some positive feedback yourself.
Author Deb Daniels Lerew (letaphawk.wordpress.com ) says that she likes to go back and reread a favourite scene that she’s written and she finds that this gets her back into the swing of writing.
Julie Ryan says that she has a collection of positive reviews from people that she doesn’t know personally and she likes to read those reviews and remind herself that there are people out there who enjoy the work.
And finally, writer Kelly Williams (authorkwilliams.com) gave quite a long suggestion the gist of which is to make a game plan and keep moving forward. Kelly also says that she continues to write a blog and stay engaged in social media because it’s important to feel that sense of connection with her readers.
And all of those are really great comments, and I’m sure you can find something useful from them.
For this week’s writer’s toolbox I’d like to set you a couple of little exercises to help you to visualise your characters.
Take a character from something you’re working on, and make them late for a very important event. Scribble down a few notes if you like, or do this entirely in your head, but the idea is to play out that scene in more than one way. For instance, your character could deal with the situation by remaining calm and decisive, or they could become angry and frustrated, or they could lose their temper entirely.
The second exercise is similar, but this time imagine that your character bumps into an old friend, and they discover that their friend has hit hard times. Does your character become warm and compassionate toward their friend, or do they try and distance themselves? And what are their thoughts? Do they feel sympathy or revulsion? Do they find the change in their friend hard to comprehend? Are they appalled at what has happened, or do they have a certain amount of schadenfreude?
It’s totally up to you. There are no right or wrong answers. If you want to showcase your writing by posting up the results of these exercises, please put them on your own site and post a link in the comments on this site.
That’s it for this week. I hope you found this episode useful, if you have enjoyed it, please share the podcast with your writer friends, e.g. you could post a link in any writing groups you’re a member of. Also, please consider supporting the podcast by subscribing. The show is on itunes, stitcher and youtube, or you can subscribe by other methods on the site at writingtalkpodcast.com e.g. you can have new episodes emailed to you.
Thank you very much for listening and for all your support. Until next week, keep writing, keep tapping at the keys, keep scribbling, and above all, keep smiling.
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