Monday, July 25, 2011

More ways to approach character

Time for another post about building characters in your work, and this time, I'm using one of my favorite writer's handbooks, The Writer's Portable Mentor by Priscilla Long.

From THE WRITER’S PORTABLE MENTOR, A Guide to Art, Craft, and the Writing Life by Priscilla Long

List 20 concrete words associated with this person. Clothing, foods, hobbies, occupation, favored objects.

Write a macro-portrait: quick stokes, an overall picture of the person. “A tall angular man with ginger-colored hair and a disjointed way of moving”

Use coloration judiciously: Use comparison, slow down and dwell. Use comparisons to fruits, dogs, birds, gems, stones, vegetables, horses.

Choose one part of body Language: Put the person’s habitual gestures on the page. The way the person walks, moves his or her hands, weeps, laughs, talks. Consider open and shut, looseness and tightness, defended or undefended. Consider energy, agitation and stillness.

Use pet phrases to characterize: Write one of his/her exact phrases:

Dress the person: Dress reveals character. The way people dress reveals who they are and what they think, but don’t overdue it. Choose one piece of information that dominates about the clothing.

Write for ten minutes and reflect on this person or character. What insights can you come up with?

Write a biography of the person for 10 minutes.

Compose a portrait of the person using the most telling of the attributes from each of the categories. It can be long or short, two lines or two pages.


Terry Odell said...

This is why I'm a pantser. An 'assignment' like this ruins the writing and makes it feel like a chore. All these things come out in the book eventually, but if I had to do them first, I'd never want to write the book. I like discovering them as I need them. Somehow, knowing too much in advance make my writing come across as forced.

Thank goodness there are different approaches for different people.

Jacqueline Seewald said...


I actually love this approach to character. I think a lot about my characters before I write anything down. They become like real people to me. So it's a good idea for me to write down characteristics and description before I start to write. Same thing with plot. I want to have a good idea of where it's going. I can always make necessary changes once I've got I've got the skeleton put together.

Joyce Elson Moore said...

Rebbie: Lots of info here to digest. Even without the exercises, I found it interesting to "compare" to different items. That could really add to characterization, and description of a character. Thanks for posting this.

Anonymous said...

Different strokes, etc!
I like to do character work somewhere between the second and third draft. Once I know the story, then I'm ready to tune into all nuances of my main characters, and this really helped me write them the way I visualized them. Thanks for the comments.

Scott Morgan said...

Hi, Rebbie:

I like your approach too. I promise I'm not here to shill my book, but I wrote one called Character Development from the Inside Out that's due out in November, and I make a whole big case for getting to know characters as people before writing. I don't see this as a chore at all, and I don't think that thinking your characters through ruins anything. I like your approach.

It is easy for newer writers to get bogged down in the details, so I would caution everyone to keep in mind that it's an exercise and doesn't HAVE to be done. But for what it's worth, I welcome anyone who wants to help writers think more broadly.

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