Monday, March 5, 2012

Character-Building Exercise

Last year I attended the SCWBI conference in Orlando. One of the speakers was K-YA author Kathleen Duey. She talked about meditating on your character and then interviewing him or her. At first I thought it sounded funny, but the more I pondered over it, the more sense it made. It’s not that different from what actors do to connect with their characters on a deeper level.  

So, I tried it. To my surprise, the experience led me to responses and revelations about my characters I wouldn't have come up with had I not tried. Then recently, I read an article with exercises on Character Building and thought I'd share it with you. Even if you feel awkward asking a fictional character questions or imagining a scene where your characters run wild in your mind, like me, you might be pleasantly surprised with the results.  
Basically, the article talked about using your imagination to create a movie in your mind. Here is the four-part exercise:

·         Close your eyes and “watch” your character. See the character in rich detail and describe what you see. Be a journalist—record information as it if for a distant reading audience.

·         Place your character in a scene, any scene, and watch. Let the action happen. Watch other characters and events pop up on your inner movie screen. Let all manner of conflict take place and see what your character does.

·         Create another character to describe the first character. We get to know people by listening to what others say about them.

·         Conceive of your characters as extremes first, and only later “pull back” to the point where they fit their role. This will keep your characters from being “drab.” Let them have their passions and obsessions. What do they reveal to you?

Note that none of this has to have anything to do with the story you want to write or are writing. In fact, it’s better if it doesn't.  The only point of the exercise is to get to know your character so when you place him or her in your story you’ll know who you’re writing about.

A final key to the exercises is this: Let as much of the story happen without judgment or criticism from you. Only later, with lots of rich material, will you make editorial decisions.

                                                    --James Scott Bell, Writers Digest magazine

So if you're stuck with how your character should react in a scene, or frustrated with what you've written about him or her, try the above exercise. What could it hurt?

If you have any character-building exercises, do share. I'd love the hear them!

1 comment:

  1. Actually, I agree that the character interview is very helpful. It gives you, the author, a chance to better understand how your character would react to the various scenes they're tossed into, giving your writing a much more authentic flow.