Tuesday, March 10, 2009

People Watching

I've held off on writing this particular blog for one main reason. I co-lead a creative writing group that meets once a month. This month, I'll be giving a "presentation" on creating memorable characters in fiction. A lot of that presentation is pulled from, or is derived from the information contained in this blog. (I know for a fact that one particular member of that group follows my blog. More may. But he, I know, reads it for sure, and I'd hate to kill any surprise ... so Steve ... spoiler below :-)

Writing a novel takes more that drive, discipline and dedication. Creating memorable characters is essential. Readers need to care about what happens to those characters. They need to care about what happens next, too.

Developing characters for me is somewhat simple.

I people watch.

I do it all the time. But doing it at the mall is sometimes my favorite place for such ... research.

Many of you may have seen me in the mall, seated on a bench, a notebook and pen and hand and apparently just thoughtfully jotting down stuff on the paper.

Truth is, I'm watching you.

Kinda creepy. I know. What can I say? It's what I do. And if I do say so myself, I do it well.

Real people inspire me.

I like to watch the way you walk. Do you have a bounce in your step, a limp, a shuffle?

I like to listen to you talk. Am I eavesdropping? Yepper! How do you say things, what are you saying? Do you repeat words, or have slang that I haven't heard?

I like to see what clothing you're wearing. How you're wearing them.

I like to look at your hair, makeup, jewelery. Got spiked hair? Too much eye shadow? A grill?

My job is to capture these characteristics so, when I'm home, writing, I can call on my notes to help draft characters that are three dimensional and real, as opposed to flat cardboard "people" no one will care about.

The work doesn't stop there.

I use the Internet and surf for photos of people that resemble the characters I'm creating. I Copy/Paste those photos onto a Word document. I then set to work creating a list of information about each and every character. I call these, Profiles.

1. I need to name them. (An unwritten rule is one unusual name per story. Unless you write fantasy, and then the odder the better, apparently).

I used to use the first names of family and friends when writing. I realized, being Italian and having a huge family, that there was just no way to write books fast enough to make everyone happy.

One great uncle kept asking when I'd use his name in a book. I explained to him that I had, but that the book wouldn't be out for a few years. (Unfortunately, the book never made it to print). Excited, he asked what the name of the book was. I told him, Pigeon Drop. He said, What's that? That's crap. (You can please some people some of the time, but not all people all of the time, and all of that, eh?)

2. I need to give them history. (How old are they? Married? Single? Divorced? Do they work? Where? Doing what? Where did they go to school? Any family? Favorite color, food, music, movie? What do they love, hate?)

3. For main characters I need to list strengths ... and at least one fear/flaw.

Number 3 is especially important for the protagonist, or main character. The fear/flaw needs to be introduced at the beginning of the story, and by the end ... that character needs to face, overcome and somehow change as a person based on the accomplishment.

Referring back to my "Profiles" regularly, I hope to build consistent and realistic characters.

Hopefully, I am successful.

Thanks for stopping by. Hope this blog was informational to aspiring writers, and people generally curious about how writers put stories together.

Have a great day!

Thomas Phillips

1 comment:

Mary said...

so will I get to be a future character?