Friday, October 15, 2010

When characters don't fall from the sky, what do you do?

Tip of the day: If you happen to be in the Portland, Oregon area, I'm reading and signing my new picture book, LITTLE CHIMP'S BIG DAY, at the Beaverton-Tanasbourne Barnes and Noble on Saturday, 10/16 at 10:00 am!

My YA novel-in-progress has lots of characters. Sometimes characters come to me fully formed, but just as often, they don't. I have to work at them.

When I was writing IT'S RAINING CUPCAKES, which also has quite a few characters, I didn't have much trouble. Stan the barber wanted to tell knock-knock jokes. So I let him. Isabel's grandma loved hats. Okay then, hats are nice. Characteristics just sort of fell from the sky, and each time, I'd grab them, smile, and whisper thank you.

Well, it's not as easy with this book. Things aren't falling, dang it. So I'll sit there, wanting to write the page, but I'll be stuck because unless I can show who the character is, I can't move forward. And what I really want are characteristics that will add something to the story. You know, bring depth and meaning to the theme and all of that. Okay, at this point, I'm not sure I even know what the theme is, but still - I don't want just any characteristics, I want cool ones. Unique ones. Brilliant ones!

One of my favorite books this year is SORTA LIKE A ROCK STAR by Matthew Quick. One of the characters is a Vietnam Vet who writes haiku poetry. And the poems become important to the story. Even more important is the relationship that forms between the old guy and the main character.

THAT'S the kind of thing I want. I mean - a quiet war veteran who writes haikus? BRILLIANT! And I don't think those type of brilliant characteristics just fall from the sky. I don't know, maybe they do, if you're open to them? I'm open to them, I swear (in case anyone up there is listening).

I love it when a character appears and he/she is perfect and there's not a lot of thinking that has to go on. But with this book, that's just not happening. So... any suggestions as to what I can do or resources I can turn to for cool characteristics?

~Lisa, Miss Crafting a Career


Rachel said...

Sure I am not going to tell you anything you don't know BUT my favorite resources I've found is Noah Lukeman's The Plot Thickens, which gives SO much information on how to think about characters--came away with lots of cool ideas--AND people watching at the mall or airport. Watching their weird and unique ways of moving and speaking and imagining their lives always inspires unique ideas.

Kate Fall said...

Ugh, I feel for you. This can really make or break a work in progress for me. I can find a plot easier than I can find characters. Maybe you can resurrect part of a character from something you wrote when you were younger?

Rachel, I loved Noah Lukeman's The First Five Pages. I'll have to check out your recommendation.

Anonymous said...

Open up to the world around you.Some of the best characters may be a mix of two of your best friends, or maybe you have a really arrogant neighbor who is in his thirties and likes to knit that would mmix perfectly with the eighty-nine year old who lives on Belbin street. Some of the best characters are modeled directly off the people around you.

DeenaML said...

Just reading your post about the SLARS haiku vet makes me teary. That book -- and the characters -- were very rock star.