Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Reconnecting with your Characters

Tip of the Day: when having a writing day it is never a good idea to sit in front of the TV as a VH1’s 100 Greatest [insert anything known to man] Special is about to begin. Five hours later, you will have no writing done, be left wondering where the day went, and in my case wishing 80’s hair bands would be revived.

Yesterday I held my own: Getting to Know Eric Day. Eric is the main love interest in my current work in progress. Given the fact, I’m almost 2/3 of the way into the manuscript, I know Eric fairly well, but yesterday I felt like I needed to get to know him better on a more personal level, since he’s a major factor in the book and I was struggling with a plot element involving him. And I’ve found whenever I’m stumped, getting to know my characters more almost always gets the writing-juices flowing again.

So I set out to think about him all day yesterday in my Getting to Know Eric Day. I wanted to know EVERYTHING about him. His strengths, his weaknesses, what he eats for breakfast, how he combs his hair, what his favorite brand of soap is, etc. Some of this I knew, but some of it I didn’t. And most of it, I knew wouldn’t end up in my book, but I was hoping it would help me anyway.

There’s several ways I’ve gotten to know characters in the past or have heard about from others, which include:

  • Creating a collage: I’ve used magazines in the past to make collages of my characters, and it’s been helpful.

  • Create a cast of who’d play your character in a movie.

  • Shopping for characters

  • Creating a character list/sheet: I do this every time, but usually only at the beginning and it often changes.

  • Creating a music playlist for your book or character

Since, I already knew about my character and had written 2/3 of the book with him in it, I didn’t really need to start from scratch. I’m also a person that likes visual clues to help me, so I decided to look through magazines and clip out some info. Hoping something might catch my eye and get me through the plot point I was struggling with. This time, I was also particularly looking for a picture of someone that resembled my character.

About half way through my search, I discovered there were absolutely no pictures that worked as Eric himself and little in the way of things that reminded me of him (sure this could have been because I was searching for guy-related things in CosmoGirl and Seventeen, but that’s beside the point). So I emailed Miss Recently Repped, Deena, to vent my frustration at finding no pictures of Eric. Her response to me was: “What does he look like in your head?”

I started to really think about her question. It was an excellent question and one that despite the fact I was having a Getting to Know Eric day I hadn’t really thought about, yet.

In the process of thinking about him and writing to Deena about my character something happened, I really felt more connected to him. I started to write about the physical him and a few things about him as a person. I think I was so worried about finding a picture that represented him and trying to find out new things about him, that I was forgetting everything I already knew about him and in the process trying to make him into something else. Instead, all I really needed to do was reconnect myself with who he really was and try to explain that to someone else. And remembering that suddenly made me focus and move forward on the plot point I was struggling with. So, thank you, Deena for your great advice of making me actually “think” about my character.

Does anyone else have any tips on reconnecting with character more than halfway through your manuscript? Or from the beginning?

- Emily, Miss Awaiting An Agent


DeenaML said...

I'm glad I asked you "What does he look like in your head?" bc now I'm going to ask myself that about my own characters. It's amazing sometimes how the simple things like that can lead to so much -- and sometimes forcing yourself to talk "out loud" about what's going on with a character makes it more tangible, like your gossiping about a friend to your sister or something. :)

Emily Marshall said...

Exactly, Deena. It's amazing what saying stuff out loud or writing about to someone else will do. For some reason it makes it more real, and it's no longer just in your head.
And you are right, it's weird how one small little question will get your brain going in a different direction. So thank you, thank you:)

Kristina Springer said...

Oooh-- good post! And perfect timing for me. Last night I sat down to do a "getting to know Gabby" session in my office (which still somehow distracts me. I'm not sure why) and I lasted with one of those character charts for all of ten minutes before I said screw it, I'm going to watch that movie that has to be returned on Wed. :-) Maybe I'll try again tonight. I'm sure Gabby will be quite lovely once I spend more time with her.

Kate Fall said...

It's so true about talking things out! That's one of the many great things about online writer friends. Sometimes even just framing the question gets you thinking. Sometimes I'll throw out questions to my kids or my nonwriter friends too. They all seem to be used to me asking them weird questions now.

A few times, I've tried to write the first paragraphs of a short story from the POV of a different character in a novel I'm working on. I've never gotten past the first few paragraphs but it helps me figure out their goals and their grudges.

Emily Marshall said...

Very funny, Tina. Hopefully the movie was good :) And I love the name Gabby by the way.

Excellent advice on starting out writing from the other characters perspective, Kate. I've never tried that, but that would be a really good exercise!! I LOVE that suggestion.

Ghost Girl (aka, Mary Ann) said...

Oh yes! This is what I meant when I said it's good to have someone to let it gel with. My DH laughs because I'll talk to him about my WIP (more like talk AT him) just to hear what comes out of my own mouth. Actually, I don't really want him to tell me what to write or how to write--heavens no! I just need him to be the rubber that bounces my ideas back to me.

Writing from different perspectives is often helpful. One thing that I've down, and might possibly get me arrested or committed, is have a conversation with my character. I'll ask him questions about how a certain event made him feel, or what he likes about another character, or what he thinks is going to happen next, or what he doesn't like about his own character. The list goes on. I know--it's a little psychotic--but it really helps sometimes.

So have tons of fun, Emily. But keep the Prozac handy!

Emily Marshall said...

Ghost Girl, yes husbands are good for things like that!!

Enjoy the conversations you have with your characters. I actually think that's a good idea. Like an interview of sorts.