Saturday, December 31, 2011

Hunting Characters


Finding surface-level characters is one of the most fun parts of writing. For me, it starts with visual impact. These are just a few ideas on how to come up with them. You may start by selecting the type of person you need and going out to look for her or him. Try the park on a sunny afternoon, the local mall, or the McDonald's near the high school. Sit with a book or cup of coffee and watch—carefully of course. Take notes on those that interest you. Or better yet, take a picture. For this, you need a partner. Taking pictures of strangers can be risky, especially if the subject is a young person. Have your partner pose near the subject so that it looks as if you're photographing the friend, when the real focus is the person just to the right.

For a character you want to be memorable for the reader,  pick out a stereotype and consider what you could change about her to add a little interest or show a bit about her character. It could be something in her eating habits—a beautiful, expensively dressed young woman who chews with her mouth open, for example. Or it could be the way she walks, perhaps hunched a bit as if she'd like to hide.  Then consider the why. Why does such a girl have such poor manners? Why would an attractive girl want to avoid attention? Is she afraid? What kind of family does she come from? Maybe no family at all. The possibilities are endless. Just let your imagination run with it until something appeals to you.

Find a face expressing some strong emotion and ask yourself why? What happened in the person's life to cause this look?

Winter Meal by Jan Tik
Pictures on the Internet are another source. Google an image for an emotion or expression, such as angry woman, sad man, or happy child. I keep a computer folder in my WIP file and save the ones that appeal to me. I note the url so if I ever want to use the photo for a cover or blog or something, I can write for permission. A bit of advice—don't fall in love with a photo before you know you'll be able to use it. I found a beautiful photo on Flickr of a deer eating apples and developed a whole story from it. (This is the one where Charlie Dance walked out of the woods.) The photo's been released to the public domain, but I'd love to have a high resolution version. Here it is, by Jan Tik.

Care to share your ideas for finding characters? We'd all love to have more ideas.

P.S. I'm visiting Darlene's Book Nook today and giving away a copy of Cold Comfort. Stop by if you have a minute. 


Polly said...

You're right about character's quirks. It's what separates one character from another and puts a picture of them in the minds of readers. We have to take our inspiration wherever we can find it. Sometimes a character is so vivid in our minds that nothing can change it. I've tried to change names, but once that person is in my head, there's no changing anything. Good post, Ellis. As usual.

Ellis Vidler said...

I keep thinking I'll carefully compose a character one day, but usually they pop into my head full blown, like Minerva. I'm too late to create, but I can add some quirks and background to make them what they are when I meet them.