Today we welcome guest blogger Carrie Lewis.
For over thirty years, Carrie's writing took a backseat to full-time work outside the home and to her small business painting portraits of horses and other animals from across the country.
In 2008, she rediscovered writing and, in late 2009, became a full-time artist, which opened up time each day to pursue writing. She has been a member of American Christian Fiction Writers since 2008.
Her favorite genres are mystery, suspense, and political thriller, with manuscripts in the works in each of those categories. She also is an active crit partner for other authors, both published and unpublished.
Carrie’s writing blog can be found at http://writing-well.carrie-lewis.com/. Her art website and blog is http://www.carrie-lewis.com/.
How Can You Make Your Characters TALK?
How do you get acquainted with a character who refuses to talk with you?
It may seem hopeless at times but there are techniques that might draw your characters into conversation with you. Here are four.
1. Character Interview
I have a standard set of 100 questions that I present to every lead character and the antagonist, as well as a few secondary or minor characters. The list begins with basic information like name, age, where they live and whether or not they're married. Topics include physical appearance, the character's attitude toward work, money, family, religion, and personal ambition. The list I have concludes with the character's thoughts on his or her fellow characters.
You can use this list like a standard resume and fill in the blanks, as though building a dossier on the character without his or her direct input.
2. Meet with Your Character
You can also use the basic interview questions in a more traditional interview style in which you 'sit down' with your character and discuss the questions.
The first time I did this, I was in a moment of desperation. I'd been trying to figure out the why of my lead's behavior and 'fell into' a discussion with him as we sat on the back deck of his house. It ended up being an illuminating exercise.
The most interesting such interview – and the one that proved to me the worth of this method – was when I sat down to talk with a professor character. Since he’s an overachiever and quite proud of his accomplishments, I thought his office was a good place to start. The interview went wrong almost from the start. Just as I was about to call the whole thing off, he suggested a change of venue. We ended up at his favorite near-campus restaurant, where we talked about all sorts of things. It was one of the most productive character conversations I’ve ever encountered.
The pivotal factor with this approach is to meet at a place where your character is comfortable. It does imply a basic knowledge of your character to begin with, but a lot of times, the process of characterization doesn't break down at the very beginning. It happens later on.
With this method, you can go into it with an idea of where it might end up, but don’t be restricted by that idea. Part of learning about your character is learning what works and doesn’t work for him or her. Let that sort of discovery happen without too much author influence.
3. Drop the Character into a Crisis Situation
That's right. Imagine a crisis situation. Put your character right in the middle of it. Watch to see how he or she reacts then record what happens. Granted, this might be a short exercise of 100 words or less, but it might also be the very ice breaker you need.
This works best if the situation is not related directly to the story you're trying to write. That event may end up in the story, but it's more likely to be a character-defining event in the character's past. Something no one else knows about.
It might also be something you set up just for ‘fun’. What would your character do in an earthquake, for example? Think outside the box for this kind of exercise.
4. Start a Character Journal
Let your character rant, rail, whine, moan, and otherwise express him or herself in the pages of a personal journal. Don't write as the character's biographer (which is the way most writers write). No. Write as the character. You can start with a question in mind, but don't consciously ask the character that question. Begin just like you might begin your own personal journal.
Stumped for ways to get started? Consider these potential opening lines.
· I can't believe things turned out the way they did.
· Who would ever have thought X would treat me that way?
· I always knew X would come to no good.
The subject might be personal to the character (as in the first three examples) or it might be about someone the character knows (as in the fourth example). It could be about relationship, politics, business, hobbies, anything. Find something that angers, frightens or excites your character and you've made a good start.
This again implies a basic general knowledge of your character, but as I mentioned earlier, that's not usually where problems occur anyway.
These are four of my favorite methods. There are others, of course, but these will get you started.
Whatever method you use, the most important thing – in fact the KEY – is to be patient. You may need to coax a reluctant character into confiding in you. That's okay. Not every person you meet on the street spills their life story to you on the first encounter.