Friday, November 11, 2005

Creating Characters
by Sally Murphy

Stuck for inspiration when it comes to characters? Or perhaps your characters lack depth. This exercise will help you find inspiration for new characters.To begin this exercise, make a list of five people you know well. Then make a list of five characters (from fiction, TV or film) who you also feel you know well. These do not have to be people and characters that you like or admire, simply that you know well enough to write something about.Now, randomly take a person from the first list (close your eyes and point or something similar).

Write a physical description of the person. Because it is someone you know well, you should be able to do more than describe their hair and eyes. Use all five senses.SightDon't say the person has brown hair - indicate what shade as descriptively as possible - _mocha brown, midnight black, the golden tones of the sun. Do the same with eye color. What about skin tone? Height? Tall or short doesn't say much, being relative to the size of the reader. Build? Again, don't use big or small - how about hulking or diminutive? Gait?

How does the person walk?SoundWhat does the person sound like? Is their voice booming or melodic? And their laugh? Do they hum or grumble as they go about their work?SmellHow does the person smell? Every person has some sort of scent - the woody smell of aftershave, the tangy smell of stale sweat, reeking of cheap perfume, the unique smell of a newborn baby.TouchIs their skin smooth or rough? Roughly hairsuit or downy and soft? When you touch them do they tense up or are they soft and yielding?TasteThis may be more difficult. Of course if you've kissed them you may have something to say.Now for your second list. Again randomly select one character to describe. This time, however, you are going to describe personality traits rather than physical ones. Write down as many descriptors of your character's personality as you can. Avoid inane words like bad or nice and try to expand on your choice of words: loyal - always stands by his friends - tries to deceive those around her.Now, think about your character's likes and dislikes. Do you know what he/she likes to eat? How he/she likes to dress? Pastimes and hobbies? Remember these things are not always stated - sometimes they are shown - yes, even in print genres! If a character frowns when a baby is anywhere near, what does that say about his/her attitudes?What about your character's beliefs? Is he/she religious? Does he/she believe in the sanctity of marriage? Is he/she politically inclined? Superstitious?

Next, your character's motivations. What makes him do the things he does? Is s/he driven by money, greed or ambition? Is s/he seeking love or perhaps acceptance? This is a complex question because, as in real life, most characters are driven by more than one motivation.Note your character's personal habits - good and bad. Is s/he neat or messy? Well-presented or scruffy? Punctual and organised, or always late?

You may think of other elements of your character which don't fit neatly into the above categories. Write them down - make him/her as detailed as possible.Now the creative bit. You are going to take your friend and your borrowed character and join them to become one person - a brand new character of your own. Re-read both descriptions before beginning to write a new description which combines the two. Remember that you are now trying to create a character you can use in your writing, so some changes may be necessary.Give your character a new name - this should be distinct from either of the names of the people you based him/her on, although you may be clever. If your 'borrowed' character was Heathcliff, your new one may be called Heath, for example, but this is not necessary.You may find you need to adapt or tone down some of your characteristics in order to combine them.

For example, if your physical description is of a petite woman and your borrowed character is a gruff bodyguard, you may want to make some changes. But don't be too hasty - what about a diminutive female who looks frail and helpless but is really a martial arts expert?

As you write your new description, your character should gradually be moulded into someone who is neither your friend nor your borrowed character, but a whole new identity. You may find yourself making up elements which come from neither of the previous descriptions and this is fine. This is your new character asserting him/herself.When you have written as well-rounded a profile of your character as you can, try using him or her as the basis of a new story. An idea may have presented itself to you as you wrote your description, suggested by the combination of the physical and personality profiles. Or you may create a second character using the same process and then explore the interaction between them. A third alternative is to take one of the following situations, put your character in it and see what happens:

How would your character react if left alone with a child? Would s/he be in control of the situation, or have no idea how to cope?

Would s/he be caring and compassionate, or cold-hearted?

What part would your character play in a bank robbery? Would s/he be the thief or a victim?

Would s/he be panicked, calm or brave?

On a shopping expedition for a gift, how would your character behave? Would s/he love the browsing and spending, or would s/he be wanting to buy something and make a quick escape?
Would s/he be miserly or generous?You can put your character into any number of situations and look for a story, or part of a story, to emerge.


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