Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Write What You Know? Characters

Write What You Know? Characters

Let's have a closer look at creating characters who will stick with your readers long after they close the cover of your novel.

If you are a writer, it is easy enough to write about what you know because you already know it. Make sense? The problem with writing what you know is that you (or most people) will run out of things to write about too soon. So let's add to this long held bit of wisdom that writers have used since the beginning of, well, writing. While it is a good idea to write what you know, it may not challenge you much. It is safe and comfortable.

Instead, why not write from a place of caring. The thing that tugs at your heart in your quiet moments may surprise you by being the singular thing that brings your story to life. The thing that makes you get up early on your day off, go out into the world and do something for other people in your community.

In addition, writing about something you would like to learn more about or perhaps someday take part in is another great way to breathe life into your characters. I call this the bucket list example.

Example #1
Easy & Safe
You will create this character from what you know. We will pretend for a moment that a single mother who worked on the line for decades in a local sewing factory raised you. You, now grown up, have worked for the same factory for two decades. However, your job is as the accountant for the factory. You have worked hard and never traveled outside of the surrounding counties.

Now, if you create a character based on 'your' life experiences, this character will know pretty much all there is to know about being raised by a single mother and sewing factories. You will also have a great mind for numbers. This is an interesting character. By creating this character, you have not stretched yourself very far. You will need to add some elements to their personality and daily life to make them more interesting than 'what you know'.

Example #2
Heartfelt Passion
You will create this character from your heart, your passion. Let's say you have always had a heart for sick children. Perhaps the loss of a childhood friend stuck with you into adulthood. Using that as a foundation for your character, you can create a compassionate nurse who works at a children's hospital. Maybe he/she will work in the cancer unit or be a member of the flight team who brings in organs for transplant. There are many directions you could take this character by pouring your heart into him or her.

Go visit the children's ward in a local hospital. Speak to the nurses who work there. Volunteer for an afternoon each week to read stories to the children in the playroom. Offer to sit with a child who cannot leave their bed while their parents go out to dinner or home for a shower and change of clothing. Research, research, research. Since this is your 'passion' character, the research will not be work at all. 

Example #3
Bucket List
Admittedly, this is my favorite character type because I can be as creative as I want to be with the character. I have little knowledge going into the creation of the character. That means that they will evolve right in front of me. All their little particles will materialize much like the original Star Trek series characters did in the transport room on the original Enterprise. Silly? I prefer to think of it as imagination.

This character is created from what you are curious about or perhaps secretly longing to be involved in some day. For the sake of the character, we'll say that you have always been interested in learning to scuba dive. With that knowledge, you would like to dive into every ocean on the planet. On the other hand, maybe you would only go cave diving in the springs of the southern United States.

In most cases, the bucket list character will take extensive research on your part. After all, you only had a vague idea or thought that 'someday' you would like to try something new. I would expect the percentages to be evenly split between the amount of work and the level of fun you will have with this character.

The best thing about creating your character is that they can be a person you would love or loathe. You get to choose who they will be. How fun is that?

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