Characters inhabit our lives and our stories. When I started writing “The Silence of Harold,” I had a crotchety old man in mind, yes, rather like the drawing with this post, created by my son, Scott Donaldson. In time, I realized there were elements of my dear departed great-Uncle Alec in Harold. Uncle Alec was a geezer character extraordinaire in my world. He swore and he spat, and he rubbed sandpaper on the refined life my grandmother craved. In short, he was awesome! Harold did not become a mirror-Uncle Alec, but rather Uncle Alec gave me a starting point.
For examples of some incredible characters, I highly recommend David Rhodes‘ book, Driftless. I haven’t finished, but I’m amazed at the myriad of wonderful characters he is juggling. I want to meet Winifred Smith – she intrigues me so.
But, what happens when in the midst of a work in progress (wip as we tweeting writers like to call it) a character mystifies you? Something has changed and you’re not quite sure about this character. Has your character lost some of his or her, well, character? What do you do? Here are three tips to explore if you bump into character questions:
1. Journal as the character. Let them speak their mind, about the events in the story, about his or her backstory, whatever. The character may lead you to a better understanding.
2. Prepare questions for the character and then, write his or her answers.
3. Draw a scene involving the character. This step isn’t a great one for all writers, but sometimes just shifting from words to images can jumpstart new ideas. If you are drawing-phobic, cut up a magazine and play with the pictures.
Would love to hear about some ideas you’ve used when a character has seemed flat or mystifying — what techniques have you used to locate that character’s character?