Wednesday, March 11, 2009

From J.M. Jeffries

It took me all morning to get into Blogger. And typing today is going to take longer, my grandson insists I wear a Batman bandage on my cut finger. Makes typing really hard because my finger can't feel the keys and I'm a touch typist.

Jackie and I are always delighted to be here. It's a beautiful day in sunny SoCal, but cold. Okay, relative to the rest of the country it's a balmy 65 degrees today, but I'm cold. If you ask Jackie I'm cold in the middle of the summer when the temp is 110 in the shade.

The other day Jackie and I were brainstorming a new story and ended up talking about creating characters. I don't do much teaching anymore, but I got to thinking that maybe people here would like to know what we do to create our characters. I call it the psychology of character.

There are four main elements of creating a character that lives and breathes on the page: name, sociological profile, physical profile and psychological profile.

NAME: Every character must have a name and not just any name, but one that suits the character, the period of time the character lives in (the ever present now or the past), and global location (characters who were born and grew up in France, or Greece, are going to have very different names than characters who lived and grew up in California or even Texas). Names are important. When you are at a party, the first thing you say when you meet someone is to say, "Hi, my name is..." Your characters need to do the same thing. They should introduce themselves to the reader as soon as possible because writing a book is entering into a contract with a reader. Part of the contract is the process of bonding the character to the reader and to do that you first need a name. Make it a good name. Who can forget Scarlett O'Hara, or Jack Ryan, or Indiana Jones? These are names that will live on for a long, long time. Ebenezer Scrooge. Daffy Duck. Micky Mouse. Alexander the Great, Cleopatra, Oliver Twist, Fagin. Choose your names with care because they speak directly to the reader and start the first step of the bonding process.

PHYSICAL PROFILE: What does your character look like? What color eyes, hair, skin tone? Height? Weight? Gender? How does your character dress? Everything about how the character looks should enhance the character in some way. Step two is probably the most simple element and the easiest to create.

SOCIOLOGICAL PROFILE: Step three is your character's relationship with all the other characters populating the story as well as past relationships and the development of future relationships. Characters will have different relationships with different characters. Their relationships with family members and parents will be quite different than business relationships or social relationships.

PSYCHOLOGICAL PROFILE: What is your character like inside? What makes them tick? How do they problem solve? This profile is about your character's relationship with him or herself. A writer needs to know everything that goes on inside a character's head and how past influences impact on current events in the character's life. How is your character going to react? Feel? Think? What will your character do now or do next? This final step regarding your character is the most powerful and complex part in creating a lasting bond with the reader and requires the most work for the author.

Many writers create character charts, others find photos of what they perceive their character looks likes. Many writers will create binders about their character and enter every detail of the character that comes to them. In this manner they have their information in front of them when they are writing. Character charts, simple or elaborate, help writers keep information organized. Not every writer creates a chart, but even before they sit down to write, they know their characters inside and out. A friend likes to imagine what his character's closet looks like. He sits down on the floor and imagines all the things that would be in that closet and why the character purchased them, or kept them past their usefulness. This is a good exercise for every writer.

Characters are like onions, you peel a layer away and another deeper, more profound layer emerges until you've peeled all the layers away and the core emerges. So go create a character and let your imagination run with this information.

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