Thursday, 4 August 2011

Creating Convincing Characters

This is an activity I used with a group of adult writers, but you could use it on your own. It’s a way of creating a new character, inventing their back story and generally getting to know them.

You will need to prepare some resources first. I made three sets of cards, using a different colour for each set (I’m used to working with children!), but you could just make three lists.  On set one I wrote a selection of names, on set two various ages and on set three jobs.

1. Draw a card from each set to get the basis of your new character.
It could be Joe – aged 9 – a shoplifter
Or Twister – aged 19 – a bodyguard
You might have to decide on gender if it’s not obvious from the name.

2. Now decide on the dramatic function your character will perform within the structure of a story. They could be the protagonist/hero, the antagonist/villain, the helper/guardian or the hinderer/trickster.

3. Listing six milestones on that character’s journey to their job. These should explain how a character ended up in that profession.

4. Draw around your own hand. Imagine it is the outline of a hand of the character in your story.
What is the hand used for?
Describe each finger in detail. If they are wearing rings, why are the rings there?
Describe any distinguishing marks.
What is the texture of their skin?
What does the hand come in contact with during the week? At the weekends?

5. Draw an outline of the same character’s foot.
Describe their shoes. Where were they bought?
How many pairs of shoes does the character own?
What surfaces does the foot come in contact with?
Consider how connected the character is with the ground on which they walk: would they prefer to live somewhere else? Why?

Now you’ve begun to get to know this character you can start thinking about how you might use them in a story. Try one of these:

Choose one of the 6 milestones in the character’s journey into their job. Use it as a starting point for a piece of writing in which something happens to the hand and/or foot. Include at least four elements from the exercises you have just completed,  ‘showing not telling’, to convey an aspect of the character’s personality.

This character is taking part in a ritual (burying a pet, celebrating a divorce, exorcising a poltergeist, a Sunday lunch, a bikers’ initiation). The ritual is interrupted. How? What happens next?

Your character is on a plane and they begin to talk to the stranger sitting next to them. They don't have to be swapping confessions. One of them might be boasting or lying. You might want to think about a genre for the story, but aim to move your plot towards an outcome in which one of the characters is unexpectedly changed by the encounter.

Your character is flying to an exciting destination where they hope to act or feel differently. List five or six items associated with their old life which they cannot bear to leave behind. What happens to these items in the new setting? How does your character let go of them?