Bridge to Story

Finding Your Characters

Some folks write stories that are plot driven. But even plots involve characters. And Characters need to be created. Some writers focus on character driven pieces only. Where do we all get our characters?

Life is boring, so no stealing from there? Where am I going to find characters? This lesson gives you a few hints on doing just that. Using what you know. But what you know can be just the start to what you write.

The biggest way into your characters is not beginning with your Main Character. Try this exercise for the people around the Main Character. See where it goes doing this things way.

I've said it before, what I like about creating characters that are not based on anyone is that they can go anywhere you want to let them go. In a way they will take over the telling of the story and show you what they have to say.

Equally, your memories and views of the characters you are basing your work on should always be stretched, and modified. These lists, in the example & exercise can be added to (or make others).Sense Memories are a never ending source of inspiration. Come back to them often as you need to.

This is a sense memory.

 At a get together, after some ribbing from a fellow writer, bantering that got a bit too close to the bone in its teasing tone, I pointed a finger, leaned into the table we sat around, and heard myself saying, low: ‘Just because I’m smitten with you doesn’t mean I won’t kick your butt.’

My normal method with the prompt I’ve listed works something like this:

  • I think about stuff for a while… then, I begin to remember things: incidents, voices, images, opportunities (taken & lost)
  • I start taking notes. I ask a lot of ‘What if?’ questions, twisting the prompts beyond recognition. And plan what I’ll write in terms of who my main character will encounter
  • I think about upcoming edits I’ll be doing once my first draft is done, then, I go back to thinking about stuff for a while…

After you’ve done the pre-work with these What ifs? Go and work the exercise using your stack of prompts as story starter fuel.

Example Toggle

Example:

I spend some time thinking a bit on that line:  ‘Just because I’m smitten with you doesn’t mean I won’t kick your butt.’

Then, I start taking notes. They are usually ‘What if?’ types of notes.

  • What if this was said one gay guy to another?
  • What if these two guys were 18 or 19 at the most, and new to each other?
  • What if one of the guys was the big brother of a Main Character?
  • What if she overheard this line, and it drove her to some type of action?
  • What if she had a younger brother too, who was getting into drugs?
  • What if these three kids were alone for some reason one summer?
  • What if the Mom in this piece was sharp-tongued and a bit flawed?
  • What if the middle sister in this story hated that she was the same way?

 

What if ….? We created five characters up there by asking What if?

For me, this list of writing possibilities will beat, hands down, any real-based story I can cull from my actual life. True, I’m not a gay guy. I’m no longer 18. I was never a middle sister, between two brothers. There were seven siblings in my family, not three. Etc. etc. But that butt kicking phrase is very real. I can use it, in my writing, because I know it.

Deciding to take this path, anchoring a story upon a single remembered phrase is way to use what you know, without writing what you know. Twisting the origin and use of the line is another choice.

NOT using the sense memory line for the Main Character is something you may not have thought to do, so that’s another choice it’s possible to make with this method.

Using your sense memories in this non-literal manner, the possibilities in your writing are as endless as you allow them to be. 

Lesson Exercise 1 Toggle

Lesson Exercise 1:

Let’s look at that very first item:

  • I think about stuff for a while… then, I begin to remember things: incidents, voices, images, opportunities (taken & lost):

Here’s that sense memory.

At a get together, after some ribbing from a fellow writer, bantering that got a bit too close to the bone in its teasing tone, I pointed a finger, leaned into the table we sat around, and heard myself saying, low: ‘Just because I’m smitten with you doesn’t mean I won’t kick your butt.’

There are two things I might do with this memory in my fiction. I could take the ‘Writing What You Know’ road, and excavate this life-moment. Creating a thinly disguised scene that takes nearly all of its content from the actual event in my life.

There’s nothing wrong with writing like this. But frankly, I really don’t think my life experiences are all that riveting. For me, when it comes to writing, sticking too closely to reality is a bore. So I tend to take the other path: The ‘Using What You Know in Your Writing’ road.

 What if this was said…:

By someone who had nothing to do with my own life?

 What if two characters were involved, instead of one?

And they were acting off each other? Creating friction? Bringing in tension and reactions?

 What if one was related somehow to your Main Character…

So you bring in the Main character now with a history connected to another character.

 What if she overheard…

So that a secondary character created a problem for the Main Character now.

 What if that secondary character had a problem of her own …

A problem of her own that the Main Character can or can’t help with – now the Main Character is doing and reacting to something within the story.

 What if these three…

Acted together or at odds – you’ve suddenly got motivation and reactions among them.

 What if the… (Mom, boss, best friend, taxi driver)…

Is brought in to hinder the actions for your characters?

 What if the… (Librarian, middle sister, sponsor, thief)…

Is brought in to help your characters in some way?

Now you have a cast of Characters that will be reacting, displaying emotions, showing actions and their motivations all because you decided not to ‘write what you know’, and instead risked going with Using What You Know.

You get the idea. Create a whole cast of characters and dream up a world based on some of these sense memory prompts. See where these new found characters takes you in their world, instead of in yours.