I was. I am. I will.
After researching more on character voice/development, I went back to my story and rewrote chapters 12 and 13, but then I went back to 12 – the crucial chapter I touched upon in yesterday’s post – and reworked it again. I’m still not satisfied and I know it can be better, but at least I’m starting to recognize where I went wrong in the VOICE department.
So, I’m in the process of improvement, which is always a great, uplifting place to be.
A few weeks ago I downloaded a Characterization Chart here and have looked at it several times but never got down to actually filling out the nine pages worth of questionnaire-style inquisition about my characters. I think I was thinking that these questions are the types I am or should already be familiar with and really don’t need to spend a lot of time answering.
Today I opened that nine-pager again and really looked over each question. Again, I validate my reasons for not taking it ultra serious and yet …
These questions are vital to proving the existence of your characters. Some might seem trite or useless to the story you’re writing (like his mother’s maiden name when his mother isn’t even alive). But, knowing the answer means you are that in-tune with him or her. Shouldn’t you be?
I think yes.
Here are some examples of the questionnaire:
Nickname, if any (if so, explain its origin – e.g. who created it?):
Does s/he like the nickname? :
Does s/he rent or own?
Brief description of home (apartment, house, etc.):
Morning Routine: Describe the character’s morning rituals. Who else is sleeping in the same bed? What time does he/she wake up? Is he/she cheerful in the morning? What does he/she do during breakfast-read, watch tv, feed kids, etc.
Afternoon/Workday: Does s/he work outside the home? How does he/she get there? Is s/he good at this job? What if anything would he/she rather be doing? How long and hard is the work day? If the job isn’t outside the home, what does a typical afternoon consist of?
Dinner: Does s/he eat at home or go out a lot? What is/are his or her favorite restaurant(s)? Who cooks at home? Does s/he eat alone?
Evening: What does your character do on a typical evening? Where? With whom? How much does he/she enjoy it? What is the ideal evening for him or her?
It gets worse (or better, depending on your view of things) and more thorough. Which, in hindsight, is likely to be the real reason why I continue to skim over this questionnaire instead of actually doing something with it. I lie and tell myself I already know the answers so why bother. When I look back on this thing, though, it becomes more apparent how untrue that statement is.
In all fairness, however, there are just some things that aren’t meant to be known, much less shared in your story.
What I found most amusing about it (at first) was the second part, involving appearances. I thought this wasn’t of any interest to readers today? Why am I told no one cares anymore about hair color, eyes, height, and build in this modern day and age? And yet …
Weight: Body type (thin, athletic, overweight, curvy, muscular, etc.)
Eye color: Need glasses/contacts/hearing aid? Skin tone (pale, ivory, tan, olive, ruddy, brown, etc.):
Face shape (round, oval, chubby, thin, long, square, heart-shaped, etc.:
Any prominent features, freckles/moles/scars/tattoos or other distinguishing marks:
Whom does s/he most look like (e.g. famous person or relative)?
General health (good, excellent, poor…)?
Any current health problems or chronic conditions?
How does s/he dress?
Price: 0 Expensive 0 Average 0 Inexpensive 0 Cheap
Style: 0 Haute Couture 0 Conservative 0 Trendy 0 Eclectic 0 Business 0 Sexy 0 Gaudy 0 Casual 0 Sloppy
Why does she dress in the above manner (e.g. to be noticed)?
Any special jewelry? (If so, why is it special?) What about accessories?
I’m sure there are novels out there, but I have yet to come across one that spends either a few lines, a paragraph (or three) or even a half chapter on descriptive information about what one or more of the characters looks, behaves, or talks like. I’m pretty sure the author sprinkles these hints throughout the narrative of the book. I know I do. Which leads me to, again, believe that the reader is making broad-based assumption about something they presume to think is reality.
That isn’t to say there are no parts of a novel that people don’t skim over – like sex scenes or some form of violent encounter – the way I skim over news articles that reference someone and give pointless detail about their title, their occupation, the place where they work, when they graduated college, and how many awards they’ve received or the title of their latest book. It’s stupid, I know, and worth skimming in order to get back to the meat of the article.
I also know that countless others will disagree with what I just said, too. Like my PR Professor, who ended up disagreeing with just about everything I said or did in her Media class. She might think it’s awesome that Target is able to track the buying habits of people and be able to pinpoint such things as pregnancy, but I’m not amused or impressed by that form of privacy violation.
So, when people ‘say’ they don’t like something, I’m inclined to take that information with a grain of salt and let it go. As I already mentioned in an earlier post, opinion is neither helpful nor worthwhile in my endeavor to be published.
What I am fascinated with is the in-depth coverage I should and sometimes do put together with regard to my main and sub characters in every story I’ve ever written. And, again, some of the questions are just not answerable. I’m fine with that and I think you should be, too. No one knows everything about everyone in the same way you don’t even know everything about yourself. Regardless of age or sex or education or whatever … tomorrow you’re going to wake up and discover something about yourself you never knew before. All it takes is a trigger and BOOM! What in the world?
Happens all the time.
I am not one to condone things like whiteboards, flow charts, and anything mental that requires a good deal of thought, time, and energy to all things NOT writing. I believe that a solid piece of work develops in the mind and springs forth from the mind through your fingertips and not after weeks upon months upon years of careful, analytic study.
Sticky Notes taped around your monitor aren’t such a bad thing, I suppose, but for me this would be too much of a distraction and only because I’m well aware how my mind and eyes work together. Or don’t, actually. Aside from drone or spa music with ZERO lyrics in the background while I write, nothing else is allowed in my work environment in the form of distraction or impediment.
The chart on the left is huge, so I made it small for the post, but you’re welcome to click on it, blow it up, look it over, and save it to your own hard drive. I have it at my Pinterest account along with dozens of other helpful advice, musings, and imagery all meant to stimulate brain cells, give credence to my efforts, and keep me on track toward my goal.
Here is a less extensive yet much more difficult version of the same thing. The questions are fewer but more difficult to answer (at least for me). The reasons for doing each exercise are explained in detail, though, which helps in your quest for enlightenment about character development. I think I’m too lazy to go that far, but then again, now that I’ve read them, I haven’t stopped thinking about ways in which I could answer them. So, either way I think it is an all-around helpful tool to have in your wanting to become a published author frame of mind.
This may sound obvious, but the more we know about the people we’re writing about, the better our work will be received. I believe that regardless of the nay-sayers. If someone is strong outwardly, it’s usually pointed out right away in our work. Later, though, come the ah-ha or aw moments in the story when Mr. Tough Nuts does something so out of character and unexpected that the reader is left momentarily spellbound. Humor can enter the picture by having him think no one saw what he just did.
What I need to continue to work on is drawing out these characteristics using VOICE to convey rather than just telling (or, is it showing? I’m confused about that anymore). I’m starting to really get inside Neal’s head as opposed to watching him stride through the story at my pace and on my advice.
It’s fun. It’s laughable, really, because now I get the sense that he’s the one walking me through the story and not the other way around, which can even prove embarrassing, but whatever. So, he’s smarter than I am. This comes as no surprise.
A lot of people are smarter than me, including the make-believe ones.