Monday, May 30, 2011

What Our Characters Do When No One is Looking

blog11My family and I saw a great performance of Cats on Saturday. I’d seen the musical a couple of times before, but it’s been forever since I last saw it.

One of the things I hadn’t remembered from 20 years ago is that the cats who weren’t on center stage were still acting around the edges of the stage…in character. So while Old Deuteronomy might be in the spotlight, singing a solo, Rum Tum Tugger was flirting off to the side of the stage. Grizabella was trying unsuccessfully to engage with other cats. They were acting in character, even while the spotlight wasn’t on them.

It made me think about character development. One way that I like to learn more about my characters is to think about what they do when my characters aren’t on stage.

Most of the time I don’t actually use the information in a book (although sometimes it comes in handy.) But usually it just helps me to know how a character would react in a particular situation. How do they deal with emergencies? Do they laugh when they’re embarrassed or are they the kinds of people who get angry, instead?

Knowing a little bit about what characters do in their spare time and their background helps me to figure out how to portray them in a story—and sometimes they take the story in a different direction.

If you’d like some resources to help you think more about your character’s identity, here are some helpful links (and you can find a ton more on the Writer’s Knowledge Base):

Character Questionnaires and Worksheets: The EPIGUIDE.COM Character Chart for Fiction Writers The Script Lab’s Questionnaire Fiction Writer's Character Chart Adventures in Children’s Publishing worksheet- Part 1 (the other parts to this excellent series are in the left sidebar) Scribe Sisters Questionnaire

Mind mapping for Character Development and Plotting: Quips and Tips for Successful Writers Write for Your Life Routines for Writers

Nice article on Character Development Story Fix: 3 Dimensions of Character Development

What kinds of things help you develop your characters so they come to life on the page? And--Happy Memorial Day to all my American friends...and a big thanks to all our soldiers.


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