Posted by: Kathy Temean | December 17, 2014

How Characters Can Become Stories – Erika Wassall

snowman family

Talk about character, here is a steampunk snowman family Sylvia Liu recently made, as part of a new daily creative challenge blog that she started titled, Create One a Day. You can see her portfolio at: http://www.enjoyingplanetearth.com)

erikaphoto-45Erika Wassall, the Jersey Farm Scribe here on….

How Characters Can Become Stories

I enjoy character studies. Books that give perspective into the mysteries of human nature, and how we deal with intense mental, physical and psychological difficulties.

Give me a character I want to sit down and have a drink with, or even observe from afar and watch their interactions and reactions… and I’m sold.

When I write, I’m often focusing on a character in my mind. They’re more than a name, more than any description I can put on paper. I can sense them, know their thoughts, feel their emotions.

Which is great, right?

Well… yes. And sometimes no.

I tend to get bogged down in character development. Plot, is much more difficult for me. I’m exceedingly jealous of people who are more natural at plot than character development. While probably similar to curly-haired people wanting straight hair and straight-hair people longing for curls, being able to nail down a plot always seemed like it would make things “come together” more, give me more to go from.

Reading books on plot and attending workshops has been absolutely mandatory for me.   Martha Anderson, The Plot Whisperer… I honestly don’t know where my writing would be without her insight. I highly recommend her books for anyone else who gets stuck on plot.

For me, I’ve found one trick that works wonders for me, helping me take my character molds, and create not just ANY plot, but THE PLOT. The path the character was meant to take.

It’s focused on character transformation.

One of the other problems with an overly specific character profile, is that, to me, that’s how they ARE. And it’s hard for me to see them any other way. This makes for a very stagnant character, which we all know doesn’t really work.

This process helps me on both accounts.

I take the character, in all their their moods, their quirks, their temperament, and I make them the FINAL version of the character. (obviously this can change as time goes on, it’s just part of my process).

I ask myself… why?  What happened to them that gave them that chip on their shoulder or that far away look on their face they get when they listen to a certain song? Why do they place money all facing the same way, before putting it in their pocket?

I write out/think about, three categories: Mental, Physical and Psychological. I start out with at least two major and three minor things in each category. There are overlaps, but they each must have their own, specific effects on the character.

And then I delete them.

Naomi doesn’t like to be alone because she was once left behind during a field trip and spent a horrifying weekend alone in a museum. What was she like before that? Maybe before, she didn’t see how people could be a source of comfort. Or maybe it’s the opposite. Maybe before she was just a healthily independent person, and now she’s overly clingy.

Jurret has scars on his back up into his neck from fighting off a robot scorpion that was attacking his older sister. It makes him uncomfortable taking off his shirt, and sometimes he even wears turtlenecks so no one can see it. His sister lived, but was badly injured with many scars of her own, including some on her face. He feels responsible for her turmoil as well.

What was he like before all that happened? Did he and his sister get along? Were they close? Maybe he was a gym junkie who was overly concerned with appearance and it gave him much-needed humility. Or maybe he was already plenty humble and this just drained him of his confidence. Perhaps before that, he always felt like the baby, the one everyone was taking care OF, and that day, everything changed. Before then, perhaps he never felt both the joy, and the burden of responsibility.

I do this with dozens of concepts for my character. Literally.

And I don’t always write them down. Sometimes I just think about them. While I’m driving. Cooking. Food shopping. It’s a great exercise I work into time that I’m not necessarily able to write. Then later, I’ll jot down a few notes, sometimes just two or three words, to remember the concept.

The more interesting an idea – or a “deletion” as I have come to call it – the more I actually write it out. Sometimes these “scenes” even become actual events in the book.

But I write out FAR more than I end up using.

At some point, I start to feel a general theme, a pull in a direction of a certain “type” of transformation, and certain related concepts that bring the character through that change… events, relationships, both pain and joy.

And for me, this is where I find my plot. Hidden beneath the intricacies of the character. And I know it’s right when it makes the character themselves even stronger, more solid in nature, more truthful.

This doesn’t (usually) give me a nicely-laid-out plot. But it gives me ideas, storylines I can get excited about. It helps make “plot” a less intimidating, overwhelming word, and interweaves it into what I already have.

What “deletions” could you do to your characters? Do you have other tricks or exercises that help you to develop the nature and variables of your plot?

This one really can be time consuming. And I end up throwing out countless concepts, but that’s just nature of beast! And you know that I’m a believer…

… our manuscripts are worth it!

Erika Wassall is a writer, a farmer and a liver of life. She is a member of SCBWI and a proud Mad Scientist, bringing science experiments right into children’s classrooms, and hearts. She has a small farm in New Jersey with sheep, chickens, pigs and vegetables. Check out her new website at www.TheJerseyFarmScribe.com where as a first generation farmer, she often takes the long way, learning the tricks of the trade on The Farm. On her website is also The Shop page with tips and a free Q/A from her husband’s mechanic shop, and The Writer page where she shares stories, experiences and characters from the heart. Follow her on Twitter at @NJFarmScribe. She’d love to hear from you!

Thank you Erika for another great post. We all enjoy your posts.

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Responses

  1. Erika, I love the way you go about your process. Thanks for another great article. I have so many writing books I’ve only dipped into so far. I’ve been tempted to buy this one, but am avoiding more *sigh* I know Martha works with Jill Corcoran, too. The two of them together are quite the team, I know. Maybe SOMEday! lol

  2. Reblogged this on Darlene Beck-Jacobson and commented:
    I love this post and wanted to share it here.

  3. Great post, Erika. And I love Sylvia’s “steampunk” snow family.🙂

  4. Re-blogging today – perfect for Xmas Eve – love the snowmen!

  5. Reblogged this on Mandy Eve Barnett's Official Blog and commented:
    I just love these steam punk snow family…perfect for Xmas Eve’s re-blog.

  6. Thanks everyone and sorry for my late reply here.

    I’m so honored you guys re-blogged it too!

    And I also really LOVE the steam punk snowmen scene. So creative and original!

  7. Awesome post, and thanks for featuring my illustration! Great tips on how to delve into character.


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