Kath and I just returned from our annual writing retreat, so you may not see us back to full power until next week. We had a great time with our writer buds, as usual–lots of work, craft talk, laughter, chocolate. I took this shot on the lake. The entire setting was picture perfect; we’ll definitely be back.
Okay, to business. Characterization is a big topic, and I’m glad we have the whole month to discuss it. One thing’s for sure, though: It begins with creation.
Who will you be characterizing? Man, woman, child? Young person, middle aged, senior citizen? Single, married, divorced?
What are the most significant events in this person’s life to date, and how have those events affected and even redefined them?
What is the predominant mood of the person? Is the glass half-full, half-empty, or have they shattered the glass?
Are they avoiding something? Why?
What do they want out of life? No, no, really–what do they want more than anything, down deep in their guts?
I don’t conduct character interviews, but I need to know the answers to those basic questions. The rest will unfurl as the story develops.
One of my most reliable inspirations comes by way of photographs. Not the soothing kind I took on my retreat; I look for something with edge.
Months ago, I asked Caitlin, who posts her work on Flickr, if I could display some of her photos here. She graciously agreed. To me, her pictures conjure emotion. They inspire characters, too. This shot, for example, is one of the inspirational shots I’m using for book #2. Looking at it gave me an instant sense for a new lead character: quirky, dark, damaged, intuitive, naive. The model may very likely be none of those things, but for my purposes, it doesn’t matter; for me, Caitlin has captured these ideas using shading and contrasts, and by the placement of that flowering branch.
Images can evolve in the mind’s eye, too. While drafting The Last Will of Moira Leahy, I hit a point with my protagonist and knew something had to change. She was coming across as a bit tepid, when I needed for her to be stronger. I changed her appearance, transformed her from a lovely woman with long red hair into someone who’d bleached all the color away and found a pair of scissors. Instant edge, I’m telling you, and it helped support her backstory as well. Does this mean that red-headed women can’t be edgy? Definitely not. It just means that I had a hard time merging my visual of the character with the vibe my story needed. For me, making an alteration in the character’s appearance, turning her visually into more of a warrior, made all the difference.
It doesn’t matter if you spend a lot of time describing a character’s appearance or not (I didn’t), a person’s looks can provide insights into their lifestyle (stylish, funky, holes in their sweater, well-heeled?), how they perceive themselves (sexy, buttoned-up, devoid of color?), and definitely how they’re viewed by the outside world. And you can use all of that and more when you decide how you’re going to introduce your characters to the world.
The old saying that a picture’s worth a thousand words? I believe it.
How about you? Do photos and other forms of imagery inspire you? If not, what does?
Check out more of La Caitlin’s work HERE.
Come back tomorrow for Donald Maass’s post on protagonists vs. heroes. Thursday, Juliet Marillier will discuss change and characterization.
Write on, all!