I was recently tasked with creating an endearing, memorable character. Quirky. Smart. Ageless.
Not a big deal, right? As writers and readers beloved characters constantly surround us. We wear their faces on t-shirts. We decorate our offices with beautifully designed posters featuring their words. We use them as viable comparisons to real human beings in our every day lives. We wish they were our friends in real life and sometimes, it even feels like they are.
Hermione Granger. Sherlock Holmes. Scarlett O’Hara. Atticus Finch. Pippy Longstockings. Jo March.
No biggie. I got this.
Endearing. Memorable. Quirky. Smart. Ageless.
Yikes. I immediately found myself lacking confidence, so I scurried to the library to scrounge up any and all titles comparable to my task.
After I read. I emulate. For this particular task I used Kate Di Camillo’s formula. Her voice. Her style. My words will not stay this way. Eventually I will make them my own. But for now, while I am learning… I will write like Kate.
This practice has given me a solid ground to stand upon. A place from which to grow. Grow my confidence. Grow my character. Grow my story.
Here is another character exercise you can do.
The task of creating a character… a living and breathing creature… whether human, animal or mythical beast… out of two dimensional ink on blank white paper is a tall order. To figure out how this being looks, thinks and acts is truly a magnificent feat. So try this.
Think back to a moment in your life. Something recent is best. Maybe something that happened this week. This event does not need to be significant or important, only memorable in detail to you. Once you have selected an event retell it featuring yourself as the main character. The twist? Tell it in the third person. Insert all of your physical sensations, your thoughts, your words, your emotions, your actions. Write as if you are the narrator of a story in which you play the leading role.
It will not be difficult to surmise what the character is thinking. You thought it! It will not be hard to invent the taste of the wedding cake or to know if the frosting was fondant or butter cream… you ate it! The sights of your drive to work will be easily recalled. The sound of your grandmother’s voice on the phone, familiar. Every detail is known to you. Use those collected tidbits of memory to tell a story.
Now it is doubtful that this event will end up magically working into the plot of your manuscript in progress, but this isn’t about directly improving or extending your manuscript. The act of inserting details is practice. By thinking about the knowable details of your own life and experiences, your character’s life will be unearthed. The sights, sounds, tastes, textures and smells of your character’s fictional world… the aspects of their lives that make them feel real, will come to the forefront of your mind. They will be seen. They will be known. And you will confidently be able to commit those details to the page. You will be able to use these details to make your character endearing, memorable, quirky.
Here is my attempt.
(Side note… this character exercise (below) and the children’s book project I mentioned (above) are not related or connected or in anyway… other than as serviceable thoughts to the wholeness of this blog post.)
Amanda woke up to the sound of giggling little boys.
After pulling on shorts and a sweatshirt, she walked out into the living room to find three of them huddled under blankets on the couch, their eyes glued to a tablet where some game captured their full attention. A fourth little boy, clad only in underwear and slippers, sat at the kitchen counter eating dry cereal and watching cartoons. The rest of the house – her husband and all of the visiting adults along with the two youngest cousins and the teenager – were still soundly sleeping.
Amanda looked at the flashing notification on her phone and smiled. If she were quick, she might have time to return the call before the others awoke. She made a single serving of cappuccino and then padded quietly out to the deck with her phone and steaming cup in hand.
Evidence of last night’s storm met her just outside the screen door. The bench and even the wooden floor boards were too wet for her to sit on. She abandoned them in search of a drier place to talk.
Back in the house, she tiptoed past the kitchen hoping to avoid a breakfast request. She put a silencing finger to her lips when she made eye contact with one of the boys, and smiled as his eyes returned to his screen. When she pulled the front door closed behind her, she knew she was home free.
Out on the sun-soaked driveway she sat down and stretched out her pale legs. The warm pavement felt ridiculously good against her bare skin and she sighed with contentment. Amanda put her coffee cup down on the driveway and pushed the green call button on her phone. It rang only twice before her sister picked up.
“Still on your morning walk?” Amanda asked.
“Yep!” Kate answered.
“Still pregnant?” Amanda continued.
“Yep again,” Kate replied.
“Great. I’ve snuck outside to talk. I probably have twenty minutes before anyone wakes up or even figures out where I am.”
The sisters spend the next half hour enjoying their conversation and the sunshine.
It was a lovely way to start the day.
Do you love her (me)? Amanda might not be memorable or endearing yet, but at least we know what she desires, and the steps she will take to get there. We know what she enjoys and what items and people occupy her world. This is a step in the right direction.
Want to give it a try? Get out your notebook. Grab your favorite pen. And start writing. No one will tell your story, the one that lives inside your head, but you. And in order to do that story justice, to tell it in a way that is endearing and memorable, will take a lot of work. Why not get started now?