Wednesday, March 23, 2011

More on Character Charts

I'm sneezing and rubbing my eyes as I write this post. Darn allergies.

First, don't forget to check out yesterday's post from award-winning author Trish Perry. She talks about her writing process, and is giving away a copy of one of her latest releases. Very exciting stuff.

Second, I spotted this writing contest on Twitter yesterday and thought it might be of interest to some of you.

Third, I received 40 entries to last round's writing prompt. Awesome! I'm thrilled to see so many of you entering every round. Persistence pays off in this biz. Winners will be posted next week, probably Tuesday. Just depends on when judges are able to get back to me.

On with business.

So last week, I told you guys I've added to my Character Chart. I took a class by Susan May Warren and Rachel Hauck, who run the wonderful web site My Book Therapy. They had me ask my main character (and a couple other key characters) some really wonderful questions.

What's one word my character would use to define his/herself?
What are two reasons why?
What's a lie they believe?
What is their greatest fear?
What is their life's happiest moment?
What is their noble cause?
What is their heroic quality?
What is their super power?

Some of these don't require much explanation. I assume you can figure out the greatest fear and the happiest moment for yourself. But let's look at a couple of the others. I hope doing so will do for you what it did for me, create a deeper understanding of my main character and create some extra conflict and complications.

Picking a one-word descriptor can stress me out, but it doesn't have to be as complicated as I try to make it. Remember, these exercises are for you. This descriptor is a word your character is picking out. It didn't click with me until I started thinking about it in terms of real people I know. Like my friend Roseanna would likely pick, "Optimist" as her one-word descriptor. Or my friend Kelli might say she's a "planner." My character, Gabrielle, would say she's a tag-along, or an outcast.

Where you might see some new plot lines develop is when you ask that character why they call themselves that. So I would say to Gabrielle, "Why do you call yourself an outcast?" And she would answer, "Because my friends don't want me around anymore. They only put up with me because Rachel insists on keeping me around. And because my parents are too focused on my brother to pay attention to me."

One of my absolute favorite things to figure out about my character is what lie they believe about who they are. Like Gabrielle believes she's nothing special, that she's a girl destined to be hidden in the shadows for her entire life.

The noble cause is something the believe in and fight for. Like in Jenny B. Jones's latest release, Save the Date, her main character's noble cause is that she runs a group home for girls who are too old to be put in the foster system. This drives Lucy to do lots of risky things and make some questionable choices. But because she has the noble cause, this wonderful goal, the reader understands.

It's also good to pinpoint a heroic quality in your character. To find something they do exceptionally well, something that sets them apart from everybody else. In the book of mine that I was talking about, Gabrielle's heroic quality is that she's a high school girl getting a book published. That's not something everybody has the determination, the talent, to do. In the Skylar books, Skylar's heroic quality is her complete confidence in her appearance. She never asks her friends if she looks good, she knows she does. She doesn't ask if she can get away with wearing such-and-such, she knows she can.

A heroic quality is different than the super power. I've now taken this character class twice, and for whatever reason, I don't remember the super power thing at all from the first time. The super power is something that should only be mentioned a handful of times, that shouldn't be overdone. And while it can be a traditional type of super power - a character who runs really fast, who reads minds - it can also be something not as obvious. Like in Julie Klassen's The Apothecary's Daughter, her character remembers everything. Or the example given in the class was Cinderella. That she sings and has joy despite being mistreated.

I hope these are as helpful to you as they were to me. On Friday, we dive back into our first drafts!


  1. Hey look, I got a cameo! =) I like the one-word thing too. Like the one character from my musician book (which Stephanie may vaguely remember) was "unobtrusive." For Kasia in Jewel of Persia, it was "passionate." Abigail in Stray Drop was "academic." Always a fun exercise. =)

  2. Excellent advice! Your character posts have been helping me exceedingly, Stephanie. Definitely keep it up - there are many of us benefiting from it, I assure you! :)

    Thanks for all the time you spend encouraging and writing these helpful posts!!

  3. I started a book today. I'm home for the next two weeks, and today was the first day. I kept Go Teen Writers up the whole time, and I don't know how I'd be doing this without it. I'm up to 5,746 words and I know that this book is a God-thing. Thanks for all your help and everything you do, Steph!

  4. You guys are the sweetest. I love blogging on here. Confession time - sometimes I just open up the blog and stare at it. I love being on the site and interacting with you guys.

    Roseanna, I do indeed remember the musician book. I still say it's fabulous.

  5. Whew! Six character charts = accomplished. I had a great time getting to know my characters... I'm glad I'm in the presence of other writers. I don't sound as stupid;)