by Jill Williamson
In her class, she used the example of Joe the Drifter. "Drifter" being the label that conveys meaning to Joe's character. Because we can all easily picture the type of person a "drifter" might be, right?
This is a great idea when you're starting a new book and you're not yet fully aware of who your main characters are. If you can label them, it will help you get to know them as write because you can quickly think of traits that fit that label.
I touched on this one a while back when I wrote about character archetypes. But I never considered that a more specific label could help me so quickly.
At the conference, Susie helped me with Mason, a character from my upcoming book Captives. She asked me what kind of a character Mason was, to label him. I said he was a doctor. And that made me think of famous doctor characters. Was Mason a Dr. Richard Kimball from The Fugitive? Was he a John Michael "J. D." Dorian from Scrubs? Or maybe a Dr. Emmett Brown from Back to the Future?
Nope. Mason wasn't like any of those guys. And I was frustrated. Labeling Mason as a doctor had been a good start, but it wasn't helping me write him better.
So I tried another idea.
Now both Spock and Sheldon are way too extreme to be my Mason. But this exercise did lead me to the right Myers Briggs personality type and a better character label than doctor. Mason is an analyst. And he is sometimes very extreme, sometimes not. So, as I was writing Mason's extremely anatytical scenes, thinking of Spock and Sheldon's personalities was a big help. Mason is a much more believably complex fellow now.
And no one has to know that I thought of Mr. Spock or Sheldon Cooper as I wrote those complex Mason scenes in Captives. (Except that I told you here!) But thinking of those characters helped me write his analytical side. I discovered some other tricks for writing Mason too that I'll share with you in another post.
Think of your character's label, then think of a famous character to see if there is a likeness. A character like Joe the Drifter could mean someone like Rambo, the Postman, or Mr. Bean in Rat Race. Three very different types of drifters. If you get stuck, try the process backwards like I did and see if you can list a well-known character first, then find your character label. Share what you found out.