Stephanie here! I'm excited for the chance to introduce Katymarie Frost, who pitched this article idea to us on how to create a "homeless shelter" for your characters. I think you'll really enjoy her ideas!
Katymarie Frost has never had a shortage of stories in her head, but she knew she wanted to be a writer from the moment a librarian called her “the next J.K. Rowling” after she won a writing contest when she was ten years old. It has been her dream to share the many tales her imagination has created and to give others a springboard for their own imaginations to take flight. Since then, she has started many different literary endeavors, but the first one she has been able to finish was what has now become Gateway to Aviandria. She is hoping it will be available to the public starting this fall. When she isn’t trying to satisfy her craving to spin fantastic tales, Katymarie stays busy spending time with her family, teaching violin lessons, and dabbling in costume design or other creative projects. To learn more about her book, or connect with her, visit her author website at www.katymariefrost.com.
On my bookshelves, nestled among three-ring binders containing old school projects and hashed notebooks, sits a small, yellow folder. It doesn’t look like anything special. Most people wouldn’t spare a second glance, but the folder has an important purpose. This is my shelter for homeless characters.
If you open the folder, you’ll find drawings of people and scribbled notes stuck in page protectors. I know the names of some of these people, but many of them I don’t. I have a fairly good idea what most of them act like, but a few are still strangers.
These are characters I have created, yet I don’t have a place for in any of my works in progress. I’m guessing a lot of you have these too. Perhaps during a trip to the mall, you have observed somebody who looked as if they could be an interesting personality, and you knew they just had to become a character. Or maybe you wrote a charming little scene in your story that introduced a character you really liked, but there wasn’t anything else for that character to do in the story, and you ended up cutting the scene.
These characters don’t have to fade away into oblivion just because they don’t have a home. They can be welcomed with open arms into the homeless shelter for characters until that day you are able to find the perfect role for them.
Here is how to set up your own shelter for homeless characters:
- Find a convenient location. Mine is the yellow folder with page protectors. Yours could be a three ring binder, or an accordion file folder. If you like to keep things in a digital format, you could create a file on your computer or phone. If you do that, however, make sure your notes are backed up. Whatever you choose, you will want it to be easy to put things in, pull things out, or rearrange as necessary.
- Record everything you know about the character. If you know their name, write it down. If you have a picture, include it. Describe physical features. List any personality traits you have thought of. If you use a character profile sheet, fill out what you know. You don’t have to know everything now. You can always fill in missing pieces as you learn them. Just record what you’ve already got. One thing I like to have is a list of names. Sometimes you just come up with a cool sounding name, but you don’t have the right character for it. Add that name to the list. I can almost guarantee, it will come in handy later.
- Visit your shelter. When your next story feels like it needs a character, use this resource and flip through your file of homeless characters. You may find the perfect fit. Or if you need inspiration for a new story, browse your shelter. One of these characters might start telling you their own story, which you can then turn into a masterpiece. Just don’t put your homeless shelter on the shelf and forget about it. Give these people a chance!
I can tell you, this really does work. Here is one success story. Meet Tarien and Jannae:
They were two characters I happened to create while doodling. When they first came into the shelter, they didn’t even have names. I had the pictures, and I knew Jannae was happy-go-lucky, and a bit reckless, while Tarien was somewhat of a perfectionist worry-wart, but that was about it.
They sat in my homeless shelter for a couple of years until I needed an idea for an outlining course I was taking. I found these two and the ideas started flowing. They received names, they became much better developed, and even became the stars in their own story.
It doesn’t end there, however. I still needed an antagonist, so back to my homeless shelter I went, and I found her:
Perfect! And while I was at it, I found this little fellow who really spoke to me, and suddenly I knew exactly how to use him in the story. In fact, he became downright important:
So, that is how it works. I got a good story idea, and four of my homeless characters got a home. It may take a little time to set it up and keep it updated, but it is worth it. This may just become one of your most valuable resources!
What do you do with your homeless characters? Do you have a place for them or a system you use to keep them organized?