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Sunday, September 12, 2010

Writing Real Characters: Pretend Your Character Has Been Taken Hostage

Some of the stories I like best have vivid, memorable characters:

Sookie Stackhouse - a small town southern barmaid who happens to read people's minds and date vampires

Elizabeth Bennet - a woman in a man's world who refuses to marry for money, likes long rambles in the woods and sarcastic skewering of self-important people, and has embarrassing parents and immature siblings

Harry Potter - an orphaned wizard boy who defeated The Dark Lord Voldemort before he could even walk

Mary Shannon - a federal marshal who's gambling-addicted father abandoned the family when she was a child

Sheldon Cooper - a theoretical physicist with OCD tendencies that border on the psychotic, a rabid love of comic books and a mother who believes Jesus saves

And I want to write characters people will care about. So I'm going to pretend they've been taken hostage. They have two minutes to make themselves human to the kidnapper so he won't blow their brains out.

So what would you tell someone to save your life, to make you a person to him or her? Not your job or level of education.

Maybe that you grew up in a small town and every summer went to the Tasty Freeze for frozen chocolate-covered bananas. You bite your nails when you're nervous. You have divorced parents who scarred you for life and you weigh 30 pounds too much. You are addicted to roller derby or European rugby. You are still afraid of the monsters in your closet and mainline sweet tea for breakfast.

Your dreams, hopes, fears and quirks are what make you an individual - a character. So once I figure those out, I might have a shot at writing a character worth reading about.


Writer Chick said...

Glad to see your back.

Sioux Roslawski said...

I know the character Mary Shannon (I like that show, too). I am intrigued by the Elizabeth Bennet character (perhaps because I like to skewer blow-hards too, although I try to shut my mouth sometimes). What show/book/book series is she in?

I really like the idea of fleshing out a character that way. Quite clever. If done well, it could be an engaging short story all by itself, or could be used as part of the drafting/doodling phase.

K9friend said...

Hello stranger! How are things going?


irishoma said...

Hi Tricia,
Glad to see you back. This morning I accidentaly posted on C&C rather than my blog. So, please pardon the intrusion. I think I've deleted what I mis-posted.
Donna V.

Tricia Grissom said...

Hi all.

Sioux, Elizabeth Bennet is the heroine of Pride and Prejudice. She is one of my favs. You'd probably like the book.

I hope to be posting sporadically. We'll see :)

No problem, Donna!

BECKY said...

Hey Tricia!! Long time no read! I've missed you!!

Lorelei said...

Hi. My answer to your question, which is a very good question, by the way is simply: My mom died before I turned 12. I wasn't told right away and a neighbor said to me, "Gee, it's too bad about your Mom." I spent the whole year thinking she was going to walk through the back door again. Just like she had.

I don't know. I just lost my mother in law and this has brought back some memories, because she was my adopted mom.

Tricia Grissom said...

Lorelei, I'm sorry is inadequate for your story. But I am sorry for both your losses.

Life makes a hash of us sometimes. Dammit.

Tammy said...

You named some of my favorite characters, so I'll be looking for the ones I don't know.

Toyin O. said...

informative blog.