Writing Exercise: Characters

may13 018“I’d love to write a novel.”

I’m hearing this phrase more and more in my life. Last week, my mother said it on the phone.

And I snapped.

The Conversation

K. R. : “Yeah? Then write one.”
M : “Oh, I couldn’t. I don’t have the imagination.”
K. R. : “If you had to come up with a character, would they be male or female?”
M : “Erm… female.”
K. R. : “Brilliant. What colour hair? What colour eyes?”
M : “Brown for both.”
K. R. : “How tall? Describe them.”
M : “Slim. 5 foot 5.”
K. R. : “Fantastic. Where are they?”
M : “What?”
K. R. : “You’ve got a picture of them, right? Where are they? Inside, outside, in a room or a corridor or a field?”
M : “A cafe.”
K. R. : “Inside or outside?”
M : “Outside. On a balcony.”
K. R. : “Wow, sounds great. What’s around them? Tables and chairs, people sitting? Or emptiness but a waiter nearby?”
M : “Other people at tables, and a waitress.”
K. R. : “What does the waitress look like?”

I took my mother through the same steps I’d take anyone through. I asked what this girl’s name was and why she was at the café. Then my mother surprised me. She said that this character was a lawyer on her lunch break. We discussed the weather, the view from the balcony, what the main character wore. I asked what the waitress wore and if the café was themed. We talked about the other people dressed casually rather than in business clothes; despite being a week day at lunchtime. What does that tell us about this setting or environment? Do people here work? Are all jobs happy with casual dress?

I would never have guessed this particular character when thinking about my mother’s imagination. And I don’t think she would have, either. I didn’t then go and tell her to write the novel about a lawyer who had tea and a cream cake in a café in Wales. But I know that for some people, this exercise alone may be enough to get them writing.

Can’t Imagine Someone?

If you can’t think of a character, I’d suggest you pick one from a television series, movie or book. Now make them the opposite gender. Put them in night-clothes such as pyjamas. Remove all personal artefacts such as jewellery and tattoos or scars. Now change the colour of their hair and eyes, and their height. Make them put on or lose weight. Give them a tan or a fake tan or make them pale.

Great, Now. Tell me who they are now.

From my example, they’re now a short, round, blonde girl with brown eyes and pale skin in pyjamas. Instead of being in an old mansion where my male character began, she is in a freezing, cramped motel room. It’s night time. I want to name her Lizzy.

Who is Lizzy and how did she end up in this horrible room, alone?
Now. Tell that person’s story.

And begin to call yourself a writer.

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One response to “Writing Exercise: Characters

  1. Pingback: The characters are people, too | Jaye Em Edgecliff·

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