Workshop Transcript

Getting into Your Characters' Heads

with Greg Fishbone, Esq.


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*** tem2 has joined channel #kidlit

Verla: TEM!

^Miriam: hi tem

tem2: Ahoy

_Lyra: hi tem

Dani257: Hi, tem

MelLane is confused.

ginaav: so am I

^Miriam stays that way (confused)

Verla: you had a workshop 45 minutes ago, tem....

Verla: tap tap tap

tem2: Verla: Hmm?

Verla: you forgot

tem2: Did I?

Verla: You did

Verla: it was the one on Getting into Your Characters' Heads, tem

tem2: I didn't think my workshop was until August sometime.

Verla: no tem

Verla: it was tonight

tem2: oops, sorry!

Verla: s'okay, tem...

^Miriam: get out the trout

^GailM: Yuk, that old slimey trout?

NOTE: When someone does something objectionable in the chat room, sometimes they get "slapped around the room" with a wet trout.

Verla: it was a crazy night and EVERYONE was late and no one remembered but a few lone bodies...

ginaav: this happened today

tem2: Well... Sorry I missed it... How was it?

Verla: It wasn't, tem. You weren't here

tem2: You didn't start without me?

Verla: no tem

Verla: it wasn't a subject any of us could do

Authoress: is there a workshop tonight?

Verla: not any more, authoress

Authoress: oh. I just remembered

Authoress: I was writing

Verla: okay

Authoress: excuuuuse me, ha ha

_Lyra: that's good, author

Authoress: well, lyra, it may not be good, but it passes the time :-)

_Lyra: I was just constructive -- painted my toenails

MelLane: with gina, deet & kat in charge?

tem2: We could start it now...

deet: workshop?

Dani257: Ack!

ginaav: lol

NOTE: lol = Laughing Out Loud

MelLane pouts.

tem2: Okay, workshop starts in ten minutes. :D

Verla SCREAMS at everyone in the room!

Dani257: Why are you screaming?

MS_SASE: Ahhhh...workshop

MelLane: There's a workshop tonight?

ginaav: what about?

tem2: Mel: I didn't think there was.

MS_SASE: Workshop at 10pm?

^Miriam: LOL

Dani257: Oh

MelLane: It's 9 pm here.

MS_SASE: Ahhh...but I am a east coaster...a new englander in fact.

Verla: Tem...

tem2: Yes, Verla?

Verla: you gonna do your workshop late?

tem2: I could try to wing it.

Verla: if so, why don't you get dressed?

Verla: (LOL LOL LOL)

NOTE: A person is considered "dressed up" when they are "wearing" their real name instead of a chat name in the chat room

tem2: I didn't prepare any notes or anything.

Verla: go for it tem...change your nick and I'll get you started

*** tem2 is now known as Greg

MelLane: are we doing a workshop NOW?

Verla: yes, mel. We ARE

*** Greg is now known as Greg2


*** Verla has set the topic on channel #kidlit to Getting Into Your Character's Head Workshop IN PROGRESS

Verla: Since our illustrious leader came in late...and so did most of the attendees tonight, we are "winging" this workshop and running it an hour later than our normal time.

Dani257 does a quick swipe of the podium. No time to do a real dusting....

MelLane rushes to the kitchen, grabs a pitcher of ice water, dumps a lime, and returns with pitcher & glass.

Greg2 taps the microphone. "Is this thing on?"


Verla: yeeeeeouch! Yes! It's ON, greg!

Verla: Welcome to our weekly Kidlit Workshop. We ask that you hold all personal chit-chat until the hour is up, but Please! Free free to join in the topic currently under discussion.

Verla: Okay, Greg is now ON....

Greg2: Thanks, Verla!

Verla: Go for it...

Greg2: I guess I'm talking about getting into your characters' heads.

Verla: Oh...wait! Do you want an intro?

Verla: you need an intro!

Verla: Greg Fishbone is an attorney, website designer, former Chapterhouse Press publisher, and editor emeritus of Mythic Heroes magazine. What spare time he has is devoted to writing YA novels. In 1999, Greg and two co-authors were finalists in the Delacorte Press contest for first young adult novelists for the (still forthcoming) "HOW TO BECOME A SUPERHERO (IN TEN EASY STEPS!)".

Verla: Greg is a member of the OPUS email-based critique group for children's and young adult literature, for which he offers the following obligatory plug: Ask me about OPUS! We now return you to your regularly scheduled bio.

Verla: Greg lives in cyberspace, practices law in Massachusetts, and writes by laptop in coffee houses around the Boston area.

Greg2: Can I have a drum solo, too? :D

Verla: dmmmmmdummmmmmmdummmmmdummmmmdummmmmm

Greg2: Yeah!

Verla: (your wish is our command)

MelLane: what, no flute?

Verla: twweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeet <that was a flute>

Verla: There you are. Okay, you may start now.

Greg2: Characters are what a story is all about.

Greg2: It's hard to have a story without them.

Greg2: If you're like me, your characters will run around your brain while you are writing, telling your fingers what to do -- but it's a two way street.

Verla: very true, greg

Greg2: You need to get yourself into their brains as well!

Verla: ah, hence the "getting into your character's heads" title of this workshop!

Greg2: All your characters should be unique, individual, special, and memorable.

Verla: in other words, they need to be REAL people to you?

Greg2: Unless you suffer from a multiple personality disorder, that means that most of your characters will be somewhat (or entirely) different from you!

Verla: not just "figures" to manipulate to make your story line work?

Greg2: Right, Verla.

Greg2: Instead of asking, "What would I do in this situation?", you'll need to ask, "What would this character do in this situation?"

Kubali: yer usual RPG question :)

NOTE: RPG probably has something to do with Roll Playing Characters as in Dungeons & Dragons games

Greg2: Kub: A good analogy.

Greg2: Writing and role-playing have a lot in common, I think.

Verla: hmmm. So when you are writing about a character in your story, and the character starts doing things you didn't plan, then that is GOOD, because it means your character has become a "real" person to you? And then your readers will feel that reality?

Kubali: greg>in some ways i would agree :)

Greg2: Verla: Yes, but you can't let the characters take control of the story, or else your careful plotting goes right out the window.

Greg2: And the question becomes, how do you make your characters "real"?

Verla: yes!

Verla: How?

Dani257: Hmm, I don't think my characters ever do things without me knowing it

Kubali: greg>well isnt it possible for other characters to hold the story together..especially if you have a villain?

Kubali: since the Main Character would always be trying to capture the villain..

Greg2: The secret is to get to know your characters.

MelLane: give them faults?

Verla: I used very detailed character charts for mine

Verla: and photos cut out of magazines/catalogs

Kubali: verla>cool :)

Greg2: As the writer, you should know everything there is to know about your characters -- including the many details that will never appear in the book.

Greg2: What is his/her family background?

_Lyra: I've always been told that, and I totally agree

Greg2: Hobbies, favorite foods, favorite teacher...

Greg2: What does your character eat for breakfast?

Verla: I put a lot of background info in....where they were born, what their ancestry was...favorite colors, etc

_Lyra: Sometimes I think it helps if you mentally think of characterizations in people you know and use this real knowledge to make fictional people more real

Verla: also, what they WANT in life

Dani257: Do you just assign these traits for the characters?

Greg2: Lyra: That can work as well.

Verla: and what they don't like, too

^GailM: You know, I have been told to do this by many conference presenters, and I can't make myself do it. It is so boring.

_Lyra: I mostly focus on their motivation, what their journey will be in this story

Kubali: greg>bascially build a character sheet for all yer chars,ehh? :)

_Lyra: I probably should confess I don't make character charts or lists

^GailM: See?

Greg2: Dani: You can start by assigning a few traits, but it flow logically and consistently. The more details you add, the more real the character becomes.

Verla: I picked photos out of each person in a catalog or magazine, gail....then I didn't have to write down that they had green eyes and blond hair. I could LOOK and see.

Greg2: And it will help you be consistent.

_Lyra: Of course, most of my stories are heavy on plot

Dani257: Characters have always been my weakest point

Verla: I had fun making the charts of my people

Greg2: Sometimes I'll pick a famous actor I'd want to play the character, and that helps a lot with mannerisms and speech.

MelLane: I based my MC in BOX on a kid I knew... it made him more real to me.

NOTE: MC = Main Character and BOX is the name of book Mel is currently working on

_Lyra: I should probably make charts

Greg2: Each character should have a unique voice -- a unique way of thinking and speaking.

Verla: and I found it very helpful over the many years I worked on the book...I could look back and remember, Oh, yeah...her parents died when she was nine...and he was 12 when that major even happened in his life....

^GailM: No, Lyra. If it works for you to not make charts, don't.

_Lyra: It's hard to know what works. I just keep trying to improve.

Verla: do you use charts, deet?

Greg2: You can also do "outtake scenes".

Verla: your characters are VERY alive to me, deet...

Deet: me? NO.

^GailM: See?

Deet: I don't outline either.

Greg2: Write a scene involving your character in a different situation, or at a major changing point in his/her life.

^GailM: Not everyone can use this technique.

Kubali: greg>how much background should you make for yer do you know when too much is well too much

Greg2: What was your character like at age 5? Or age 10? Or age 16? An outtake scene can help you get a fresh insight.

Verla: I believe that there are different ways to do everything...that work for different people. But if a new writer is having trouble getting their characters to "come to life" then this is ONE way to get them to become more realistic.

Greg2: Kub: I think that will vary from person to person, and from character to character. When you are comfortable with the character, I'd think you're probably okay.

_Lyra: When I was a kid, I made a small booklist autobiography for a character -- like a life story (g)

Dani257: that sounds like a good idea, Lyra

Greg2: You can also try some mind exercises. What is a typical day like for your character? Close your eyes and imagine how he or she wakes up, and what happens next.

Greg2: What does your character keep in her purse? Or in the dresser drawers?

Verla: true. And I've known some writers that start every story with, "once upon a time a baby was born..." then they go on to detail the childhood and growing up years of the character until the beginning of their story. THEN....they cut all of the preliminary stuff and start the story with "the day that is different." But...they have all that background stuff written so they KNOW their character.

MelLane: Wow, Verla... that's incredible.

^GailM: I find that all my main characters are ME, so I already know how I think.

Kubali: greg>good idea big thing is i worry about creating too much background to the point where it would become wasteful time..or is that writing useful for just the pratice

Greg2: Gail: If all the characters are you, do you find that all the characters are too much alike?

^GailM: Don't know.

_Lyra: I sometimes think writers need to have multiple personalities (g)

miss_kopel: I think they already do.....

Verla: LOL Some of us do, anyhow, eh, Miss_Kopel?

miss_kopel: yeah, guilty.

Greg2: Actually, I think there are different aspects to just about everyone's personality. You can have a dozen characters, each based on an aspect of yourself, and yet each different.

^GailM: I mean all my Main Characters. The others are my friends/relatives.

JessiVamp: and if your characters speak to you..

Kubali: greg>ok here's a prob i have.. sometimes i make chars so different it's like they don't belong in the same world..

Greg2: Kub: Good point. Characters have to fit into the worlds you create for them.

Kubali: so now that we talked about pulling chars apart...what are ways i could pull them together?

_Lyra: If you read a lot in the genre you're writing in, then you naturally learn about characterization, what works and what doesn't

Greg2: If you are writing a medieval fantasy, your characters probably won't be street-talking New Yorkers.

Verla: can't have a simple, orderly world with a sci-fi character from outer space in it...

Kubali: so they aren't carbon copies but you can tell they all come from at least the same world

Kubali: verla>yep..and sometimes yer chars come out too whacked out..esp when you do fantasy because people don't travel as much back then when all ya had was horse and mule

Greg2: Kub: They'll have some things in common.

Verla: unless that's the plot line!

Greg2: You should also be able to play characters off each other.

Kubali: greg>K..

NOTE: K = Okay

Verla: For those who came in recently...we are in the middle of a "late" workshop...

Verla: it is half over

Kubali: greg>i would suppose that strengthing up on my description to have a better idea of the common place they come from would probably be helpful to making a common background?

Greg2: There is a theory of personality that says that every person you meet and interact with has an impact on you. In that way, your characters should interact and impact on each other.

MelLane: Greg, what do you think about taking personality tests for your characters? I heard it suggested once.

Kubali: greg>but what about at the beginning of stories when a lot of characters are just starting to interact?

Kubali: greg>how do you keep them in the same ballfield?

_Lyra: I was in a workshop once that did personality tests -- kind of fun

Greg2: Mel: I've done that. It can be great fun, and also helpful.

Kubali: (lyra i did that... see query..)

Greg2: Kub: As the author, you need to know what happens "before the story begins". You can use that imaginary space to develop your characters, so they start the book fully formed.

Kubali: greg>k..

MelLane: what do you recommend as the BEST way to get in your character's head?

Greg2: Mel: I'm glad you asked that!

MelLane bows low.

Greg2: The story I'm writing now is "How to Become a Superhero in Ten Easy Steps".

Greg2: One of the main characters is a comic book fan who want to be a superhero, but has no powers. Another is his cousin, who has super powers, but no clue what to do with them.

Dani257: Sounds like something I'd like to read

Greg2: These two play off each other well, because Mickey (our comic book fan) is fairly normal, while Astatine (our super-powered character) is completly out there.

MelLane: (SUPERB story, btw, DYING to know the ending!)

NOTE: btw = by the way

Greg2: Getting into Astatine's head was a challenge.

MelLane: I'll say! (g)

NOTE: g = grin

Greg2: I had to figure out what kinds of things she likes -- mostly food products and mathematical formula.

Greg2: I had to take into account her family background -- her mother died when she was an infant, so she was raised by her father in an isolated rural area.

JessiVamp: What about researching? Going to places where your story is set (assuming it isn't in 3000 and mars..) and getting to know that people? Their mannerisims. study the way they speak and act and incorperate it into your character

Verla: That would work well as long as it was a contemporary story, Jessi...but if it's historical or fantasy or futuristic or something, then you couldn't actually visit the place...

Dani257: I'm doing fantasy, so no visiting places for me

_Lyra: but making up places is quite fun and challenging

JessiVamp: Still movies, plays from that time period (or about the future in that case), books, futuristic art, all can give you an idea.. (sorry I just noticed the conversationn.... I was elsewhere.)

_Lyra: There are particular books for clothes, etc. for historical periods

Greg2: I wrote some background scenes, and made some charts, but the thing that helped me most was role-playing.

JessiVamp: That is how I get started sometimes..

MelLane: You mean, like acting, Greg? Pretending you're that character?

Greg2: Mel: Yes!

Greg2: And you wouldn't believe how many pints of ice cream I went through before I got Astatine down. :D

Greg2: I was part of a group of authors who got together on the Internet to role-play their characters -- unscripted, no rules, and just random scenarios.

Kubali: greg>Rock! :)

Kubali signs up..ummm where is the signup sheet?

_Lyra: that would be interesting -- maybe we should come to chat as our characters sometime (s)

MelLane: COOL idea, Lyra!

Verla: Oh, what a fun idea for Halloween, lyra

Kubali: lol

_Lyra: Except without evil villains chasing my characters, I'm not sure if they would be distinguishable

Greg2: Lyra: It was very helpful. Just the process of introducing your character, asking and answering questions, brings out things I never would have guessed about her.

Verla: we should have a "characters only" chat night? GRIN

cherpa: That sounds like fun

Verla: or perhaps a "character's invited" chat night would be better. :-)

_Lyra: you could do it instead of a formal workshop

Verla: fun idea, lyra!

Greg2: Verla: Any time you want to schedule it, I'll bring Astatine. :D

Verla: sounds like it would really be fun

Kubali: heheh

Verla: You can all remind me to schedule a "character" night when I return from SCBWI National conference

MelLane: Greg, I ADORE Astatine.

Greg2: Thanks, Mel.

MelLane makes a note to remind Verla.

Greg2: What I did with another character was to ask, what would this character write if she were telling a story?

Greg2: What would her take be on politics? How would she do a movie review?

Greg2: I did a series of essays in her voice, and even sold a few.

Greg2: Actually, she's made more money this year with her writing than I have from mine. :D

Dani257: Would this method work if your character is from a fairy tale?

Verla: sure, dani!

Greg2: Dani: There's no reason why a fairy tale character can't be as complex and three-dimensional as any other.

Dani257: I'm trying to flesh out a character that already exists in literature, and am having trouble

Greg2: Find a way to let the character express herself outside the context of the story, and you may learn something about her.

Verla: what character, dani?

Dani257: I'll try the methods all of you have suggested

Dani257: Beast, in Beauty and the Beast

Greg2: I think these methods would work well for Beast.

Dani257: okay:-)

Verla: Ten more minutes before the workshop ends, folks...

Verla: so think of questions quickly....

Greg2: Another thing you can do is play with adjectives.

MelLane: adjectives?

miss_kopel: character names, do they inspire or do they come in progress?

Greg2: Pick some adjectives at random and see which characters you can apply them to.

MelLane: Ah.

Greg2: Perky? Vain? Stingy? Smart? Ambitious?

Verla: I'm not sure I understand that, greg...examples?

Verla: just did that. Gee..thanks! You read my mind!

Greg2: If you have a few main characters, make sure you're not using the same traits for all of them.

Verla: ah. Like they are all stingy. Or all snooty. Or all bored?

Greg2: Yes.

Greg2: And what about secondary characters?

SRW: Greg, I went to a site that gave characterization of names, and that's how I chose some of my character names.

Verla: can you share the url here, srw?

katrap_: good idea sue

SRW: Let me see if I can find it.

Greg2: SRW: Cool.

SRW: By the traits I wanted them to have. Then printed off the name, and traits as a reminder, so I wouldn't switch their personality.

Greg2: There will be characters around your main cast, who may only have a paragraph of description and a few lines of dialogue in the entire book. How much care should you put into those characters?

Greg2: Not as much, but there should be something distinct about them.

Greg2: I try to use anti-stereotypes.

MelLane: how much do you build on those characters, Greg?

Greg2: If you have a police officer in your scene, think of a stereotypical police officer and all the traits that come to mind. Then, don't use any of those traits!

Verla: LOL Like coffee and donut breaks, eh, greg?

Greg2: Verla: Right! I'd make my cop a health-food nut instead.

Verla: or maybe a tea drinker?

Verla: hey! Our time is UP

Greg2: "Coffee? Never touch the stuff."

Greg2: Hey, that wasn't bad for off the cuff.

miss_kopel: thanks!

Verla: I have to thank you, greg...for giving us a great (albeit later than we are used to) workshop!

MelLane: That was off the cuff?

MelLane: It was wonderful!

Dani257 applauds

MelLane: Ohly, I still like to know how much you build the minor characters. (g)

Dani257: Well, I need to go now. Great workshop. I'll have to try those ideas

Greg2: Mel: I come up with what someone might expect the minor character to be like, then do the exact opposite.

Dani257: Oh, I'll wait for the URL


MelLane: So, you said. (g)

miss_kopel: Thank you Greg

Greg2: Thanks to everyone for listening to me ramble for an hour!

katrap_: we had a workshop tonight??

ginaav: did anyone log it?

Verla: It just now finished, kat. Yes, gina. I did.

katrap_: oh....

BigJohN_: Thanks Greg. Nice workshop.

Verla: Great workshop, Greg! THANKS!



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Verla Kay

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