ProTalk Discussion: - 10/19/04

Bringing Characters to Life


*** Verla has set the topic on channel #Kidlit to ProTalk Discussion - Bringing Characters to Life IN PROGRESS... welcome!
Verla: ProTalk Discussion - Bringing Characters to Life tonight!
Verla: Welcome all...
Verla: tonight we're discussion how to bring your characters to life, and we have some expert people in here to discuss this.
Verla: This will be an "open" discussion, so as long as you are staying "on topic" you are encouraged to ask questions, and make comments
Verla: to begin, I'd like to know who here feels they have done a good job of bringing a character to life
els: I think I have
Verla: (I KNOW Shirley, has...)
WriterMel: In some characters yes, some no.
Verla: and I know Mel has
varia: my mc was stiff
Verla: so what do you think was the difference between yours, mel?
Verla: I feel like my Jasper character in Gold Fever is very much alive. Kids relate so well to him. And since he's an adult in a kids' book, I think that says something about him.
WriterMel: I didn't have a full grasp of who my character was.
WriterMel: What they wanted, either in life or short term.
Verla: with Jasper it was the way he "acted" in the book, and what he "said" that made him come alive. (Kids love it when he says, "Warn't like told!" when he comes home broke and they ask him "Where's the gold?")
WriterMel: I think in order to make a character "real", they have to be "real" to the writer... with dreams, goals, secret wishes, etc.
Verla: Do you feel that a character chart would have helped you to figure out who he is, mel?
JKC: I liked my MC and supporting cast in the novel I just finished. They were so real, I miss them.
NOTE: MC = Main Character
WriterMel: Honestly, I don't think so, Verla.
WriterMel: I've tried those, and they work great for most writers, but not for me.
varia: I need a character chart
Verla: Did I ever post mine? I think I did...
WriterMel: (Verla has the MOST AWESOME character chart, for those who don't know)
JKC: Tell us...
PamelaRoss: (I would love to see it)
WriterMel: I think in writing the story itself gave me more insight into the character/person.
varia: I need to see it
Verla: Yep. I posted it on the Getting Started page of my website
PamelaRoss: Tres bien!
Verla: I made the chart up myself, to help me with my characters when I was writing the first draft of my YA (as yet unsubmitted)
PamelaRoss: Got it, Verla. Aren't computers divine? {}
WriterMel: I think the chart is excellent and it will help writers to get to know their character, but I have to "think" them through first.
Verla: There's the character chart I made. Feel free to copy it, and change it to suit your own needs, if you want to try it out. It REALLY helped me to not only "know" who my characters were, and what they wanted, and how they would act, but it also reminded me that a birthmark is on so-and-so's LEFT shoulder, and that X's hair is red, not blond, and that the MC hates peas, and loves chocolate.
Verla: the chart helped me to think mine through, and then to keep track of their traits after I'd decided what they were, mel
Verla: I also cut out photos of people from magazines and catalogs to represent my characters. Helped me to "see" them.
ShirleyH: I've never used a chart, but I develop characters around best friends I wish I had. What I like about them, what they want, those types of things
PamelaRoss: I think you need longer lines and more space for the positive and negative traits. <g>
Verla: okay... your turn!
els: oh, I was going to say something like that- I draw my characters
Verla: Oh, I like that, Shirley!
Verla: naturally, els... you are an artist!
WriterMel: I have a writer friend who uses people clip art for pictures of her characters.
Verla: If I were to draw MY characters, they would all look like "the blob"
WriterMel: She gets several pictures of the same individual, different poses, different clothes..
PamelaRoss: I met someome in Wisconsin who cut out images from magazines.. just as you do, Verla. I Have never done that. Hhm.
PamelaRoss: Shirley-- interesting way to breathe life into your characters.
dystar: I just started to use character sheets
joanclr: I'm only just getting into YA writing, so this is all very interesting for me
joanclr: I like the chart
els: here is my favorite all time charater-
Verla: oh oh.. yes, tell us, els!
ShirleyH: It works for me. Even my bad guys are friends!
joanclr: There is a book I read too that was very in depth all about "getting to kwo your character" by Noah Lukeman
Verla: oh, you are showing us. LOL
NOTE: LOL = Laughing Out Loud
els: heh
dystar: ironically, it was my plays that made me realize how useful character sheets are
PamelaRoss: Show don't tell, Els <g>
NOTE: <g> = grin
Verla: Oh, thanks for sharing that, joan
els: but I can tell you about her, too, because she was so difficult to build
Verla: please do, els
els: lol, pamela
varia: I use my sims games to build scenes, houses etc but never thought about the characters...which I also build on there.
Verla: and then I want to talk a little about what makes a character FLAT and uninteresting/boring to readers
WriterMel: I think in order to make a good character, the character has to be real for the writer... if not, how can the character be real for the reader?
dystar: who is she, els?
els: Aerona was hard for several reasons. Agents really hate her
joanclr: Very cool, Els
els: she is the MC of a fantasy novel I am working in
PamelaRoss: I saw it, Els. Did you draw her?
els: she is a hermaphrodite with a split personality
els: yes, Pamela, I did draw her
Verla: okay, els. TALK NORMAL, please?
joanclr: ohh Els, interesting
joanclr: lol
els: half male, half female, Kia, lol
els: with magical powers
Verla: explain to picture book people like me that never went to college what a hermaph..whatever that is... is.
Verla: Oh. Thanks. You just did. <grin>
dystar: I can see why she'd have a split personality
els: yes, she is actually 2 people, brother and sister in one body
PamelaRoss: Are her male and female parts split as wellor is she 50-50? }|
els: they have wars, each has different motivations
Verla: yes, half male/half female would almost HAVE to have a split personality to avoid murdering her/himself!
els: different desires
els: different likes and dislikes
Verla: or going insane
els: yes, she actually thought she was insane, many times
PamelaRoss: She sounds just ilke every married couple I know.
PamelaRoss: <g>
dystar: do her personalities know about each other?
els: so when I would get the female side nailed down, her brother would come in and say, uhuh- that isnt' they way things are going to be
els: yes, they do- they talk to each other
els: hate each other, love each other
joanclr: interesting
Verla: okay... what ideas/techniques besides using a character chart can you suggest for how to make a character feel real? I know that Linda Joy Singleton always asks herself, "What does my character want/need? And why can't he/she have it?"
els: very much like any sibling relationship, but with the added difficulty of sharing a body
PamelaRoss: They talk to one another? Forget it. Not a married couple-- unless they are on their honeymoon. <gg>
Verla: Linda goes for "motivation" of a character
els: I agree with LJ- that seems to me at least to be the most important thing
Verla: dialogue is VERY important!
Amishka: I know some people look on sites to see if they can get a picture of their characters
Verla: I think dialogue is one of the main ways to "characterize" your people in your stories
PamelaRoss: But before I know what she wants and why, I have to feel the character within me. I close my eyes. I let her talk.
els: I like showing a character's reactions in the little things, too- they build the character as much as great events
joanclr: If one of my characters has a certain accent or style of speaking, I try to "read" their dialogue aloud in my mind in that accent; it helps me get into the part and see if it feels right
joanclr: That's a good point Els
Amishka: To get a feel for my characters I try to listen to the same music as they would
WriterMel: I think their emotions play a big part -- how do they feel about their family, friends, enemies.
dystar: I'm not very good at dialects, so I don't use them much
dystar: ooh, yeah, ami -- that works for me too
Verla: someone who says, "Okay, you jerk! MOVE OVER!" definitely has a different "personality" than someone who says, "I'm sorry. I was sitting there. Would you please take that chair, instead?"
PamelaRoss: Ami-- music-- same here
joanclr: Yes, that's a very good point
joanclr: I don't know what's wrong with me in the music dept, so many people write to music but I just shut down when there's any on lol
WriterMel: I like to pretend I AM that character -- like playing a "role" on stage.
dystar: doesn't work for everyone, joan
dystar: it usually has to be instrumental for me
joanclr: Funny thing is, I can write when kids are running around screaming, talking, etc- but put music on and I go blank
joanclr: LOL
dystar: the music of children...
Verla: LOL... that's very funny, joan
joanclr: :)
Amishka: I like to know my mcs history even if it has no relevance on the story I'm telling now, I want know even if the reader doesn't
PamelaRoss: Mel: Paula Danzinger used to talk about taking acting lesssons to get to know the inner soul of your characters...{}
WriterMel: For me it works because I like drama so much.
els: Mel, same here
dystar: helps to read dialogue out loud too
Verla: yes, speaking the dialogue lets you know instantly if it's "good" or stilted
dystar: or appropriate
PamelaRoss: and I can kill a character when two or more are the same person or sound like the same person
dystar: sure, combine two flat characters to make a deeper single one
Verla: hmm. I never thought about doing that! (merging characters into one)
PamelaRoss: Heroines need a strong supporting cast to come to life. You can find out a lot about a person when you see who talks to her, what is said between them, what the main character confides to the other and vice versa, etc
Verla: and nothing "kills" a character faster than having them just be a "foil" for a plot-line
dystar: the worst kind of character is the one who is just there to have things explained to him/her
joanclr: lol
PamelaRoss: Exactly, Verla. It seems so contrived and the reader will call you on it
dystar: like the scientist character in the old "b" movies who was only there to listen to the hero spout off what was happening
Verla: example of a "foil" character: You decide you want a character to travel somewhere, and have a certain adventure. So you stick a person into the story and have them travel to that place and do that thing. But there's nothing "real" about the character... they don't have a background, a history, a personality. Everything is "stock"... or what you would "expect" of a character like that in that situation.
dystar: we call him "As you know, Bob"
joanclr: What I am having a hard time with in my YA is really getting into a description of something that I have never done before
joanclr: in this case, scuba diving
PamelaRoss: Dy-- haha!
joanclr: there's books and movies and all that - but experience really is the best way, and it's tough to do without that
Verla: research, joan!
Verla: experience it on the web
joanclr: ha yes
Verla: through TV documentaries...
els: yes, one of the nice things about writing is you can take scuba diving as a tax deduction...
Verla: books
dystar: if you can't do it yourself, get as close as you can
Lyra: I took a cruise for research
Verla: and if you can... go to a scuba diving place and tell them what you are doing... ask them to let you try on some of the equipment so you can "feel" what it feels like to wear it
Verla: yep, dy
els: I got my DH into blacksmithing for research
NOTE: DH = Dear Husband
joanclr: interesting, that's a great idea
PamelaRoss: not sure if any of my characters will do something I am afraid to experience-- like scuba-ing :}
dystar: people are always willing to help
Verla: interview people (on line?) to get a "feel" for it
dystar: they love to talk about their passions
JKC: Gee, lyra...I just went to the police station.
Verla: also, there's most likely a listserv somewhere or a message board for scuba divers
Lyra: as long as it was for research
Verla: join them and listen in!
joanclr: these are great ideas
joanclr: yes, get the lingo ;) hehe
Lyra: I joined a cheerleading listserv when I wrote the Cheer Squad series
PamelaRoss: THAT'S a great idea/suggestion
joanclr: lol
Verla: lyra joined a cheer leading listserv when she was writing her cheerleader book series
Lyra: By being on that listserv, I was invited to attend a cheer camp as a "pretend" coach
Verla: oh, you just said that, lyra. LOL!
dystar: cool
PamelaRoss: LYRA-- are there cheerleaaders on line? When do they have time to talk? {}
Lyra: (I was wondering if I was a ghost and you were speaking for me, verla)
Lyra: well they were online in the mid-90's when I wrote my series
Lyra: Now I just hang out at psychic fairs...
Verla: well, we were talking about you earlier, lyra, because you weren't here to talk yourself... I guess I was just "in the habit"
Lyra: LOL...I didn't realize there was a talk tonight
Verla: yep, there is, lyra... and next week we have an EDITOR coming to do a workshop in here
PamelaRoss: Verla knows you so well, LJ, that she is able to breathe YOU to life {}
Verla: lyra is very much alive on her own, pamela. LOL
Lyra: good...then I'll just leave and let her talk for me
Verla: no no no, lyra
Lyra: lol
PamelaRoss: NO {}
JKC: I blocked the door.
dystar: i've always wondered if you were fictional, lyra
Lyra: yup--but my characters are real.
PamelaRoss: What do we do when we are waiting for a character to arrive? Do your books begin with a story or a character?
joanclr: Now how do you find those listservs?
dystar: ;-)
els: try doing a search through Yahoo Groups
Lyra: go to the yahoogroups site and put in the topic you're searching for
joanclr: I think the best stories are when you get a combination of both a great character and a great plot :)
joanclr: getting both to happen at once is the challenge
PamelaRoss: Joan:: GOOGLE the words
els: go into the groups section, and type in Scuba diving
joanclr: cool els and Lyra
joanclr: will try it
joanclr: ah right
joanclr: thank you :)
PamelaRoss: then pick GROUPS
Lyra: I come up with a situation first and then the character that fits grows till she is vivid in my head
Verla: If you take a character, and think, Okay... Sue is going to go out on a date with Ron. She's shy, and is going to be very hesitant to look him in the eye. He's outgoing and is going to be very aggressive with her. She'll get upset with him, slap him, and then stomp into the house
Verla: BORING! Everyone would expect that!
dystar: usually the characters arrive first, for me
Verla: instead, turn it all upside down.
ShirleyH: I start with character.
Verla: make him the shy one
Lyra: for most writers it's the character first
Verla: have her be the aggressive one
PamelaRoss: I think why I write as slowly as I do is because the character is there and then I am not sure where I want to go...
JKC: Sounds like me.
els: goodness, now I want to go write
Verla: and then, have him do something unexpected...
Lyra: But for example with my THE SEER series, I knew I wanted a girl psychic who is hiding her ability, then created a past for her...and she grew into Sabine
Verla: (I love that name for a psychic!)
Lyra: she chose that name---I tried to talk her into something else
JKC: How did you come up with the situation?
Verla: I like to play, WHAT IF? with my characters
joanclr: What a neat idea Verla
joanclr: I need to get into my characters' heads more
Verla: What if my character got lost?
joanclr: Sometimes I'm too end-result driven
Lyra: I have been fascinated with psychics for a long time and had this idea in 1988
Verla: What if he was color-blind?
dystar: what does the character want?
dystar: why can't he/she get it?
Verla: what if he was a girl in disguise?
JKC: So your characters do that too, huh. Choose their own names.
kimmar: my character keeps morphing as I go
Lyra: I pit the story with a character with a lot at risk
Verla: what if he is sick?
Verla: what if he doesn't want what is good for him?
dystar: stories are about conflict
Verla: right, lyra... some major "thing" should be the consequence if things don't work out right for him
PamelaRoss: If we are writing to be true, aren't we all like that? Constantly changing. Going after the wrong object. Taking the wrong path.
Verla: I think so, pamela!
kimmar: good point pamela
varia: so you do a chart on all your characters?
Lyra: I used to write romance and then I always created characters at odds with each other
varia: not just the mc?
PamelaRoss: I am still figuring out what my motivation is. I wish I could get it within the span of 120 pps. <g>
NOTE: pps = pages
Lyra: I don't write down character lists...but I should. I just almost made a big goof giving a mc the wrong hair color
Verla: some of my favorite characters from my childhood books were Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, and Nancy Drew. They were so REAL to me!
PamelaRoss: You mean Nancy Drew wasn't real? ;>
JKC: Trixie Belden was real. I know.
els faints
Verla: I did one on all my characters, varia... but the minor character charts weren't nearly as "filled in" as the main characters
PamelaRoss: She sure spent a lot of time hanging out with me.
Lyra: Nancy is a perfect mirror where readers can become her
els: what about the Hardy boys, they were real, right???
Verla: LOL! You guys are too funny
Verla: NO els. Sorry to burst your bubble
Lyra: Trixie was VERY real...and so were her pals Honey and Jim
Verla: and of course, Cherry Ames!
Verla: she made me want to be a nurse in the worst way
Lyra: Cherry has more personality than Nancy as two authors wrote her
JKC: ...and Di and Reddy and...and...
PamelaRoss: Why do we remember the characters from our favorite children's books so much more so than a character in an adult novel?
Lyra: yup, JKC...little Bobby, brother Brian
varia: do you ever find the sub char is more interesting then the mc and steps forward to be the mc in the story?
dystar: because we related to them
Lyra: Pam--it's because the books we read as we changed from kids to adults meant the most to us
kimmar: that happened to me with my current wip varia
Verla: we probably spent more time with those characters from our childhood, pamela.... read them over and over and over
els: yes, Varia, and then I write a sequel, lol
kimmar: so I changed my mc
JKC: We wanted to be those characters.
tgseale: if this has been asked already, I can read the archives later, but I was out of the room for a moment. Did you all make your own character charts, or do you use something pre-made that you found somewhere?
Lyra: varia--my sub character Thorn in THE SEER started to take over in book she's staying off stage more in #3
Verla: yep. I certainly did (want to be those characters)
Lyra: But someday Thorn gets her own book
PamelaRoss: Absolutely to each of you. We read those books over and over.. so clearly it becomes more than just a good STORY
dystar: I was given a character sheet from a kidlit course
Verla: I have a character chart I made up on my website on the Getting Started page of my website, tg.
Lyra: I have characters sheets somewhere...I just never use them and keep files for my books with lots of scribbled notes
els: Kia has a character sheet up on her website
els: ah. there ya go
tgseale: oh, ok. I'll look for it there.
JKC: I haven't ever used a character sheet. Should.
Lyra: Kia is SO verla a brownie point!
Verla bows
Verla: (for anyone that might be confused, I go by kia in the chat room except on Discussion/Workshop nights)
kimmar: I used a character chart to get an initial sense of my characters - to get me thinking about them. but, for me, I abondoned the charts because I realized I didn't care what her favorite food was if it had nothing to do with the story
Verla: it only matters if she becomes allergic to it, kimmar
kimmar: lol
els: heh!
Debby: lol, Kim
Verla: or... if someone tempts her with it and she can NOT refuse it... so she goes to get it and gets into trouble because of it
JKC: I like my characters to surprise me a little.
Verla: or something like that
kimmar: me too
Verla: I love it when my characters surprise me!
PamelaRoss: Kim, I haven't used charts, per se, but it's funny the little things we plant in out stories that really are much more important than we know.
Lyra: Yeah--that happens sometimes
els: like she is on atkins and someone offers her a cream horn...
Verla: NO NO NO, els... torture!
els: mwahahaha
tgseale: urgh
PamelaRoss: No bread for your characters, Els <g>
kimmar: I agree pamela
Verla: eeek! Only ten minutes to go, folks! Talk fast!
Lyra: I found out in #2 THE SEER what Thorn's real name was -- and found out she was named after Little Women
els: my characters generally have to get by on roots and berries and woodrat stew
Lyra: yikes, els...remind me not to appear in your books..
Verla: woodrat stew sounds horrible, els
dystar: in my mg, one character walked up to me and said, "Hi, I'll be your villain."
Verla: LOL dy
dystar: kinda startled me
PamelaRoss: And I HATE when I forget what they are like. Serves me right fort leaving the mss for too long. I have to read my words over and over to plunge back into the fictional world I've made!
Amishka: I think using a character chart can help grab the original character but once you have her you don't really need the chart anymore
Verla: when your characters start doing things on their own in your stories, I think you have "got it."
JKC: Sometimes my MC's stop jumping when I do too much directing.
joanclr: That's the part I need to get to
PamelaRoss: LITTLE WOMEN-- you are speaking my language, LJ. How did that connect?
joanclr: where they will get a life of their own
JKC: I have some stuffed in the closet right now that want to be in a fantasy.
^Miriam: dy what did the villian's name end up being?
Verla: right, ami... at that point, I only use the charts to keep track of my characters, so I don't have someone limping with a sore left foot in one scene, and forget and have the right foot limping in another scene
dystar: Lord Evander
^Miriam: good one!
Lyra: Pam--Since I love series books and collect them, I'm wearing series references in my own series
kimmar: i envisioned a major plot point for my novel before I started writing it, involving an action my character would take. Now as I write, I realize that she wouldn't act that way, so my plot plans all screwy !
Lyra: you know what I worry about a bit -- having certain types of characters that show up in all your books
Verla: good, kimmar. Now you can play WHAT IF? with your character and find out what SHE would do
els: oh, I worry about that, too, Lyra,
dystar: stereotypes?
Lyra: I've noticed when I read certain authors a lot and how they have "stock" characters
kimmar: but I liked that plot point kia, and I can't think of another one... wahhh
Amishka: welcome to getting to know your characters kimmar
Verla: yes, that's what I was talking about earlier, dy... stereotypes!
JKC: Are you making your characters do what you want them to do...or letting them do what they want to do?
Lyra: Like Chase from REGENERATION is awfully close to Dominic in THE SEER...but I'm not sure how to improve that
Verla: like, the mother cooks and cleans and stays home with the kids and the father goes to the office every day
Lyra: not really sterotypes--but your own "standard characters"
kimmar: I'm getting to know her mish, but she won't tell me where to take her!
JKC: Sometimes letting them loose will keep your plot.
els: What I wonder about that, though, Lyra is-
els: if you have a loyal following-
kimmar: that's what I'm trying to do jkc :)
Lyra: yeah?
els: will they want to read those stock characters over and over- maybe it is a character they can relate to
Verla: instead, have a bird that chases around and terrorizes the cat, and a father that's a stay-at-home dad, and a mother that's a corporate executive, or a doctor, or something like that
PamelaRoss: Lyra-- maybe in a series, however, your rabid, loyal readers find comfort in the similarities of certain... types...
els: maybe that type of character is why they are reading the story
PamelaRoss: (Els got there before me)
Lyra: els--I had some kids write and say they were like "Sandee" or "Varina"
JKC: That's what I was going to say.
Lyra: I just would like to come up with more unique characters...will continue to work on this
els: neat, lyra- you made a good connection
Verla: EEK! Our time is nearly up!
PamelaRoss: Kim, you talked out your book the other day and I think it helped you see what COULD be done and what could really NOT be done for the story to ring true..
Verla: anyone have any last minute things to say before we close this discussion?
dystar: there's a book I read that I found useful
Verla: And... before anyone leaves... I have an IMPORTANT announcement to make!
^Miriam: yes?
JKC: Gosh...I was just getting started.
els: what?
dystar: I can't remember the title, but hang on for just a sec and I'll look for it
Lyra: oh--another tip I've heard for characters is to use horoscope books for different traits
tgseale: oh lyra, that is a GREAAAAT idea!!!
Verla: Next Tuesday night, same time, same place... we have an EDITOR coming to do a one and a half hour workshop!
JKC: That's gooooood.
PamelaRoss: Lyra- hee hee-- I think my characters are all Pisces <g>
^Miriam: great verla!
Deb: when creating new characters for a story you can make a list of stereotypical characters and include in that list characters that no one would expect to see then start mixing them might end up with a female sherif of a small town who is also the town librarian...
Lyra: mine are Scorpios and Geminis...
PamelaRoss: Verla, clap clap... Do we know who it is?
Verla: Nicole Geiger from Tricycle Press will be here to talk to us. Be sure to be here ON TIME next week1
Lyra: deb--interesting idea
Verla: nice idea, deb
tgseale: Yipppeeeeeee! (and sorry for coming after the tardy bell rang)
kimmar: pamela, but I need you sitting by my side everyday so that I can process with you more {{}}
els: what do you do when your MC is always yourself?
PamelaRoss: How do you know her, Verla?
Verla: I've met Nicole a couple of times in person, Pamela. (Through SCBWI conferences - YAY for SCBWI!) and she has my Rough, Tough Charley book under consideration right now.
NOTE: SCBWI is the Society for Children's Book Writers & Illustrators
Deb: and fun Lyra...more to it even, just wanted to quick hurry get it in, lol
Verla points to the dungeon door and whispers... if you came in late, els gets to torture you tonight
Lyra: I think my MC is parts of myself...
Deb: eep
Verla: morph yourself, els?
els: I'm too old to Morph
dystar: 45 Master Characters by Victoria Schmidt
tgseale: thank you dy. I will look for it.
kimmar: pamela, this is a different plot point that the one I referred to this weekend
Verla: I'm calling the Discussion at an official end now, folks..
Verla: It was a GREAT discussion! Thanks to everyone who participated! You made this super.

Verla Kay
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