Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Create your Pinocchio: Building a Person from Ideas

I don't know if it was because he was a boy or because I was creeped out by his growing nose and foolish mistakes, but as a kid I never liked Pinocchio.  So, I could never understand why Giuseppe would want him to become a real boy.  I mean who wants to deal with a pain in the ass, dishonest little kid who doesn't listen? (Thanks for putting up with me Mom.)  Giuseppe, much like a parent, did see something in Pinocchio; he saw a chance for his ideas to come to life.

Since committing to the transformation of my writing from hobby to career, I am beginning to understand Giuseppe better and wish Pinocchio could be truly real.  Because if he could be real, then my Kaitlin and Gracie could be real and we could hang out and talk just once.  I spend so much time developing them in my head and on my computer it's as if they are my children.  As I write, I can hear their voices and see through Kaitlin's eyes.  I feel their emotions and understand their thoughts.  Now, there is the chance that my meds quit working again, but I like to think I have gotten good at developing my characters.  At least that's what the people in my writing group let me believe (and that has nothing to do with the fact that they are with me in a small room at the end of a long hallway as they critique my work).

Last night, at writer's group, I was asked what I do to develop my characters.  I tried to answer this on the spot, but I was drowning in the flattery and really couldn't think about my process clearly enough to explain.  It seems I remember reading an article or chapter about character development that talked about interviewing your characters.  I am sure that works great...if you are good at asking questions.  I am not.

I tend to work more on intuition and this character sketch lesson I have taught to my 7th graders.  What are the habits of my characters?  Habits you wouldn’t explicitly write into the book, but that make them more human.  My character, Kaitlin, for example, is a Diet Coke addict.  It's a little thing, but anytime food is mentioned, you know she will have a Diet Coke--just like you know what your best friend would have to drink.  These little habits help readers connect to the characters more and brings fictional people to life.

Another way character can be developed is by writing notes on their back story and items they own.  My character, Kaitlin, was abandoned at the age of four, yet we know her birthday.  How is that?  I was going to brush it off as YA literary magic and hope my readers never wondered.  This deception kept me awake and I decided to ask the question myself.  Immediately, I found myself jotting notes about the items found with her in a backpack.  There is information in these items that give us her birth date.  However, these items also began to tell me who Kaitlin's parents were and in turn who she is.  Suddenly, I could see her as well as my own kids.

Finally, I think about what the characters look like and then I watch people when I am out.  I still haven't "seen" Kaitlin, but her adoptive mother I have seen.  I was sitting in a class one Saturday morning when instructor came in and it was clear, she was Gracie.  I knew it as soon as I saw her.  I don't think I could tell you much of what I learned in this class, but I have copious notes about her mannerisms and belief systems.

When building your characters, the best thing you can do is spend time with them.  Look for them in your day to day interactions.  During typical encounters ask yourself, what would my character do in this situation?  Then, weave these mundane daily actions and habits into the fabric of your fiction to add depth to who your character truly is.  Create your Pinocchio.

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