Thursday, September 17, 2015
Overview Character Development: Part Two: External Details
Workshop: An Introduction to Writing for Children and Young Adults
“It is important to remember that character is plot, that the plot has to grow out of the characters, not be imposed upon them.” Jane Yolen
In order to grow this kind of depth it is necessary to know each key character thoroughly from the inside out, and to know each minor character for the primary detail they contribute to the story. Whether or not their personality, or moral character, will reflect or oppose their external portrait first impressions matter.
Whether we mean to or not we often begin to assess a new person from the moment we see them. In addition to the basic criteria of size and age and gender we consciously or unconsciously begin to make assumptions or at least make a surface impression based on external details.
These external tags can silently add atmosphere and focus with just a few specific phrases. What does their overall appearance or choice of clothes suggest—are they sloppy or neat? What make you think that?
How does their speech indicate level of education or geographic region? Are they friendly or do they scowl. What other possibilities do their mannerisms suggest? What about attitude—do they appear shy or quiet—what makes that difference. How do you indicate arrogance by tilt of head or demeanor?
Each character needs one or two of these tags to personalize themselves and your main protagonist and antagonist will need more.
Use a single, easily, identifiable characteristic that is unique but not complex. Choose whether the character should be flat or round. For example a bus driver may simply be flat because he only drives the bus. However, if he has a stronger role then he, or she, might smile or crack a joke or warning to your character as they pay, which adds personality to them as a person. Conversely some minor characters may need to be made flat because they really do not contribute to the heart of the story.
Whether you will use all the detail information or not, each character needs at least a physical work-up for your own ‘visual’ impression. Is the cook young/old/from another culture? Why might any of those versions matter or add to the plot?
Prepare to be surprised as you write. Unexpected characters might show up and might become minor characters instead of a flat one, or vice versa. Once you have a sense of who your character is then you can use a chart or other methods to build up a sense of who they are. Barely any of this will go into your story plot but you will know them thoroughly, as well as a sibling or friend. And because you do know them so well you will be able to pick out a telling characteristic exactly when needed.
Remember that real character have good and bad qualities. And they change. Pippi is not considered to be a real child by some because she never changes throughout all her stories.
We’ll look at internal details next week but we must be able to identify the emotional core in your character. Choose a single core quality to focus on at first. This is where the character will change and it comes about as a result of what happens in the story. For example a clumsy dog saves the day. But to begin with the reader first only sees a dog getting into trouble because of his clumsiness. Later thought that same clumsiness causes a victory. It’s a showing external key that grows the plot.
The key is to provide convincing motivation for their behavior, whether helpful or destructive or contradictory. The protagonist doesn’t need to be likeable, but must be someone the reader can identify with, or at least be sympathetic to. Remember even the ‘bad’ characters believe they’re right. Their external details can be a mirror of their personality or a disguise or a hint of another possibility.
Develop the look of four characters using each of the methods below for each one. Choose two major characters and two minor ones.
1.Brainstorm from scratch using a character chart and fill in the basics such as height, weight, hair, skin tone, age and other basic facts.
2. Cut out pictures from magazines and write a background for them. Or look for a person that looks like your idea.
3. Take two people you knew or know. Make a list of their characteristics. Now make a single character mix and matching from their attributes. Reverse their personality.
4. Or take someone past or present. Change their age, their sex and completely reverse their appearance style.
5. Bonus: Sit in a public place for about five minutes and see whom you notice first. Write down the physical or action characteristics that caught your attention.
Share: Which version did you find most creative.
Read deep, marcy