WFMAD Day 24 – molding characters from clay and pencil shavings

I received this request from a reader last week.

“Thank u so much for the prompts!! could u mayb please write abt how u get to know ur character? & the charcters devlpment?”

There are oodles of places where you can find lists of character traits that you might find handy when you are trying to make up a fictional person using nothing more than your pencil and the wet clay of your imagination. They tend to look something like this:

Name

Age

High school & reputation

This summer char. has been..

Next year char. will…

Parents

Loves –

Hates

Is afraid of

Worries about

Secrets

Physical quirks, nervous habits

Fav. Phrase

Triumph

Best quality

Dares to

Appearance

Car

Music

Food

[note – I wrote that list and have used it many times]

But for me, a list like this is just the starting place. It is my introduction to the character. If you never explore your character beyond what is in the list, you tend to wind up with a person that is shallow or one-dimensional.

That’s why a lot of my writing prompts have you take your character and put her into situations to see how she will react. There is so much about writing fiction that happens at a subconscious level that you can rely on your imagination to supply you with answers as long as you have the courage to ask the questions.

Here are some questions that I am asking myself about a character today:

Why did they wait so long to get her the car?

Where did she live before the move?

How did she try to avoid having to move?

Who was the last person she felt was a friend? Where is that person now? What happened between them?

What if she deliberately takes the wrong turn? How long before anyone notices? Will she tell them it was on purpose? Why or why not?

As I scribble the answers to my questions, doors open in my mind and I find new paths of the story I am trying to tell.

Ready…. “It might seem that the writer needs a gift of mimicry, like an impersonator, to achieve this variety of voices. But it isn’t that. It’s more like what a serious actor does, sinking self in character-self. It’s a willingness to be the characters, letting what they think and say rise from inside them. It’s a willingness to share control with one’s creation.” Ursula K. Le Guin

Set….. turn off your preconceived notions about your character, along with the Internet and phone

Today’s prompt: Fill out the list of characteristics above. Then write ten questions about your character’s actions and motivations for the actions that you don’t have answers for yet.

Bonus points: answer your questions.

Scribble…Scribble…Scribble!!!

8 Replies to “WFMAD Day 24 – molding characters from clay and pencil shavings”

  1. Laurie,
    That request was mine. Thank you so much for answering it. I appreciate it more than you know.

    I just finished writing and answering questions about this character in my head…really trying to figure out who she is. I hope I can get a clear picture of her at some point….

    Thank you for this prompt, it’s exciting to read about your process developing your characters.

    I’m SO excited for FORGE and your YA novel….. =]

    Happy Mockingjay day to you.
    Much Love,
    Megan

  2. Good Morning, Laurie,
    Am up early to get to school and to re-establish my morning writing routine before work.
    This was perhaps the most powerful prompt yet for me to explore who my MC is as a person and what questions I have about her.
    I cannot believe it is August 24 and we have a week of WMFAD left. I feel like I have been in a writer’s workshop class all month! Thank you for that.
    Have a fabulouse day. Hope you’re not too sore from your workout.

  3. A while back, I asked:

    “When the characters demand that you write on a topic that you’re not comfortable with, how do you find the courage to not stifle them? In this case, it is important to the story, but it makes me squirm. Furthermore, how do you find the courage to show it to others, let alone ponder the possibility of publishing it once it’s polished?”

    I have been asking myself that question every time I settle to write ever since. My quickest response is to pigeonhole that section of the story for “later” and then work on something that doesn’t make me sweat. Yet, on that day that I forced myself to let the characters live their life and speak for themselves, even though it made me cringe, I produced my strongest writing in a long time. Strongest, but not very meaningful. Important in the context of the story, but not meaningful in a grand way; it’s not the sort of story that’s going to save a life, contribute toward social awareness, offer a new perspective on an important topic, or teach anyone how to deal with a real world challenge. Perhaps that distinction is important to make, but because it was “merely strong” and “not meaningful” and definitely made me squirm, I began to shy away from the story entirely.

    Then your commentary on the hullabaloo at Saturday’s Teen Lit Fest in Humble, Texas spurred me to think about how often people seek to stifle others for fear of what they may say, and how some people stifle themselves as an emotional response to a maddening situation. I have always been strongly opposed to censorship. The very word makes me froth at the mouth. The events have reinforced my drive to become a librarian, so that I can jump into the fray as a free speech advocate with at least a little more power to influence change. But more importantly, when your commentary on the events collided with the question that has been on endless repeat in my mind, I was forced to consider how easily censorship may begin within the writer.

    Stifling characters is not on a par with disinviting authors who have written controversial books, and shying away from a story because a few character interactions make me squirm is obviously not to be equated with boycotting a festival in a bid for solidarity. Nonetheless, it has me thinking deep and hard about how shutting out “the scariest voices” is crippling me as a writer. So, that particular WIP is not important in a grand way and the final story may never be worthy of publication, but the grueling exercise itself made me stronger. (Enter Rocky theme song… Yes, your other blogs have been influential, as well.) I have other stories waiting in the wings that are important by my definition. I have not started on them yet, because they scare me into silence. Their gravity overwhelms me. If I continue to treat the characters from my “less worthy” stories with the same respect that a person preparing for the big boxing match, or a marathon or book tour, gives to all the painful workouts that are part of an effective training program, and for similar reasons, will I eventually develop the courage and strength necessary to tackle the bigger, nastier, scarier stories? Or is it just another way of pigeonholing the bigger projects for “later”? Is it just another way to wear duct tape over my own mouth for a little while longer for fear of what I might say?

    1. I just reread this comment and cringed. In a way, my original questions have already been answered, and the last questions form an evil Catch-22.

    2. I love, love, love what you have opened and shared here. I’m saving it in a place to keep it at the front of my brain.

      I’ve been turning over in my mind for a few weeks now–since the BYU event where I first met Laurie, in fact–the idea that in all the history of the world, _we_, all of us, are here _now_. For all the billions who have come before our time, and for all the generations yet to come, it cannot be mere happenstance that _we_ are in this time and place only coincidentally, with no impact or effect on one another.

      I find myself continually astonished by the depths of humanity, awed and inspired by individual’s incredible talents and contributions, puzzled by people who snuff out their own light to remain, by choice, the victims of their circumstances. I’m moved by people, such as each who have “played” the WFMAD game this month, who strive to make their daily actions a match for their word, who they say and create themselves to be. I stand full of wonder and filled with the deepest reverence for individuals who live their lives with passion and purpose. I just wanna be like that! How does it happen that I get to live bigger and be more because I read you here? What you write fills the earth with light–you illuminate your purpose and your light fills the space around you with hope and possibility! It goes so far beyond the words you piece together to how the construction of them reveals your soul–what gives you life and passion, what lights your fire and compels you to light others.

      Call me nutty (it’s a big club, I’m a-thinkin’), but each time I read someone’s contribution on this blog…yeesh, I seriously want to bake a cake and have ya’all over. Like maybe I’d recognize you on the street.

      MAN-o-day, I love bein’ on this planet! Had to be one of God’s spoiled children once upon a time, that’s all I can say about that! Cheers to you and each of you. You rock!

  4. This was so fun! I had fun discovering my character’s inner feelings and even what kind of car she drives. I saved a copy of all the question so every time I start a new story (or even if I have writer’s block on the one I am working on) I can fill it out and learn more about all my characters 😀 Thanks Laurie!!

  5. Yeah! Slowly catching up after being away with my family and then having the computer broken and everything else.
    But . . . I did not give up!
    This was a fabulous prompt. I decided to fill in the questions without thinking or forcing anything on my character. (This is the first time I have done something like this–working with a list). I LOVED IT!!
    I read each question and then typed with my eyes closed, allowing the answers to naturally spring forth.
    I connected with my character and felt alive and hopeful and filled with endless possibilities.
    Hugs to you, for all you have given to us!

    Betsy

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