Monday, August 3, 2009

See the World

Remember when you were little and everything was done for you? Someone cooked and cleaned and fed your dog or cat. Someone washed your clothes, washed your hair. Someone brought in money and paid the bills. Someone took care of you when you were sick. Someone drove you to dance class and ball practice.

Now you're an adult. That "someone" is you.

If you're a writer, you have to take as much care of the characters you create as you do yourself and your human family.

You have the responsibility to give them life each time they appear on the page. Not only your protagonist and main characters, but the secondary and tertiary characters,too. Especially the antagonist. And even the walk-ons. Those walk-ons are there for a reason. If they're not, then they need to go. Or several need to be combined into one.

Giving life to your characters is more than writing about facts that would appear on a driver's license. Live in his or her head for a little while. Really put yourself there.

Go outside and take a walk around the block in your characters' shoes.

In the manuscript I just completed, the main character is a woman trying to outlive the man who wants to kill her. She's extremely aware of her surroundings and the body language of the people she meets. Her point of view is filtered through those priorities.

The antagonist thinks he's king of the world. He's the baddest, smartest dude in the sandbox. No one would dare try anything with him. When you take that same walk with him, you see the block from a different perspective. You don't spot the places someone could hide. You don't think about the dangers of deep doorways. Instead, you think about how stupid some people are. How they invite anyone to break into their houses and cars and don't even know it. How easy it would be to befriend one of the women out walking. Especially one woman.

Go take a walk with your characters. It'll do all of you good.

23 comments:

Helen Ginger said...

Hmm. I don't know if I want to take a walk with your antagonist. Even with that brief description, he's scary.

I do, however, understand what you mean. Instead of looking at your character from afar, get into his/her skin and see them from the inside-out.

Helen
Straight From Hel

Carol Kilgore said...

Yes, that's exactly what I meant - see your characters from the inside out.

I wouldn't want to meet my antagonist on a dark street, that's for sure.

Jackie Houchin said...

What a good - and simple - idea that really works. My "novel" has three estranged sisters, coming together from entirely different walks of life. I'm gonna try that walk-around-the-block test on them! Thanks, Carol.

Carol Kilgore said...

You're welcome, Jackie. Hope the walks work for your sisters.

Kerrie said...

This is a great idea. You can also change up the location to get different perspectives and insight. Walk around the mall
Walk around a park
Walk downtown at night (very scary with your antagonist)

Waconda Springs Soap Works said...

I think I'll stick to walking the dogs. Probably why I'm not writing anymore. :-)

Carol Kilgore said...

Different locations are good, too, Kerrie. Thanks for bringing that up.

If you write about places local to you, go where your scene is happening and hang out long enough to experience it from each character who will be there.

Carol Kilgore said...

Make doggie soap and shampoo and "I Smell Clean Even Though I Haven't Had A Bath In A Month" doggie spray. I'll buy it!

Waconda Springs Soap Works said...

Does this mean you're not interested in the "skunk" doggie spray?

Rats. I was so sure there was a market for that one. :-)

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

I walk almost everyday at the beautiful park across the street or at one of my favorite beaches, and I often find myself inside my character’s head. I’m not great company for my husband at those times but, as you said, it really works!

Galen Kindley--Author said...

I am for sure, a characters drive the story guy. So, I’m in big agreement with you about the importance of characters. I loved the line about getting rid or combining walk-ons. Great advice. Crisp, clean, taught. That’s the ticket.

Best Regards, Galen
Imagineering Fiction Blog

Carol Kilgore said...

I know what you mean about not always being great company, Jane. Live-in Handyman sometimes needs to remind me I need to join the present.

Carol Kilgore said...

Thank you, Galen. As someone else once told me, a story without strong characters and not truly involving those characters, is only a string of events and not as interesting to the reader.

Laura Eno said...

Thanks for the great idea! A wonderful way to visualize the concept, even if I don't walk outside.

Lillie Ammann said...

Carol,

I discovered your blog through Helen Ginger's post about you. Just wanted to say hi from a fellow San Antonio writer.

Lillie Ammann
A Writer's Words, An Editor's Eye

Carol Kilgore said...

Laura, you can visualize an area in your head. Draw a diagram if that helps. Then visit it with each character. See if that doesn't work the same way. Good luck!

Carol Kilgore said...

Hi Lillie!
We've been in San Antonio for about six months now. Love it! Although it's been a little warm the past couple months. Nice to meet a local.

Jack W. Regan said...

Good post! I love great characters. I think a below average plot can survive if it has great characters, while a great plot will die with below average characters. (Although, we all want both great characters AND plot, do we not?) :0)

Carol Kilgore said...

Yes, we do, Jack. By all means.

Angela said...

Hi Carol, I came over here from Helen Ginger`s blog and find your advice good and helpful. I am only a blog and letter writer but I want my stories to be entertaining, too.
I have a friend who is an actress and says that she can play any character! Princess, whore, murderer...I have something of everyone in me, she says, and must only let it rise in me. Good way to approach character inventing, too, I guess. Greetings from Germany!

Carol Kilgore said...

Hi Angela,
I understand what your actress friend means. Writers must be the same way and let those parts in them rise. We play the parts on the page rather on the stage. I'm so happy you stopped by.

Angela said...

Thank you, Carol, so am I! Tiki Hut sounds funny to me, because Hut means hat in German. Do you know any German? What IS a Tiki Hut?

Carol Kilgore said...

I know only a few German words and nothing about how to construct a sentence. Sad, because with the exception of a few strays, my ancestry is German and English.

A tiki hut is a thatched roof structure found on tropical beaches. The term 'tiki' is mostly found in the South Pacific, I think. Since I started the blog when I lived on the South Texas coast, I should have used the Spanish word 'palapa' - what the same type of structure is called in Mexico, but I took a little literary license because I liked Tiki Hut better.