Character Building Excercises -the Fictional Kind
Caroline Bock - Author of BEFORE MY EYES and LIE
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Caroline Bock-BEFORE MY EYES

Character Building Excercises -the Fictional Kind


First some thoughts on character:
“Character is the very life of fiction. Setting exists so that the character has someplace to stand, something that can help define him, something he can pick up and throw, if necessary, or eat, or give to his girlfriend. Plot exists so the character can discover himself (and in the process reveal to the reader) what he, the character is really like: plot forces the character to choice and action, transforms him from a static construct to a lifelike human being making choices or reaping the rewards.       And theme exists only to make the character stand up and be somebody: theme is elevated critical language for what the character’s main problem is.” (On Becoming a Novelist by John Gardner, p. 54)
 
 
On the ‘”accuracy of the writer’s eye”
“….whether you’re writing about people or dragons, your personal observation of how things happen in the world – how character reveals itself can turn a dead scene into a vital one…. Good advice might be: Write as if you were a movie camera. Get exactly what is there. All human beings see with astonishing accuracy, not that they can write it down…. Getting it down precisely is all that is meant by ‘the accuracy of the writer’s eye.’ Getting down what the writer really cares about – setting down what the writer himself notices, as opposed to what any fool might notice – is all that is meant by the originality of the writer’s eye. Every human being has original vision….”  (p. 71, Gardner).
 
 
Pixar story artist Emma Coats tweeted a series of “story basics” here are her highlights on developing character:
 
#1 You admire a character for trying more than for their successes
 
-- Simplify. Focus. Combine character. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
 
-- What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
 
-- Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.
 
-- Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
 
--What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character.   What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against. 
 
--If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.
 
Writing EXERCISES…
 
1) Take a simple act, say unbuttoning a shirt, pulling on a sock, pouring a cup of coffee or milk, and write it in slow motion, that is, give it two hundred words. Don’t automatically lapse into hyperbole (and thereby the comic), but think of the effect: make it matter-of-fact, sinister, gross, full of touch, feel, sight, and smell.
 
Discuss how the manner in which the character performs the act shapes his character.       
 
 
2) Write two hundred words on a character entering a space (a car, a classroom, a kitchen, a backyard, etc). Inventory all the sense of the space as she moves toward the one thing that she desperately wants in that space. Take your time and describe in detail what the character sees, hears, smells, senses and knows—and doesn’t know—about the surroundings.      
 
Discuss how the character’s perceptions or point of view, and motivation or want, shapes this character.
                                                            Adapted from Ron Carlson Writes A Story by Ron Carlson


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I've written two novels with multiple points of view... if you haven't read them yet, consider BEFORE MY EYES and LIE.

Write on!


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