Monday, February 25, 2013



How can we make our characters seem like real people and not cardboard stereotypes?

Here's a fun activity that I've used in writing classes.

Pick a character and give him or her a label. For example, cheerleader.

Brainstorm the characteristics that you would expect a cheerleader to have: popular, good figure, pretty, athletic. Then add one surprising thing to your list - shy. We don't usually think of a cheerleader as shy. We now have the beginnings of an individual.

A mountain climber is strong, athletic, disciplined, loves the outdoors. Could he also be afraid of heights?

What about the soccer team captain who likes to knit? The bouncer at the bar who owns a poodle? The teacher who steals from kids' lunches? The detective who is a hoarder?

You don't have to stop there. Often the "one surprising thing" raises questions that can liven up your plot. What motivates a person who is afraid of heights to climb mountains? Is he living up to a dare? Trying to overcome a bad experience from his past? Proving a point? Or is there something on that mountain that he needs?

A word of caution - if you give your character too many "surprising things", he will seem just plain weird. One or two works great.

Some advice from Nigel Watts in Write a Novel and Get It Published. . .
Human beings are never as predictable as we think they are.


Almost Eden by Anita Horricks

This is the story of a twelve year old Mennonite girl, Elsie, who is struggling with her mother's mental illness. The back cover describes the book as a "beautiful portrait of a town, a family and a young woman with wicked wit and clarity who is willing to challenge what doesn't make sense and to fix what doesn't seem right." This book stayed with me long after I read it.


What if . . .  you got a part time job at a dog  shelter? What dog would you fall in love with? How did he end up in a shelter? How will you persuade your parents to let you take him home?

 Next week:    Be Specific



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