Thursday, June 7, 2012

Writers Workshop- building believable characters

I'm launching my first workshop for anyone interested in participating. Since it's rather small, I'll just have you leave a comment that you want to join in and others can follow over to your blog to comment on your post.

On a previous post, I had linked over to site that I had found from a literary agent on twitter. The full link is on my restoration of self post, and it is from the story writer at Pixar, Emma Coats. The first point she made for writing a great story is this:

#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

The point is that if your reader/audience doesn't care about your characters, they won't keep reading the book. We've all heard the advice- you don't want flat characters, they need to be believable. So how do you do that?

Follow the masters. I read my first Hemingway book about two years ago, and I found myself actually attracted to the main character, Robert. I developed such strong feelings about him that I continued to think of him when I wasn't even reading the book. As a writer, that's exactly what you want your reader to do.

Take this excerpt from the short story by Hemingway, The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber.

"Francis Macomber was very tall, very well built if you did not mind that length of bone, dark, his hair cropped like an oarsman, rather thin-lipped, and was considered handsome. He was dressed in the same sort of safari clothes that Wilson wore except that his were new, he was thirty-five years old, kept himself very fit, was good at court games, had a number of big-game fishing records, and had just shown himself, very publicly, to be a coward."

With each word, a clearer picture of this character forms, and that last part just adds a further opinion. Brilliant.

Exercise: Do a character sketch. I found this website, click on the word here, with some great suggestions for building characters.

Here's mine: (She's my main character from my WIP- and as always, feedback welcome)

Kate Wilson is a pretty American with curly blond hair and a thrill-seeking lifestyle. She loves to downhill ski and travel. She follows her friend and coworker from the restaurant they work at to South America and finds her calling in life, to become a nurse and return as a volunteer. Kate has a big heart and opens it to the local people in the rainforest where she has been assigned to work. She is a little naive to the dangers of her environment however, as the drug cartel is active in the area.

36 comments:

  1. I'm in!

    Just give me a few hours to get my post up. Maybe after posting your exercise you could give participants a day to get their post done. Just a thought. Anyway, I'm fired up about this and glad you are starting a workshop. Think about maybe giving it a name and maybe a little badge if you want. (: Also if you don't mind, I'd like to add a few examples of the topic from one of my writing text books. (((:

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  2. Those are great ideas, and absolutely post anything on the subject. I just started this because I need it myself, so whatever you bring to the table can help me and others like us back. Hearing what other people's thoughts are helps immensely.I'll leave this post until Monday so during that time we'll all be free to go back and forth. If you have any ideas on a name let me know. I'll try to figure out the badge thing.

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  3. Fun character. I'll try to get something up tomorrow if that's all right.

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    1. No problem. I'll check it out then.

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  4. Elise has great ideas. I followed over from her blog. I wish you the greatest of luck with this. Hemingway is a great master to guide your prose by. I have his ghost teach lessons on writing on my blog from time to time. He's a bit gruff but he has wisdom! I say that because I'm within punching range of his ghost fists right now! :-) Roland

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    1. He's just one example, but thanks for your comments!

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  5. Honey, I got the impression that the workshop would be on your blog, and participants would post their entries in the comments. I'll probably be too lazy to participate if I actually have to create a separate post on my own blog. But I understand what you're trying to do...something like the Insecure Writers posts? And I still think it's a good idea. :)

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    1. Yes something like that. I'm always trying to figure out what to post on, and I thought maybe getting others involved in the writing process would help not only me, but anyone else who wanted to participate. We'll see how it works out.

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  6. Hi!

    I'm Nicole, and found you and your workshop via Elise's blog. Since I want to get back into writing, I would like to take part and think your exercises will be a lot of fun!

    I got a good impression about your Kate from your character sketch.
    Curly blond her surely is something rare in South America, but I wondered if it's really important for her or the story that she's American. Or rather, I wondered how you think about mentioning character traits in a story that aren't really relevant, because I often seem to leave out some details. For example, one of my projects is written like a diary, and I think the "author" never mentions her looks at all, but it's known that she is 17 and has a twin brother.

    I'm looking forward to the next exercises!

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    1. Maybe the link to writing character driven fiction would explain better, but this isn't from my book, it's just a sketch to get to know her better. I wrote the book and now I'm going backwards with suggestions on how to make her believable.

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    2. Sorry, I'm really sleepy, I worked all night! Welcome to the workshop and I'm glad you're excited about it.

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    3. Hm, I just read the Hemingway example again, and it occurred to me that he really hardly tells anything about the story (unlike me). So, is this the character at the beginning of the story and the last sentence gives the reader only a vague idea about what just happened or what might be important for the story?

      Yes, to my shame I have to admit I never read Hemingway once, as far as I know. Perhaps there was some work of him at school? Can you recommend something for a starter?

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    4. It's not the very beginning, as in the opening, but the last sentence is a clue as to the coming story. Hemingway then goes back to show what happened and picks up again with events as they occur. It's not a happy story- I don't think he writes happy.
      I recommend For Whom the Bell Tolls because it's the only novel I've read! (The others are short stories.) But it can get graphic just to warn you, which is why we never read him in school.

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  7. I'm trying to think of a name but I'm terrible at it. I guess it depends on how you want to organize your workshop and what your goals are. It could be as simple as "Honey's Writers Workshop" or something nutty like "The Writing Wise Workshop" or "WriteWithMe Workshop" (Told you I was bad at this).

    Anyway, I like your excerpt and really want to know what happens with Kate and the drug cartel. You pack a lot of info in a short paragraph something I have a hard time doing. I tend to drone on and on.... Your opening line is good but I'd like to get a sense of Kate's age. Maybe add something like "Kate Wilson is a pretty American...(young woman or 28 year old...) with curly blond hair and bright adventurous-seeking eyes. (Ok, it’s not perfect you hopefully you can see what I’m getting at, lol!) Anyway, it’s not all that important, but it would tighten the mental image I have of her. You also mentioned she has a “big heart” and I want to know how. Maybe something like “Following her friend and coworker to South America, Kate discovers her real purpose in life—helping others in need and becomes a volunteer nurse to the local people in the rainforest…” (This kinda implies that she is kind and has a big heart) What I did was condense your two sentences into one, cutting about 20 words. It’s not perfect just an idea and you need to judge and make sure valuable info is not lost in the process.

    Anyway, sorry for the long comment…..hope was helpful and comprehensible, I’m exhausted too!

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    1. I like it! the sentence you put to together that is. I'm working on a new paragraph that I've been putting together more in the style of Hemingway. I'll post it next week. I like your name ideas to- the one I came up with was Peer Review Writing Workshop. Hey, if you want to email me, I'm at honey.munev@yahoo.com.

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  8. I'd love to join you in this workshop, but I'm over the top with deadlines and details this month and next. Good luck. It's a great idea. Maybe you'll still be doing something along these lines later when I have some time.

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    1. Understandable! People do seem interested, so I'm going to pursue this for awhile. You're welcome to come and look anytime.

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    2. Thanks, I'll pop in and see what's going on. Good luck with this.

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  9. Great work, great tip & THANK YOU for reminding me how much I've loved reading Hemingway and that right now might be exactly the right time to go back to some of his short stories.

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    1. Thank you and you're welcome. The funny thing about Hemingway is that his books aren't really my type, but he's just soo good that I kept coming back to him.

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  10. Kate Wilson sounds like a good central character. I like it.

    I had a go at this on my blog. Thanks for stoking the flames. You have successfully got me interested in Hemingway now as well! Keep up the good work.

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    1. Thanks- I'm glad to help. That's what the whole purpose of this peer workshop is about.

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  11. I came over from Elise's blog. This is a wonderful idea.
    Now you've got me thinking about Hemingway, and wondering which of his books I should re-visit... or the ones I've never read...

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    1. Thanks for stopping in and commenting. Hemingway is, as the link I had pointed out, a master of character based novels. So whatever we can glean from him is only going to help!

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  12. I like Kate, she seems like a great character for a novel. I'm interested in learning more about her just from this sketch.

    Thanks for sharing the link, I'm going to try this out. :)

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    1. You're welcome! It's my first time experimenting with these exercises too. I'm hoping it will help with the revision.

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  13. This is great advice thanks for sharing. I think it is important to admire a character and have empathy for them. I'm looking forward to hearing more about your workshop!

    Andrea

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    1. Glad I could be of help! Thanks for stopping by and joining.

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  14. Ok, I made another character sketch, this time trying a different approach and considering the advice I got so far. I would be happy if I could get some feedback on that one, too.

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  15. I saw a link to this on Treelight's blog and this sounded like a lot of fun. I really like your sketch of Kate. Her story sounds like it could be a really interesting one.

    I went ahead and tried this exercise for myself. It's here if anyone is interested. http://jana-denardo.livejournal.com/76335.html

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    1. Thanks for stopping by and joining the group! I'll head over to check out your blog. . .

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  16. I couldn't help myself and try again - but now I really will stop spamming you ;)
    I wrote a character sketch about my story's villain, who was not very fleshed out yet. And I made a new version of my first try, hopefully improving it.

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