Friday, September 24, 2010

Writing Compelling Characters, And 365 Days of Blessings - Day 118

Interested in THE GREAT BLOGGING EXPERIMENT, I've made this post a bit different today. The top of the post will be for The Great Blogging Experiment, and the lower half of the post will continue my 365 Days of Blessing Project - Day 118.

Writing Compelling Characters

Writing compelling characters, I suspect, takes more than one formula, and more than one route. In a giant treasure hunt for living, breathing realistic characters, each of us as a writer has to make our own map that will guide us to our goals.
For me, in my quest to write compelling characters, I find that daily perseverance, daydreaming with my eyes wide open, and digging deep into the characters themselves gets me closer to my goal.

Each morning, I walk and I write. Each morning these tasks seem intertwined. My writing is like my daily walk, and my walking is like my writing. Whether I can take a 3 mile walk, or just a walk down my lengthy gravel driveway, I walk each day even when I’m sick with the flu. Whether I can write for two hours, or I can only write for ten minutes, I write each day even when I’m sick of my own writing. Daily walking on the same routes makes the sights on those routes familiar. Daily writing helps me become more familiar with my characters so that they seem more like old friends.

However, there is a danger with over-familiarity. We often take things we are familiar with for granted, or grow bored by them.

Hence, the second part of my route: daydreaming with my eyes wide open. When I walk, I may slow my speed or hasten it. I might even jog a little. Sometimes I get into a wrestling match with my overenthusiastic beagle, as he tries to play with other dogs, stray leaves being blown across the street, and trash left on the road by fast food lovers.

In my writing, I sometimes throw myself into a speed-writing contest . . .how much can I write in 10 minutes? Sometimes I stare out the window, and then back at my words, and then I meander through the story at a snail’s pace, trying to carefully choose each word. Sometimes I wrestle with a desire to write my character into situations that take the plot nowhere, or situations that add too much to an already overloaded story.

When I walk, I try to notice new things each day: the chattering of a squirrel, the stillness of a rabbit under a fern, the sound of rain against the leaves, the cold drip of water that splashes from my hood and onto my face.

When I write, I try to notice how my characters use their five senses as they interact with the world around them. Do they hear chattering squirrels or only the sound of rushing cars? Do they look for the stillness rabbit in the bracken or do they have their eyes only on their goal? Do they let the water splash on their face, or do they pull their hood lower and hide from the rain?

Digging deep into my characters means that I need to understand what motivates them, what they believe in, and what holds them back. I need to write scenes that may end up only mentioned in the main storyline as backstory. That’s hard for me, because I want to use everything. I don’t like waste. However, I think full, breathing characters live beyond their plots, bursting the seams of the beginning and ending of the story.

For me, writing compelling characters takes time, effort, and even a little daydreaming. If I’m not taking time to daydream over a cup of tea and envision my characters, I have undertaken a quest in vain. I will grow bored with characters who fail to capture my imagination. If my characters don’t compel me to think of them, then they simply aren’t compelling characters. At the same time, I write daily as I walk daily, even when it rains, even when I’m sick with the flu, even when I only have five minutes. The treasure of compelling characters is worth it.

365 Days of Blessings, Day 118

1. God gives us each unique talents.

2. My youngest daughter, who has been asking me for years to tell her what her God-given talent is, finally accepted the idea that one of her talents is a gift for clear speaking. She has received speaking parts a few times in the last year from the children's choir director at our church, because "she has such a clear, beautiful voice." I've been trying to show her that her gifts of creativity with beading, her ability to organize, her tap-dancing skills, and her passion for right and wrong are all gifts, but she needed to hear from another mentor on that subject.

3. I'm thankful for the amazing men and women who are positive mentors for my kids.

4. My youngest daughter's desire for knowing her talents and gifts are from the story of Samson. I find it amazing what we each take away from the Bible. I read that story as a warning about loving the wrong person. She hears only of Samson's amazing gift of strength, and has been hoping that God has given her a similar gift.

5. My oldest daughter told me that she missed being in children's choir, but she also loves singing with the MS/HS band, and being part of MS youth group. She is right at that turning point between girl and teenage young woman. It is a bittersweet, and yet beautiful time and I am finding it to be a treasure.

6. I walked for a mile and a half today - the longest walk I've taken all week since I started feeling flu-ish.

7. Seeing a bunny in the driveway last night, caught in the beam of our headlights for a moment. We stopped, and it hopped into the safety of the laurel.

8. Watching my daughters practice ballet in our basement last night. They are mainly tap dancers, but they are beautiful ballerinas too.

9. Tomorrow, my poem "embers" is slated to be published at Every Day Poets.

10. Looking forward to the bathroom re-model that will start taking place on Monday morning. We started the project, and made a mess. Now, professionals will come in and make it all pretty again.

Scripture Blessings:

"Do not store up for yourselves treasure on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Matthew 6:19-21


Laurel Garver said...

I'm especially intrigued by your idea of thinking how a character uses his/her senses and what sorts of details is s/he drawn to?

C. N. Nevets said...

Wow. I think you're the first person I've read so far (probably about 65 - 75% through the list) who has talked so clearly about their being different ways of getting there. That's an incredibly good point. Thanks for calling our attention to it!

Unknown said...

I loved it when you said:

"each of us as a writer has to make our own map that will guide us to our goals"

It's so beautifullly put, always have your map ready because the road to finding the perfect story and character can be a bumpy one but a map will always help you lead the way!

Fantastic blog! Love the blessings to go along with each day!

Elana Johnson said...

Yes, on the daydreaming. And yes on the familiar too. We must take that familiar and look at it differently. Great post.

Karen Lange said...

Good post! Like how you combined topics. :)
Have a blessedly wonderful weekend,

Melissa said...

We do have to look at the familiar in our own ways. This was perfect. Beautiful. Awesome!

I really like this post.

Tyrean Martinson said...

Laurel - Thanks! Years ago in a writing class I had a teacher who would write "Quality of light?" all over my rough drafts because she wanted to know how each character experienced the world through their five senses . . . did one character find the day to be sunny, while the other only saw the clouds? did their clothes itch? etc.

Nevets - Thanks! I had time to read a handful of other posts yesterday, and plan to read more today. I loved your focus on potential, and the way that you dug into what compelling means. Thanks!

Jen - I wish I could say my map idea was original to the moment, but its an idea that I keep coming back to . . . I find maps fascinating, and I use the concept a great deal in my writing, both fictional and non-fictional. Thanks for your encouragement!

Elana - Thanks! For me, daydreaming about my writing is a necessity. I can't seem to write if I haven't given it some good thought first.

Karen - Thank you! Haved a blessed weekend!

Melissa - Thank you!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

That is such a unique view on creating compelling characters!
And I admire your determination to walk every day.

Nicole Zoltack said...

I absolutely love to daydream about my characters. Sometimes it really is the best way to get to understand them better. Great post!

Sandra Ulbrich Almazan said...

The most compelling characters for me are the ones that won't leave my thoughts. Good post.