Saturday, April 09, 2005

Character Sheets

Yesterday Julie Cohen's blog reminded me of the characters sheets in Kate Walker's 12 Point Guide to Writing Romance. They are designed to make you think as is the rest of the book.
Last summer I found the character sheets really intriuging but there was some piece of my own tool box was missing, preventing me from using them as much as I should. I knew there had to be a way to get more out of them. To really make them work hard and justify the amount of time one spends creating them. So I put them to one side and concentrated on other things. Now as I work with the Regional Saga, I am finding them of much more use. My appreciation of the craft has grown so that I can actually use the character sheets and enhance my writing, rather than simply writing things down and leaving it at that.
This is possibly because I have read The Wisdom of the Enneagram and thus have a better idea of the physiological reasons for certain character arcs. Also, Donald Maass and his book and workbook have helped.
In many ways, Donald Maass and Kate Walker are compatible and complementary. The things I learnt from Maass about nodes of connections, upping the personal and private stakes, creating symbols and layering the plot feed right into Kate's character sheets and her philosophy of always asking why.
One of the great questions on the character sheet -- what does the character look like? Not who so I could fall back on the old movie/television personality trick but what. What means a simile. What means thinking about animals and objects. What means making the character my own, rather than attempting to describe someone else.
The what is his or her most important material possession is one which ties into creating symbols. One has to know why that possession is important and how it can be used in the story. What layers of meaning can be prescribed to this object. For example, if the hero's most important possession is teddy bear. That teddy bear has to appear several times and take on more meaning. In TLS, Jem's most important possession is her brother's watch. It serves to remind her of other times, but equally it serves to remind the hero of another life. It also reappears several times in the book. In the RS, Rose's most important possession is a locket she inherited from her maternal grandmother. Having created it, I need to use it until at the very end it becomes imbued with much more significance.
All this work should in theory make the writing easier. There are always points where one gets stuck and has to rethink. Having done some of preliminary work now, I should be able to say -- oh that is why that is happening. Or I can bring out that aspect of her personality.
So many thanks to Kate Walker for writing the book and to Julie for reminding me of the character sheets.

Duck status -- still sitting on the nest.


Nell Dixon said...

Hi Michelle, Kate's book is fabulous. I think everytime I look at it I get something new from it.

Julie Cohen said...

You're welcome Michelle--and you're absolutely right--what they make you focus on is symbol, how the smallest choices about your character represent their personality.