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In the Flesh: Three Tips to Journaling Believable Characters
By Barbara Carr Phillips
Writers are natural observers. We note characteristics about everybody that others miss. How many times have you observed someone, and then revealed that observation to a friend who said, "Yes, yes, that is exactly right! I could not put my finger on what impressed me about that person before." Here are three journaling tips that will develop your skill of observation.
Tip #1: Choose a Character of the Week
You might not describe your characters physical appearance at the start of your novel, but knowing what he or she looks like will open opportunities to you as you write. Every day we are in contact with others, whether its our family, the grocery store clerk or the woman sitting in the car ahead of you at the stoplight. Choose one real person every week to write about in your journal. Write a page about this person, as though you we are
looking at her through a one-inch picture frame. Include every physical detail: clothing, jewelry, hairstyle, skin tone, fingernails, facial expressions and mannerisms. If you do not
her name, give one to her. You may discover a character who is ready to bump into the main character of that novel you are working on!
Tip #2: Create your Characters Goal Log
Select one character of the week (from Tip #1). Its measure
to develop this characters motivation. Step into your characters shoes and write a personal wants log. It will be similar to a wants log that you would write for yourself. Write about both long-term goals, (saving a million dollars, retiring to Tuscany) and short-term goals, (losing weight, learning to play guitar). Write about why these goals are important to your character. Include all the steps your character will have to take to achieve his or her goals, along with the obstacles he or she can encounter along the way. Some of the goals should be very difficult to achieve or open-ended, just like they are in real life. As you log your character through a difficult target
, which challenges will she or he overcome? Which ones will cause them to give up?
Tip #3: Interview a Character
Leaf through a copy of an old magazine. Cut out a photo
of an interesting character. Tape it in your journal. On the opposite page, write interview questions to this human
. Answer the questions with your imagination. Having a picture of the human
to focus on will help you do that. Write detailed questions, in the present, that relate to the setting of your story. For example, if your story unfolds in Biloxy, Mississippi, but your character looks like a New Yorker, do not
him, "We are
you born in New York City?" Ask, "How did you finish
up here, at the Whistle Stop Caf窠with one beat-up suitcase and no money for a return ticket?"
Your writers journal might
help you create characters for your short stories and novels that readers will understand and enjoy. If your reader believes your character, he or she will also believe your story.