I have a nice rough, but layered outline for my story. But I set to work yesterday on character development and found myself totally stuck. Oh, I have a good grip on the basics of the primary characters, but when I started describing them in more detail, I defaulted to descriptions of people I knew, or cliched versions of characters I had seen in movies.
I have real, nuanced and interesting characters in my head, I swear! But working through my character development questions was tough.
I decided to spend some time building a visual representation of my characters. That’s right…. a collage. Can you tell I spend my days at home with a preschooler?
I built a childproof fortress for my on-the-run one-year-old, giving her safe access to the whole living room. I cut out lots of cutesy pictures of ice cream, school buses, and Elmo for my three-year-old (I’m saving TV for November!).
With them occupied, I went to work. I found look alikes for all of my characters in the ridiculous stack of magazines we now get (courtesy of Northwest air miles). Now I have a real physical image** to match the backstory, goals, and motivations of my characters. We’ll see if this makes developing a unique voice for each of them a little easier.
**Typical magazines like GQ and Health are not good for this exercise, given that all of the people are shined up and edited to look alike. I found the best character pictures in my college homecoming update, a kids magazine that featured a lot of parent contributors, and the Minnesota Monthly, which features a lot of stories about average citizens. Flipping through these periodicals, I often recognized one of my characters instantly, even when I previously hadn’t given any thought to hair length, eye color, etc. Maybe none of this will make a difference for the actual writing, but it was fun, and it occupied my girls!