Friday, August 24, 2018

Characters and icebergs

What does he think he wants?
What does he really want?
What is his dream?
What does he dread?
What would he do if he won a lot of money? 
What is his guilty secret?
What is his recurrent nightmare?
Who or what would he die for?

The questionnaires I've been filling in about my characters in order to get to know them better have been a bit tedious because they've been repeating a lot of stuff I already know. is paying off. I discovered some surprising things. I found out that my main character's favourite possession is a scarlet china mug bearing the motto 'Home is where the heart is,' which her husband gave her on returning home from a conference. This woman dislikes household items bearing cheesy mottoes, but this was of deep significance at the time. 

I learned that another character's mother was Moroccan, and that he met his wife at an Art in the Park event at Sheffield's Botanical Gardens, when they wanted to buy the same picture. 

And I learned that although the third main character tells people his favourite motto is 'Success is the result of perfection, hard work, learning from failure, loyalty and persistence' - Colin Powell - this is a lie. Really, his favourite motto is  'Think outside the box' because it's helpful in his work. He won't admit to this motto, however, because he's very brainy and it's such a hackneyed cliche.

Although the mug will definitely feature in the next draft, the other stuff might not. Writers are supposed to know lots and lots of details about their characters that never appear on the page, but which inform their depiction of the character's actions and responses. You know how 90% of an iceberg's volume is beneath the water? It's the same principle with fictional characters.

This is getting technical. And I'm actually wondering whether all the preparatory exercises writers are encouraged to do are really to make them so bored they can't wait to get down to actual writing. It's certainly having that effect on me.

As a bit of light relief, here's another storyteller, Lux, at age 3, telling Isaac the contents of an imaginary phone call with Froggy. 

You might not be able to make it all out, so I'm going to tell you that after she says Froggy is OK, she says 'He has a hose. And he's upstairs with his Mommy making quiches.'  It's a wonderful bit of creative detail: I could do with her on my team.

Over and out.


ana said...

And she hasn’t taken any questionnaires at all? Would be invaluable on your writing team

Got to love 3 yr old granddaughters Mine is also a revelation linguistically and imaginatively. Such wonders!

Sue Hepworth said...

And it made perfect sense at the time - making quiches upstairs - because they lived in an upside down house with the living quarters and kitchen upstairs.