Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Art of Life-Like Characters...Lila Munro


No Flat Stanley…
I blog a lot. Not just here and there, but I try very hard to maintain a couple of posts a week at my own site, which I’ll share a bit later. So, sometimes material gets a little bit on the lean side and I have to refresh my stash of great ideas. I’ve blogged about everything under the sun it seems, and sometimes I post some pretty controversial ideas and thoughts. I’m infamous for playing the Devil’s advocate and trying to present the other side of whatever the current coin of interest is. My ideas for posts come from everywhere and anywhere it would seem. For those of you that don’t know I’m married to a Marine, so there’s never lack of topic there since I write military romances as well. J Who doesn’t love a good alpha hero? Right? I’ve shared recipes and my personal struggles with my health and I don’t think I’ve ever missed a holiday. And I love a good blog hop. But, in all that time…I never fathomed one day I might use Flat Stanley as inspiration for a post.

To be honest, I’m not even sure what made me think of old Flat Stanley. All I remember is I was tossing around ideas trying to decide what to talk about today. A personal experience, or something to do with marketing, or…writing tips of the trade.
Writing tips, heroes, characters…Oh! Character development…(Are you beginning to see how my mind works? A never ending live stream of…) Character development! How do we make them real…
It was somewhere around that point I thought…well, we sure don’t want them flat…J like our poor friend Stanley.
No wonder I can’t read half the Postits stuck on everything around here, if my thoughts are written as thought you can imagine they’re quite a mess. Anywho. How do we make our characters more real and allow our readers to become invested in them, even fall in love by book’s end?
I smile nearly every time I get a review be it from a reader or a professional reviewer from one of the many houses I offer my work to. Well, to be honest, I am happy with all my reviews. Each time I get one, good, bad, or ugly, I learn something new. However, the smiling comes in when I read these reviews and the same compliment keeps popping up repeatedly. It always goes something to the effect of, characters were well developed, I felt like I knew them as the story progressed and by the end felt like we were friends. That’s a bit of a paraphrase, but I get that a lot. So, I’ve deduced as far as character development goes, I’m doing something pleasing and right.
Learning to properly create and develop the people in my stories actually started with not writing romance, but taking a few classes to earn a certificate in children’s literature. I know right? How did I go from writing about little girls and boys and their fears of the dark to big girls and boys afraid of their emotions? Long story short, although I have the highest regard for children’s authors…I mean where would we be without the likes of Beverly Cleary or Beatrix Potter or Margaret Wise Brown…I found that it wasn’t my cup of tea. Although, I wasn’t half-bad at it and still have several things lying about the office fit for submitting, I choose not to. I like writing grown-ups. I’m not half-bad at that either, so I’ll let the experts do their thing and I’ll keep learning where I am and do mine. Anywho. Back to the subject at hand. It was while taking these classes that I learned the art of developing characters.
One of our assignments was to observe and describe a small child then use them in a brief scene to see if we’d captured their essence. There was the cutest little red-headed girl in my church. I knew her parents and explained to them what my assignment was before I started staring at the little thing so they wouldn’t think I had lost my mind. All they requested was to see the story once finished. They were quite pleased and said they’d have known it was her if they’d never known who I was writing about. My instructor was pleased as punch as well. She wanted a full-length story about my subject and she got it. J
So, the method…it’s fairly simple. It’s extreme people watching and note taking basically. You see, folks of the world, when you see Lila sitting about in a Starbucks or Barnes and Noble or the mall food court with her notepad and she just keeps staring at you…she’s not trying to get your number. She’s trying to get in your head. J Technically it’s called character sketching. You find a suitable candidate and take profuse notes about him/her. Hair color, height, skin tone, eyes…but it goes well-beyond physical characteristics. What is a prominent mannerism or two? Can you hear them? What is a catch phrase they seem to use a lot? Do they have an accent? Oh, and don’t forget to climb inside their head. I play a little game where I imagine I’m them. What am I doing here? Do I have a family at home? Oh, there’s my favorite book…The Art of…
See where I’ve gone? And he’s not flat at all, but a perfectly three-dimensional person. I’ve gone right inside their thinking mechanism and before I know it that has led me to an entire scene about this one person dressed in slouchy Levi’s, hole in the left knee, leather riding boots, tattoo on his right bicep that ripples when he picks up that book and peers over the edge of to see me…and their eyes met, a blaze sparking behind his icy blue pupils before a shutter fell, hiding the turmoil…

5 comments:

Catherine Lee said...

WELL...if someone was staring at me at Starbucks, I think she'd be disappointed. I fear that I would appear very flat as a character...although I might walk up to her and ask, "You looking at ME?" with my best De Niro accent!
catherinelee100 at gmail dot com

Lila Munro said...

LOL Catherine! I love DeNiro! And I bet you're a very 3 dimensional gal and would probably be terrific fun to sit in Starbucks with. :)

Debby said...

That would be an interesting assignment. You would have to really observe and not be charged with stalking.
debby236 at gmail dot com

Carin said...

Lila, just be careful if I saw someone watching me I would freak! LOL It is a good way to start a character. Carin

Lila Munro said...

Hi Debby! Before I did the assignment for the lit class I asked the parents what they thought. :) Now, in the malls and coffee shops I'm just a woman with a notepad taking notes. :) Hey Carin! You know I think people are so absorbed these days, I don't think anyone has ever seen me people watching...come to think of it, lots of people, people watch, I'm just probably the only one taking notes. :) Thanks for giving my article a read.