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Saturday, October 23, 2010

#SIWC2010 Notes - 1

I decided to attempt taking my notes in an open blog post today. These are by no means comprehensive, but hopefully will give an overview. I'll be typing quickly, so forgive me for what will likely be many, many typos, and bits that don't make sense. But if you're a write who wishes they could be at a conference learning about craft, you might get something out of this...

Creating Characters That Jump Off the Page by James Scott Bell

Favorite books and movies of class members: Pay it Forward, To Kill a Mockingbird, Tombstone, Matrix, Quiet Man, Crash.

Interaction between two main characters (Quiet Man). So many levels, but all about characters with intersections (Crash).

We connect our stories through characters.

Showed scene from Casablanca. (Characters drawn in subtle tones that have a real meaning in the film). Rick is not intimidated and won't be pushed around. He uses humor as evasion. He was subtlely challenging. Defiant. He had attitude.

Lead characters must have attitude. Memorable. Dynamic. Different.

The key to originality of stories is the characters you put into those stories.

Plot without character is like action without engagement.

Great characters without plot = a relative that overstays their welcome.

Plot = the record of how a character deals with death (physical, professional, or psychological). What event can you bring in that would immediately make your character deal with one of those deaths. Stakes need to matter to the character for a reader to get involved.

True character revealed only in crisis.

Main character - reader must want them to succeed.

Anti-hero - doesn't care about the world around him (Rick in Casablanca). May have been cast out of society. Gets dragged into controversy. By the end, they either must be redeemed or go back into isolation.

Character creation:
Step 1 - Need to know 2 things - Noun of vocation and an adjective of manner. Adjective goes first.
ex. - clumsy waitress

Step 2 - voice journal - write in the character's voice. Prompt with questions. Begin sentences with, "I remember..." Don't be wedded to any one thing as you write. Get their distinctive voice.

You want to get away from the rational to find characters that jump off the page.

Step 3 - need a visual - clip pictures, or in your mind. James uses Google Images. Put the pictures in a circle and then look for relationships between these people.

This is how he sets his cast list.

Deepening your characters:
Great characters who jump off the page start inside YOU. You have to feel the characters to make them memorable.

Step 1 - Make a list of nouns from your past. The smoke. The fire. The carnival. etc.Words that talk to your subconscious. Something you remember that moves you.

Stetp 2 - Make a list of passions - things that make you mad, sad, or glad. Translate them over to your lead characters, not so much in story, but in emotion.

Step 3 - Get physical. When you write about characters, try to find a physical positioning that enables you to feel what the character is feeling. Do this for every character. Move your hands and face so that it's more than just in your head. You want to be emotional when you write your scenes.

Opposite Exercise - think of a scene of high intensity involving your main character. Take that scene and now imagine if your character did the exact opposite of what they're doing now.

Outside the book exercise - imagine a scene not in your book at a social gathering. Someone that person trusts walks up and throws a drink in your character's face. How does that play out?

What would make your character throw a chair out the window.

Find false self vs. true self - from mask to authenticity. Character will have a moment of self-realization (the face of my enemy). 

If a novel doesn't grab a reader, for some reason that lead character introduction doesn't grab them/is not strong enough/motivations are not clear enough.

Let me know what you think! Do you agree with any of these points? Disagree? Find anything really interesting or revelatory?



  1. These are some utterly fascinating and helpful points.

    For some reason, I loved the one about 'what would make your character throw a chair out a window?' simply because it *instantly* got me thinking and realizing the different reasons of various characters in my head.

    Copying a lot of these down for future use. Thank you for sharing!

  2. thanks so much for sharing!! Loved these points