Workshop on Characters

Yesterday I went to a one-day Hugo House workshop with Karen Joy Fowler. The focus of the workshop was how to create characters and convey those characters in your writing. Karen was wonderful — very friendly and also a good teacher. A few tidbits:

When you have to come up with a character, use a character from a children’s book as a starting point. Characters in children’s books are distilled down and simplified.

Another good source of inspiration for characters is bits of conversation you hear. Often you get only a small piece of the conversation, but it can be very revealing. (Karen’s example: “I don’t know what else to tell you — I rolled down the window, he jumped out, and the gator got him.”)

You can reveal your character through what the character thinks, says, does, and owns. Also, you can reveal character by showing how other people respond to the character. Often what is most interesting is a mismatch — e.g., when something the character says doesn’t match up with what they think.

Characters have a best self, who they try to be and can be occasionally. And also a worst self, who they try to avoid being.

When you write a book/story, you’re trying to make your characters feel like real people. To do this, they have to be more predictable/consistent/understandable than a real person. Real people are wildly unpredictable. If characters had that same unpredictability you wouldn’t feel like you knew who they were at the end of the book.

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Also this weekend: one submission out (sub #41, my first submission to Tin House), one rejection (Reject #32; 47 days from Glimmer Train), and about two thousand fresh new words written.

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