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Saturday, August 7, 2010

Characterization - July 2010 Creative Writing Session

“To even begin to accurately bring a character to life on the page you must do your homework, quiz yourself fastidiously about every last detail of your character’s inner and outer life.” - Noah Lukeman from The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life

The first two chapters in Lukeman's book are dedicated to creating full characters. Both chapters almost completely consist of questions you need to ask yourself about your character. The first chapter lists questions you need to know about the character's outer life (appearance, employment, education, finances, location, medical background, possessions, etc...). The second chapter focuses on the inner life (inherent abilities, spirituality, sex, values, vices, etc...)


It was Lukeman's thorough list of character questions that inspired our July Creative Writing session. First, I handed out a list of character traits for popular movie characters and asked members to guess who the traits applied to. Examples of characters I used are Clarice Starling, Don Corleone, and Forrest Gump. Then, I handed out a sample list of the questions Lukeman addresses in his book (LWC members: e-mail me if you want the lesson, and I will send it to you).

I emphasized that character descriptions do not need to be directly entered into the story. The reader does not have to have every last detail placed neatly on the page; however the writer needs to know every last detail in order to fully bring their character to life on the page. Some of these details will naturally work their way into the story – if they do not naturally work their way in, they should not be there and should simply remain in the writer’s head as he creates his story.

Pages 39-41 in Lukeman's book contains a personality test consisting of positive and negative trait measurements. Using a sampling, we each completed a personality test on the person we are closest to. The point was to show writers that we need to know our character at least as well as the person we know best in life.


1. Each member wrote a sex (male or female) on a scrap of paper and placed it in container one.
2. Each member wrote an age (no younger than 18) on a scrap of paper and placed it in container two.
3. Each member wrote a profession (being creative) on a scrap of paper and placed it in container three. Professions included pet sitter, choo-choo train conductor, singer, charter sailboat cook, exotic dancer, anthropologist, and alchemist.
4. Each member wrote an inner life characteristic on a scrap of paper and placed it in container four. Those included bug collector, chocolate doughnut addiction, cocaine addiction, and problem with authority.
5. The containers were passed around, and each member drew a piece of paper from each container, creating a basic character out of randomly drawn traits.
6. Each member (about 10 of us) wrote a sketch of their basic character.


In our Creative Writing sessions, we have twenty minutes to brainstorm and write. The focus is on opening our minds to other types of writing or other writing ideas we might not explore on our own. Our focus is not on grammar, style, or technique as it would slow our creative process. So keep in mind, when you see Creative Writing session stories on this blog, they have not been proofread and drafted in multiple - these are speedy, one-shot brain dumps. Here are some of the stories created from our prompt above:

By Alan R. Hooper

Prompt References – 23 years old, Male, Conductor on a Choo-Choo Train, collect insects.

Hannibal Gump, was a young, 23 year old who acts like he was 16. He is 6ft 3ins tall, lanky, with hair that would be more suitable on a younger member of the Jackson Five, an Afro, beyond words, multi colored like a rainbow.

His job, as a Choo-Choo train conductor in the Kiddy Park at Six Flags gives him all the attention he needs, when the kids see his hair; he loves to see their glances of appreciation. His big problem is that no girl will look at him twice, his gawky frame and his fuzzy Afro, usually with a large comb stuck in it, puts them right off.

The other thing is if they do get to know him, his pet collection of assorted insects, mostly cockroaches he catches under his sink, turns them off completely, forever.Of course, his close set eyes, each looking in a different direction makes it difficult for anyone to look him in the eye. Do you look into the right eye or the left, take your pick?


By Sheryl Griffin

Prompt References - 74 years old, Male, Singer, Addicted to cocaine

I am a seventy four year old man who has been singing in Honky Tonks for sixty years. I started singing on my own when I was sixteen years old. My father and mother sang in the church choir and I naturally joined them as soon as I could talk. Singing is who I am.

Once I got a taste of the Honky Tonk life I felt I was in Heaven. The free drinks! The women! Everywhere I went people clapped and sang along with me. I loved the excitement of my life.

I don't recall when or how but at some point in my mid thirties one of the regulars who followed me from town to town, introduced me to something he called "magic powder". He said it would help me be more creative in song writing, give me energy, that my now (even in my thirties) worn out body needed. The Honkey Tonk life is a hard life!

Before I knew it, every penny I made was going to that 'magic powder. As I sit here and look back now at age seventy four, I can't say that cocaine really improved my songs or my career. It has in fact, caused a lot of pain and loss. I lost family and friends. I lost my home. I have spent time in jail.

I now have a second chance at life to live, to write songs, and sing like never before. As I sit here in Rippavilla Rehab, I thank God for this second chance at life!


By Karen Aldridge

Prompt References - 40 years old, Female, Pet sitter, Forgives but doesn't forget
Some people might call me unambitious or lazy. I've just never been a nine-to-five kind of girl. Money doesn't thrill me and school bores me. I do love pets, so becoming a pet sitter just came natural to me. I'm thirty-two years old and still live at home with my parents, which makes it easy for me to do my job. I don't like living with my parents - my mom and I don't get along.

Mom spanked me when I was ten for throwing milk in my brother's face. She didn't see him step on my toes, but even if she had, I probably would have still gotten spanked - she always loved him more than me.


More coming soon.

Post by: LWC Director, Karen Aldridge. Visit her personal blog at My Writing Loft.

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