Monday, March 4, 2013

Unconventional Ways to Get To Know Your Character

We've talked many many times on this blog about character detail sheets and the questions you can ask your characters before you start writing. How to find their motivation and their goals, learn where they came from and where they're going.

Yada yada yada.

I propose some new ways to get into our characters' heads. I am currently in the Discovery phase of book 3 in the Anchor Island series, but the hero and heroine have already appeared in the first two books. I still need to learn more about them, but all in all, I've got a grip on who they are and what they've been doing for at least the past few months.

But I'm also in the process of writing the proposal for what will come after I must depart Anchor Island. If all goes well, my laptop, storyboard, and I will be moving to Ardent Springs, TN. And there we will meet an entirely new cast of characters. Strangers for now, but not for long.

First foray with my heroine:
Shopping. Now, before you call the men with little white coats to come take me away, I am not actually shopping for my heroine. We're more window shopping together for her wardrobe via Pinterest. If you're a writer and not on Pinterest, I highly suggest you correct this right away. This is the perfect site for anything you need.

What do your characters wear? It's on there. Where do they live? It's on there. What is her sense of style? What does he like to eat? It's all on there. And you can look by categories. It's brilliant!

As Lorelei (my heroine) and I were scrolling through the images, I could hear her voice in my head. "I am NOT wearing that." "Oh, that is cool. I need that." "Did you see those boots?" "Who in the hell would think that looks good?!"

She's 29, modern, brash, gorgeous, and resourceful. She's also riddled with guilt (for several reasons), alone in the world, down on her luck, and would rather have a root canal sans anesthesia than show weakness. I'm not sure readers will like her right off, but I do, and I'm looking forward to telling her story.

First foray with my hero:
Fair is fair and if I was going to take Lorelei shopping, then Spencer needed a trip as well. However, the Men's Fashion page on Pinterest wasn't quite doing the trick. We did find one outfit, but he scoffed at the rest of the page and once he started rolling his eyes, I knew it was time to try elsewhere. We tried the Outdoors and DIY page but alas, Pinterest seems to either be for women or prissy men (Spencer's words).

I asked him where he would shop and got Capelas or Bass Pro Shop. Right. Jeans and t-shirts. And we move on. Spencer is a country boy, but not the run-of-the-mill type. For one, he's an avid reader. (Though he's not sharing this fact at the local coffee shop.) He wouldn't piss on the heroine if she were on fire, or so he says. His true gentleman nature would in fact put her out. Eventually.

He's determined to make something of his own. To leave something solid and strong to show for his life. (Lorelei's great-grandfather built the house Lorelei inherits. Spencer wants to leave this kind of legacy.) He's family oriented and at nearly thirty years old, is ready to start a family. (Another fact he'd never share out loud.)

Ironically, that entire last paragraph came out of nowhere while I was writing this blog. So another unconventional way to get to know your characters?


Anyone else want to add a new idea? Maybe I should try writing at the Bass Pro Shops? Buy a fashion mag and read it with the heroine? If you write Historicals, have you ever thought of writing at the local museum? Or even touring a museum (in person or virtually) with your characters? That might be a good one.


MsHellion said...

I like the Pinterest route to making collages because I get very stressed out making collages, like they're supposed to look pretty and meaningful. I keep wanting a grade for the damned things and afraid I'm going to get a C- on the thing. I started one for ITBA again, just because, but since that book is almost done, it's pretty much after the fact. I think it would be more useful in the BEGINNING or the discovery phase as you say. (It's been a while since I've been at the beginning of something. I tend to hang out with manuscripts for a long, long, long, long, long time.)

When I am "researching" my book or characters, I do tend to read books about them. Their personalities. Or I was flipping through a coffee table book about English country houses. I do love coffee books for this sort of thing, but you can't exactly cut out the pictures and keep them in one place.

I haven't tried the museum yet, but any excuse to go to a museum is a good one.

Terri Osburn said...

Pinterest is even better for anyone writing historicals. It's one thing to read about what they might have worn or how they traveled, but on Pinterest you can SEE the details. For research-phobes like me, it's perfect.

And a trip to the museum is always fun, even if you have no research to do at all. I haven't been back to the Chrysler here in way too long. Must plan an outing.

Marnee Bailey said...

I've used pinterest, mostly to get faces for my folks, or sort of faces. :)

Since I've been writing historicals, I do do (hee hee, do do) research on some of the places in England, but it's hard because doing research about what they used to look like is hard.

After I get going, I usually start hearing songs that remind me of my folks. Like, anthems for them. So that's a kind of research I do. :)

Terri Osburn said...

Oh, I do use Pinterest to find inspiration images for the characters themselves. Forgot about that. If you want hero inspiration, follow Jill Shalvis. Or, you know, just follow her for the beefcake. That works too.

Music is excellent, but songs give me scene ideas more than anything. I'll hear the lyrics, know which character would be saying those words, and then a scene forms. It's like a gift from the radio. Or iPod.

Marnee Bailey said...

*trots off to Pinterest to stalk out Jill's beefcake*


Terri Osburn said...

You're more than welcome. There are a couple of other boards I follow which feature very pretty men. As I say, it's all for research. Really. ;)

MsHellion said...

I cannot believe I wasn't following Shalvis' boards before now. WTF. It's like I don't have a brain.

Have remedied.

Terri Osburn said...

Maisey Yates has some nice boards too.

MsHellion said...

I'm all stocked up now on delicious man pictures! Yay!

P. Kirby said...

I have a Pinterest account, but for the most part, don't go there much. Last time I visited, I was being fangirl and slobbering over pictures of my favorite actor. But...usually I go to Tumblr for that fix where there are numerous accounts devoted to him....

Since I'm a "method" writer who is stark raving nutters, I'd probably take a trip down to the local sporting goods store and see the store through your hero's eyes. No doubt he'd make a bee line for the hunting/fishing section, but on the way probably pass the aisles with $200 running shoes and scratch his head. "Who the hell pays that much money for a sneaker? In fluorescent green?"

*Shrugs* Hey, I wonder the same thing and I am a runner.

Terri Osburn said...

Hellie - Happy to help. :)

Pat - I'd do that, except walking into those kinds of stores gives me bad flashbacks. Getting to know Spencer is going to take some tap dancing on my part. Need to get a handle on my knee-jerk prejudices. Which were jerk-induced. :)

I don't get the shoe thing either, but when my knees got really bad, I started buying more expensive tennis shoes. Like more than I ever thought I'd pay for shoes. But they really did help with the pain.

P. Kirby said...

How about an REI store? (Or was that also one of the jerk's fave haunts?) I go to a small local sporting goods store for shoes (where nearly all my shoes are sneakers or skater shoes), but we drop by REI sometimes for hard-to-find bicycle gear, or hiking/camping stuff. The clientele is decidedly less...Bubba.

I recently broke down and bought actual running shoes when I started having pain in one foot. But after trying on a gazillion pairs, the most comfortable was still just $30. They are black and not a colour that gives me seizures.

Terri Osburn said...

Is the color so runners can be spotted in the dark? I'd have a hard time buying them, even for that.

Not sure what REI is. Might not have that here, but I'll check.

Terri Osburn said...

Closest location is on the other side of Richmond, so not feasible, but Spence and I could totally peruse that website together. Thanks!

Maureen said...

Character Well, I watch a lot of TV, go to the movies, tilt my head at what I see and hear and turn sideways. I think of it like...well...I slip the character I'm watching out of the screen, play with them for awhile, whisper odd thoughts into their brain, start another show and then throw them into it. Renamed, reborn, molded and twisted into something not the same.

Then I watch and write.

I guess I'm bit of an inner collage maker, but a character will melt and mix with this and that before I start to write.

I'm really not visual, so pinterest and the like don't do it. Sometimes, a particular photo someone posts on FB will poke at me with an idea, but generally, it's all cerebral.

Maureen said...

REI is a godsend. Love their socks.

Fluorescent shoes are about visibility, or in my case, matching my NASCAR driver's colors. I love my lime green and turquoise Asics. Perfect when Carl is driving the Aflac car.

Terri Osburn said...

But you also have a green vehicle, so I'm not sure you count. :) Does music ever inspire a character for you? Or just scenes and stories?

I'm a visual person. It's the way I learn and get inspired. Oddly enough, not really the way I communicate.

Maureen said...

Music can be really important for me, but not until I really get started. And I start, generally, with an odd thought about 'what if...'

But I don't write historical, or at least accurate historical. I don't write accurate contemporary even... Without 'rules' you can get away with a lot of things.

P. Kirby said...

Besides the mmm-mmm-good factor, I don't get much out of pictures of random male cheesecake. Like Maureen, I tend to find my characters in movies and on TV shows. Basically, a particular actor's portrayal will inspire a character. For instance, in the steampunk WIP, my hero is blond and vaguely Asian, but he owes a whole lot to Robert Downey Jr.'s Sherlock Holmes. The heroine is a whole lot Kalee from Serenity/Firefly. I prefer to find my characters this way specifically because I am very visual. Random hunks are too generic; too Ken doll.

REI is sort of an upscale (read "pricey," but they sometimes have good sales) sporting goods store. It doesn't sell guns and ammo.

Terri Osburn said...

Pat - by the time I go looking for a face, I already have the character in my head. So I'm really looking for someone close enough to the image already in my head.

I don't always find a match, and then I just try to get close. And it can't be anyone actually famous. Usually. Or someone I know from a specific role. They need to be unique and a total stranger to me.

For the hero of Anchor Island book 3, Dwayne Johnson was really the only image that was close to what I imagine Randy to be, but that's just a stand in. Randy is his own person in my head.

In fact, all my characters are individuals in my head. They are who they are and not really the people in the pictures.

BUT, the pictures help me with the details, which is my weaker area.

Maureen said...

Nobody stays who they were once I get hold of them, features soften or harden, posture changes, hair, eyes...they are all fluid. What stays is generally whatever the character elements I saw or imagined I saw.

We be mad scientists here at the Betita hold...