Saturday, 15 November 2014

Character development - out of the blue

Discovering that her mother
knew swear words, was quite
a shock for Sadie
You've put flesh on the bones of your protagonist, (let's call her Hortensia) and chances are, you've fallen in love.

But let me remind you, the first flushes of love are not necessarily the best way to get to know a girl. Good times are great, but you never completely know someone until you've been through the odd tough situation together; the testing times. That's when you see what they're really made of.

So here’s a little exercise for getting you over that hurdle. I shall assume that you’ve already done a bit of character development. Maybe you’ve got a picture of Hortensia on your wall, you know her favourite colour, star sign, credit card number; the usual kind of stuff. You probably know a bit about her family background, her motivation, hopes and dreams and  her best friend's middle name. All of this is great. It’s the stuff of first and second dates… maybe longer.

But then you run up against a problem. Maybe Hortensia's cat dies. Maybe she loses her door key and it’s raining and she has to be somewhere, in like, 10 minutes!!! Or maybe, you spill orange squash all over her brand new cream Axminster. You did what??? Do you have any idea how much it will cost to clean a rug of that quality? Like, you don’t even care? Well we’re through. Hear me? Through!!!

Yes, that’s the kind of level you need to get to with Hortensia. It’s all about being in the moment with her and seeing how she reacts. And this is how you do it...

1. Think up a series of about a dozen unexpected incidents. (EG you spill orange squash on the Axminster, a bird poops on her perm, she trips on a loose paving slab… It doesn’t have to be bad. But it can be!) 
2. Write these 'unexpected' events down on little pieces of paper, and fold each one up small so that you can’t see what’s written.
3. Start writing about a day in the life of Hortensia and after a few minutes, grab one of the pieces of paper and incorporate that event into her day. How does she react? What does she think/feel/do? What happens as a consequence?
4. Keep going with this; opening a new unexpected event every few minutes or more. You don't need to use all the events; you can save some for your next character.

By the time you've written a few pages, you'll have a much better idea about what Hortensia will do when the chips are down. 

But do you still love her?


  1. This is good stuff! This should be shared :)

    I did this exercise with my character Mercutio who met Hortensia in one of them taverns. But Hortensia stabbed Mercutio after he introduced himself.

    Apparently, the name 'Mercutio' is a trigger word to kill. (Wow, is Hortensia a programmed assassin?)

    Now Mercutio is dead.

    Tragic end to my character.

    See, this is why I don't write stories. It ends before it starts LOL

    1. I’m afraid this doesn’t sound like Hortensia at all. I mean, I know she is a bit of a hothead when it comes to orange juice on the Axminster, but brawling in a tavern? A programmed assassin? I don’t think so … unless of course there is another Hortensia, masquerading as my Hortensia … Gosh, KN, you may be onto something there.

      Far from being an end to your story, I think this is the start of a very promising beginning …

      :D x


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