Many people have been asking me what Deep Characterization is. I know what it is to me, but I wanted to share some of Janet Lee Carey’s thoughts on her Deep Characterization practice, which she’ll unpack even more at the Full-Bodied Novel retreat in July. Janet has just returned from a meditation retreat in Hawaii.
Katherine: Welcome back, you lucky girl! How are you doing?
Deep Characterization Exercise #1 Being Two Places at Once
The purple mass looked for a moment like a plump of organ pipes, then like a stack of rolls of cloth set up on end, then like a forest of gigantic umbrellas blown inside out. It was in faint motion. Suddenly his eyes mastered the object. The purple stuff was vegetation: more precisely, it was vegetables, vegetables about twice the height of English elms, but apparently soft and flimsy.
Writing antagonists can be almost too much fun. Of course, we don’t want to make the ALL bad. We need to show them as balanced human beings. But when you first introduce an unpleasant character, how do you show he’s unpleasant?
I thought we’d take a little stroll through The Summer of No Regrets, so you could meet a favorite nasty character of mine,
Perfectionism is a thief of time. I used to be plagued by this wily thief—I’d let it into my mind and give it full access. There it would scold and prod and criticize. And I would go slower and slower as my muse slogged toward mirages of excellence. After all, isn’t excellence what we are after?
It took me a long time to learn that excellence and perfection are not the same thing.
With the Full-Bodied Novelist Retreat coming up this weekend, I’ve been playing the violin again. There is a connection, so stay with me here.
I usually let months go by without my music. I play only to prepare for performance, thinking I need an “excuse” to play. But lately I have played for the sheer joy of playing with no audience but the Universe. I work on a piece that is hard for me,
When I first began writing fiction it felt like all of the characters were me. Of course, all characters come from someplace deep in our psyche, but when I had a character who sounded, acted, talked and believed like me, I was BORED. I have great self-esteem and lots of people love me, but really I am BORING. At least to myself. And a character exactly like me doesn’t intrigue me enough to sustain a whole novel,
As a writer you know you must allow your characters to live through you as they unfold on the page. But what if the character feels unlike you? A character you can’t relate to is hard to, well, relate. But you WANT characters who are different from you–whether they are sympathetic, antagonistic, or simply “other” because they are outside of your community or life experience.
When you find the connection point with such a character you expand your empathy,
Make sure your scene answers these questions before your reader asks them, unless you are deliberately withholding that information to build tension. (For more keys, join us in the Scene-Weaving class! Or, if you’re a teen, try Teenage Novelist: Scenes and Dreams!)
1. Where am I?
Orient your reader throughout the scene so that your characters are not just “talking heads”
1. Take the given elements and smoothly combine them in a scene (or part of a scene).
2. Paste your scene in the comments, then change one element for the next commenter. (e.g. “still locked in the cabin, but now it’s noon the next day,” or “setting changed to an island,” or “ship noises get louder.”)