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. –C.S. Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet

I’m fascinated by the idea of atoms being two places at once.

“In the quantum world discovered by Niels Bohr, Erwin Schroedinger and other giants of early 20th-century physics, tiny objects such as electrons can be in two places at once, and can behave as a particle one moment and as a wave the next, depending on how an observer tries to measure it.

In other words, the mere act of observation determines which form they take and even what reality is.” –Reuters

Saint Andrew’s House Common Room

And that is how Deep Characterization (which we’ll practice at the Full-Bodied Novel Retreat) works in a setting.

Try this:

  1. Take your writing notebook to a location that has something in common with a setting in your book. If C.S. Lewis did this for the above scene (and he probably did!) he may have situated himself in a grove of trees, or in the loft of a church, or in his attic.
  2. Look, really look, at the details of your surroundings. But here’s the trick: don’t look as you, the writer, become your character and then observe the setting. You have finally arrived on another planet, abducted by two unscrupulous men, and brought there in a cramped spaceship over several months’ time. You don’t know what they want to do with you, but everything around you is unfamiliar—perhaps menacing–and also oddly beautiful.
  3. As this character, use all your senses to explore your surroundings. Hear, smell and touch things not just as they are, but as they might be. You are translating an ordinary setting into the world of your novel, making replacements as necessary. Who would have thought those organ pipes might be vegetables?
  4. Write. As your character. You may want to do this as a journal entry, noting not only what you are observing, but what it means for you in your situation. Don’t try to make this a scene in your book yet—though it may turn into one. Just write for as long as you want. Later, you’ll have a treasure-trove of detail to pull from for your story.

At the Full-Bodied Writing Retreat we’ll have a plethora of settings to choose from—forest, beach, gardens, and a beautifully restored log-cabin retreat house.




The Writer as Actor: On Location