What do you know about your characters? (writing exercise #11)

As with the last writing exercise, this one is working with characters in a story you’ve already created.

Once again, I am going with my yet-to-be-published novel. In my story, I have a multiple protagonist situation going on, but there is still one primary character. Unfortunately, she is less interesting and likeable than some of the other characters, is what I’ve gotten from feedback. 

Hence, I’ve chose her for this exercise, in hopes of getting to know her better.

Page 36 in the book.

The authors quote Hemmingway: “If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and that the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them.”

“The exercise: Work with one of your completed stories that has a character who needs fleshing out. Take out a sheet of paper and number from one to fifty-three. At the top of the page, write in the title of your story and the main character’s name – and start filling int he blanks.

Character’s Name:

Character’s Nickname:

Sex:

Age:

Looks:

Right- or left-handed:

Education:

Vocation/occupation:

Salary:

Status and money:

Marital status:

Family, ethnicity:

Diction, accent, etc:

Relationships:

Places (home, office, car, etc.):

Primary mode of transportation:

Halloween costumes:

Tricks:

E-mail address, blog, and/or website:

Passwords:

Possessions:

Recreation, hobbies:

Obsessions:

Addictions:

Beliefs:

Attitudes:

Superstitions:

Prejudices:

Politics:

Sexual history:

Medical history, allergies, etc:

Ambitions:

Religion:

Fears:

Character flaws:

Character strengths:

Secrets:

Pets:

Taste in books, music, etc:

Journal entries:

Correspondence:

Food preferences:

Handwriting:

Astrological sign:

Talents:

Relatives:

Enemies:

As seen by others:

As seen by self:

Scars:

Tattoos, piercings, etc:

What is kept in purse, wallet, fridge, glove compartment, medicine cabinet, junk drawer (calendar, appointment book, rolodex, etc.):

No doubt you will be able to add to this list.

“The objective: To understand how much there is to know about a character you have created. Of course, it is possible to write a successful story about a character without knowing everything on this list – or perhaps only knowing two or three things. On the other hand, beginning writers often don’t know more than a character’s age or gender – and frequently  neglect an essential piece of information that would have greatly informed or shaped their story. You needn’t necessarily include these details in the story, but their presence in your mind will be ‘felt’ by the reader.”

Photo credit: HelpingWritersBecomeAuthors.com

And here’s mine:

Character’s name: Bridget Pinkerton

Character’s nickname: Bridge. She hates that.

Sex: Female.

Age: 20.

Looks: Pretty in an awkward, girl-next-door kind of way. She doesn’t think she’s pretty so she doesn’t carry herself confidently. She’s 5’4″ with medium brown hair down just past her shoulders. She doesn’t smile very often.

Right- or left-handed: Right-handed.

Education: After high school, Bridget took a year of classes at a local community college, majoring in “independent studies,” before dropping out.

Vocation/occupation: At the moment, she has none. She’s living with her parents and trying to figure out what she wants to do with her life. She’s procrastinating dealing with real life.

Salary: She has a bit of money saved up from babysitting during high school, and her parents give her an allowance every month or so. She has no income at this moment.

Status and money: See above. Also, her status depends on her parents’ status – her parents were once quite wealthy, but her father has had to take a severe cut in pay, and they are beginning to learn how to live differently now.

Marital status: She’s only 20. She’s single.

Family, ethnicity: She has Irish and Sweedish roots. She is the older sister in a family of four.

Diction, accent, etc: Not really, she has lived in Connecticut all her life.

Relationships: She has it in her mind that she’s never going to love anyone other than Benjamin. Benjamin loved another girl, Crissy, who is dead now. Bridget struggles with the knowledge that if she wins Benjamin back, she’ll have won be default.

Places (home, office, car, etc.): She lives in a fairly large house with her parents and sister. She has no office. She does have a car, a 2004 Hyundai, which will go to her sister at any time as soon as she gets her license. At that point, Bridget will be shit out of luck.

Primary mode of transportation: See above. She dreads taking a bus. Although, Bridget lives in a small town and many places are within walking distance.

Halloween costumes: Bridget finds enjoyment in trying on new personalities and new wardrobe choices. She’s had a lot of fun with Halloween. She has been everything from a princess to a zombie, to specific characters from movies and books. It’s by far her favorite holiday.

Tricks: Tricks? What an odd question. I suppose I would say, Bridget tricks herself into thinking that she’s happy and content where she is, when the truth is that she just hates change.

Email address, blog, and/or website: Bridget.Pinkerton@gmail.com. She kept it simple, and not too goofy, so she could use it to apply to jobs. Which never happens.

Passwords: Cremefrache777.

Possessions: This is hard to say in terms of things in the home. Many of Bridget’s things belong to her parents, who plan on passing them down onto her younger sister, when Bridget moves out. Things like her car, the television set in her bedroom, and even dolls and stuffed animals have been given to Maeve. Bridget is resentful of Maeve for this, and in turn Maeve is resentful that she has to get all the hand-me-downs.

Recreation, hobbies: Bridget is a classic pothead. She loves to sit on the couch and smoke pot. Because of this, she ends up watching  a lot of television, and doing really not much of anything. She sees people doing things on TV, or hears about her friends doing things – hiking, swimming – normal hobbies that normal people have. She wants to join them and get out of the fog she’s in but she doesn’t know how. However, Bridget does have one healthy hobby: she enjoys cooking for her family.

Obsessions: Bridget is obsessed with Benjamin. She is obsessed with getting her high school boyfriend back, and finding a way to live with her parents forever so she never has to get out of her comfort zone, never has to get a real job, never has to really find herself. She is obsessed with slowing time down, living in the moment while reaching for the past, and ignoring the future.

Addictions: Pot. Just pot. She drinks quite a bit sometimes, too, but never harder drugs.

Beliefs: Bridget believes she’s stupid. This is a huge road block in her moving forward in life – she thinks she’s incapable of doing so.

Attitudes: Bridget is sarcastic and at times dark, but she longs to be happy, carefree, and confident.

Superstitions: The number 13, but she’d never admit it to anyone.

Prejudices: She has a problem with girls who are prettier than her. She assumes they’re bitchy, terrible people, and doesn’t want to take a moment to get to know them. She can see this about herself, but doesn’t know what to do about it.

Politics: Except for local politics that directly affect her, politics are not on Bridget’s radar.

Sexual history: Bridget has slept with two guys. One, of course, is Benjamin. The other guy was this guy Brad whom she went on a date with when she was fifteen and slept with him just so that she could get losing her virginity overwith. It never went anywhere, and she didn’t want it to. She hasn’t slept with Benjamin in years, but refuses to let anyone else get close to her.

Medical history, allergies, etc.: Bridget has allergies in the spring with pollen and dander. No other serious health issues.

Ambitions: Bridget has none. This is a very large component of what’s wrong with her life.

Religion: Definitely no religion.

Fears: Bridget fears that she’ll never get out of her small town, and she fears that she will. She fears that she won’t be able to get Benjamin back, but also fears that she will. She is afraid of failing, which is partially why she hasn’t gone back to college. She is terrified of change, and yet knows that she can’t be happy if things stay the way they are forever.

Character flaws: As already alluded to, Bridget has no ambition, motivation, or confidence. She is a young woman at the prime of her life, and yet she smokes her time away, losing precious moments to being stoned. She’s stuck and doesn’t know what she needs to move forward.

Secrets: Until it comes bursting out of her, Bridget’s main secret is her love for Benjamin. They’ve remained close since breaking up years ago, and she doesn’t want to ruin the friendship.

Pets: No pets, her mother is allergic. This is yet another thing that could change if she could manage to move out of her home, but she can’t quite seem to do that.

Taste in books, music, etc.: Bridget learns about new music trends from her sister, who is more into music-listening – she always has ear buds in. Bridget does enjoy reading, but doesn’t read as often as she should. When she does, it’s of the crime novel variety.

Journal entries: Bridget did keep a journal when she was younger, but stopped at the age of 13.

Correspondence: Bridget keeps in constant contact over an online instant messanger with her friend Rachel, who moved away.

Food preference: As Bridget loves cooking, she loves food. She loves trying new foods. She doesn’t have a huge sweet tooth, but does have a weakness for anything salty. Salads and healthy foods come into the mix too. . .really anything, and everything. She’s not picky.

Handwriting: Bridget has fairly decent handwriting, but her sister’s is better.

Astrological sign: Virgo

Talents: Cooking. If she has any other talents she doesn’t believe she does or hasn’t found them yet.

Friends: Benjamin, Rachel, and her sister, Maeve. In the story she meets a new friend, Dani.

Relatives: None that live close other than her immediate family. She does have a cousin who is going to college in Massachusetts not too far away.

Enemies: Crissy, when she was alive, and even now, when she’s dead. Anyone who vies for Benjamin’s attention. Olivia, Benjamin’s mother, who is out to destroy Bridget and her family.

As seen by others: Quiet, shy, nice girl. Maybe a bit of a pushover.

As seen by self: Not too bright, lazy, aloof. Not going to get anywhere, so why bother trying?

Scars: One on her elbow when she was swimming in Cape Cod with her sister as a kid, and scraped it on a rock.

Tattoos, piercings, etc.: They’ve intrigued her but she hasn’t had the guts yet.

What is kept in the purse, wallet, fridge, glove compartment, medicine cabinet, junk drawer (calendar, appointment book, rolodex, etc.): In her purse, Bridget always has her pipe on her at all times, even if she doesn’t have pot at the moment. In addition there is her wallet containing a little bit of cash, license, a credit card for emergencies, and a library card she hasn’t used in at least five years. She keeps lip balm, a small comb, Visine, and gum.

——–

I will say this has been helpful for me. A few things jumped out at me – for instance, the fact that my character’s father had to take a significant pay cut in his job.

That was a detail I added into my story later on; it wasn’t always there, and I may not have allowed its impact to trickle down to the other characters like it should. What does it mean to Bridget that her father is making much less money? Bridget doesn’t work. Her mother doesn’t work. And her sister doesn’t work. Maybe this is the underlying motivator that pushes Bridget into making a decision about either going back to school or getting a job.

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