Thursday, 7 June 2012

Writers Workshop: Building Believable Characters

Honey over at Stories to Share is starting a Writers Workshop and I'm all fired up about it. If you haven't yet visited Honey and/or want to participate, please stop by her blog HERE, she's a wonderful writer and a super nice blogger. (:

In her post, Honey provides two really nice examples of characterization. One taken from Hemingway, The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber and the second, her own characterization of the main character in her book. Please go check it out!

I also wanted to add another example of character description based primarily on physical appearance. It's an excerpt of the bounty hunter Stephanie Plum in Seven Up, by Janet Evanovich:

I wasn't sure what one wore to the Pit, but slut hair seemed like a good idea, so I did the hot roller and teasing thing. This increased my height from five foot seven inches to five foot ten.  I tarted myself up with a lot of makeup, added a short black spandex skirt and four-inch heels, and I felt very kick-ass. I grabbed my leather jacket and took the car keys from the kitchen counter. Hold on. These weren't car keys. They were motorcycle keys. Shit! I'd never get my hair in the helmet. 

That was, fun wasn't it? Not only did I great strong mental image of this woman but I also have good idea of her personality type based on this short paragraph. And according to Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint by Nancy Kress, the success of the above description stems from its ability to accomplish three main points:

     -provides a strong visual image
     -uses details to imply personality traits and/or personal background
     -the description intrigues us about what will happen next

So now here's my challenge (copied from Honey's post) :

     Exercise: Do a character sketch. I found this website, click on the word here, with some great suggestions for building characters. 

I'm going to do this by pulling out an excerpt from my wip. It's an early description of Edessa Scottwood, my main character as she sees herself in a mirror.
My face was ashen white, my cheeks hollow and purplish shadows hung tightly beneath my eyes. My hair was a wiry mass that had been cropped short even by boys standards. My mind flashed back to almost a week ago during one of my destructive and hysterical breakdowns. My emotional pain had me toying with the idea of slitting my wrists, but I ended up hacking away at my hair instead. What a mess, Edessa. I couldn't help looking over the rest of my naked body and frankly, it too didn't look much better than the rest. I had lost most of my womanly curves and looked more like a dry, over stretched rubber band. I tried straighten out my back and moaned as it set in three different places. And as I scrutinized the rest of my haggard body in the mirror, I realized the only thing I did recognize were the color of my eyes, still the same shade of green. 

Why do I care what I look like anyway? The words suddenly growled inside my head. I tried to kill myself only yesterday, so does it really matter if I look like Hell? Interesting word choice, I thought. Hell…

Well, I can't imagine what you all must be thinking right about now, lol. But it was either this excerpt or the one about the naked guy swimming in the lake. Aren't you glad I chose this one? Come to think of it, looks like I have a lot of naked people in my wip. (o_O) But seriously, I do I would really like to hear some of your thoughts, what works and what doesn't. I appreciate any and all critiques. (:  



  1. Love the Stephanie Plum paragraph.

    I thought your paragraph was very visual, even if the image was a little disturbing. Hope she comes through ok.

  2. Disturbing holds the attention, and I ended up wanting her to find a way to pull herself together and become whole again. Great job. Thanks for telling folks you're reading my book. It means a lot. I notice you tell folks what music you're listening to as well. To tell you my mood, I'm currently listening to "I Dreamed A Dream" from LES MISERABLES. Thanks for visiting my blog and staying to talk awhile. :-)

  3. You use the passive voice a lot. Notice that Evanovich doesn't use the passive voice.

    For example, you could write: I can't believe my ashen-white skin, hollow cheeks, and the purplish shadows hanging beneath my eyes. Go for the active voice.

  4. i like plum, and what richard sez!

    glad you avoided zombie references, despite her suicide recovery...

    thx for the info on honey...

  5. S.P.B.: Thanks, and yes, she does pull through. (:

    Roland: Thank a bunch and you're welcome. (=

    Richard: You're right Richard, thanks for pointing that out and for stopping by. (: I do have a tendency of overusing the passive voice.

    laughingwolf: I like plum too. And no zombie references in my books (zombies scare me to bricks). (;

    1. i meant you could have used zombie characteristics to describe your mc, seeing as she's still part of the 'almost dead' ;) lol

    2. Yeah, I got that. But zombies still SCARE THE CRAP out of me. (:

  6. some ideas from white:

    1. Thanks for the link, watching it now. (:

    2. That's a really good video, thanks for sharing. Hope you don't mind but I'd like to post it and give you a shout out. (:

  7. I love the name "Edessa", even if she seems far too disturbed for such a name.
    For me, the few inserts of direct thoughts work very well. Although it's first person POV, this makes it even more personal.
    The whole piece makes me want to know more about what has driven her to this point and what her version of Hell is.

    By the way, I wouldn't mind read a character sketch about your "naked guy swimming in the lake" ;)

    1. Thanks Treelight. (: I might have to dig out the swimming naked guy excerpt to umm, warm up the atmosphere... (;

  8. Very witty Elise! Hey I left you something to pick up at my Blog!

  9. I'm with Treelight in that I want to know how she ended up in that condition. It's amazing how words can paint such a visual image. I was thinking this will be a great way to build interest in the finished book too. Thanks for the shout-out and your enthusiasm for this idea!

  10. C.M. Brown: Thank you, I appreciate it! I'll work on it soon to have it ready by next week. (:

    Honey: I agree, this would be a nice venue into our books/wips all the while improving on them too!

  11. I agree with Richard. If you notice the first four setences you start with my. I liked the rubber band analogy. Oh, and I love Stephanie Plum.

  12. go for it, elise :)

    more good writing advice on youtube, also...

  13. Nice work. You have some really helpful comments here too. Very intrigued to hear more. That exercise has inspired me too. Cheers

  14. Very interesting character.
    I agree with Richard. Try writing in the active voice, it packs more of a punch... feels more "in the moment"...

    You should also try alternating the lengths of your sentences... if you don't mind, I'll re-arrange some of the info from your excerpt above. Here goes:
    I experienced a mental flashback to almost a week ago. It was during one of my hysterical breakdowns which had induced an emotional pain. I had toyed with some ideas. Self-destructive ideas. In the end, instead of slitting my wrists, I hacked away at my hair instead.
    (the above is just on the spur of the moment... bring on the naked guy in the lake, you don't have to hide him. LOL)

    I'm off to check out Honey's blog...

  15. Jessica: Stephanie Plum is great! And thanks for the comment, I really do appreciate it. (:

    laughingwolf: Merci! (:

    Clay: Thanks I'm very grateful for all the comments and so glad the exercise has inspired you too!

    Michelle: Oh I do like the short choppy sentences! I think it goes well with my character's state of mind. I'll rework the paragraph with all the advice I've gotten. Merci beaucoup! (: And I guess I'll have to pull out the naked guy in the lake...humm that didn't quite sound right... (;


Thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment!
Comments are the best. Well, the nice ones are. (:
I do my best to reply to everyone either via e-mail,
directly in the comment box or by leaving a comment
on your site. Chat with you soon!

Also, not interested in your spam. Really, I'm not interested.

J'écris, donc je suis (:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...