Friday, December 11, 2015

Character Lists: A Great Way to Coax Your Characters out of Hiding

In her book, Write Away, mystery author Elizabeth George talks about her writing process as she begins a new book.  She first writes detailed ideas about the plot.  She also researches the setting, often with trips to the location she's thinking of using.  And she always puts together a character list.

Her character lists are many pages of stream-of-consciousness ideas about each main player in her book.  If you read Write Away (which I highly recommend), you'll see an example from her novel, In the Presence of the Enemy.  She shows the entire character list for one of her main characters, Eve Bowen. 

What I appreciate about George's character lists is that they cover both the outer appearance and external life of the character, and the psychology of the character--what I call the outer story and inner story. 

Here's an excerpt of George's character list (outer story) for Eve Bowen:  "She is about five feet six inches tall.  She exercises at a gym early in the morning.  She wears makeup and wears it well, the sort of application that ends up looking like she doesn't have any on in the first place.  She wears only a wedding band, a gold watch, and the same kind of earrings all the time:  button types that match her outfits."  And George's character list (inner story) for Eve:  "Eve can't forgive injuries.  That's her greatest weakness.  Once you're her enemy, you're her enemy forever."

Your Weekly Writing Exercise

This exercise is perfectly tailored for the holidays, when we tend to be inundated with people--fun social gatherings, obligatory office parties, family meals. 

1.  Choose a character, either someone fictional or someone real.  If they are a player in your book, so much the better.  But you can also practice this exercise outside of your story.
2.  Write a character list for this person:  1/2 page minimum about their outer story, 1/2 page minimum about their inner story. 

Write more if you want, if you can.  Elizabeth George's character list for Eve Bowen runs seven pages, but she's been at this a long time!

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