Howdy blog followers/visitors/hostages! The sun’s shining, University exams are over for another year, and I’m looking forward to getting back to some summer writing! I’ll save the SITREP for, well, a SITREP post and crack straight on with today’s topic – it’s another Writing Workout!
So, last time we explored the importance of exercise in your training regime, focusing particularly on the need to stick to your workout schedule, even if that schedule is as light as “write 1000 words a month.” Today we’ll look at another technique for building that writing muscle – character mashups.
Whilst most writers enjoy throwing in a little tribute here and there to friends and family, many acknowledge that character creation isn’t simply a case of plonking every work colleague and cat-rewritten-to-be-a-dragon into your story. But you know that, because a) you’re a writer and you don’t need no “this is how to do it” beginner’s handbook and b) you’re read this post.
Today isn’t going to be about me waxing verbose on character creation (again). It’s just a simple little exercise, so simple in fact that you’ve probably done it plenty of times. This humble post’s purpose is merely to sharpen your concentration and get you out there doing it.
Out there, I hear you wonder. Yes, I know, ‘tis a fearful place beyond the musty shelves of the Writer’s Attic. But our stories are full of Characters, and Characters are Pretend People we trick Real People into believing are Real too. Your only way to trick them is to study the Real People. A lot.
So, out you go, to the nearest coffee house. Starbucks or an indy with cashmere rugs and bead drapes instead of curtains, I don’t discriminate, and don’t pretend you don’t like cafes. You’re a writer. Plant yourself down in a seat with a good view – you know, the Shady Writer’s Seat reserved for you in the corner. Set your laptop in front of you. But wait! This isn’t just your standard “stop writing in my house so I can go outside and write instead” moment! The laptop’s just a cover! And so you can keep reading this article.
Observe the people around you. Don’t make eye contact, and don’t let the eye wander – this is a writing exercise, not a stalker’s 101. Regard passers by, their hair, their facial features, their posture, their expression, the way they walk, the clothes they wear. All can offer so much insight into character creation.
This is all getting very airy-fairy, isn’t it? Oooh, the Real World people, they’re all so insightfully dressed and expressive! Well, chances are they’re not. But they don’t have to be, because you’re not using any single person to make your characters, are you? Chances are most folk won’t have anything immediately stand-out about them. But some will. The limp, how did they get that? The bleached blond hair. The snort-laugh. A sudden palm smack against a table in anger. The eyes that narrow almost imperceptibly as they meet yours – why are you making eye contact?
These are the things you can use. Cut them off from their owner, it’s not like they even realise they have them half the time. Take them, mash them up, and give me a character. Even if it’s a limping, blond-haired, snorting, angry man who is good at catching emaciated writers staring at him from a corner.
It’s a simple exercise, intended as merely a jump-start to bigger and better character things. And it’s gotten you out of the house. What can I say, I’m a genius. As a reward for reading all this way here, have a random name generator for your new character creations. The “hillbilly” ones are amazing. Next time we’re going to chew through writing workout numero four – settings. Between now and then watch out for a proper SITREP and another installment of the pen-adventures of a certain anonymous yet dashing hapless writer-knight.
Until next time!