Sunday, November 29, 2015

David Farland: My Story Doctor: Story Puzzle - Part 2

The image above is the header image accompanying David Farland's #WritingTips I receive weekly via email. Dave has some great advice about the process of writing and the business of writing and I love receiving these tips from him each week. If you're interested in learning more from Dave, check out his blog and subscribe to receive free weekly emails as well.

With that out of the way, let me get on to this post about my experience with Story Puzzle Part 2: Characters.

As you'll remember, Story Puzzle Part 1 was all about the setting of the story. Where is it taking place. The world the characters will occupy. Story Puzzle Part 2 is all about the characters (or so I thought).

As Dave will say, "Characters grow from their setting," and that makes a kind of sense. You don't really what kind of people are going to populate your story until you know where they come from. How can my protagonist be a mild-mannered computer geek if my setting is a secondary world that looks more like a prehistoric Amazon rain forest? I suppose it could happen, but there would need to be something in the setting to explain the hows and whys of the matter.

For this lesson's assignment we were asked to do three things. Create a page of physical description for the protagonist, down to the minutia of things like the shape of their ears, the freckle on their pelvis, and the color of their toe fungus; State what the character thinks about when he or she is alone (and presumably bored) -- basically, where do the character's thoughts go when there's nothing else driving them; Write an autobiography from the character's point-of-view.

This was not as difficult as I thought it would be. However, since I was starting from scratch and only had a wisp of an idea (and no real notion of any of my characters, or my setting) I had no idea where to start. So, I did what I've heard a lot of writers talk about ... I interviewed my characters. I acted as if I was a journalist for some magazine wanting the "full scoop" on the character's entire life and asked questions. Then I acted as the character herself and answered those questions as thoroughly and honestly as I could (as that character).

Never before had I experienced what other authors talk about when they mention their characters coming to life. This woman, my main character, was as real to me by the end of this interview as anyone I had ever met (even though I know she's completely fictional). 12,000 words later, I knew enough about my character to complete the assignment.

Here's the thing, though. I may have been able to complete the character assignment with this single interview, but I also learned so much more about my setting while interviewing this woman. She elaborated for me how her government works, the monetary system, the way the apprentice system works in her country. All manner of things I would never have thought to ask about ... all because it was important to her daily life.

I don't know if I'll ever use the description part of the assignment. Yes, it is what she looks like, and I suppose if I have multiple POV characters in the book it might come in handy, but I often feel that my protagonist should be drawn a little blank (in terms of physical description), primarily so the reader can insert his or her own imagery into that role.

The "What does she think about alone?" portion of the assignment was quite useful. It helped get into the emotional mindset of the character--to know how she feels about herself and the world in which she lives.

Finally, the autobiographical portion of the assignment is basically a shortened version of the interview I conducted to get the information I needed for this assignment. It was by far the most helpful, not only in understanding who this character is, but also in understanding the world in which she lives.

I've gone back through and completed a similar interview for the other major characters in this story (ten in total) if for no other purpose than to better understand their world and who they are as people.

If I haven't mentioned it already, I highly recommend Dave's workshops to anyone serious about perfecting their craft. Find out more at David Farland: Story Doctor