Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Bev Marshall on Creating Memorable Characters

Bev Marshall on Creating Memorable Characters

"How do you make memorable characters?

First, you must know them better than you know yourself."

Bev is very notebook oriented in her writing, which I love. She advocates using a drawing pad for character development. Each character gets a fresh, blank page, and she writes in columns everything she knows about the character. Then she focuses on their dreams and regrets, which she says are the most important elements since they help create character motivation.

Though she says writing journal entries in her characters' voices works for her, she also recommends having your character write a letter to you, the author. Listen to what they want, but also to the cadence of their speech, the syntax of their voices.

Another key to making memorable characters is to give them memorable traits. Make them interesting and memorable, and have flaws that come into play.

[My example, not Bev's: Arthur Dent is one of the most passive characters in all of literature (Yes, Hitchhiker is literature, dammit!), and he's an ordinary man. Hard to care about a character so ordinary. Why should we?

Part of the reason he's so memorable, aside from the adventures fate thrusts him into without towels or proper tea, is because he's constantly kept from getting what he wants. This gives the reader a reason to care about him. Of course, having hilarious writing and other memorable characters with interesting quirks and extra body parts always helps. ;)]

Bev says to remember that the important part of the story is not the outcome, but the struggle.
Readers want to read about active people trying, and often failing, to take charge of their lives. Readers also want characters to change, but it can't happen out of the blue, or be "told". We must "see" the events that change the character, or we won't believe it. This makes it seem to the reader that your characters are acting out of character, even if in the eyes of you, the writer, the change seems logical and natural. Think about what you're not showing the reader.

As for Bev's everyday writing process, she keeps multiple journals. One is an "emotional dumpster". Another is for random notes she takes as they come to her. She also keeps a project journal for each project, which I strongly advocate.

Her most important journal, she said, was her travel journal. This comes in handy for spying on people and eavesdropping. "If anyone's speaking in public loud enough to be heard, it's okay to steal." ;) Her pocket notebook captures the essence of the moment, and keeps that moment fresh until she can use it.

I tend to use the notes function on my phone for this, and for those middle of the night notes to myself. Much easier than trying to interpret my handwriting from 3am.

Hope you enjoyed this post! Bev was a hoot, and I wanted to leave with one last quote from her about writing:

"Editors reject books for being too familiar, and because they've been submitted too soon. It's like gumbo, folks, the longer it takes, the better!"

Tomorrow's post will be from literary agent Marly Rusoff's master class.

7 comments:

Susan R. Mills said...

Great information! Thanks so much.

MG Higgins said...

Wonderful tips and perfect timing for me. Thank you!

Elana Johnson said...

Oh, this is a fabulous post! FABULOUS. It's so true that we don't want to read something familiar. Something that's the same as something else. We want people that are different, doing different things, but not so different that we can't relate. Love that quote at the end. Love the advice in the middle.

Great post!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Wow, this was packed with interesting tips. I love the idea of the character writing a letter to the author (I have interviewed my characters and that's eye-opening, too). Thanks so much for sharing this!

Tara McClendon said...

I'll agree Hitchhikers is literature. :]

Darlyn said...

Great post. I love the idea of journaling in the characters' voices. I'm definitely going to try that one.

I also love the quote on the bottom part. Unfortunately, it's a lesson I haven't learned yet.

Tere Kirkland said...

I'm going to try her big notebook technique this weekend. I think editing has squeezed the life out of some of my characters. It'll be nice to get to know them again.