Monday, February 5, 2007

What a Character

My youngest of five--my baby girl--turned twenty-one last week. ACK! That makes me a true, card-carrying MOAC (Mother of Adult Children.) Okay, we won't go any farther down that rabbit trail today.

Anyhow, back to Courtney. . .when we asked her how she wanted to celebrate her birthday, she said she wanted to commemorate her big 2-1 with...drumroll. . .tickets to a Cleveland Cavaliers game. Now, I've lived in the same house with this girl since she was three months old, and I'd like to think I've got her pretty well pegged. I know and love (for the most part) her quirks and foibles and endearing traits as well as her likes and dislikes and tolerates. I know she's a math whiz with an eclectic taste in music. She can sleep twenty out of twenty-four hours while on vacation and spend the remaining four hours of that day in the bathroom fidgeting with her waist-length black hair. But never in my wildest imaginings would I have guessed Courtney to be a Cav's fan! The formula simply didn't compute. As we settled into our arena seats and the team took to the court, however, I realized she knew her basketball stuff. She held her own when her dad grilled her on LeBron James' recent stats, and she insisted we leave her alone so she could watch the game when we tried to draw her into a non-basketball-related conversation during a lull in the action.

As I thought about this new revelation into my daughter's personality, I wondered what might have spurred on this unexpected enthusiasm for professional basketball. Well, I'd forgotten, but she did have great fun in elementary school when she played on a city-league girl's basketball team. And she sat beside me through hundreds of her older brother's high school games when he was the star guard. Maybe an interest in the pro version of the game isn't so very "counter-Courtney" after all.

I have, on occasion, read a manuscript in which a character acts or speak in a manner that doesn't "fit" the personality I've come to know. While I might sympathize with their need for therapy, I'm not typically inclined to want to keep reading. A good author needs the skill of a psychiatrist when developing believable characters. What research tools have you found helpful as you formulate a character's actions and reactions?


Cecelia Dowdy said...

I use the following when developing characters:
The Writer's Digest Sourcebook for Building Believable Characters (Paperback)
by Marc McCutcheon

There's a list of questions in the book which I now have on my computer and use to develop character sketches before I start my novels. I don't necessarily use all of the questions, and I've enhanced a few of them. I do spend more time developing how the character feels about God and religion since that is such an integral part of my stories.

Lisa Lickel said...

Formulating the person's background - how she or he got to where he is at the time I write. Besides going through sociology workups about what makes families tick, a big tool is university websites. If my character has some advanced education, I research what it takes to get a degree in a particular area, where he or she has to go to school for those speciality classes, and that helps me formulate some character traits. The hoops a person has to be willing to jump through to get what he or she wants tells you a lot about their personality. Of course, with my own kids in and just graduating from college, it's fun to watch how they're developing from the choices they're making.
Lisa Lickel

Kristy Dykes said...

Great post, Susan!

"What research tools have you found helpful as you formulate a character's actions and reactions?"

The four personality types Florence and Marita Littauer teach has helped me the most. Each has its own strengths and weakness. They are: Popular Sanguine, Powerful Choleric, Peaceful Phlegmatic, and Perfect Melancholy. Analyzing my characters' strengths and weaknesses helps me in writing good characters, hopefully!, and with character arcs too.

Kim S. said...

Wow, great resources people are sharing! Thank you! And, Susan, thanks for suggesting it.

As for me...I people watch. I've always been an introvert, hovering on the fringes looking in, and I observe details others might miss. So I've relied on my own observation and conclustions based on observation to help me develop characters.

But I'm gonna go get some of those books! :o)

Mary Connealy said...

I seem to have to write through it to learn a person's character. It's very common for me to have written ... oh, even a hundred pages when all the sudden the character finally comes into focus. I finally KNOW him/her. I'm sure that's an awkward, time consuming way to do it, but it works for me. Then, once I get it, I have to go back and make sure the character is true and focused in those first 100 pages, too. But that's fun.