Elizabeth: C is for Character

© 2014 Scholastic Inc

© 2014 Scholastic Inc

This year’s RWA conference included a workshop on writing great characters by Susan Elizabeth Phillips.  I attended her workshop at last year’s conference and really enjoyed it, especially the hands-on exercises.  This year’s workshop featured two exercises that were aimed at helping us delineate character with description, rather than just telling the reader about the character. They were fun so I thought I’d share them here.

Exercise: Describe your character’s outfit in a way that reveals character and reveals plot.

Here’s what I came up with for my heroine Abigail. I feel like it gives a little insight about her, as well as raising the question of just why she needs a knife for an evening with Lord Wallingford.

“Abigail tucked her favourite knife in her left-half boot, accepted her mask and domino from the waiting maid, and headed off for an evening with Lord Wallingford on the dark walks of Vauxhall.”

Exercise: For the second exercise, the group brainstormed an archetype (Bossy CEO), a setting (a mountain), and an emotion (frustration), then had to write a few sentences showing the emotion, without saying “she felt” or “she thought.”

“Again?” Valerie picked herself up from the ground threw the length of frayed rope at the cowering guide. “Are you trying to kill me?”He tried to explain what had happened, but she cut him off with a hand. “I don’t want to hear it. Just get it fixed. The sooner I get off this damn mountain, the better.”

It was really fun hearing all the different ideas the workshop attendees came up with for these exercises. Better yet, the exercises were a good way to jump-start creativity. I’ve started adding a few exercises like these to my daily writing routine to help get me into the right frame of mind.

So, your turn. What can you come up with for one (or both) of these exercises? Please share in the comments.

You can find another character exercise in my Characterization post here and more ideas about creating great characters in Chuck Wendig’s post here.

16 thoughts on “Elizabeth: C is for Character

  1. I don’t have a specific sentence/paragraph for my character’s outfit, but my heroine wears a poodle skirt for about half the book. The poodle skirt is the uniform for the wedding chapel she’s gone to work for after she gets laid off from the CIA. It’s a symbol of how far she’s fallen, because what she wants is to be a professional woman and wear a suit to work. But the poodle skirt also frees her to be what she is in this moment. And then she also acquires a dog, so there’s that.:-) When she puts on clothes that aren’t suits, she takes a step toward the hero, too.

    • Kay, I love the poodle skirt. That really is a great way to show the wide gulf between the professional arena where she wants to be and where she is right now.

  2. Simon slipped down the crumbling shale face, losing the last hour’s worth of progress in a few painful seconds. Out of long habit, he turned around to snarl his displeasure at an underling. (After all, for what other purpose did the sycophantic scapegoats exist?) The echoing rattles of the rocks only made the silence of his solitude more complete, and his unvented rage burned all the hotter.

  3. Ooo, this was fun! Here’s what I came up with:

    Susannah stood before the mirror of her dressing table and alternately held up one hand, then the other, in an attempt to hide her gaping bosom. She shook her head in frustration. The dress her “future mother-in-law” selected was so low-cut she nearly spilled out of it. Its buttercup-yellow silk did her complexion no favors, either, making her suntanned face look sallow. Susannah swore under her breath, cursing the viscountess for what was clearly a plan to make her a spectacle of the worst kind.

  4. Oh, fun! I’m late to the party, but here it goes on the Mountain Exercise.

    Rex folded his arms and surveyed the members of his teambuilding exercise group, huddled together for warmth as the sun cast its first rays over the foothills. “OK, Angie, the couplefax goes on the rear, not the front. Fix it. Ted, tighten up that backpack or it’ll start chafing after an hour. Susan . . . .” Rex stopped and sighed. Susan’s concession to the hike was a pair of hot pink hightops, denim jeans filled with rips and tears instead of her usual trendy skirts, and a t-shirt bedecked with sparkly rhinestones spelling out, “SUCK IT, NATURE.” She shifted nervously, and a lip balm popped out of her pocket and rolled down the hill toward the lodge. Rex rubbed the bridge of his nose, then opened his eyes again. “Susan, good effort.” He’d packed a pair of size six hiking shoes in his own pack, and he’d bring them out in a half an hour when she was ready to listen to reason. “OK, team, let’s move that mountain!” he said unconvincingly. His team mumbled just as unconvincingly back, “Teamwork . . . .”

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