Ooh, look at the pretty pictures!

Good Morning and Happy Opening Day! (Really, I am not doing another post about baseball—I just needed to get that out. Besides, the Phillies’ first game isn’t until tomorrow.) 🙂

About a year and a half ago, I had a college professor recommend NaNoWriMo to me. He was highly encouraging of my writing abilities, and thought I should give it a try. As a full-time college student, I decided I didn’t have the time to do it that year, but I kept the email, intrigued by the idea.

Fall semester 2010 was a completely different situation. I found myself bored to tears with no classes, just searching for something to do. I had forgotten about that email until I saw Kaye post to Facebook that she had signed up. I immediately recognized the name, but pulled the email just to verify. When I saw it was the same thing, I immediately signed up. It was October 25.

The next few days were very busy, and I didn’t give it much more thought. I have never been an outliner, so I figured I would just wing it. I did manage to write a few paragraphs—one for each of the four ideas I had. That was it.

When I sat down to write on November 1, I had no idea which story I was going to write. I just sat down and wrote. Luckily, one of the stories just flowed—it wasn’t a conscious decision. It wasn’t even the story I thought I was going to write.

Throughout the month, the words flowed pretty easily. I wrote most weekdays, and sporadically on weekends. I was thrilled. I surpassed 50,000 words on November 21. All was great.

In December, I made a few changes (mainly switching it from first to third person—a huge, but tedious task).

Unfortunately, as I read it, I realized that there was no consistency in the story. Descriptions changed throughout the story for everything from houses to characters. My main character had blue, green, hazel, and brown eyes at some point in the story. Oops.

When I decided to put the story aside and start fresh, learning from the mistakes of NaNo, I knew that the most important thing for me to do was to fully develop my characters before I started writing. So, I turned to advice from writers on Twitter and blogs I followed.

First, I found this character profile worksheet on Jody Hedlund’s site. It is amazing—everything you could want to know about your characters. I filled it out for my MC and hero. I cut a few questions, creating a modified version for secondary characters.

Then, I took it a step further. I read quite a few authors say that they used pictures of celebrities to represent their characters. I wasn’t sure if it would help, but I figured it would be worth a try.

Girl Scouts can earn a badge for their own character development. I want one too! 😉

Once I had the character profiles completely filled out, I turned to Google and typed in “actor” or “actress” and a few physical characteristics. I then clicked on the photo results, and picked one actor who best embodied the character I had in my head. I then Googled that actor or actress, and found more pictures. I created a photo collage of eight to ten pictures, saved it as a PDF document, and printed it.

I found this was a blast. While I had a picture in my head for each character, I found that this help to solidify that image. I made sure to find pictures that fit the personality of the character as well. For example, my MC is very low-maintenance. She wears little makeup, has naturally wavy, long hair that she lets air dry with just a bit of gel. She dresses casually.

So when I picked out pictures, I made sure that I got casual pictures instead of pictures from the red carpet or other dressy events. I got pictures where the actress looked casual and other where she looked more professional.

It took hours to find the right pictures, but I found that it was fun. Looking through pictures and picking out which could be my character and which couldn’t really helped me to get to know my characters better.

Now, when I write a scene, I get out the pictures of each of the characters in the scene, so I can refer to them as needed. (Most writers said that they used a bulletin board, but I don’t have room for one in my dining room/office.) Of course, I have my in-depth character profiles close at hand as well.

I did this to ensure consistency throughout the story, but I have found that it helps with the flow of my writing as well. I am no longer searching for details about my characters, making it up if I am not sure. Everything I need is right there, well-organized and at my fingertips.

And, let’s be honest, all those pictures of the yummy actors looking up at me aren’t too bad either. 🙂 (Did I mention I am planning a trilogy, so there are three heroes?)

How do you plan your characters? Do you have a worksheet you use? Do you just write a few paragraphs describing them? Do you wing it? Do you use pictures to help with development? Any other tips?

On a separate note, is anyone else starting out April with a nor’easter? How much snow are you expecting? (We are hearing anything from an inch to ten. They’ve really nailed down that forecast!)

About Susi Borath

Susi Borath finds time to write between freelance marketing jobs, minor league baseball games, creating new cookie recipes, and juggling more laundry than any two people should be able to produce. You can find more about her at http://susiborath.com or follow @susiborath on Twitter.
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4 Responses to Ooh, look at the pretty pictures!

  1. Kaye Peters says:

    I use the character profile sheet you sent me, which means if its the same on you talked about above its from Jody Hedlund. Its an awesome worksheet that really gets you thinking about every aspect of your character. I like it even better knowing that although I may not need to use all the traits, stories, phobias, thoughts that I put down on that questionnaire in the story, just answering them gets me closer to my character. Does that make sense.

    I also have pictures of celebs or models that have similar physical traits to my characters. I’m a visual person; having that reference helps me stay focused and on track…and not have my characters eyes change color every other chapter. (Same thing happened in my NaNo novel.)

    And did you see we’re now in a winter storm warning. No more watch. Stupid Mother Nature.

    • Savana Quinn says:

      Kaye, that is the same one I sent you. It is great.

      I really learned a lot from NaNo. It taught me where my strengths and weakness are. The writing community online has provided amazing resources for both.

      I did see that it is now a Winter Storm Warning. And I am not happy. At all. I really want to know who kidnapped March’s lamb!

  2. Tombstone says:

    I usually start with a couple of physical traits and then come up with one endearing trait and one not-so-endearing trait that I can somehow tie to motivations concerning the plot. My last protag has a soft spot in his heart for children, which gets him caught up in the intrigue, while at the same time he’s a chauvanist, which adds tension with the women he has to work with. So after coming up with traits like that I let the character develop as I write.

    • Savana Quinn says:

      Actually, that would likely work for me, too. I just got so into my character development that I couldn’t stop. 🙂

      I do agree that the endearing and no-so-endearing traits are vital for the story line. Strengths and weakness are such an integral part of who a person (or character) is. Unfortunately, I didn’t even have that with my first novel, and it definitely hurt in the long run!

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