Sunday, September 5, 2010

My Eye Twitches

Photograph by Istolethetv.
Putting a character together, for me, is one of the best and most trying aspects of writing. Layering personality, quirks, mannerisms, and finally description can be both fascinating and frustrating. Part of the fun for me is the people watching.

For example...my neighbor always, ALWAYS, puts his briefcase on his car hood and checks it before leaving for work. My friend still covers her brilliant smile when she laughs because somehow, the horror of braces still skirts around in her psyche from time to time. Especially when talking to men.

I'm no different. My deaf friends almost never look at my eyes when we're talking...they lip read and watch my hands exclusively.  They can tell if I'm sad before the tears get to my eyes because they say its in the way my shoulders slump, or my hands shake, and mouth looks tight. My eye twitches when I'm stressed. My laugh can be heard upstairs through music...at least my kids say so.

People are more than their descriptions. They are energy and sound and movement. They wear their hair long or short for a reason. They stand close to or far from people by design. The image they project to others and the way they move can tell a lot about their internal workings whether intentional or not. 

The book I am working on now, at least in the outline phase, has a main character who is deeply flawed. She's not your typical heroine...she's not really all that sympathetic in the beginning of my story. She's suffered a lot at the hands of others and therefore has a 'watching out for number one' type of attitude. She's not nice.

The thing is, I know what her voice sounds like when its laced with sarcasm. I know that she rubs her elbow when she's scared because an angry adult once broke it when she was little.  I know she hates that her lip trembles when she cries because she thinks it makes her look weak. She is striking, but not beautiful, and therefore doesn't like women who trade on their looks...not because she finds it demeaning, but because she doesn't have that luxury.  She guffaws, instead of laughs.

These are all things that do not describe what she looks like. That always comes last for me when I develop a character. The looks, the mannerisms, the personality...they all give birth to the appearance.

My question to you is this...how do you conjure your characters? Are they based on people you know? Do you use pictures of actors for inspiration? What makes them come alive for you?

Until next time...Go write!

9 comments:

Nicole MacDonald said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nicole MacDonald said...

Well some of my characters are based on people I know, others just 'spring to mind' and develop as I go. I spend a lot of time daydreaming about them till they become sharper in my mind :) They're like puzzels I slowly piece together and it's fun!

http://damselinadirtydress.blogspot.com

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Wow, you really notice some unique things about people. I need to be a little more observant I guess.

Clarissa Draper said...

I find my characters come alive in my mind. I have problems putting those actions into words.

That's cool that you know sign language. *Pah*

CD

Eric W. Trant said...

Outstanding points, Raquel. I'm a pantser on my characters. I have this image of them in my head and then I discover them not from outlining, but from writing them.

They'll do something, and I'll wonder why they did it that way, and I'll learn something new about them.

For instance, I kept wondering over the weekend why my MC paid so much attention to and kept calling this woman Baby, and then I realized it was because they'd been having a quiet affair (quiet because it would have been fraternization).

Cue the re-write...

I base characteristics off real people, though. We all do. There's nothing else to base it on.

Just don't make it too obvious!

;)

Your comments on deafness got me thinking, because I'm working on a long scene in complete darkness. i.e. My characters will be blind.

- Eric

Vicki Rocho said...

Great post! Such wonderful details!

My characters come to me in all different ways. Some are inspired by people I know or see out and about. The rest of the layering comes in as I'm writing...like an old Polaroid they appear bit by bit.

Elena Solodow said...

My characters always come to me via dialogue, which is the purest form of their personality, of course. I work outward from there. I usually act out a few of their lines to see how the movements come and how they sound. That gives me a core definition of them. I've tried to base characters on people, but it never works!

Raquel Byrnes said...

Nicole - Like the piece by piece idea. People can be like puzzles.

Alex - People watching is a pastime of mine...especially at airports.

Clarissa - Yes, I interpret for church and the like on occassion.

Eric - Interesting process...also, the blind scene sounds very intriguing. How fun to play with the other senses in writing! Hope you post it. =)

Vicki - I like the poloroid analogy. Very true!

Elena - The dialogue and the acting out are an excellent idea...I shall try!

Linda Glaz said...

Do a personality study of each one, down to habits, etc. so they have true histories.