I have character prompts for NaNoWriMo today! For me to build a character, I usually have to find a face, a face that intrigues me and suggests a certain kind of personality. I went through Pixabay, looked at portraits, and selected some to share here. If you are stuck for a character during NaNoWriMo, check in here and see if these pictures can inspire you! I’d love to hear what sparks these photos ignite in your imagination.
Have you ever tried turning people into characters?
At a writing conference, author James Rubart talked about how he had a friend, whom he turned into a character for a novel. He didn’t adapt his friend’s personality or made any other adjustments. He just plunked him in as is.
I don’t have the courage to do that. I figure I’d describe a friend in some way he or she didn’t like and I’d offend them. But most of the characters we writers create contain some aspect we’ve seen in real people.
Such as my oldest’s kindergarten teacher. This woman personified patience and even temperament. She seemed more than able to handle any crisis her students could concoct.
Kindergarten Teacher, speaking in a completely bland voice:
“Now, Aiden, you shouldn’t set fire to the classroom. You’ll get a demerit for it. Children, Aiden has set fire to the room. Please line up at the door so we can leave quickly.”
I’ve been working with a character who has that kind of calm, unflappable personality, although she isn’t a kindergarten teacher. For this character, I’m mixing the kindergarten teacher with a woman from my church.
Who are some people who would work as prompts for characters?
Writers often offer advice on plot, setting, and character as if they were distinct story devices that barely had any association with each other until a writer pulls them into a story. But those three components are all interwoven. Since my theme this month is setting, this post will focus on how setting fuels characters and character fuels setting. If some plot creeps into the article, I can’t help it. Plot, setting, and character are a tight knit family, and I never know when one will come barging in to hang out with the other two.
In real life, environments shape the people who live in them. I’ve lived in a rural county in Ohio for the past fourteen years. I see the world differently from my sisters, although we all grew up in the same small town. They have spent the past several years living in suburbs that are less than an hour’s drive from me. Our homes, and the events that have occurred in them, influence who we are
Pick a setting, any setting
Let’s say I want to write a mystery set on the coast of North Carolina, near Emerald Isle. If my characters have lived by the sea all their lives, that environment will fuel their development. If a man is a fisherman, he can realistically be hard-working and stoic because he learned he must work with the sea when it turns nasty on him. Or he could be hard-working and laid back, having learned he can’t control the ocean but must roll with the punches it metes out.
Emerald Isle is a huge vacation destination. I can believably add characters who are not from that area. Fish-out-of-water stories are a lot of fun as characters clash in a setting familiar to some and alien to others.
In my North Carolina mystery, the fisherman takes several city dudes on a chartered fishing trip. One of the dudes is very snobbish. Another is very competitive. Maybe a powerful entrepreneur or rising politician. A third is new to fishing and very excited about his first ocean fishing trip. One of the vacationers dies on the boat under mysterious circumstances.
When the police suspect the fisherman, he and several other charter boat captains play amateur detectives because they don’t want an unsolved murder to adversely affect their businesses. So careful thought about my setting has let the setting fuel character and characters fuel setting.
In my Work-In-Progress (WIP), my main character Rae is trying to fit into a rural county in Ohio as she gets to know her father and his family for the first time. She grew up in the South, moving many times with her mother before she died. Rae is used to small town living but has never had a chance to put down roots.
Rae is an introvert and shy. She would like to make friends but feels she isn’t good at it because she could never make lasting friends anywhere she and her mother lived. The frequent changes in her environment fuel her personality.
What stories do you know in which setting fuels character and character fuels setting?
This man’s face has so much to interest a writer. He’s elderly, but with thick, long, wavy hair. Most elderly men in the U.S. don’t wear long hair. His teeth are worn. The creases in his face reveal hard work, or years of stress, or the stress of years. And his expression prompts questions? He’s concerned or worried or disturbed. About what? What is he seeing?
My first instinct is to say he’s worried about a family member. But maybe he’s an old wizard and one of his spells is going wrong.
Who is this character and what is worrying him?