Monday, April 26, 2010

A New Character in Twelve Steps

Ruby emerges from my typewriter

Ruby drank her colored water and wiped her mouth. "None of that tarantula juice sold here, Mister. Can I have another one?" She was perspiring from the dance, and cinnamon colored tendrils curled at her hairline. Leo wondered if she smiled like this at every cowboy who swung through the doors of the Fat Chance Saloon, or if she could tell he needed encouragement to drop extra coins on the mahogany bar. The dance had cost him 75¢ and every drink was a dollar, but a night in Sam's Town wasn't cheap—or typical.

"Are you a boarder?" Leo asked, embarrassed, knowing what this implied.

"I'm stayin' here, if that's what you mean. But just for a while. I've got a little boy back in Greenville, and I'm trying to get on my feet so I can take care of him proper." Leo looked down at his calloused hands.

"Don't you go judging, me," Ruby frowned, unwrapping the ribbon she had around her wrist and tying back her thick russet curls. "It's not like I'm some life-long soiled dove. I'm only nineteen. I just need to make some money for me and JJ."

The tinny keys of the piano roused her sense of responsibility as Sam slapped the bar. "Gents, balance your ladies onto the floor. The professor is going to play us a waltz. Tickets please."

Ruby teased the paper stub from Leo's pocket, tore it half-way through, and twirled out of his reach, sweet-talking him with her eyes. "C'mon. Take a turn with a fallen angel."—Son of a Gun, by Marty Halverson

These are some of my imaginary friends. We're just getting acquainted. I usually write short stories, biography or creative non-fiction, but now I'm trying my hand as a novelist. Son of a Gun is the story of Ruby's son JJ, his quest to find his father, and how Leo changes their lives. It is so much fun to create characters and then see what they say and do. I love it!

Do you want a new BFF? Here's how to get one in a dozen steps:

Character Sketch
  1. Name:
  2. Nickname:
  3. Birth Date/Place:
  4. Character Role: (Main or minor)
  5. Physical Description: (Age, race, eye color, hair color/style, build, skin tone, style of dress)
  6. Characteristics/Mannerisms: (Physical flaws, habits)
  7. Speech pattern/voice: (Particular phrases)
  8. Personality traits: (Strengths, vices, interests, favorites)
  9. Background: (Family tree, childhood, pivotal events in life, religion, outlook)
  10. Internal conflicts: (Personal problems, emotional turmoil)
  11. External conflicts: (What is preventing his success?)
  12. Occupation/Education: (How did he become what he is?)
I've spent the last few days writing character sketches, asking Ruby, Leo and some other folks questions, using these prompts. Then I write down their answers. I've been surprised at the details they supply: I noticed Ruby fiddling with her ribbon right off. And Leo mentioned that his mother was a Quaker. Interesting. So do Quakers drink and gamble and carouse? Why is he at the Fat Chance Saloon?

The more I get to know my imaginary friends, the more real they become. Where exactly do they live, and when? What's going on in their corner of the world? Why do they matter? I can't wait to tell their story.

Elizabeth George says, "Give your characters a chance to tell you what part they're going to play in your novel. Believe me. They will."

I'm listening.


~Create a new character. Use the twelve steps as prompts and let your imaginary friend run wild!


kenju said...

I only tried to write fiction one time; I was in high school, and it was to be an adventure/romance novel. LOLOLOLOL. The best I could come up with was the heroine's name (Victoria) - but with your help, I think I could flesh her out a bit.

kenju said...

P.S. They say "write what you know", so I was way off the mark there - never had any adventures and very little romance.

Gabi said...

Mom! I'm so excited to read the whole thing. Is it PG? Because Jake is quite a bookworm these days...he would love a western.

Raejean said...

Where did you get Sam's Town? I grew up knew a place called Sam's Town that was Old West style tourist place that had a restaurant, a bar, an arcade, etc. The gift shop had a huge candy selection, including bushel baskets of different sizes of jaw breakers. I almost couldn't get one out of my mouth because it was so big. Thanks for the trip down memory lane!

Christie said...

Gabi's comment cracks me up.

Excellent scene development there. Can't wait to read more. Keep 'em coming!

Diane said...

You are a writer. I am a reader. We have great symbiosis!

There are no characters, fleshed out, or not, lurking in my brain. But I am fascinated with the process of writing, and how some people just seem to have it. Keep it up! I am dying to utilize my reading talent on your creations.

Amy said...

There are a billion characters dying to work themselves out of my brain and on to paper. Unfortunately, your 12 step assignment has shown me that this is easier said than done. But I am determined to conquer! My 12 steps will be up soon at which point I will post the link. Thanks for your inspiration!

Amy said...

My Character Sketch is finally done! Phew! Take a look here: