Monday, July 2, 2012

Getting to Know your Characters

I've been working on the characters for one of my WIPs, "Walls" (working title).  Today I sat down to interview my main character in hopes of getting to know her much better.  At the bottom of this lengthy post will be a list of sources I used to get my questions for interviewing my character.  I did this with my first book about halfway through the writing process because I was teaching a writing class after school.  It took my book down a path I'd not thought of because I got to know one of my characters better.  I always have in mind the place my characters live, age and birthdate before I get started.  I also search out pictures for my characters to keep in front of me.  If you look at my book Steps to Courage you will see photos used in my book trailer of my three main characters, on the front cover..  Once I started describing them I had to find just the "right" picture to represent them.  You will know it once you see it.  The exercise I am doing today is just the very basics on getting to know my characters.  The first three links I've given you at the bottom of this post is where I got my interview questions.  To take it further I would recommend Writing the Breakout Novel and its companion workbook by Donald Maass.

Today I am interviewing my main character  Hannah.  Let me set up the problem for my book for you.
Hannah has been transported back to 1985 E. Berlin.  She must escape to the west side.

Basics:  Hannah Meyer  age 17, Born August 1, 1995.  Lives in Bradenton, Florida
Blond hair, blue eyes.

This first set of questions is taking from a book written by Anne Mazer and Ellen Potter. I purchase 10 - 20 each year and give them to students who show a desire to write.  The book is called Spilling Ink.  Section 4  in this book, invites you to grab a cookie, and glass of milk, and sit on the edge of you bed and casually interview your character. I have used questions from the book page 27, here for this interview.    

What is your happiest memory?  My happiest memory was when I finally got to meet my mom's
parents.  They lived on the east side of Berlin and did something that got them put in prison for a while.
I'm not sure what they did because my mom won't talk about it.

What don't you want anyone to find out about you?  I am afraid to let my guard down.  What I mean is,  I've seen so many of my friends get hurt in relationships or by their parents breaking up.  I hear my parents fighting a lot and so I'm afraid to show any TRUE emotions or to trust people.  You just never know when they are going to dump you or hurt you.  It sometimes paralyzes me to the point that I sit back and watch things happen and do nothing.  I'm scared that if my life really depended on it or if my family or friends lives depended on me me doing something or risk getting hurt, I would do nothing.  It is safer to build walls around my feelings so that I don't get hurt.

What is the best part of your personality?  I can be very fun to be around.  I am very creative.  Whenever we have any projects to do my friends all want me in their group because they say I'll come up with a "fun" idea, and I usually do.  I can be the life of the party if I let my wall down.

How would your best friend describe how you look?  My best friend would say I have honey colored hair.  I have really weird eyes.  They are blue.  The thing is she says she can tell what kind of mood I'm in when she looks at me.  When I am happy and everything is going well she says my eyes are the color of a crystal clear blue lake in winter time.  When I am in a bad mood they go to a blue gray color. She must like lakes because she said is it like looking at a lake under a cloudy sky.  You can see the blue but it is severely gray.  I  am 5'8 and have a medium build.  My best friend says she wishes she had some meat on her bones so she didn't look anorexic all the time.  I think is is her way of saying I'm not too thin or too fat.  She likes to borrow clothes from me because I have a bohemian style of dressing.  That doesn't mean I can't get dressed up if I need to.

What irritates you?  I can't stand someone who just keeps running their mouth.  You know the kind that has to tell you every single fact and detail about everything that is in their head.  I want to slam them in the face.

Tell me about your family.  What's to tell?  My mom's name is Ivonne and my dad's name is Stefan.  They both grew up in East Berlin.   After they moved to West Berlin they got married and then a few years later moved to the United States.  That is all I know about their life there.  Here in Bradenton my mom has an art gallery.  She works with glass and pottery.  She has always loved this.  My dad works in construction.  He started his own design firm but then decided he had to build his designs as well.  He builds custom treehouses, playhouses, and things like that.  He says he feels the most freedom when he is creating with his own hands.

What do you think of yourself when you look in the mirror?  I think that I need to take more chances and live.  I see someone who always has a frown or pout on her face.  I see someone who feels sad and scared more than she feels happy.  I see someone who feels trapped behind a wall of her own creating, yet feels there is another wall, that if she could just break through it would hold the answers to tearing down her own walls.  I hope that makes sense to you.

What's the most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to you?  My mom sold this really beautiful glass lamp to a lady.  The lady asked me to carry it to the car for her.  I didn't really want to because I'm always afraid I will break something my mom has made.  My mom insisted I carry it for her.  I went to open the door for the lady at the same time she reached for it.  She bumped into me, sending me and the lamp into the door breaking it.    I immediately burst into tears.  The lady kept telling me she was sure my mom could fix it and that it was her fault for running into me.  I was so embarrassed.  My mom let her pick a different lamp, one that was more expensive at no extra cost.  I refused to go to my moms gallery after that.

Do you have a crush on anyone?  I have a crush on one of the soccer players at school.  I would never let him know this because you know how it goes, he might reject me, or we might get together and then break up.  I'm not ready for that yet.

What do you really, REALLY want more than anything else in the world?  I want to go to Germany and find out what it is my parents don't want me to know about their past.  I think it would help all of us so much.  They won't talk about any of it.  I have read about East Berlin and East Germany and the Wall, but I only have one side of the story.  Sometimes I think that is what they are fighting about.

Is there anything you would die for?  I would die for my family, friends and my freedom.  I think if it came right down to it, at least I hope, my fears would not get in my way.

Is there anything you are really good at?  Besides reading?  Yeah, I guess I kind of got some of my parents crafting or artistic genes.  I like to create things from fabric.  For example, one day I was at the park with a basket of fabric scraps.  I just felt like sitting under a tree and creating for a while.    A little girl came up and asked me what I was doing.  I told her I was going to make something.  She asked if I could make her a little doll because she lost hers.  I told her mom to come back in an hour and I'd have a small doll for her daughter.  It was just a simple  rag doll, but the look on that little girls face made me feel so good about that doll.

After completing this exercise I always see my character differently.  It also brings up questions, or other conflicts that I jot down.  Sometimes it helps me understand why something I originally had in my head won't work.  When I first started working on this book in an online class a couple of years back, the story line and setting were somewhat different.  I had to make a family tree and realized that my time frame had to change.  Originally I had Hannah going back in time and meeting her grandmother, then realized this would not work out.  Why?  Ah, it all had to do with the motivation for this book.  I encountered a section of the Berlin Wall outside of the Intrepid museum.  This is the catalyst for my time travel.  Upon researching that piece of the wall I learned that the west side of the wall had no painting on it until the 1980's and that particular piece was painted in 1985.  I've been working on this book for two years, most of it in the area of research.  I cannot rush this book.  I must make sure that it is as historically accurate as possible.  Details are important to me when it comes to things like this.

Please leave a comment and let me know the following:
Was this exercise helpful to you?
Did it give you an idea of what my character Hannah was like?

My plan is to post my interviews with my other characters this week. Tuesday look for my interview with Ivonne, Wednesday is set aside for Tobias, Thursday is for Daniela and Friday is for Stefan.  These are my main characters.  I have other bit characters that have walk on parts and I am the type of person who fleshes them out when I come to them.

Want to know what picture I have for Hannah?  Is this what you envisioned when I describe her?

Spilling Ink
The Book Buddy
CBI Character Workshop
Writing the Breakout Novel
Writing the Breakout Novel workbook

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