May 14th, 2012

“If something inside of you is real, we will probably find it interesting, and it will probably be universal. So you must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work. Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write toward vulnerability. Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you’re a writer you have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act—truth is always subversive.”
― Anne Lamott

Character Development

Novelist Elizabeth George describes in Write Away, (Harper Collins, 2004) how she creates characters. For part of her process, she uses a prompt sheet. She posts the prompt sheet in the vicinity of her computer to glance at as she free writes about the character. She does not fill in the prompt sheet. She writes:
“Single-word descriptions will never stimulate the right side of anyone’s brain, and it’s only through getting into the right side of the brain that I know I can be in full creative mode, allowing my stream-of-consciousness writing to tell me what each character is like. But I use the prompt sheet to remind me of things I might forget. I generally don’t use every one of the categories on the sheet, by the way. They’re merely devices to keep me going in my rapid, free-writing analysis about the character, like a psychiatrist, autobiographer, and analyst, you’ll remember.”

“Allow yourself the freedom of writing from the top of your head. Clear your mind right on the page if necessary. But give your characters a chance to tell you what part they’re going to play in your novel. Believe me. They will.”

CHARACTER PROMPT SHEET (E. George)

Name
Age
Height
Weight/build
Birthplace
Color hair/eyes
Physical peculiarities
Educational background
Sexuality
Best friend
Enemies
Family (mother, father, siblings, etc.)
Core need:
Pathological maneuver
Ambition in life
Gestures when talking
Gait
Strongest character trait
Weakest character trait
Laughs or jeers at
Philosophy
Political leaning
Hobbies
What others notice first about him/her
What character does alone
One-line characterization (actual line from a narrative)
Will the reader like/dislike character
Does he/she change in story? How
Significant event that molded the character
Significant event that illustrates the character’s personality

Ms. George follows this list with an example from her work. Her analysis runs to eight pages and was written about a main character “long before she put in an appearance on the pages of my rough draft.”

One Response to “Character Development Prompt”

  1. This is an amazing prompt, it brings depth of awareness in terms of who the character is and why.