Tell me about the last person you kissed; or getting to know your characters, every hurt, flaw, and mistake
Found on Tumblr by heroineoftheperipheral, these questions seem like excellent ways to know your characters better. Perhaps the responses could be the perfect introduction to your story, or a segue into the scene where protagonist meets antagonist. The possibilities are limitless. Have a go at this exercise and see what you come up with:
Writing Exercises from Brenda Petersen and her new book, “I Want to Be Left Behind”
Thanks to the wonderfully talented artist and musician Kellyn Sanderson who passed this little gem of a link onto the salon from the radio show New Dimensons on Redwood Community Radio, aired Saturday, May 22, 2010, Justine Willis Toms interviewed Brenda Peterson on her new book, I Want to Be Left Behind: Finding Rapture Here on Earth. The interview touches upon evangelicals in the environmental movement paralleling Christian evangelicals, but, most interestingly, Peterson guides writers on honing self-perception and how to be critical of the self, how “to turn the eye” back on the writer, especially when writing from the personal “I.” She reviews several insightful exercises (below) and, with enlightened humor, discusses her process as a writer: “As I grow older I become more aware of my life as a divine comedy….You will discover the meaning of your life when you do memoir, discover the narrative arc that you can’t find in the first person…You can either be a writer or you can go ahead to Thanksgiving Dinner.”
Write three pages using “I,” or first person:
- about yourself from the perspective of someone who loves you
- three pages using “I” about yourself from the perspective of someone who hates you
- three pages using “I” from the perspective of someone who needs to understand you
This should also work for fiction, especially concerning a main character and for a critical character who has greatly influenced your protagonist. Think Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, which is a quintessential piece that examines the death of a woman from the perspective of her sons and her husband. If you’re writing the novel or story from different points of view, you’ll want to show contradictions between relationships and perceptions. Be sure each character has a different take, a different reaction to the conflict, and differing drives and motivations in regards to one another. Use diagrams if it helps!
You can also apply this perspective to ideologies, philosophies, a song, a piece of art, or a movie. For instance, the first example that pops into mind is Rimbaldi’s legacy on the show Alias. Sloane and Irina Derevko devotedly followed Rimbaldi’s clues trekking to the ends of the earth, willing to kill to piece his mystical puzzle together. Jack Bristow never shared in their obsession because he had his daughter Sydney who occupied all his love and energy. The difference in approach complicates each character, their relationship to one another, as well as their relationship to self while also driving the story forward.
Write two pages starting with the prompt: “I surprise myself by….”
Click here for the entire interview
Truths Must Be Bent: A Fiction Writer’s Lesson on Writing Non-fiction
In Little Debauches on December 27, 2009 at 3:11 pm
First and foremost the writer must remove herself from the narrative. That person you’re writing about may share the same name as you. She may even still have the same bangs and sneakers that you’re wearing or kissed the same boy sophomore year in high school, but, dear fiction writer struggling with non-fiction, make absolutely no mistake, that character is not you. She is an invention. She can’t possibly be you because she is stabbed to a two-dimensional canvas and must be fixed in a certain light, rendered and scrutinized from a particular angle. We know that the light shifts as time shuffles us forward and that angles are infinite, that the real body, living and breathing, waxes and wanes as the tides, but that person who you trace with pen and paper is not real. She is simply an adumbration, a shadow, an outline, a spirit that can almost be grasped. As narrator, you must be cool. Your interpretation of what happened to you in seventh grade must be handled with an icy touch, so frigidly cold that you literally freeze those moments you’re depicting into a suspended and crystallized state. Objectivity is the means in which you wield your words and images. Yet, its not the ultimate end. The point is to tell a story, so you must make decisions for the sake of that story. Truths must be bent, flourishes flaunted–only to emphasize the purpose and intent. Non-fiction writers, any experts out there, please stop us, if this counsel seems misguided.
Otherwise, remember that Memory and Imagination are married to one another. Sometimes they fight. One supercedes the other, and truth gets lost in the clash, but, like any working marriage, they know better than to fuss too long. A good row only feeds the writer’s fire, and, Fact, in the end, is only a well argued and beautifully crafted idea.
Quick Tips from The Writer’s Digest for Non-Fiction Neophytes
From Kim Schwarm Acosta’s “Writing Personal Without Hurting Your Relationships” published in The Writer’s Digest’s Online Newsletter published November 23, 2009:
These tips gleaned from top essayists may have come too late for me, but I hope they can keep you from ending up in a similarly sticky situation with your writing.
BLUR THE DETAILS
Essayists have a distinct advantage over other kinds of writers: The accuracy of the details is often not crucial to their pieces. So make your best friend have red, wavy hair instead of platinum blond, or make her a dental assistant rather than a nurse. And know that readers don’t need to know someone’s name to get your message. “The point is not to out your friends,” says Marion Winik, author and NPR commentator. “That’s not the truth you’re trying to tell.”
Writer Corey Levitan changes identifying characteristics as general practice, but his first draft always includes real names and every “stinking, gory detail.” “If you start using a fictional name off the bat, you’ll get lost,” he says.
An added benefit to this rule is that many times people don’t recognize themselves in the final version. “I’ve written about girlfriends and they think I’m describing an ex,” Levitan says.
COME CLEAN—BEFORE PUBLICATION
Sometimes your writing may involve descriptions that can’t be disguised. In this case, many writers show or discuss the piece with the person ahead of time…
DRAW ON YOUR OWN EXPERIENCES
Self-deprecating humor works every time, essayists agree, so look inward for writing fodder instead of relying on the missteps of others. “I try to keep the most embarrassing stuff about myself,” says Levitan, who began inserting himself into his stories years ago. “I realized I was leaving stuff out where I looked bad or was humiliated … but that’s what people relate to, because it’s human.” When in doubt, focus on your bed-wetting in the fourth grade, not your brother’s affection for wearing tights…