Knowing your character from as many creative angles as you can get a hold on her

We all know the typical character profile. Dutiful writers will jot down the typical traits like a police officer taking down a suspect’s weight, height, eye color, or a nurse administering blood tests and asking for family histories. These kind of profiles often scratch the surface and fail to help us in important scenes when we’re diving into the wreck that makes the character’s story and life palpable for readers. To dig deeper and to flex muscle and sinew like a gymnast, we want to approach our characters at the most surprising angle. Here are a few ways to tilt your character in an entirely new light :

If your character were a <FILL IN THE BLANK FROM THE BELOW> what kind would she be?*:

1. ice cream flavor
2. cereal
3. time of day
4. animal
5. sea creature
6. article of clothing
7. weather condition
8. element from the periodic table
9. body of water
10. architectural structure
11. fruit or vegetable
12. book
13. game
14. what film embodies your character’s life story/philosophy/ideals/romance
15. what song or album embodies your character’s life story/philosophy/ideals/romance
*We’re always welcome to new approaches, so if you’d like to add to the list–by all means, the pleasure’s ours.

Examples below from the master, Great DickensHard Times, can help light the way. Note how he surprisingly twists his approach to characters in each passage:

There was a piece of ornamental water immediately below the parapet, on the other side, into which Mr. James Harthouse had a very strong inclination to pitch Mr. Thomas Gradgrind Junior as the injured men of Coketown threatened to pitch their property into the Atlantic. But he preserved his easy attitude, and nothing solid went over the stone balustrades than the accumulated rosebuds now floating about, a little surface-island.
‘My dear Tom,’ said Harthouse, ‘let me try to be your banker.’
‘For God’s sake,’ replied Tom, suddenly, ‘don’t talk about bankers!’ And very white he looked, in contrast with the roses. Very white.

Dickens uses the landscape to describe Harthouse’s anger and Tom’s anxiety. The characters are in and of the moment. Taste another sample:

Mrs. Sparsit, lying to recover the tone of her nerves in Mr. Bounderby’s retreat, kept such a sharp look-out, night and day, under her Coriolanian eyebrows, that her eyes, like a couple of lighthouses on an iron-bound coast, might have warned all prudent mariners from that bold rock her Roman nose and the dark and craggy region in its neighborhood, but for the placidity of her manner. Although it was hard to believe that her retiring for the night could be anything but a form, so severely wide awake were those classical eyes of hers, and so impossible did it seem that her rigid nose could yield to any relaxing influence, yet her manner of sitting, smoothing her uncomfortable, not to say, gritty mittens (they were constructed of a cool fabric like a meat-safe), or of ambling to unknown places of destination with her foot in her cotton stirrup, was so perfectly serene, that most observers would have been constrained to suppose her a dove, embodied by some freak of nature, in the earthly tabernacle of a bird of the hook-beaked order.

She was a most wonderful woman for prowling about the house. How she got from story to story was a mystery beyond solution. A lady so decorous in herself, and so highly connected, was not to be suspected of dropping over the banisters or sliding down them, yet her extraordinary facility of locomotion suggested the wild idea. Another noticeable circumstance in Mrs. Sparsit was, that she was never hurried. She would shoot with consummate velocity from the roof to the hall, yet would be in full possession of her breath and dignity on the moment of her arrival there. Neither was she ever seen by human vision to go at a great pace.

Extraordinary, no?

Now you try! Post below. Have a go!

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