To our NaNo friends, those competing in the Brigit’s Flame contest this half of the month, and anyone who might just want a writing exercise – I give you the following challenge:
Compose a letter from a leading character [of your making], to yourself.
If you aren’t sure what to write about in the letter think of it as a resume or missive to a long, lost someone (you) who needs to be caught up. It’s a Dear Author letter containing your characters’ life histories.
Include any or all of the answers to the points below.
Whom or what your characters love and despise.
Details on education, employment, finances, political affiliations, social class.
Skeletons in cupboards.
Believer, agnostic, or atheist.
How afraid of dying are they?
Have they ever seen a corpse?
Glass half empty, glass half full, glass too small?
Snazzy or scruffy dressers?
It’s a letter, so consider their use of language. Would they say ‘mellifluous’ or ‘a sharp talker’? Foul-mouthed or profanity-averse? Record the phrases they unknowingly overuse. When did they last cry? Can they see another person’s point of view?
This exercise – taken from David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks, delivered by his character, Crispin Hershey, who was a lauded writer and who took up the teaching of writing in his golden years – is a way to really get to know your character. Even if the answers to your questions are not directly relevant to the story you are writing around them, these are personality seeds, motivators, detractors. They will help you pin down your character as a full-bodied person and not just a string of words ready to react to the stroke of your keys (or pen). It is easy to get caught up in the telling of your story and leave your characters to be paper dolls who are only there for you. A character your readers can invest in has a mind separate from yours and a life that existed before and after your writing.
Please enjoy the exercise and, if you have a mind to, share a link to the outcome below.
Mitchell, David (2014-09-02). The Bone Clocks: A Novel (pp. 389-390). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.