Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Shoe Houses

Chalk it all up to "getting to know your characters."



I had an amazing chance to hear Karen Cushman speak last week.
That is, twice Newbery-crowned lady of historical fiction, Karen Cushman of "The Midwife's Apprentice" and "Catherine, Called Birdy" shared her rules for writers.
Great stuff, indeed.
I felt my brain grow two sizes bigger as she drove home diligent concepts of
grace and flow in writing.

Inspired, I am hard at work...
or rather, I am in deep play with my characters.


I've discovered the Small family
is more complicated than I thought.
Think Jane Austen meets Dickens via modern paper dolls.

Remember the notoriously absent Mr. Small?
He took the train to work
the day after baby Ivy was born.
What with the Great Middlesborough Train Collision that very day on his line,
he is commonly thought
to be deceased.

The village of Dibbledip
is astir with eager gentlemen
all waiting for Millie Small to throw off her widow's weeds.

Boris Kerputnik, wealthy bachelor with ties to Russian royalty
lives nearby
in a silver Samovar.
He strolls by to hang over the fence
and chat about himself
while Millie hangs up her washing.


He does not do manual labor but has a wealth
of ideas on how Millie should tidy up the shambling yard
and shoe abode.

For her birthday Boris gave Millie a ruby necklace, fur cape and crocodile shoes.
With barely time to scrape herself off the floor at day's end,
Millie was not wooed.
She tucked his gift into the Pawn-pile to pay for groceries.

...

Writing advice I've heard from clever authors lately
that positively echoes with importance:

get to know your characters.

Get to know the main characters and small ones.
Find out what they eat, their favorite colors, their slang words, speech impediments, childhood heroes, secret fears, preferred methods of transport.

But how?
How do you get to know your characters?

We're trying paper-dolls and shoe-houses over here.

More Small stories later.

What are your secrets to knowing your characters?


11 comments:

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Clever! I love the paper dolls and shoe houses idea! :-)

MollyMom103 said...

I look in their pockets. I know what they do when they grow-up. I know how their parents met ( no clue why.) I like Chris Eboch's character inteview chart and use it for all my characters.

It's on her website at www.chrisebock.com. I actually interview real people with this chart and ask some of my own questons too. I confess now. I don't make up people but I'm like Dr. Frankenstein, a modern day Prometheus. Thank you to all the patient people that have allowed me to listen to your stories and ask my million questions. I'm sorry if I made you cry.

Karen Cushman is ever so writing wise. I wish I could have been there.

Lynn said...

The paper dolls and shoeboxes idea is a neat idea! Very creative. I tend to write my story without a character draft because my characters change as they go. I'm now, though, beginning to create character sketches before the first revision.

Martha Brockenbrough said...

I can't believe how much talent is in the Watson family. Just so lovely to see. :-)

Jan Morrison said...

oh, I love this, I love it, I love it. I might have to borrow this being a long time paper doll fanatic! Nah. I also like the looking in their pocket thing. I'm going to make up my own list and post it - that'll help me. later!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

When I was little I had a shoebox filled with paper clothes I designed for paper dolls. I especially like the gold and silver paper that came inside Christmas card envelopes. I think it's time to do a little playing with color paper again. *skips off*

Faith Pray said...

Thank you Shannon!

Molly, you were missed! Thanks for sharing your secrets and the great resource. I am going to be rifling pockets now.

Out of curiosity Lynn, do you find your characters change as you write them, or do you discover more about them as you get to know them better?

Faith Pray said...

Martha, your wise advice on enjoying the journey has lately inspired me to play more and have fun with the writing while parenting process. Thank you for the inspiration and kind words!

Jan, I may have to post a list too. On my intended list is your idea to keep a bowl of marbles nearby (to help me remember all the other things I keep forgetting - like the great advice on the list).

Ooh Tricia, gold and silver envelope paper will produce delighted squeals from the little ladies here. Thanks for sharing. Have fun playing!

Terresa said...

Lovely post!

I've started Character Bibles for the characters in my current WIP. Trouble is, I keep getting side tracked with poetry...

PS: I'm so envious of you being able to listen to the great Karen Cushman! I was just suggesting her books to a friend the other day. She is brilliant!!!!!

MollyMom103 said...

Ack. It's www.chriseboch.com. Sorry, Chris!! You are welcome, Faith.

Tahereh said...

what a lovely, lovely post.

and such fabulous photos!!

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