Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Character Habitat

by Laney Flanagan

Characters can be stubborn. They can duck and evade your writing and refuse to be taken down onto paper. Your main villain, Jackson (or whatever his or her name is) will grab your pen and shove it away in malice, because well, bad people don't like being written about. And your hero, Bort, will push your fingers along your keyboard way too fast because unlike Jackson, Bort really likes to be written about. For me, characters have to come naturally for me to be able to make them realistic and dynamic. I can't push a person into creation, for me it just doesn't work that way. Characters come to me of their own accord. They come into my brain through a door and into something I call my character habitat.

My character habitat is where all my characters come and go as the please, especially if they want to be written about. For me, the habitat is a room in the shape of a half circle. It is dimly lit, with one simple light hanging down from the center of the room. My vain characters think of that light as their spotlight. Then all along the rounded part of the room are tons of colored doors, everywhere from velvet purple to beige. Other than that the room is empty, leaving space for characters to bring in their own objects if they so please. Maybe I am simply delusional but my new characters are formed here. Often they walk into my habitat with fuzzy faces and no detail but as they hang out in my area and chat with me they start to become clearer and more focused. When they come out of those doors they become something else entirely.

By having this space for my characters it leaves open my creative juices and invites new ideas to come into my head about new characters and already made characters. One of my characters, Parker, brings a table into the room with him and sits on it while he talks about himself to me. However, characters can still be stubborn and if you decide to take on this idea of a character habitat, characters may appear out of the blue and start talking to you. Even if you're on a date or eating a sandwich, they want their story to be told. I carry a notebook around with me everywhere I go, so when a new person comes into my habitat I can write what they have to say quickly, then expand on the details later.

This habitat keeps me in touch with all of my characters and helps me keep track of them. They have all become a part of me and a part of my writing, and without them I feel like I would be missing a huge group of friends I have made. Each person has their own voice and personality, they are deep and well formed. Maybe this is because I'm crazy and actually have voices in my head or maybe it is simply because I like to connect with my characters. I like to ingrain pieces of them in myself. Well, maybe I have lost my mind a little bit since I started talking back to them. But what writer isn't just a little crazy? It's beside the point. The point is to create your habitat and let your characters form and interact. Really, by doing this you are giving them a chance to become alive. To become real.


April Moore said...

What a cool technique, Laney! I never thought about putting my characters in their own habitat when creating a sketch of them. Great advice!

Patricia Stoltey said...

This is a great idea for writers who have a problem getting to know their own characters.

JC Lynne said...

I absolutely create detailed habitats for characters. Sometimes it makes the book, sometimes not, but you're are spot on about how to wrangle a difficult character.

I have it on the authority of several of my characters that I'm completely sane.

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