Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Get to Know Your Character(s): Let's Pretend

When I was little, I could play "let's pretend" all day. I mean, like, all day. I could start the morning as a secret agent, switch to being a marine biologist by lunchtime, live on the 1840's American prairie by dinner, and go to bed as a Moomintroll. You could say I lived to play.

As an adult, I'm pretty much into being my own character of me: writer, artist, friend, not to mention Head of the Laundry Department, Chief of Grocery Shopping, and Executive House Cleaner. But recently during a trip to Trader Joe's and wondering why I always buy the same old things, it occurred to me how much fun it would be to play at being someone else for the day--somebody who bought champagne and Gorgonzola instead of milk and vegetarian chili. And the best person I could think of being was my latest character in my new screenplay, especially as she is NOTHING like me.

For starters, she's 18, LOL, and she's a former child prodigy (I may have been imaginative, but I was a long way from being top of the class). As I stood there in the store, I began to wonder what she would buy, and that's when it struck me: pretending to be your character, at least for a little while, would be a great way to know that character on a level way beyond filling out the usual character bio. Talk about research! For instance, you could:
  • Shop for your character in a grocery store--even Trader Joe's! Buy items he or she would choose (or at least make a list of those items if you find them inedible or too expensive).
  • Using these or other ingredients you have at home, prepare your character's favorite meal. Then eat it and describe your feelings after dining.
  • Go to the kind of department or clothing store your character frequents. Pick out several new outfits, complete with accessories. Take notes (because you may not really want to buy a new tiara or desert kaftan) and use as the basis of your character's fictional wardrobe.
  • Buy your character a present. What is it? Can you use it in the plot somewhere? (Note: if the item is beyond a reasonable budget or something you can't actually use yourself, you can always resort to "let's pretend." Just go to the shop where the item would be sold, and imagine you are buying it, similar to the way you "bought" their new clothes. A fun and inexpensive extra would be to purchase a card, wrapping paper, and ribbons to place in your WIP binder or journal as a visual reminder.)
  • Re-create your character's last vacation. Again, if you can't really travel to the destination, at least get some travel brochures, maps, and pack a real or imaginary suitcase. A day spent pretending you are in Paris or Toledo could have a charm all its own, too! The imagination is a powerful tool.
  • Dream for your character--it's not as difficult as it might sound. Before you go to sleep, think of your character's main story goal or problem. Ask your subconscious to solve it. The answer could surprise you.
  • Go to your character's least favorite or most feared place. Absorb the reasons why he or she dislikes it so much.
  • Next time you find yourself waiting in a long line, become your character. Why is he or she so anxious for the line to move? Where does she have to be before it's too late?
  • Visit a nursery or garden center. Pick out 5-10 plants your character loves or hates. What has generated these strong feelings? If possible, purchase and plant the flowers or bushes in your own garden. Use the plants' characteristics and growth cycles as metaphors.
  • Go to the library. Choose your character's 12 favorite books. Now choose one they have never read. Read it through new eyes.
  • Watch your character's favorite movie. Write about a scene that has the most emotional impact for your character, and why.
  • Using magazine cut-outs or other print material, assemble an album of "family photos" for your character. How does your character feel about each of these people--and why? Be sure to include some bad'uns! 
Tip of the Day: The next time you take an Artist's Date, try taking one for your character. Where would he or she want to go? Why? When you arrive at the chosen place, experience as much as you can through your character's viewpoint. Write up your findings either on site or as soon as you return home.

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