I love creating detailed profiles of my characters. I collect photos of people I want my book buddies to look like which helps me to describe them more clearly, then I sprinkle in various characteristics, back stories, and other bits of info for each one of them. It’s a blast!
But what if I could actually spend time with my characters?
I was inspired not too long ago while watching the movie “The Man Who Invented Christmas,” the story about Charles Dickens and his relationship with his fictional characters while writing The Christmas Carol. I enjoyed the conversations and even arguments he had with them when he wanted to take the story in one direction, but his characters wouldn't buy it.
I want that kind of relationship with my characters. So I decided to scheduled a time to "meet" with Grayson.
Twelve-year-old Grayson Phillips is the protagonist in my work in progress. Eventually, he goes through a strange process of turning invisible. But this meeting took place in pre-vanishing mode. (Can’t wait to conduct another interview once he’s invisible.)
On the day of the interview, I arrived at the Tangle Tackle (a fictitious place I created for the book) where we agreed to meet. It’s where all the kids hang out, so it was a bit noisy. Known for its fantastic fish ‘n chips, the place smelled incredible. Grayson was already there, sipping on a large chocolate shake topped with a mountain of whip cream.
He was just the way I imagined. Dark wavy tousled hair, mussed on top but trimmed nicely on the sides. Freckles. Dark eyes with bushy-ish eyebrows. Absolutely adorable.
I took a deep breath and approached his table. Sure, he was only 12. But he was the hero of my story. And since the book is only in the beginning stages, he deserved some respect for all the things I am going to be putting him through.
"Hi, Grayson. It's nice to meet you," I said, extending my hand.
He smiled, wiping his hand off on his shirt before shaking mine.
"Nice to meet you too," he took another long slurp of his shake.
Over the next hour, we talked about his friends, his dad leaving, and how that impacted him and his sister. We talked about school and how he tries to fit in. I asked him questions that taught me quite a bit about his personality, his relationships, and the challenges he faces … which, of course, are nothing compared to what he will be facing as the story progresses.
But I didn’t tell him that.
I knew this would help me connect with Grayson, but what I didn't expect was how much this interview would help me with my other characters. By getting to know Grayson better, I learned more about some of his friends.
For example, his one friend … and his 12-year-old crush … has her own business searching for lost pets. She started out doing it just for fun and was so good that people in her community actually pay her to find their pets when they wander off. You wouldn’t think that would happen often, but she has one regular customer — a neighbor —with a cat that wanders off at least once a week. Anyhow, Grayson helps her when he’s able.
Boom! I did not know that about her.
Grayson was a good sport, but like any 12-year-old, he had better things to do. He agreed to meet again as the story evolves. Which is good. Not only do I need his input, but he may need a pep talk or two to get through some of the twists and challenges I have planned.
Talking with Grayson directly allowed me to connect with him in a way that I hadn't been able to before. And it helped me to gain insight into some of the other characters in my story, as well as gave me some direction on the plot. (And yes, I wrote it all down.)
So, if you are a writer, I would highly recommend this approach. It's amazing what else transpires when you pretend to interact with your character. It adds additional layers to your story that you don't expect. You will draw closer to your character and discover more about your story and the other characters that will help fuel your writing.
Plus, you’ll have a blast. Guaranteed.
Writers are a quirky bunch. We love to imagine real-life plot twists and contemplate far-fetched “what ifs.” We plug in devil’s advocates into our story to further challenge our protagonist. We have deep discussions with our characters when they beg to go in a different direction. We study people and have questionable Internet search histories. Most people think our habits are strange, but other writers get us. That, my friend, is confirmation that we are on the right track.
But all those quirks work better together when you have a hot cup of coffee or tea … or even hot cocoa … by your side. As a writer myself, I know that sometimes the only thing that helps me "slay it" is a comforting cup of soothing caffeine.
That's why I started my business (Designed2Glow) that includes designing and selling mugs specifically for writers, to bring a little bit of oomph and inspiration into your writing process.
About D2G Mugs
My ever-growing line of mugs features a range of designs and quotes, all aimed to brighten your day and encourage you to keep going, even when the going gets tough. Some of my favorites include:
One of my most popular designs features the simple phrase "In a world full of roses, be a sunflower" in a sassy, yellow, black, and green design. While this particular mug could apply to almost anyone, I love the way this design encapsulates the essence of what I'm trying to do with my mugs - to give writers a little nudge to keep going and to make a difference using their own voice, even when they feel stuck or discouraged.
All of my mugs are made from high-quality ceramic and are both microwave and dishwasher-safe. They come in a variety of sizes, from standard 11-ounce mugs to larger 15-ounce options. And of course, they make great gifts for the writers in your life - whether it's a friend, family member, or even yourself.
I believe that writing is one of the most important and valuable creative endeavors that exists. And if one of my mugs makes it into your wonderful quirky writing world, giving you a bit of encouragement to keep going, I consider that a job well done.
To check out the mugs, visit designed2glow.esty.com. I will also be adding more gift items, along with business and marketing templates for writers in the future. So, sign up for my newsletter for updates on new items.
Is the story plot-driven? Or is it character-driven? I had no idea which kind of storyteller I was until I started working a writing coach. I just wrote what came to me and didn't think much about the process.
This last week I submitted 4,566 words of my mid-grade reader, Almost a Ghost, to my writing coach, Erin Healy, for critique. Quite short of my goal of 10k, but it’s progress that I am excited about. In my defense, I was at Disney World for a little over a week. (Can we call that market research?)
Erin is positive and does an amazing job tuning into my strengths and giving me direction based on those strengths. For example, in one of our meetings, she determined I was a character-driven writer. The more we talked about it, the more I realized that this was a core aspect of my writing style! This insight because it gives me affirmation and direction. And a much better understanding of how to approach my writing.
And it makes sense. I spend a lot of time creating characters’ profiles before writing. I enjoy talking to them, arguing with them, and placing them in different scenarios. I explore their motivations and emotions, and I love watching them evolve over the course of the story. Sometimes they even take the plot in an unexpected direction.
But there are a few challenges of being a character-driven writer.
I find it difficult to balance character development with plot progression, and I need to work hard to ensure that my stories have a strong narrative arc. Definitely a weakness of mine. Who wants to read about an incredible character without a strong story arc?
I also need to learn to let go of certain plot elements that don't serve my characters' journeys, because while they may be important to me and maybe even the character, they don’t move the story forward.
But even though there are challenges, discovering that I am a character-driven writer has been an incredibly empowering experience. It has allowed me to lean into my strengths as a writer and focus on what I love most about storytelling. While my story seems to unfold in scenes with my characters, rather than in chronological order, I'm confident I will eventually be able to stitch it all together, sit back, and enjoy their journeys.
So, if you’re a writer and unsure if you are plot-driven or character-driven, take some time to self-evaluate. Which do you tend to focus on when you write? What is your strength? And, perhaps even more importantly, which angle makes you the happiest?
When Remmy raccoon’s cotton candy disappears, he blames his friends. But he finds himself in a sticky situation when he discovers the real reason for the mystery. Has he lost his best buds forever? How can Remmy show his friends that he is truly sorry?
Remmy's Sticky Situation teaches kids how to apologize and how to value their friends. The idea for Remmy's story popped into my head after watching a video about a raccoon who washed his cotton candy. He was so baffled when it vanished!
The book is complete and submitted to a publisher for consideration. However, I am also contemplating the self-publishing option since I have a few friends who have been successful going this route.
In the meantime, want to see a cute raccoon video? For kicks and giggles, check out this YouTube video about the guy who inspired my story: Racoon Gets Sad When His Cotton Candy Dissolves in Water.
Cindy Lynn Sawyer is a KidLit writer with a passion for helping kids to G.L.O.W. from the inside out, and to help other children's writers on their path to publication.