Thursday, 7 July 2011

The Antidote to Character Data Sheets: Sarah's List of Stuff to Do

I roundly condemned the Character Data Sheets a couple of days ago, because they concentrated on superficial characteristics rather than character - the What not the Who.  

I believe that, in real life as in fiction, character is revealed through action so rather than a list of 'what was your first pet called' questions, here is a list of things that you could get your character to DO...aka Sarah's List of Stuff to Do.

Make your character…

- Wait at a bus stop, an airport, a station, for a job interview, for a doctor’s appointment

- Eat a meal…alone, with friends, with a lover, with a parent, in a restaurant, in a cafĂ©, on a park bench, at the office, on a train

- Take a journey by car, lorry, taxi, train, bus, coach, bicycle, horse, jet, plane, boat, ferry, Take some exercise – aerobics, yoga, walk, tennis, golf, football

- Go out to the cinema, club, winebar alone or with friends

- Get a letter/parcel in the post, send an important letter

- Get stuck in traffic on the way to job interview, first date, meeting with lawyer

- Look for a new job in a newspaper, shop window, small ads, job centre

- Interact with an animal – stroke a cat, bitten by a hamster, walk the dog, kill a chicken

- Go to the library, buy a newspaper, do a tax return

- Prepare some food, clean the house, do some gardening

- Watch television, read a book, read a magazine

- Make something with fabric, wood, paper

- Go shopping for clothes for a camping trip, a school reunion, a week in Tuscany

- Phone someone up and complain about something, receive a phone call selling something

- Spend half an hour googling

- Write a diary, a short story, a letter to their best friend, a letter to a hero, a postcard to a lover, a Valentine’s day card

- Have a birthday alone, with friends, with family

Have fun! 


JJ said...

Hi Sarah, I loved this post, it's exactly what I've been doing as I warm up and get into my new MS. I just didn't have a name for it!

Sarah Duncan said...

Hi JJ, I use it to remind myself of stuff characters could be doing when I've got to have them reflecting on something or other, or while they're having a conversation with someone else.

womagwriter said...

I did a great exercise a while back at the weekly writing class I attend - we were asked to write a diary entry for one of our characters. This is such a good way of finding the voice of a character. Another exercise was to start writing a scene where the characters were sitting down to eat together, and at one point the teacher (Della Galton) stopped us and said, 'right, now the phone has rung and it's someone with bad news' (or in the case of my historical novel, I had someone come to the door with the bad news!), and we continued writing the characters' reactions to the bad news.

I ended up including that scene in my novel - it worked so well to show character. Get your characters doing stuff and reacting to things and you get to know them.

Sarah Duncan said...

I've done a similar exercise with my weekly class, with good results (they always write brilliantly, actually!). But part of the reason it works is to do with something else - but that's made me think of another idea for a blogpost.