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Writing Tips

Writing Tips: Developing Characters from Scratch

It’s early morning, the beginning of the two hours uninterrupted writing time you had sworn to yourself to undertake. You are at your desk, eyes-wide, heart hammering, straight backed, a cup of tea in hand, a blank screen before you.  You are going to start developing characters for a new story for a creative writing competition.

Step 1

Do NOT get up to: make the beds, make sure the plants have been watered, phone your mother/best friend, wash the floors, go shopping, clear out cupboards, wash the car, or do any of the multitude of excellent other tasks that suddenly issue their siren calls to you.

That is procrastination. That is not a good thing.

Back to writing, then. Sigh. Writing is such a huge job. Where do I start?

Let’s, “start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.”

Then let’s proceed from there, step by small step.

OK. Let’s think about options. What premise shall you choose? After all, you don’t have to pick something earth shattering. How about two women, strangers, sitting side-by-side in a train en route for New York?  Hmm. Might be interesting if you can flesh them out and make them intriguing. You just checked the Washington DC- New York time schedules online. The trip is three hours so that journey would give them time to chat, reveal their problems and backgrounds and reflect on life together.

Who are they? Hmm. As the all-powerful creator here, you can opt to make these women whatever you choose. Let’s make it interesting. Let’s make one a glamorous and still beautiful 60 year old Muslim Iranian woman who came to the US from the Middle East many years ago. No headscarf, she is not a practicing Muslim although she still identifies. Let’s make her fellow passenger a Jewish woman, also clearly prosperous, not as beautiful, whose family came as immigrants from Russia a hundred years ago. They both cleave to their respective histories and ancestors.

Can they find middle ground? We-e-ll, they both live in Washington, that’s one thing. How about you make the Iranian a woman who married a non-religious Jewish husband? How about she has never really felt accepted by his family? That will introduce some tension! How about they are both going to New York to visit their respective sons? That will give you the chance to introduce the sons and make them part of the history if you want to.

Let’s make one son a conventional New York go-getter with a career in finance. Let’s make the other one a New World entrepreneur. How about you give him a site selling shoes online? (Seems crazy, but those sites do very well).

What? They both have new, serious girlfriends who the mothers are going to meet for the first time over dinner that night?

Well, well, well, that’s an alluring premise, they really do have things in common. Both are nervous as can be at the prospect of meeting these important new women in their sons’ lives. Lots of readers will empathize with that.

You are starting to get interested in this story. Coffee time yet? No thanks. You are too busy creating. You are working step-by-step and you are enjoying it!

Posted on May 9, 2014 by Julia Nelson

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