Tuesday, May 21, 2019

More on character development exercises -or- how I learned to actually enjoy waiting for my flight to depart

by Rick Blechta

Something in Thomas’s post yesterday caught my eye: “…while waiting for your flight, describe the people you see and create an interesting back story for them. What is their profession? What is their romantic status? Where are they flying to and why?”

First of all, this is a really fabulous idea. Waiting around an airport for a flight has to be one of the most boring exercises ever invented by humans. I usually wait it out by reading a book, but the lure of being able to pass the time constructively is an attractive one. I’d like to add a couple of additional ideas: describe the person as if they’re a minor character just passing through the story, then describe them as if they will have something more important to do in your plot.

A lot of us struggle with character description. I nearly always over-describe them, something that’s easily rectified in one of my rewriting stages: while I’m still working on the novel, or when I’m editing after it’s completed. However, I don’t fret over this anymore because when I do overwrite those descriptions it brings the characters into sharper focus for me — even if it winds up on the cutting room floor. One trick I’ve learned over time is to not throw out that stuff. I now stick it into my “dump file” and have a fuller picture to draw on if the character becomes more important later on.

So either way — speaking of a character’s importance in my plot — I’m ready to go with information about that character.

The other thing I might do is to practice writing those descriptions with a few deft strokes, rather than writing a treatise on my subject. I’m always in awe of a writer who can do this — and not many can. It’s an art as much as dialogue or general description. But it is something that can be practised and improved.

And waiting interminably in some airport is the perfect place to practice! “My flight is delayed for a second time? No problem!”


Thomas Kies said...

Yes, yes, yes...I practice describing people as if I was writing them. It's a great exercise.

Sybil Johnson said...

I was in the Seattle airport one time and saw a man in long pants (khakis, I think) with a belt and no shirt. Wasn't carrying any luggage. It was rather fun to try to think up reasons for his not having a shirt on.