Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Writing 101--The Character Collage

by Brittany Geragotelis

Last week, I told you all about how I outline a book when I'm first starting to write a novel. A part of outlining the book with all the details of the story is creating your characters. It's important to really know your characters (especially your main character) before starting to write them. That means, knowing what they look like, their attitude, their past, even their personal fashion styles are all things that are good to know before you put that character down on paper.

That's where creating a Character Collage can come in handy. Now, I haven't done a Character Collage for every book I've written, so it's certainly not something a writer has to do; in fact, it's something that I've started doing more recently, but it's been incredibly helpful.

courtesy of Jessica Bendinger
The Character Collage is actually a tip that I picked up from famed Bring It On and Stick It writer/director turned author, Jessica Bendinger. Having met and interviewed Jessica in the past, she contacted me when she was coming out with her debut YA book, The Seven Rays, and we sat down to discuss her latest venture. One of the things that I thought was particularly impressive about that meeting was that she brought along these collages that visually showed the characters in her book. I'm not sure if it's because her background's in film or if it's simply just the writing process she's created, but I was immediately drawn to this aspect of her writing practice.

So, here's the idea behind the Character Collage. Before you begin writing a character, the point is to know everything there is to know about them. For me, it always starts with figuring out who would play the person in a movie of the book. Now, do I really think that a movie will be made out of my novel? Not necessarily (although I wouldn't be upset if it were), but it's a helpful way to picture what that character looks like, their mannerisms, their style. So, I start by looking through magazines and cutting out pictures of the person I think would represent my character. Once I have her cut out, I move on to her personal style: what she wears, the kind of makeup she applies, her height, body size, hairstyle, etc. Then I move on to other details. Does this person have pets, what is she passionate about, what are her personality traits, what is she obsessed with, what is she scared of? I cut out pictures or phrases or words that describe my character.

After you've cut out everything you can think of that describes your character, take a notebook and start taping/gluing/attaching all of your bits and pieces onto a page with your character's name at the top. Once they're all down on paper, I like to fill in the blanks that I didn't include from my cut-outs. This can be little tidbits like age, friends, beliefs, etc.

When you're done with this, you should have a nice little overview of exactly who your character is, as well as a clear picture of what they look like. This will help you to keep that vision fresh in your mind as you develop them further while writing the book. And after you've finished mapping out your main character, you can move on to your secondary characters, performing a collage for each.

Doing a Character Collage is certainly not a requirement when writing a story, but it's been helpful to me and I'm sure it can be helpful to you. Plus, it's actually a lot of fun (when was the last time you did a little arts and crafts?)!



Michelle said...

It's a really neat project, and a really good concept - and for lots of people it probably works.

Mostly, I think a character is made AS you're writing. You can't really just sit down and define her/him right away. The story has to craft them, too, and they have to speak from your fingers and push the envelope of their own 'definition'. I guess? Maybe I'm just babbling, but that's how it works for me.

Awesome art project idea though. :)