A Bit About Building Character

So I’ve been reading and writing and constantly comparing where my book draft really is to where it should be going. I’ve got issues with the timing and fictional school calendar in my YA book. I’ve got too much plot and the lens on my characters is nearly all long-shot views. Also, I still haven’t exactly figured out the end. At least I can see where my problems are.

It took me a couple of weeks though to finally figure it out. And I had the realization two ways. One from reading Sara Zarr’s SWEETHEARTS. She has this way of bringing the camera lens so close to the characters that you can practically smell their breath. It was a well-timed read for me. This is why writers HAVE TO be readers.

The other realization came by observing my own daughter, Magnolia. If you’re a regular to the blog then you know that Eleanor stories are frequent. She’s unpredictable, has a worldview unlike other kids her age, and her sense of boundaries are…well, what boundaries? Her character is revealed easily and interestingly by what she does. Magnolia loves structure, panics about doing the “wrong” thing, and waits patiently for people to befriend her, which they always do. Every morning at exactly 7 am, I go in to find her laying on her side facing the door. I kiss her awake, she stretches under the covers, sighs, and rolls up to a kneeling position. The blankets fall away and the cool morning air leaves chill bumps where only a second ago she was warm as toast. She sits there for about 10 seconds and then says, “ok.” That’s my signal to go.

I got to thinking about that. Revealing Magnolia’s character through plot would come off as sloppy writing. I’d show three days in a row of her day going the way, always, and you’d think, “that character is type A. NOT that character is Magnolia. I can achieve showing Magnolia though by describing a different set of details – her morning wakeup.

Published by jody sparks

Jody Sparks Mugele spent her first career in marketing writing and leading teams of writers and editors. After her son came out as transgender in 2015, she dedicated herself to advocating for the rights of the LGBTQ+ community. For two years, she led the Indianapolis regional chapter of PFLAG, a nationally renowned LGBTQ+ advocacy group. She has given many conference talks about parenting trans kids, healthcare in the trans community, and suicidality among LGBTQ+ youth. And with GenderNexus, an Indianapolis-based advocacy organization, she created programming and led support groups to work with parents to help their children through all aspects of gender transition. She recently moved to Northeast Georgia where she is excited to develop opportunities to continue to strongly and proudly advocate for LGBTQ+ members of our society. She also LOVES kitschy Christmas crafting!

10 thoughts on “A Bit About Building Character

  1. Yes, yes, yes. I believe we’ve talked about this before — the fact that while the plot must keep moving forward, no one will care about what’s happening if they don’t care about the people to whom the events are happening! I love these little moments of insight, especially when you share them. You rock.

    btw, I’m a Magnolia, too. Although I immediately thought to myself “the ‘people always do’ part isn’t true” — but then I realized that actually, it is true. Part of my personality has apparently not been trusting that. Case in point: My lovely friend Jody. 🙂

      1. You’re correct, I definitely commented on your blog first, and frankly I don’t remember how the romance went from there. Just that Boys Like Girls sings our song, and I can’t hear it without thinking of you. 😉

  2. Writers HAVE TO BE readers. Wow. Try explaining that to a bunch of creative writing students who want the glamour of being a writer (boy do they have another thing coming when they realize just how glamorous a writer’s life really is) without the work of reading.

    And I enjoyed this blog post as usual, though I have obviously focused on a specific bit of it that’s not exactly the main point:_)

    1. Devon, it took me well into college before I learned to not only stop being intimidated by reading but also to love it. Weird how insecure I was about it. Also, I don’t care if you’re not focusing on the main point; it’s sometimes hard to locate anyway.

  3. I love Sara Zarr’s writing style. And I agree that some of my best writing lessons have been learned by reading other books. Magnolia sounds like she’d have a lot in common with my own Kid C!

  4. You know how much I struggle with this. How many times have you told me to zoom the camera lens closer? Like a zillion. I know you’ll figure it out.

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