Beth Camp Historical Fiction

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

U is for Unmask . . .

This morning I'm thinking about how I come to know my characters. They're rather like 'real' people I come to know gradually. Only very, very slowly do I understand why they act as they do. Others have written about various strategies, but the whole issue of world-building and understanding motivation seems very murky to me.

I've tried the list method, plumbing deep into surface description, their wrinkles and warts, the color of their eyes, what they might like to eat for breakfast or, for heaven's sake, never touch at all. Identifying their secret nightmares and phobias (snakes?) is more fun. Their irrational acts or 'mistakes' or quick tempers. What would cause them to curse or fight or run away entirely.

Sometimes I'll find a photo of someone and recognize that person as one of my characters, somehow loosed on the world. Or I'll have one character fantasize about another and dream them into being.

But it is through action that I learn most about who my characters are, through what they choose to do. For it is in the moment of conflict that we are unmasked and our own character revealed.


  1. During the A to Z, I've enjoyed reading about all of the character building strategies various writers use. I think it boils down to what works best for the individual writer.

    Nice "U" post.


  2. Beth, thanks for visiting my blog earlier today. I agree that the choices someone makes, especially when s/he is under pressure, would unmask their true character. I'm also interested in seeing how characters behave when they believe no one is watching.

  3. I love this post. I agree, characters are hard to "unmask". I usually don't fully know my characters until I revise the first time. Then I pick up all their quirks, and fill in character worksheets so that I can figure out what to do to make the story that much better.

  4. Thanks for sharing the insight into how you develop your characters.

  5. My characters are very real to me. I half expect to see them when I'm out and about. My S.O. and I talk about them over dinner as if they've only stepped out of the room. ;)

    Hope you've enjoyed the A-Z Challenge!