Three Dirty Birds and Weiland's Character Sketches


Our Dirty Birds discussion of K.M. Weiland’s Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success continues with the second chapter on character sketches.

Kate: I just…can’t…even. By the time I got through everything she does, I’d be so done with that story. Though I can see it being useful over a series.

Zoe: I can see notes of some kind being useful over a series. I’m still not liking her character worksheet for that. I can see now, though, why it takes her so long to get an outline done.

It feels like a waste of time to me to think up all this info that you may not use. It’s good to ponder your characters—but in most cases do you need to know their favorite color? You’re writing a novel, not a teen magazine interview.

Ana: I used my MC’s favorite color in Lab Rat’s Love. (But to be fair, when I needed it, I made it up on the spot. It’s not that hard.)

Kate: I can see using her character interview form as a place to record that info as you come to it, in case you need it in other stories, but I don’t see the point of coming up with info that isn’t important to the plot ahead of time. Yes, there are things you need to know or have in place, because the plot depends on them, but it seems a bit overkill to go into the detail she does.

Zoe: I did find the freehand interview section more useful—where you just interview your character about what’s going on in the story, what his problem is, etc. But I can see that for when you have a snag you’re trying to solve, not as homework before you even get started.

Kate: That’s a useful tool.

Ana: I’ll just keep whining about my problems to Kate. That always seems to help. I fear it’s not a tool most other people can use. though.

Zoe: Maybe Kate can start a service and make some money.

Kate: I could give up the dayjob and spend my time going “Yeah”, “Uh-huh” and other non-committal words.

Ana: I’m sure that would fulfill you.

Kate: Lol. Probably not. I do like to solve problems, though.

Zoe: But she wouldn’t have to put pants on to do it!

Kate: That’s a real positive part to it.

So, most of this chapter was examples of questions she uses to get her character figured out before she starts writing. I didn’t find there was a lot in this part that was new to me, though I’m thinking the list of questions could be a jumping off point for brainstorming. (Can’t see me going through and answering all of them, though)

Ana: I’d have lost the will to write long before the end of it.

Zoe: Too much like homework. It might be fun to make our own custom worksheets, though. Mine would have questions like, “Describe the monster that lives under your character’s bed.”

Ana: Mine would probably have sexual preferences and kinks.

Zoe: Ooh, yours could be like a Kinsey survey. “When did your character first start masturbating—and to what?”

Ana: I think I’d try to stick to things I’ll actually use! (Though the second part of that question is good.)

Kate: I’m worried mine would be about food.

What did you guys think of the Enneagram?

Ana: Uh, yeah, I remember that from when I was into personality quizzes when I was 14. I can’t see myself using it. Actually, even if I did use it, I don’t see how it would help me.

Zoe: I thought the enneagram looked like a way to dither around with make-busy work so you don’t have to get any actual writing done.

Kate: It felt really simplistic to me, so I tried shoehorning a couple of characters into it, but they don’t fit. I don’t think it’s something I’ll use either.

Ana: Your characters must not be real people!

Kate: Uh oh. You mean those voices in my head are all my imagination?

Ana: Yeah, we can call it your ‘imagination.’

Kate: All right. So, if we don’t sit down and fill out a massive worksheet with info about our characters, how do we get to know them?

Zoe: Well, they live right in my head, so if I need to know something, I just go knock on the door and ask. Usually I don’t even have to do that, because they’re prone to leaving their door wide open and doing their thing whether I care to watch or not.

Kate: Zoe’s characters are all exhibitionists.

Zoe: I think they just don’t realize they’re being watched.

Ana: I brainstorm about my characters, I just don’t write that info down. Often my brainstorming consists of brainstorming. It has the downside (or added benefit) of often turning into naps.

Kate: Ana naps her characters to life.

I generally have a couple of situations, then I start asking characters why. (Pretty darn uncomfortable to do with Glyn). I usually figure out my best stuff when I’m just writing along, aiming for the next signpost, and stuff seems to show up on my page. But it only happens when I’m not thinking too hard about the story while I write.

Zoe: I have a lot of brainstorming that I don’t write down too. It’s like real people—I don’t keep dossiers on my friends. I just remember stuff.

Kate: I think, by the time you’ve worked on the story in your head to the point where you’re ready to start putting it on paper, a lot of this is already figured out, even if you don’t remember it consciously.

Zoe: The great thing is that not a single reader is ever going to know if you interviewed your character to find out his favorite color or just made it up on the spot. THEY WON’T KNOW! So why waste your time?

Ana: I don’t know, what if I’m writing along at full speed and then everything crashes to a halt just because I don’t know my MC’s favorite color and then I have to go back to outlining to figure it out and–yeah I’m just kidding.

Kate: Lol. I use **** when I’m too lazy to go back and figure out what it is. I can fix that later.

Ana: My first drafts are full of underscores. I can’t do *** because those are scene breaks.

Kate: I use ### for scene breaks.

Ana: Too wild for me.

About the author: Kate Lowell

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