A strongly formed character can tell his own story
One of the more interactive workshops of the CYA Writers Conference focused on how to build a story starting with a character. Prue Mason was our presenter and quickly got us started on an exercise she calls 'Wearing the Hat!'
We started off by brainstorming some of the things we would want to know about a characters (such as gender, dreams, talents, personality, name, faults, place and era they live, etc) and then broke those into inner qualities and outer factors (fears, dreams and virtues belong to the inner character, whereas location, family and name are outer characteristics and influences).
Prue then handed us each a seven page worksheet and... hats. Yep, hats. Several hats in various styles and condition along with small containers hosting items such as stones or keys. The idea was we should get our first impression of the hat and work out what kind of character would wear it. I found this exercise quite powerful. I'm very visual (read: daydreamer) and had a strong image of my character in the worn bush style sun-hat.
The worksheet asks us questions about the character, including their birthdate based on an astrological personality. We then go on to explore the influence of the special item (mine was an old key), does it give your MC special powers, or help to solve a mystery?
Then the fun really began. We tried on the hat and interviewed ourselves as the character! I started to see a different perspective on my character and their situation.
From there, a plot started to form and we recorded our story ideas for this particular character. There were some great variations put up from the participants including:
- A female miner all butch but with a femininity she hides who needs to be rescued after a mine collapse, but, ends up rescuing the man sent in for her, and,
- A wombat well known for rescuing his national park friends from a bushfire.
- A young palaeontologist student who has the gift of seeing how creatures died when she touches their remains, comes across a colleagues body at the dig site and must help the detective solve the crime without revealing her 'gift'. (That one was mine, and I'll write it for this years NaNoWriMo, but must admit I'd just finished hearing about Sheryl Gwyther's story set on a dinosaur dig, so my imagination points are lower).
You can find out more about Prue Mason, her workshops and the books she writes at her website:
Want to have a go at the hat task? Pick a hat (try to go with your first instinct and don't think too much about it):
Or grab a hat from your own collections, you could always google something like: mysterious hats and see what you get!
Then, combine your choice with one of the following items:
- a key
- a scrap of paper
- a bloodied knife
- an expensive pen
- a dog collar
- an old book
- a folded photograph
- a ring
Now start building a character and see what story forms!