Saturday, September 26, 2009

Ogres Are Like Onions...

I haven't written much these past two weeks. My new job (yay!) involves co-teaching algebra, and assisting students taking virtual geometry and calculus classes. I love it, but my evenings have been full of numbers.

Lots of numbers. And then more numbers.

If Math were a guy, we'd be dating. He might even be meeting my parents.

Which is why it's lovely to play with words again.

Rachelle Gardner had a great post about proactive or re-active characters. I realized that in the beginning of the novel I'm working on, it's easy for me to let my MC fall into a reactive position. (No surprise to the Slushies- we've discussed this.) Now, part of that is because the story begins with my MC trapped in a completely new life. It can be hard to be active when your world's been upended. Sometimes, there's a period when you're just trying to get your bearings.

However, I think I've found a way to think about internal action. edittorrent had a great post on the layers of a character, using astrology as an example. I don't know diddly about astrology, but the idea is that each person has three aspects to them.

There's the sun sign, which represents their "core personality" and basic traits. I concentrate most often on this part of a character.

But then comes the interesting stuff. The ... (I'm looking back at the post- you really should read it.)

.... rising sign. This is what others notice about your character- first, second impressions. It also includes the persona your character wants others to see.

Then, finally, there's the ... (yes, I'm looking again)

... moon sign. This is what your character hides from others. It's what s/he doesn't want others to see. Doesn't mean it's bad, just something your character is embarrassed about. It's what makes your character blush or run for the hills.

Isn't that great? It really gave me another way to continue to wrap my brain around my characters.

And, bringing this back to active characters...

It gives me a way to keep my MC active. Even in a completely disorienting situation- when there isn't much physical action that can be taken- there can always be the tension between what she wants others to see and what she's afraid they'll discover- what even she is afraid to discover.

That sort of thing can make even the most basic conversation pop.

So what do you think? Do you like this way of looking at characters? What are some things that your characters are trying to project? What are they trying to hide? (I think that hiding part is my favorite.)


Melinda Szymanik said...

Hi Sarah

saw your message on my blog and popped over to say hi. I love this way of looking at characters, certainly helps make them realistically complex. What POV are you writing your novel in?

My pb The Were-Nana can be bought online at


love my word verification - flibb

Tess said...

My mom is a big astrological buff so, even though I'm not as 'into it' as she is, I totally get this post. Great way to look at it and think about those characters we are creating.

And, I agree - it's the hidden part that is so intriguing (but also the hardest to write for me it seems)

hope you are having a great weekend :)

Sarah said...

Glad you stopped by, Melinda! It is a great way of building characters, isn't it? edittorrent has so much good stuff.

Right now, my novel is in 3rd person- but I'm in the process of weaving in a completely new (and rather big) story line. So the POV may change when I start revising. I'm just trying to get all the new stuff down.

Thanks for the website about Were-Nana! I'd love to get the book.

Sarah said...

I am having a great weekend, Tess. I'm getting ready to make some bread. (Me and my carbs- I could never go Adkins.)

The hidden part is intriguing, isn't it? I'd never thought of it in just that way before- but it is a huge part of our lives.

Amy Tate said...

Yes, I read that post and found it very interesting. I'd have to say that the main character in my middle grade historical novel is sort of both. I think he starts out reactive and moves into proactive. I never thought about it before, but I guess I used that process to show how he matured through the story.

Sarah said...

Amy, I think a character's change from reactive to proactive can be a huge part of that character's development.

I love how Shannon Hale did that with Ani in Goose Girl. The story pivots on whether formerly passive Ani can actually confront the villain that has outmaneuvered her from day one.

(Michelle is smiling, I'm sure- she knows how much I love that story...)

Anonymous said...

I'm seeing a lot of characters tips on posts and am totally loving it. All these views and takes will help all of us create more believable people for our wondrous books!

Jennifer Major said...

Thanks for the great link. A helpful tool when creating and moving through the writing process. My character is definately reactive as she has little influence on her life in the beginning but that is her journey. To gain control. Thanks!

Michelle said...

You're right, Sarah, I am grinning!

Lisa said...

There's a lot to think about in this post, Sarah. I like to think of my MC as proactive, but when I really start looking at what she does, especially in the beginning, it's rather reactive.

Arg...yet another thing to work on in revisions. :)

Sarah said...

Sara, I love tips on character development! Any other posts to suggest?

Jennifer, glad you liked it. And I'm seeing how so many characters grow into being active.

I knew you'd smile, Michelle!

Oh, Lisa, I'm sure you'll manage the revisions beautifully. You certainly have been already.