3 S.R. Johannes: SCBWI Midsouth Conference (Part 2 of 2)

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

SCBWI Midsouth Conference (Part 2 of 2)

Cheryl Klein - Character Development (BTW she posts all of her talks on her web site.

"Your characters should literally change the world, especially the one you created."

Know the point of your book and who is your reader.

Once you know that - everything should support and not detract from that purpose and readership

Ask yourself "What am I trying to do here?"

  1. Figure out the facts of your character - age, gender, social status, marital status, where do they live.
  2. Know their Internal qualities - personality traits, ethics, values, morals, self awareness. Look for qualities that can be contradictory to cause conflict.
  3. Create external qualities - appearance, descriptions, how they see the world or other people. If you use first person - know what she sees in others. manner of speaking (mannerisms), set your character apart with a few characteristics (nose tapping, rub hair across lips when they think). Watch people around you.
  4. History or backstory - you need to know it even if you don't tell or show it. Only use the things that are relevant to the story. (is if it is a book about competitive nature, tell us her volleyball scores etc). You need to know backstory between characters too. If she has a best friend - how long, why, how are they together.
Every story should have a "tater tot" moment - where something happens to begin the sympathy.

  1. Desire - what a character wants. create double desire - a conflict between two wants where they have to choose one over the other. which one is more important and what is the consequence of going against the other one.
  2. Attitude/Energy - how do they relate to others, life, a situation, death, fights etc. are they an optimist or pessimist? Try journaling as the character to find voice. Must balance + and - energy -For example: the pessimist girl who is funny. The optimist who is annoying. Create a story conversation - a) what is said, b) what is unsaid, c) what can't be said.
  3. Action - Desire plus attitude. if a character has a desire there must be follow through that is relevant to book. plunk character down in different situations in your mind to decide what they would DO in that situation. Lack of action from a protagonist is one of the top 10 reason why she rejects manuscripts. either its impossible to accomplish or she wont do anything. There must be a reason for inaction.
You must increase the "action quotient" - the reader must see things happen. 1) character can act out against something 2) add in desire where she can take action. (lisa yee does a good job)

3 questions to answer:
1) what keeps him alive?
2) what is his pain?
3) what is his name?

Every character is a hero in their own story.

Secondary characters must not be over played. They must be relevant to the story and plot. If there is not a need - don't use them.

most important elements are - honesty (must be honest with what happens) and time (must be the proper pacing)

let characters words and actions speak for themselves. Try not to stop them. Wind your characters up and let them go. You are not your characters' mother. You are their observer. Allow them to make mistakes and suffer the appropriate consequence.

Cheryl loves characters that make mistakes and show pain.

Activity - character outlines
  • boy or girl
  • Male of female
  • age
  • what is the family like?
  • where do they live?
  • what is their name?
  • what are the internal qualities? external?
  • what keeps him alive?
  • How are they emotionally interesting?
  • what is their pain?
  • what do they want?
  • what is their attitude?

6 strategies
  1. make characters new
  2. give character a cause
  3. take action and show energy
  4. put them in anticipated pain
  5. surround with unlikeable characters
  6. be able to feel with and kill your character at any moment. don't get too attached so that you hold them back.

Caroline Cooney - write at full speed

writing activity - write without thinking.
  • use pen and paper - not computer. because you always have 10 minutes somewhere
  • fill out the character outline above....
  • write a line about setting
  • write a sentence about character
  • bring in another character
  • bring in conflict
  • change their location
  • what do they see?
  • write first sentence to 2nd chapter.
writing tips
  • Everyone can write a page a day
  • next day - reread what you wrote
  • write while you are in car waiting
  • answer who, what , where , when and why at everything to dig deeper into story
  • every sentence should give you another one
It was fabulous!


Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Ha! I actually took notes of your notes. :) Sometimes these are things we know or hear elsewhere but just saying it in a fresh way makes it resonate. Especially like that characters must change the world and that they should have desires that conflict. thx!

Kelly said...

Wow! Thank you for sharing your notes from the conference! Cheryl Klein is great. I heard her speak at a conference last year. I already cut and pasted your notes for my files for future reference!

Aimee States said...

This was an amazing blog read...and just in time for my NaNo wind up!

Robin Constantine said...

Sounds like a wonderful conference. Thanks for sharing the highlights, Shelli!

adrienne said...

Great tips and exercises. I love the term "tater tot" moment!

Lazy Writer said...

Thanks for sharing this, Shelli. The timing couldn't be better. I'm struggling with some of these issues right now.

jessjordan said...

I was just thinking about how I need to develop my current characters better, so this is AWESOME. Thank you!

Although I must admit the "write whihle you are in car waiting" is a little terrifying ... :)

jessjordan said...

p.s. I'm so jealous that you're at another SCBWI conference. Geez!

Shelli said...

TRicia, Kelly, - cheryl's talk was amazing i learned so much.

jess - you need to park the car first :)

aimee, lazy writer - im glad!

robin - midsouth runs great conferences. thsi was my 2nd year.

adrienne - tater tot moment came from a tater tot moment in an aythor's book (so they call it that now)

Lisa and Laura said...

These tips are awesome Shelli! Thanks for posting them. I feel like I'm attending conferences vicariously through you.

PJ Hoover said...

Thank you for the awesome summary, Shelli! This is made of awesome!

kathrynjankowski said...

"Every sentence should give you another one." I love that.

Thanks for the post, Shelli.

Danyelle said...

Thank you so much for sharing your notes. They were amazing! And so detailed. I especially like the part about making sure your characters have backstory, even if you never "use" it per se. *thank you cookies*

Jean Reidy said...

Thanks for the detailed notes, Shelli. I'd love to see Cheryl in person someday. But for now I'm so grateful she posts her talks online.

FictionGroupie said...

Great info! Thanks!

Kim Kasch said...

Wonderful info. I never was a good note taker - I'm so glad someone else is.


Solvang Sherrie said...

Great notes, Shelli--you're right up there with SF!!

Thanks for posting this :)

Kerri said...

It's interesting b/c when I start writing I flush out a few of these ideas, but once I'm half-finished or so, I pull these details from what I've written and then develop them or put them in some cohesive order. I hope that the more I write, a "technique" will emerge. Great tips!!!!

Tess said...

This is fantastic! Fan. Tas. Tic.

thanks for sharing. I've heard it all before but in dribs and drabs along the way. I'll bookmark this and have it all in one handy spot :)

Caroline Starr Rose said...

"Tater tot moment"? You need to help me get what a potato has to do with sympathy!

Katie said...

Man, Cheryl was so good! And look at these notes! You are an incredible outliner!!! Damn you!

Jessie Oliveros said...

Awesome tips! I esp liked the advice about journaling as your character to catch their voice and not being the character's mother-letting them make mistakes. I don't think I was letting my character make a mistake, just letting things happen to her.

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

what an incredible post to bookmark! thanks!

left you a blog award on my blog today. enjoy it AND your weekend!

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