Speed Dating for Writers
By Jen Parks, Bluegrass Writers Studio
If you are a fiction writer like me, getting to know your characters can be like going on a bad first date: having to field a long list of banal questions you’re not even sure you want the answers to, interspersed with random awkward pauses. And all the while, you wonder, what am I doing here?
At Winter Residency, I attended a craft lecture by Alissa Nutting, author of the novel Tampa. I wasn't sure if her topic of writing villains would apply to me. After all, I don’t write about evil people; I write about evil things that happen to good people. Totally different, right?
Nutting instructed us to create an evil character and take them to Kmart. Take them where? One commonality that Alissa and I share is that we want to know what makes our characters tick. We want to get past the awkward conversations and long pauses and crawl right up inside their head.
Nutting's method of hypothetically taking an evil person to Kmart – a universally unintimidating and affordable everyday store – works for good people, too. Want to know how your widowed character is dealing with her loss? Take her to Kmart and watch her avoid the picture frame aisle because it reminds her of all the pictures taken of her and her now deceased spouse. Want to know how the cuckolded wife is dealing with her cheating husband? Take her to Kmart and watch her break down in tears in the fragrance aisle because the lipstick-stained shirt she found in her husband’s hamper two weeks ago smelled just like Taylor Swift’s new perfume.
Just like that, you know more about your character than you ever thought you could. That wasn’t so awkward after all.
Published on February 13, 2014