Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Character Sketches for Ancestors, Part 4

For now this will be my last post on the subject of developing a character sketch for your ancestors.

·         Family. You may have covered some of this in background, but here you should list all the names you know of their parents, siblings, and any cousins or aunts and uncles, etc. who may have been in their life. Were they named after another ancestor? Where in birth order did your ancestor fall? The Birth Order Book might be an interesting read for you when trying to determine how this impacted your ancestor. Did any family members die that would have made a great impression on your ancestor?

·         Those in Her/His Circle. This is similar to family, but here you will need to list friends and associates that may have influenced your character. As you list the characters, give them attributes that will play into the life of your ancestor.

·         Enemies. This is your ancestor's nemesis and who she/he might be at odds with. It may very well be the antagonist or the villain. Remember, an antagonist is not always a bad person; it’s just the person in the story who can push the buttons of your ancestor. Your villain could very well be another ancestor. I know mine was in the first book I wrote.

·         Fears. Figure out what your ancestor was most afraid of and then make her/him face it throughout the book. Every chapter should have a conflict, whether big or small.

·         Talents. By giving your ancestor talents, you are making them more human to the reader. Talents can make someone more interesting and well rounded, but might have nothing to do with the plot or character development.

·         Favorite foods. Is this a weakness or a simple pleasure? If someone feeds them their favorite food, perhaps that “someone” will become endeared to your ancestor. You can make a point of them never eating their favorite food because of their poverty, etc. Again, it might just be something to make the reader feel your ancestor is well rounded and really existed (because of course your ancestor did really walk the earth at one time).

 I'm always interested in other ideas for creating a character sketch, so feel free to make a comment.

Character Sketches for Ancestors, Part 3

·    Distinctive Mannerisms. Was he always running his hands through his hair? Did she bite her lip when nervous or some other kind of nervous tick? Did she move across the floor with grace, or walk like a man? “People watch” next time you’re with your family or out in public and maybe you can come up with some ideas.

·   Speech. Was it refined and educated or crass and backwoods? Was there a faint accent of the old country? Did she always say silly things? Did she speak in a high pitched nasal tone, or did she like to add drama and talk like she was someone important. Maybe she really was someone important? This is where dialect will come into the story, also. And if you’re still not sure about whether or not speech is really important, try reading Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. In fact, just read the first chapter and you’ll see how she introduces her characters through their dialogue. Mrs. Bennett says quite silly things, and Mr. Bennett makes fun of her without her even catching on. We learn much of personality through Jane Austen’s character dialogue.

·   Job Description. What was your ancestor’s occupation? Why would they choose that occupation? What did they do at work? Were they happy being a coal miner, or was that all they could do? If your ancestor was a stay at home mom, what were her chores and what did she expect of herself. Was she a conscientious and loving mother or did she neglect her children so she could spend time working on what she really cared about?

I’ll post one more time with more ideas about making character sketches of your ancestors.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Character Sketches for Ancestors, Part 2

·    Background. It’s probably easier to find background information on your ancestor, than knowing their personality traits. And I’m not just talking personal background. Find out social, economic, religious, political, etc. If you can’t find it, create what would make sense for the times and their personality. Did they grow up in a big family, or were they an only child? How high of an education did they receive? What income level were their parents at, and did it change when the MC was an adult? What was their occupation? Did they live in a city or the country? Did the family carry traits brought to America from their homeland? Did their name spelling change? Did they have to learn a new language? Much of their background will take research, and I plan to make many posts soon on how to research. Now-a-days there is a myriad of information on the internet. Just realize that a person’s background and life experiences are what shape them. If there wasn’t a circumstance in their past that you know about, then make up a circumstance that impacted them (you might be able to find it in what was a current event of their time). If you write it out, you can figure out how the ancestor reacted (because of their personality traits). Even if you don’t use it in the novel, use it as a guide to know how the person came to be who they were.

Appearance. Describe what your ancestor looked like; eye color, hair color, etc. If you’re lucky, you will have a photo (but probably black and white). If not, perhaps choose someone in the family and model them after that person. Were they short or tall? Was their skin dark or light? Did they look like someone else in the family? Did they take after a certain ethnic ancestral lineage? People’s appearance can set up expectations. How would your ancestor deal with these expectations? Were they a minority? What style would they wear their hair? Did they wear a hat whenever they went out? Did they wear hooped skirts and bell sleeves and need someone to lace up their corset? It will be important to learn the fashions of the times in which you are writing. I struggled with the appearance of the MC 3rd great grandmother in my novel White Oak River. I do own a daguerreotype (photo imprinted on glass ca 1859) of her, but it is extremely faded and I really couldn’t make out her features well. I own photos of all her siblings, which are much clearer, and I own photos of her as an old woman. I could tell from the elderly photos that she had the same facial structure as her sister, so (being an artist) I decided to get to know my main character better and I painted her using the elderly photo images of her and the younger image of her sister. Her clothing, jewelry and the composition of the painting all come from the faded daguerreotype.

I have many more ideas on how to do a Character Sketch of Your Ancestor, so check back soon.

Character Sketches for Ancestors, Part 1

“There is no plot without character. In the world of chicken and egg, characters come first.” Elizabeth George

Here are ideas on how to make Character Sketches of your ancestors. It is not necessary to follow the list (I will be posting over the next few days) in order. A writer can start anywhere when analyzing a character:

·    Goals (large and small). What are the characters core needs and desires? What do they want out of life? Give them an agenda. A specific goal can drive the whole story. The denial of that “core need” will put her/him under stress. How will they act? (See post on Character Development Using Ancestors)

·    Personality Traits. You’d be lucky if you knew your ancestor well enough to actually know their personality traits. Perhaps it’s possible someone in your family did know them, or had heard stories of them? Is there a diary or written history? If so, you’ve struck gold! If none of these things exist, here are a few ideas of ways to “create” fictional personality traits for your ancestors: The easiest is to find their birthday and use a zodiac chart of certain qualities. OR What I have used and found very useful is the theory of enneagrams, which entails nine personality types. I can do a whole post on enneagrams, and perhaps I’ll do just that soon. A helpful book for me is The Wisdom of the Enneagram by Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson. OR Myers-Briggs Personality Testing can be found online on multiple sites. My five children, cousins, aunts, uncles and friends all did this test on a weekend vacation together. It was a lot of fun understanding why we did things the way we did, and we all received a better understanding of one another that weekend. I am willing to bet there are other good books and tests regarding the psychology of personality types. (List them in ‘comments’ below if you know of any.) When deciding on personality traits for your MC, you should consider their core needs. When I list personality traits for my MC, it is usually a page or two long. The personality traits can also be shaped largely by Background and Appearance. I will post those ideas next.