Developing Character

I have for some time now been attending meetings of the North Central Ohio Writers group.  It’s only been about six months, but someone in the group yesterday said that it feels like I’ve been part of the group forever.  Not needing to overthink on the drive home (I’m sure I’d be doing that anyway–how else do you pass the span of 75 minutes on 71-S??)–I asked if that was a good thing. I was assured that it was. I no longer have to worry about if I’m family or fully accepted by the group (although I’m sure I still will at some point because doubt is a constant spectre in my life that waits until things are just dark enough to make its presence known).

Yesterday’s meeting was awesome. I learned and experienced quite a bit about how to build characters for my stories. 
And I didn’t write a single word.
But Todd…a writing group that doesn’t write–for a FOUR HOUR MEETING?!?!

So… I walk in…slightly chagrined that they all seem to be waiting for me.  I feel like Norm must have felt on Cheers. It was a cool feeling. Cool in a ‘holy shit they’re waiting for me, good thing I didn’t stop to pee on the way up’ kind of way. I sit down and settle in and am immediately asked to pick from three words on the board.  DARK; BIZARRE; WHIMSICAL.
Naturally I choose dark.  My second choice? Bizarre, of course (have you met me??).  Leaving whimsical for third. Apparently nobody in the group picked whimsical as their first word (further confirmation I had found my people).
A discussion about whimsical broke out like a little flash fire and I did mention that I was feeling slightly whimsical on the drive up because I had been singing show tunes (well, A show tune). I was singing “Tomorrow” from Annie.  Turns out I wasn’t the only one singing show tunes earlier that day, but I’m guessing I’m the only one that was singing them for the reason that I was–practice.
So…rewind to 2012. I started my new job. I had a great boss who was the VP of IT. She had a rule–or at least I was told this was a rule–if you were 5 minutes late or more to one of her meetings, you had to sing.  Fast forward to my drive up and looking at the clock and knowing there was no way I was going to make the 12 o’clock start time (damn iron-on letters!)…and I started to wonder Holy shit….what if they make me sing because I’m late?!? Now…I know that’s not really a thing that most people do. In fact, my previous boss was the only one I know of who ever even threatened it.  But I wanted to be prepared. I started going through the list of songs that I regularly did for karaoke.  I thought to my self, how cool would it be to be able to answer that challenge by saying, “which genre?”  Right?! Pretty damn cool. And that’s when I panicked. What if they say ‘show tunes?’  Definitely not out of the realm for this group. So…sounding like the love child of Ethel Merman and Nathan Lane, I practiced “Tomorrow.”  It was awful. But I laughed…a lot. So…that was good.
Val put names under the words. These were our groups. Looking at the names in my group, I definitely knew I fit in. 
Then we started up with the games.
That’s right. Games.
For this meeting of the writing group, we were playing games.
Games that required us to actually BE our characters. 
That was the point. Role playing. Acting. Improv (remember…what do we always say in improv? We always say “YES”).
The first game I played as a member of Team Dark was “Gloom.”  This is a turn-based card game. Everyone has a ‘family.’  The point is to make your family as miserable as possible by subjecting them to events that give you negative points. And then giving them untimely deaths. When someone’s family is completely dead and miserable, the game ends and the points are tallied.  
You wouldn’t need to actually act out your story, per se. But we are writers. So the challenge for us in this instance was to be our characters. What is the story behind them. How did this event unfold. Why did Cousin Mordecai contract consumption (turns out it was from falling in love)?
It was an interesting juxtaposition from normal game play to be able to use kindness as a weapon.   Turns out I have knack for being gloomy (and killing my family first with a series of odd untimely deaths). 
As we finished, the other group  was still continuing the game they had started, “Fiasco.”  It’s pretty much improv with dice. All the elements of a ‘theater of the mind’ are set up. Characters and their goals. Location. Various elements of the scene. The dice are used to control the scene. Each person is a character (boy howdy are they ever characters).  
I turned to see some…interesting…things being acted out from time to time.   Someone in the group left, and they needed someone to fill in for a female character. Penny, who’s motivation was she wanted to perpetrate the biggest lie the town had ever seen.  I channeled Bree (because I knew she was a crowd favorite).  If you didn’t pick up from previous posts, Bree is like a cross between Samuel L. Jackson and Sheneneh from Martin.  Fun as hell to play. And she may be making an appearance in my D&D group’s current campaign–woot!!
I totally hi-jacked Penny. I don’t know how she was played before, but by the end of it, she was a high level mob leader who was using the gun store in this little town as a traffic stop on their illicit highway all the while pretending to be a down on her luck woman looking for a job as a clerk in the gun store. 
It was fun as hell to play. 
At the end of it, a fundamental secret was revealed.  It sounds like such an easy thing to remember, but one that so many gloss over:
To write a better character, BE a character. 
Don’t keep it two dimensional. Act it out. What does your character sound like? What are her mannerisms?  What’s his backstory? 
I love role playing. I try to do the voices. I really try to get in to it. It’s what makes it fun for me. But I’ve been noticing that it’s also helping me add some more depth to my characters in my writing.  And that’s what it’s all about. 
Did you catch something? The word “fun” is in fundamental. Oh sure…so is the word “mental,” but that fits too.  Writing is something that is fundamental to the core of my being. So…at my core I am both fun and mental. And I put goofy symbols down on paper to tell you all about my particular brand of insanity. 
I suppose that’s kind of the point.  Now I need to go work on a new character. Bree and her cousin Penny are off on some wild adventure. I wonder who will show up the next time a character is called for?  
Hmmm….guess we’ll just have to roll the dice and see.
Have a great day my friends!

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