Friday, May 30, 2008

Want to get to know your protagonist better? Take him on a trip! But what to pack?. . . hmmmmmm

If you took your protagonist on a trip, what would he/she pack?

I'm taking a slow hike through "Reading Like A Writer" by Francine Prose. I have a hard time reading non fiction. They aren't page-turners. I've had the book for over a month and I'm only in chapter 3. But it's worth the trudging.

I loved the idea from chapt 2 about using character choices as one way to show personality and mindset. Is your character mature or immature? cautious or carefree? neat or messy?

Prose uses an example from "A Distant Episode" by Paul Bowles. A professor traveling to the North African desert packs two small overnight bags full of maps, sun lotions, and medicines.

Prose says:
"The contests of the Professor's two small over night bags full of maps, sun lotions, and medicines provide a tiny mini-course in the importance of close reading. The protagonist's anxiety and cautiousness, his whole psychological makeup, has been communicated in five words (maps, sun lotions, and medicines) and without the need to use one descriptive adjective or phrase. (He was an anxious man, who worried about getting lost or sunburned or sick, and so forth.) What very different conclusions we might form about a man who carries a bag filled with dice, syringes, and a hand gun."

This section made me want to think of my own protagonist. Do I know her psyche well enough to show her personality through her unique packing choices?

Then I also thought about the certain things I always pack: I always take lip balm and more books than clothing, and what does my husband pack: mostly just clothes and always waits til the last minute to pack. I know someone that always packs a can of lysol disinfectant spray. . . what choices do we make that show who we are? It makes an interesting character study and a fun creative exercise.

The next step: Go back through my MS and see what scenes provide opportunity to show personality through choices. It's kind of like mining for diamonds. You've got to locate the gems, bring them to the surface and then make 'em shine!

Gotta go help my protagonist pack now. Buh-bye!


Janelle said...

I'll be packing a mental suitcase for my protagonist tonight, Christy. Great suggestion! Showing personality through choices -- it seems obvious, but I now realize that I never gave that too much thought before. Thanks for bringing it up.

C.R. Evers said...

Hey Janelle! I knew I could count on you to give this exercise a try! It's kind of fun. I'd be interested to hear what you come up with.