Character Development: Memorable Moments

December 22, 2011

I was driving to my early morning dog agility class, trying to remember why in the world I signed up for a 7:30 a.m. class, when I remembered how grateful I’d been for this jaunt just a few months ago.  To understand how unlikely gratitude might be used in the same sentence as any morning decimal with starting with a seven, I should mention that I am not one of those people that bounce out of bed, bright and chipper, even on vacation.  Nor do I have a coffee habitat to induce caffeine to jump-start my brain cells.  I roll out of the sack, grope blindly for my glasses and stagger bleary-eyed to the bathroom.   I kid you not, a scalding shower is the only reason I’m able to put on clothing and reasonably tackle my job responsibilities. 

However, this last September, changed my attitude.   One particular Saturday morning, the road was empty of traffic. When I glanced in the rear view mirror, my senses were flooded with the pink and orange and blues and yellows of a magnificent sunrise bursting through the cloud cover of Mount Diablo.  The beauty was beyond postcard worthy.  Even as I committed this spectacular natural phenomenon to memory, I knew that this was a one of a kind event.  The clouds were perfectly positioned, the air quality crystal clear.  The reflection of light illuminated the mountain in a red glow that seemed to radiate life itself.  I realized I would never would have witnessed nature at its finest hour had I not been slogging my way to dog class.  I knew this was an unforgettable experience. 

It occurred to me that listing memorable moments could be a useful tool when developing characters for a novel.  In the case of my memorable moment, think about how much information it revealed:   my appreciation of the natural world, the activity I was about to engage in, you could infer a love a dogs and, of course, my natural sleep patterns.

Exercise:  Create a memorable moment for your protagonist and see what it reveals about his or her character.

A Picture’s Worth a Thousand Words, or is it?

August 14, 2009

 “A picture’s worth a thousand words” or so the saying goes. If so, I must have millions of words in pictures. I’m the family scrap-booker. I don’t mean in the crafty sense with embellished pages and such. Mine are fairly unadorned. Just pictures with a few labels. Family ‘archivist’ might be a more accurate description. I have a bookshelf overflowing with albums, cataloguing every vacation and family event.

However, as time goes by, my memory gets a little less reliable. I find that pictures alone are not enough. Oh, I remember going to this place or that, and an anecdote or two. But the details are forgotten.

I was reminded of this on a recent trip to my childhood home. My dad had been cleaning out the closets when he discovered old letters and other wonderful treasures. Among them was a letter I’d written to my grandmother while I was on a college term abroad. In it, I described places I’d been, things I’d done, and most importantly my impressions of the trip — feelings no picture could recreate or capture. The missive was a small time capsule of that moment in my life. And it brought home the importance of narrative as a record of experience. A record that a photograph alone, however beautiful, could not convey.