So last weekend, I attended the workshop day at the SCBWI-Florida Miami conference. I’ve attended the conference pretty much every year since joining SCBWI, though over the past few years I’ve whittled down to attending on Sunday only, the day the presenters give actual workshops. So one of the workshops I attended was with Amy Fitzgerald, an editor with Carolrhoda books. She spoke on the topic of “Building Flesh and Blood Novel Characters.”
You would think that, as a veteran writer with an agent, I wouldn’t be interested in what seems like a beginner’s workshop. But the truth is, growth comes from learning. And if nothing Amy said was new to me, it was still worth hearing and being reminded that yes, you always have to remember certain things about character building that make characters real for readers. So I’m sharing a couple of my takeaways from Amy’s session.
First – you have to know the ROOTS of your character. She said, “A lot of what you know won’t make it into your manuscript. Figure it out anyway, write it down somewhere.”
In the past, I’ve used various methods for developing the roots of a character. I’ve done character “interviews.” I’ve written scenes that never appeared in my book – some of which were workshop exercises that helped deepen my knowledge of my characters. Either of these methods can help you know your characters well.
One of the last things Amy talked about Sunday resonated with me, and that was “Be willing to reinvent your character.”
We can’t stay married to a character that just doesn’t work. If, in the course of your storytelling, you realize the character should be a different kind of person, let that happen. I wrote a novel once in the wrong character’s voice. I could never make the book feel right. It was finally my mentor who told me the real story was not my MC’s story, but instead, her twin brother’s. And since I’m not comfortable enough in boy head for a male MC, I shelved the story (at least for now).
So there are a couple of points to ponder from my SCBWI weekend experience.