Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Wednesday Writing Workout: Creating a "Rootable" Character

As Mary Ann mentioned on Monday, we're saying "farewell" to Jeanne Marie by linking back to one of our favorites of her 101 TeachingAuthor posts. And since today is Wednesday, I had the added task of choosing a favorite post that also lends itself to a Writing Workout. Turns out, that wasn't very hard. Last July, Jeanne Marie blogged about a picture book writing course she was taking. One of her assignments was to discuss the contents of her Writer's Toolbox. She shared an excerpt from her response to the assignment (which I encourage you to go back and read) and talked of the value of reflecting on one's own Writer's Toolbox.

For today's Wednesday Writing Workout, I'd like to focus on the first tool/challenge Jeanne Marie mentioned:
"I think that one of the most challenging aspects of creating a rootable character is finding a way to make him/her likeable and flawed at the same time." 
When I first read this, the term "rootable character" was new to me. I know now that it's simply a character the reader will want to root for. But creating one is not a simple task. In fact, it's something I'm struggling with in my current work-in-progress. Part of my challenge is that my story is set in 18th-century Milan, Italy, a time and place quite removed from my readers. How can I depict my character in a way that modern readers will understand her world well enough to empathize with and understand her feelings and choices?

One way is to find connections between me and my character that I can draw from. In a presentation to the Federation of Children's Book Groups last March, Elizabeth Wein talked about how she found such connections while writing her award-winning historical novel Code Name Verity (Disney-Hyperion) by looking for "modern parallels." But even if you're writing a contemporary story, whether fiction or nonfiction, it's not always easy to make your protagonist "rootable." Before trying the following workout, you may want to read these two articles on the topic: a post by Emilia Plater called "Radical Empathy: Creating a Compelling Flawed Character" on the YA Highway blog, and one by Alex Epstein for the 2012 Script Frenzy site called "We Like Characters Because of Their Flaws, Not Their Virtues."

Writing Workout: Creating a Rootable Character

If you have a work-in-progress, consider your main character. Is he or she too perfect? If so, can you give the character a flaw that readers could relate to and understand? Or, on the flip side, have you created a character readers will dislike? If so, can you show why this character is this way?

If you're starting a new project, spend some time thinking about your main character's flaws. Create a scene in which those flaws are apparent. Need some inspiration? Check out yesterday's Fiction Prompt for Laurie Halse Anderson's Write Fifteen Minutes a Day challenge.

Happy Writing!


Pen N. InkBlog said...

Loved this post. Dashed over to Laurie Halse Anderson's website.
Loved that. Signed us up with Wordpress so I could leave a comment.
Couldn't leave one.
Oh well.

Carmela Martino said...

Thanks, Pen N Ink. I tried to post on Anderson's blog and couldn't either. I mentioned this on her Facebook page and she said her website is having issues. You can comment on her Facebook page though.
Hope you're writing away!