How to Write a Character-Centered Story
No one was to blame but me. I have never been one to let a holiday slip away “uncreatively.” Each year was like self-sabotage as I raised the imagination bar a bit more. One year was dramatically written letters beautiful enough to be biblical. Another year was a Downton Abbey tea party in full 1900’s dress. Panic was setting in this year, though. It was late April. What could I do to celebrate her this Mother’s Day, one of my ultimate heroines (who never judges how many chicken wings I can put away?)
Well duh, I can do something I’m good at — write about her. The thought came to me quickly. Writers are always told to write from what they know, right?
First step — Start writing about your character.
I started scrambling for words to describe my mother. I struggled with what direction to go with the writing. I finished a couple of paragraphs, including a joke about her lack of gardening skills, and vomited.
It was the worst. It was sappy without redemption. It was predictable. It was not at all how I wanted her to feel while reading or hearing it. So, ahem, I discovered my first step:
Start writing about your character
- Think about what you would like your audience to feel. It’s a bit easier when you know that your audience is one person, and I knew that I wanted her to laugh. I wanted her to see herself in a different, comical way. Yes, in a way that I saw her, but even more objectively than that. (Nothing like objectifying your mom, eh.) I thought about how my dad sees her, about how her co-workers may view her, about how my brother notices her quirks.
- Find what is peculiar about your character and exaggerate those details. For my mother, she is very lawful, very orderly, very busy. She is also very compassionate, gentle, and wise, but I wanted to emphasize these more serious parts of her personality. To me these traits make her funny and unusual, because not every 5’2” woman is quite so independent and bossy:
- Create visuals with your writing
If the audience is just reading or hearing, they may not absorb the story quite as much as when you add text or photos.
Character stories also make it easier on you as the creator, because all of your focus can go toward capturing one individual. Even if you don’t have access to video equipment there are usually ways you can rent or check them out at a library. I suggest setting aside one day and telling your character that you are shooting a video for “something else” and just happen to have your camera around. (In the case of my mother, I told her I needed to get footage of people interacting at our church outreach.)
4.Finish your story off with a little bit of resolution
It’s important to close the story with going back to how you would like your audience to feel. If you want them to laugh, end with a joke. If you want them to to feel appreciated and valued, end with a tribute. If you want them to cry, find the most sentimental baby picture you can. However you choose to end it, let your “feeling goal” lead you in making that decision.
These character-centered stories are well worth the time in creating. The next holiday or birthday you find yourself scrambling for, try the formula! Not only is it fun to observe those closest to you in a new light, but it’s extremely rewarding to create. You can even try shooting on your iPhone — as long as you don’t believe them to be overrated and inefficient. I must say this Mother’s Day, though late on my part, was a hit. Now, about next year…
I was doing a lot of projects at this time that were really clinical and I had this weight of feeling like not much more than a human tripod. I felt I needed to try something with no pressure, so I brought a camera along with me and decided to treat the camera more like another friend along for the adventure on a short weekend trip to visit my sister.
The Mission was a place I worked at for a year, and still am moved by some of the people who came through the doors.
I write a lot about the process of living in the twenties. I happened to have a camera in my car on my actual birthday and I feel this short little accidental film captures the bliss and a sort of cynicism this age brought in a Staples parking lot…