Ready to try something new? Get out your pen and paper and read on...
Put your timer on ten minutes and jot down your answer to the following questions. Try to write for the full time.
Who is your favorite character in any movie, play or work of literature? Why? How has the filmmaker/playwright/author made you care?
(background information you need for the rest of this to make sense)
Readers find out about character in five ways:
- The author tells us directly what we need to know or think
- Listening to what the character says or doesn’t say.
- Watching what the character does or doesn’t do.
- Listening to what the other characters say about him/her.
- Watching how the other characters treat him/her.
1. Choose any work in progress you already have (if you don’t have one, go to this workshop for prompts).
2. Determine your protagonist (the main character).
3. The challenge: Write a scene where the reader learns about the protagonist, but he/she never appears. Use the last two methods for finding out about a character only. This could be a scene that’s used to introduce the reader to the main character or a scene where we learn more information about him or her.
Want an example? Read the dialogue below to see how Charles Dickens did it in this abridged excerpt from A Christmas Carol. Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Future are eavesdropping on a rather unsavory group of people:
Scrooge and the Phantom came into the presence of this man, just as a woman with a heavy bundle slunk into the shop. But she had scarcely entered, when another woman, similarly laden, came in too, and she was closely followed by a man in faded black, who was no less startled by the sight of them than they had been upon the recognition of each other. After a short period of blank astonishment, in which the old man with the pipe had joined them, they all three burst into a laugh.
"You couldn't have met in a better place," said old Joe, removing his pipe from his mouth. "Come into the parlour. You were made free of it long ago, you know; and the other two an't strangers. Stop till I shut the door of the shop. Ah! How it skreeks! There an't such a rusty bit of metal in the place as its own hinges, I believe; and I'm sure there's no such old bones here as mine. Ha! ha! We're all suitable to our calling, we're well matched. Come into the parlour. Come into the parlour."
The parlour was the space behind the screen of rags. The old man raked the fire together with an old stair-rod, and, having trimmed his smoky lamp (for it was night) with the stem of his pipe, put it into his mouth again.
While he did this, the woman who had already spoken threw her bundle on the floor, and sat down in a flaunting manner on a stool; crossing her elbows on her knees, and looking with a bold defiance at the other two.
"What odds, then? What odds, Mrs. Dilber?" said the woman. "Every person has a right to take care of themselves. He always did!"
"That's true, indeed!" said the laundress. "No man more so."
"Why, then, don't stand staring as if you was afraid, woman! Who's the wiser? We're not going to pick holes in each other's coats, I suppose?"
"No, indeed!" said Mrs. Dilber and the man together. "We should hope not."
"Very well, then!" cried the woman. "That's enough. Who's the worse for the loss of a few things like these? Not a dead man, I suppose?"
"No, indeed," said Mrs. Dilber, laughing.
"If he wanted to keep 'em after he was dead, a wicked old screw," pursued the woman, "why wasn't he natural in his lifetime? If he had been, he'd have had somebody to look after him when he was struck with Death, instead of lying gasping out his last there, alone by himself."
"It's the truest word that ever was spoke," said Mrs. Dilber, "It's a judgment on him."
"I wish it was a little heavier judgment," replied the woman; "and it should have been, you may depend upon it, if I could have laid my hands on anything else. Open that bundle, old Joe, and let me know the value of it. Speak out plain. I'm not afraid to be the first, nor afraid for them to see it. We knew pretty well that we were helping ourselves before we met here, I believe. It's no sin. Open the bundle, Joe."
But the gallantry of her friends would not allow of this; and the man in faded black, mounting the breach first, produced _his_ plunder. It was not extensive. A seal or two, a pencil-case, a pair of sleeve-buttons, and a brooch of no great value, were all. They were severally examined and appraised by old Joe, who chalked the sums he was disposed to give for each upon the wall, and added them up into a total when he found that there was nothing more to come.
"That's your account," said Joe, "and I wouldn't give another sixpence, if I was to be boiled for not doing it. Who's next?"
Mrs. Dilber was next. Sheets and towels, a little wearing apparel, two old-fashioned silver tea-spoons, a pair of sugar-tongs, and a few boots. Her account was stated on the wall in the same manner.
"I always give too much to ladies. It's a weakness of mine, and that's the way I ruin myself," said old Joe. "That's your account. If you asked me for another penny, and made it an open question, I'd repent of being so liberal, and knock off half-a-crown."
"And now undo my bundle, Joe," said the first woman.
Joe went down on his knees for the greater convenience of opening it, and, having unfastened a great many knots, dragged out a large heavy roll of some dark stuff.
"What do you call this?" said Joe. "Bed-curtains?"
"Ah!" returned the woman, laughing and leaning forward on her crossed arms. "Bed-curtains!"
"You don't mean to say you took 'em down, rings and all, with him lying there?" said Joe.
"Yes, I do," replied the woman. "Why not?"
"You were born to make your fortune," said Joe, "and you'll certainly do it."
"I certainly shan't hold my hand, when I can get anything in it by reaching it out, for the sake of such a man as He was, I promise you, Joe," returned the woman coolly. "Don't drop that oil upon the blankets, now."
"His blankets?" asked Joe.
"Whose else's do you think?" replied the woman. "He isn't likely to take cold without 'em, I dare say."
"I hope he didn't die of anything catching? Eh?" said old Joe, stopping in his work, and looking up.
"Don't you be afraid of that," returned the woman. "I ain’t so fond of his company that I'd loiter about him for such things, if he did. Ah! You may look through that shirt till your eyes ache; but you won't find a hole in it, nor a threadbare place. It's the best he had, and a fine one too. They'd have wasted it, if it hadn't been for me."
"What do you call wasting of it?" asked old Joe.
"Putting it on him to be buried in, to be sure," replied the woman with a laugh. "Somebody was fool enough to do it, but I took it off again. If calico ain’t good enough for such a purpose, it isn't good enough for anything. It's quite as becoming to the body. He can't look uglier than he did in that one."
Scrooge listened to this dialogue in horror. As they sat grouped about their spoil, in the scanty light afforded by the old man's lamp, he viewed them with a detestation and disgust which could hardly have been greater, though they had been obscene demons, marketing the corpse itself.
See how Dickens used the other characters to give us information about Ebenezer Scrooge? They never mentioned him by name, yet we know from the context who they disparaged. All done without Scrooge saying a word.
Okay, go back up to #3 above and write your own scene. Show us a character through other people’s words and actions. To check for validity, ask yourself the question:: how would an actor portray the character you’ve created? What clues have you given him/her to use?
Use the comments sections to post questions or to brag about your success!
The contents of these workshops are actually my accumulation of several years’ experience teaching creative writing in real-life classroom settings. Each workshop has been tried and tested several times. Additional workshops came from my work in Second Life where I gave many of these workshops in the virtual world (as Diana Allandale). This is, however, the first time all the various workshops I’ve offered in both worlds are gathered and published in one place.
A new workshop will be posted every Tuesday. Eventually we’ll have the contents of a book about writing. At that point, I’ll collect all the workshops in ebook (and maybe print) form for those who would like it all bundled into one nice, neat place and offer it for sale.
You’ll see a new button below. If you enjoy the workshops and find them useful, please consider sending a donation my way. When the final product is ready to go, those who have donated each time will get a free copy of the ebook as a gift from me. I won’t dun you twice for the content.