As a child, and okay, as an adult, too, I happily read Robert Newton Peck’s Soup books. His ability to describe his characters such as Soup’s nemesis, Janice Riker, is peachy. “She was the biggest and strongest and meanest kid that the world ever knew. She had the body of a hunched-back, bowlegged ape and the brain power of a fully ripened bean.” I could visualize her so easily. Along with physical descriptions, speech patterns or a character’s colloquialisms can add to our understanding of characters. My use of “peachy” above made you form judgements about me.
Bridget Birdsall, http://www.bridgetbirdsall.com, author of ORDINARY ANGELS, is a master at using colloquial dialogue, sensory language, and description to create memorable characters. The story is told through second-person, making it easy for the reader to picture herself as a character. You pull on your favorite frog-print pajamas as Helen barges through the door. ‘I”m not changing in front of him,” she says. She spots your church dress all bunched up in a ball on the radiator. “Better hang that up before you have to sleep in the pee-bed.” Words such as radiator and church dress ground us in the setting. Pee-bed not only characterizes but conjures up the sensory experiences of smell and sight, leaving lasting impressions. How can a writer achieve this?
Inspiration can be found through watching people and eavesdropping. This overheard conversation between an older nurse trainee with a thick accent speaking to a patient whose daughter held her hand could become a memorable character in one of my stories.
“I know you can’t make caca,” Lily said. She had flaming red hair, as if she needed anything more to set her apart. “I know you can’t make caca,” she told the patient. “I have same problem. I help you.” She rubbed the woman’s abdomen. “Oh,” the patient squealed after a few minutes. “I think I should go to the bathroom. I think something’s coming out.”
Lily winked at the woman. “You poop in bed. I clean up. Don’t worry. Poop, poop, poop. Mmmm, is that a fart I smell? Good, good. You fart. Later we take a walk. That will make you caca.”
The elderly woman lifted herself up. “I think I could use the bathroom. Close the door please”.
“This is your daughter,” Lily said. “Why close the door? You’ve smelled her poop. She poops. You poop. That’s what we do. We poop.”
Someday the spirit of Lily will end up in a story of mine. As storysharers, we read and write, striving to find just the right heartbeat of our characters. That’s what we do. Storysharer would love to hear about the ways you bring your characters to life.