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An image to work from - my 1900s character, Rose

An image to work from: my late 1800s, early 1900s character

So I’ve joined a writing group. Our plan is to share a piece of writing – possibly a chapter, possibly a short passage – in the interim since we’ve last met, and we’ll reconvene each month. It’s not such a lot to achieve, but knowing that I’ll have to prepare something for the next meeting should keep me on track. Novel two is due on 1 May next year, and it’s already feeling a lot closer than it seems.

If you write, have you ever thought about joining a group? I’ve always been a bit nervous about it (the exposure!) but of course groups are fantastic for keeping you motivated. And we’ve set a strict rule of confidentiality – no sharing plots with friends or family, which have a way of turning up everywhere once you decide to write something.

We had our first meeting last Thursday. Although it’s early days, I’m feeling quite excited. There’ll be five of us – a big group – and I’m genuinely intrigued by the book ideas the other members shared. I think it’s going to be quite inspiring. Each of us is at a different stage with our novels and we’re all working on something completely different. Just to begin with, they suggested some ideas about how I might unfold my central mystery. I don’t think I would have hit upon this myself – five heads are definitely better than one.

For years I’ve been meaning to answer the famous Proust questionnaire for each of my characters, so we’ve decided to do this for our next meeting as well – at least with our main protagonists. It’s always illuminating reading the celebrity responses to these questions in the back of Vanity Fair, but I found this particularly fun when thinking about how my key characters would answer (read David Bowie’s answers here if you have a moment “What is your favorite journey? The road of artistic excess”).

If you’d like to give it a go yourself, here’s a (slightly amended) version from The Write Practice. One of my characters has answered the top ten:

  1. What is your idea of perfect happiness? Being adored
  2. What is your greatest fear? Not making an impact
  3. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? Submission
  4. What is the trait you most deplore in others? Artifice
  5. Which living person do you most admire? Emily Pankhurst
  6. What is your greatest extravagance? Fashion
  7. What is your current state of mind? Confident
  8. What do you consider the most overrated virtue? Temperance
  9. On what occasion do you lie? When I feel cornered, to impress
  10. What do you most dislike about your appearance? My feet (do you remember when Naomi Campbell said this? It’s always made me laugh…)
  11. Which living person do you most despise?
  12. What is the quality you most like in a man?
  13. What is the quality you most like in a woman?
  14. Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
  15. What or who is the greatest love of your life?
  16. When and where were you happiest?
  17. Which talent would you most like to have?
  18. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
  19. What do you consider your greatest achievement?
  20. If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?
  21. Where would you most like to live?
  22. What is your most treasured possession?
  23. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
  24. What is your favorite occupation?
  25. What is your most marked characteristic?
  26. What do you most value in your friends?
  27. Who are your favorite writers?
  28. Who is your hero of fiction?
  29. Which historical figure do you most identify with?
  30. Who are your heroes in real life?
  31. What are your favorite names?
  32. What is it that you most dislike?
  33. What is your greatest regret?
  34. How would you like to die?
  35. What is your motto?
Evening dress of the 1800s

Evening dress of the 1800s

Another practice I’ve found helpful is finding likely pictures of my characters and what they were wearing on the interwebz. It helps clarify them in my mind and can also be nifty when it comes time to describe them. Descriptions change a lot throughout the course of a book, so clear images are a great grounder.

What are some of your best tips for characterization, and do you have any ideas for what we should do next? Please share!