September 16, 2020 Carol Brennan King

Creative Writing September 16, 2020

Dan Foster writes about a tool he developed to help know and understand your character.

I modified his tool to make it a bit more useful to our work as writers of Fiction. In class I used a two column/two row format to organize the information, but you can just draw it like the accompanying diagram.

  1. I replaced Smells Like at the top to Believes. You, as the writer, must know what your character believes, about him/herself, about the world, and the family, all of those things that influence his or her behavior.
  2. Looks like is self-explanatory. Certainly we are talking about how the person looks physically, but consider how they present themselves, through their dress, posture, carriage, associations. Think about their habits or tics that help us recognize this character and may impact what happens.
  3. Opposite Believes, I put feels like. Think emotions. Is this character reserved, or expressive about feelings? Or so quiet you or other characters must lean in to them. Does the character wear his or her emotions on her sleeve or does he keep every thing all bottled up, to explode in secret or when under the influence of alcohol? How can you show your character’s feelings as they encounter challenges or successes?
  4. Opposite Looks we find Sounds like. Is this character his or her own person, or is it apparent that he or she is making an effort to be or look like someone else? Think about the insecurities that might cause him or her to want to look differently from who this person really is. Consider speech patterns. or accents or use of slang or dialect. Why does this person look or act this way? Look for how they might deviate from being authentic, and consider why.

Remember that people choose to look and act and do the things they do because it makes sense to them. You must know or find out why it makes sense to them.

Note: you can also use this chart or one like it to describe a place or thing. Consider what the smells might be associated with this place or thing. Then list words that would help you understand what this place or thing looks like.

Finally think about the sounds that are associated with this thing or place, like a city park, a basketball game, a factory where your character works or even the house at a Christmas event. REMEMBER: a place can function as a character in your story.

This url will take you to the source for some of my material here:

We also talked about some other tools you can use to know your character better. Remember, you have to know who the character was before he or she stepped onto your page.

  • Spend some time writing dialogue so you know what your character sounds and how he or she communicates.
  • Consider what your character’s values are. Remember, characters do what they do because it makes sense to them. You need to know why they make the choices they do.
  • Think through what weaknesses you character has. Or where the foundation he or she has built life on might be weak or broken or breaking.

Assignment: Write a two page scene where we learn even more about the character by thinking through what we see the character doing.

Memoir Class 9/16/2020

First of all, Memoir students, you can use a lot of the material presented to the Creative Writing students, so take some time to browse  through those notes.

The first character we discussed in our class was the narrator, as in a first-person narration telling the story of another real person, or family, or even his or her own story.  The narrator speaks from a time distance, a place where the he or she can be more objective. However, the narrator may speak to the reader…for instance, the writer may begin the book with the words, “You may not like this story, especially if you are looking for a happy ever after ending.”

We are talking about you, the author and the first character we hear from: the narrator

Writers of memoir simultaneously serve as

  1. players in their stories from the past and

2. interrogators of other characters and

3. interpreters of those stories as they tell them, so that the reader understands those stories through the eyes of the writer.

Sometimes the narrator is part of a scene although the scene was not about the narrator. Think about a scene at the dinner table when the narrator was a child, and the book is about the father, also at the table.

The narrator/author can think out loud in a passage – as she/he considers what happened or what the consensus is about what happened. The narrator may question the actors’ choices or behavior. 

It might sound like this: “I never understood why my dad did that, but as I rehearse those days, I am beginning to see it without so much baggage.”

Pivotal moments in memoirs/ or fiction books aren’t always about trauma. Sometimes it is a small detail that touched the narrator and that caused life changes.

What do you think about this line? “I heard my father talk to the guy next door, a Viet Nam vet, like my dad. Suddenly things begin to make sense.”

The reflective narrator, whether in memoir or fiction, is always dramatizing an experience to examine and find out what’s to be known in the here and now. In other words, the writer tells the stories of the past to learn from them that might be useful to him or her in the present.

Assignment: Write about two pages which feature the narrator telling/showing part of the story. Certainly there will be another person in this work, but we want to look at the way you write the narrator. Have the narrator do a little stage craft, perhaps telling the reader something about a character, or telling the reader something the character did so we can figure out what kind of person that character is.

For more information on this topic, you  might look at Lee Martin’s work at

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