The Pyrenees---Southern France

The Pyrenees---Southern France

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Nina Guilbeau Tells It (Creating Characters) Like It Is


Nina Guilbeau has several novels under her belt (which already makes me envious, since I'm slogging along with a NaNoGoneBaddo from a couple of years ago). She was generous enough to do this guest post for me. When I read her bio on Amazon, I realized she and I have something in common: we both have stories in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Magic of Mothers and Daughters.


Please read what she has to say about creating characters... and I'm going back to that Chicken Soup collection and check out Nina's memoir story. (I'm hoping a smidgen of her success will rub off on me as I'm working on my manuscript.) To find out more about Nina, go to ninaguilbeau.com




Character Inspirations   by Nina Guilbeau


Authors are often asked about the origins of their fictional stories or characters. I personally believe that our imaginative writings are always a little autobiographical in nature. Not in the literal telling of our life’s story, but from our individual perspective of life and the people who have crossed our paths. Ideas for stories and characters can come from our daydreams, night dreams or nightmares. They can come from our present life, old memories or our new visions of “the what ifs” and the “why nots?” Some say there aren’t really any original stories, only original storytellers. However, to be original in any way means we must pull from within to give the outside world something new and personalized.
 

In my novel God Doesn’t Love Us All the Same, the beginnings of Vera, the old homeless woman, were similar to my grandmother’s. They were both of mixed-race, born around the same time and both of their fathers drowned before they were born. However, the rest of Vera’s story was inspired by my perspective of the strength, determination and sacrifices that develop through motherhood. Was she a successful character? The answer to that questions lies with the individual reader. However, for those who were moved by or related to Vera’s fictional tale (enough to write me), I have to believe she was a successful character for them. So, the answer to the frequently asked question about character inspirations isn’t just about where the inspirations originate, but it’s also about how to use inspirations to define the characters. Here are a few tips to help shape or create new fictional characters:


Write from your feelings – Emotions that have become fused with the character’s personality, such as anger or sadness, need to be authentic. The most successful way to do this is to write from personal, true feelings. That may mean dredging up old memories, but the end result will be felt through the pages. If it’s difficult to relate to what your character is feeling, it’s okay to put your story on the shelf for a while. Just keep coming back to it until it feels right.


Focus on one character trait – Sometimes important characters originate from people you know in real life. Concentrate on the one detail in their personality or behavior that intrigues you. Use only that one behavior and build the rest of your character’s personality around it. That allows your imagination to continuously create new characters and not recycle personalities into different stories because they originate from the same general source.


Develop a back story -Depending on the type of story, one dimensional characters can get old fast. An antagonist meant to be disliked is sometimes devoid of any redeeming qualities. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t reasons why the character is such an awful person. The reasons don’t have to be relatable or of any consequence to the outcome of the story, but exploring them from a writer’s perspective can help sharpen the overall character development and create interest for the reader.
 

Pull from your dreams – Keeping a notepad by your bed is clichĂ©, but it’s still not a bad idea. Waking from a dream with a fresh perspective for a story or character can be priceless if you’re able to capture it. Try to note why the character seemed interesting and not just a visual description or list of details. This helps later when the visual image and details begin to fade.



God Doesn't Love Us All the Same  by Nina Guilbeau


Janine Harris never really thought about homeless people. She barely even notices them as she passes them by on her way to work in downtown Washington D.C. All Janine can focus on is the shambles of her own young life, afraid that she will never be able to get past the painful mistakes she has made. However, all of that changes on a snowy evening in December when Janine unexpectedly finds herself alone with Vera, an old, homeless woman who seems to need her help. Now Janie wants to know what could have possibly happened to Vera to leave her so broken and alone.

As Vera shares her life story with Janine, the two women form an unusual bond and begin a journey that changes both of their lives forever. Reluctantly, they each confront their own past and, in the process, discover the true meaning of sacrifice, family and love. Although to truly move forward in their lives, they must fast the most difficult challenge of all – forgiving themselves.


NINA GUILBEAU is the Siblings Editor for BellaOnline The Voice of Women and writes weekly family articles for online magazines. Her e-book, Birth Order and Parenting, is a popular pick with students studying the Alfred Adler birth order theory.

She is a member of the Florida Writer's Association and the author of women's fiction novels Too Many Sisters and Too Many SecretsA winner of the Royal Palm Literary Award, Nina's work has been published in the short story anthologies From Our Family to Yours and Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Magic of Mothers and Daughters. An excerpt from upcoming novel Being Non-Famous was published in the Orlando Sentinel as a Father's Day tribute.

  

8 comments:

  1. Thanks for the interview, Sioux. Nina makes valid points. Most of us don't have to dig deep to discover our character's traits, because so many people come and go in our lives. Building off one particular trait is a great technique. She has given me an idea for a story. Thank you, Nina.

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    1. Hi, Linda! Giving you an idea for a story has made my day! As a writer I am excited for you. If it's a novel, maybe you'll be finished this month? NaNoWriMo?

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  2. Excellent words here. The only way I can write is to picture a real person first...then I relax and give them their own qualities. I also have a hard time letting the good ones do bad things. Something I really must work on!

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    1. Thanks, Bookie. Using a "detachable" image is a great way to start creating a new character- especially for short stories! Old magazines (not necessarily fashion mags), has an endless supply of faces/people, with only the personalities you create for them.

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  3. That's a great idea about focusing on one character trait. It also makes me think about using the way different people talk, so all the characters don't sound like me.

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    1. Val--This is something I struggle with. I fear that all of my (fictional) characters sound just like me. Yikes!

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  4. Great techniques, all. The back story is so crucial to our characters (even if the reader only learns a tenth of it) and their behavior and motivations, and even though I know the importance, it is still the one area where my writing tends to be premature. I'm always eager to begin, and end up having to fix/add things on revision because I fudged on my back story.

    The dream journal is a good idea, too (I took a workshop on this a few years ago at a Georgia Writers' Assoc. conference), but I had trouble sticking with it. I had to get up to write down my dream so I wouldn't awaken my hubby, and by the time I got back into bed I was wide awake and staring at the ceiling for the next two hours. Not a very good trade off. I did find that the more often I wrote down my dreams the more frequently I remembered them. Pretty cool, actually!

    Thanks for all the great ideas.

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    1. Lisa--I agree. Nina's post was jampacked with great ideas...

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Thanks for your comments. I appreciate you taking the time to stop by...