Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Character Development

Over the weekend I got feedback from a beta reader on The Other Side, and one of her suggestions was to add a subplot by expanding one of the minor characters. She wasn't the first person to suggest this, but she was the first person to phrase it in a way that the idea immediately took form in my mind. Or if not immediately, very soon after my initial "whaaaaaaa?" reaction. ;)

I knew it would be a lot of work, and that's not a problem, but I wasn't sure where to start. Lucky for me I have very creative friends. There have been a LOT of meme's going around Facebook and my friend Turkey (Ms. Lurkey to some of you) twisted one of the "getting to know you" chain mail letters and turned it into a character development exercise.

Voila!

This is what I needed to figure out how to expand my minor character!

Here's what I came up with for Claudia, the main character's sister:

• Outside my window... the bushes need to be trimmed and the neighbor kid's tricycle has been laying there for a week. I hope she's okay. The drain spout is broken and the water has stained the yellow paint an ugly brown. A window in the apartment on the other side of the courtyard was broken a couple nights ago and now there's a blue canvas taped over it.

• I am thinking... that Mateo has no idea what it's really like here. True, he's always been able to adapt a little better than me, but it's not as easy as he thinks. I've kept mama and the rest of the family from knowing the truth, but it won't be so easy now.

• I am thankful for... that's a tough one. I love Jorge, but he's always so tired after work that he sometimes forgets to show me that he loves me back. He's so angry all the time. At least he helps with the bills. And he's letting Mateo stay here, at least for a week or so. Hopefully Mateo can find his own place soon.

• From the kitchen... I can smell the chicken grilling in the pan. Jorge teases that's the only reason he stays with me. I really should remember to thank mama for teaching me to cook the next time we talk.

• I am wearing... the same black pants I wear everyday. I can't afford more right now so I wash them every night after work. They're usually dry by morning. My shirt is one of several that I have. I don't really like the style but they don't have much selection at the second-hand store.

• I am creating... a sense of panic. I need to stop worrying about Mateo. He sounded fine when we spoke. He's a horrible liar and I would have been able to tell if he wasn't telling the truth. But I can't shake the feeling that something is wrong.

• I am going... to the pawn shop tomorrow to hock Jorge's [something valuable]. I need the money to help pay for Mateo to cross. He's bringing money but I have to pay before the coyote will release him, then he's supposed to pay me back as soon as he gets here. Then I just need to make sure I get back to the pawn shop before they sell it, or before Jorge notices it's missing.

• I am reading... the local Spanish newspaper. That's the good thing about LA - there are a lot of Hispanics and I get around pretty well without any English. Sometimes people are rude, and occasionally I don't get what I thought I was asking for, but really, it's not so bad.

• I am hoping... that Mateo gets here soon. I know the coyote said for him to meet on Thursday, so I probably won't hear anything from Mateo until Thursday night, but this waiting is killing me. I'm a little worried having that coyote know where I live, but what other choice did I have?

• I am hearing... that it's getting harder and harder for the illegals. There was another raid over the weekend and at least one of my friends was caught. I wonder if they're hiring yet. It may not be the type of job Mateo wants, but he's lucky to have me here doing this for him. I didn't have anyone to help me, and look how well I'm doing now. Well...

• Around the house... is very little evidence of my life here. You'd think I'd have more things after living here for two years, but I've sent a lot of money home - they don't understand how expensive it is here - and there's not much left over. A few pictures on the wall, a couple VHS movies, that's about it.

• One of my favorite things... is the framed photo of my family that's hanging in the bedroom. I carried it over with me and had to fold it, but most of the creases are smoothed out. Our baby sister's face is hard to see because it folded right there, but you can see everyone else. Besides, from what mama says, she doesn't look like that much anymore.

• Plans for the future... gosh, just hanging on to my job. I'm hoping Jorge will propose soon, then we can start a family. So right now I just have to keep saving. I told Mateo I'd put up the money for the coyote as long as he pays me back as soon as he gets here. I've had to borrow from all over and some of those people will turn if I'm late paying them back.

*****

I don't know how exciting this was for you to read, but it's really helped me get inside Claudia's head and figure out how to tell her side of the story. This probably makes a little more sense for those of you who've already read it, but I hope this exercise is something you all can use.

18 comments:

momcat said...

Its good Melanie. Claudia's life sounds stressful, scary and draining.

Janna Qualman said...

Excellent, hoo. Yes!

Pink Ink said...

Wow, that's fascinating, Melanie. I'm a little stuck right now on a certain character, too. I just might have to try this!

Melanie Avila said...

Thanks momcat. I was worried she comes across as too depressing, but I need that for her to serve her purpose.

Melanie Avila said...

Thanks Janna.

Melanie Avila said...

Pink, it really helped me. I wrote out the prompts then had the notebook sitting in front of me for two days before I finally filled them out. I hope it works for you!

Jenna said...

This is good!

And a great writing tool that I think I'm gonna try :)!!

Thanks Mel.

Melanie Avila said...

Jenna, I hope it helps. My situation is a little different because I'm fitting in what happens to her around what I already have written for Mateo. Makes it a little easier, but still very helpful.

Jen said...

Bravo, Mel! That was really interesting to read. :)

gypsyscarlett said...

Hey Melanie,

Thanks for posting that.

What a great idea- I have to remember this exercise for the future.

Turkey Lurkey said...

I could totally feel the anxiety she is going through. Wow! Nicely done!

spyscribbler said...

Wow, Melanie! Oh whole new aspect! It's something, how that can totally bring a character to life. I need to do more of this.

You never have explained the "hoo."

Melanie Avila said...

Thanks everyone! This exercise really helped me and even better if it helped anyone else!

Spy, I'm sure I've explained the hoo thing - it's from my maiden name.

colbymarshall said...

Chicken grilling..mmmm

Melanie Avila said...

Colby, the chicken is so good...

Lauren said...

That's amazing. She sounds like a great character with a fascinating story.

I did something similar with one of my characters... (that silly 25 things meme that has been everywhere). Yours is much better because it gives more detail and little paragraphs that you can actually use.

Melanie Avila said...

Lauren, I probably wouldn't have thought to make it so detailed if Turkey hadn't done it that way first. Now I know...

Stephen Parrish said...

Sorry I'm late to class, but I think you get an A+ on your exercise. If you can explore a character like that you shouldn't have any trouble winding her up and marching her through the story.