Character Studies: The Thanksgiving Table

Writers put a lot of effort into their characters. And why not? A story succeeds or fails based upon these characters. While many of you are away from the keyboard during this holiday weekend, as you gather with your loved ones, keep your eyes and ears open and your notebook handy.
Writing Tip for Today: Holidays do disrupt our writing routines. Yet you can keep working on your novel or memoir with the powers of observation.

  • Anywhere, Anytime. Someone famously said that writers “are in a state of perpetual noticing.” Whether you are shopping, waiting in an airport or kibitzing with the relatives at Grandma’s house, you can mine for character traits. Try to jot down some sort of reminders, though or you may forget some great stuff. You may need to retreat to the washroom in order to write things down without snoopy Aunt Gladys looking over your shoulder.
  • Nuances and Quirks. Three-dimensional characters are built from very specific actions, habits or quirks. These traits can tell the reader so much more than mere modifiers. But when you write the character, use a light hand. A description which begins at a character’s shoes and proceeds up to the top of his head isn’t how we observe others. Most of the time we take a holistic approach, with one or two individual things standing out. These scarce specifics paint a more memorable picture than a fashion show approach.
  • Combine, Stir, Repeat. A great character is often one who is a composite of several real people. Very few in real life are as interesting as these combos, so don’t be afraid to create character “mash-ups” of more than one person. If you assign a character tag, do so sparingly as with that description. You want one memorable thing to stand out, not get lost in a list of characteristics.

Happy Thanksgiving to all my readers! Travel safe, don’t overdo it on the pie and try to avoid starting World War III around the table. Those are my goals. You can be sure I will be covertly watching my loved ones to add to my character trait bank.

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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