Friday, February 25, 2011

The Scrapbook - Get In Touch With Your Characters

This is an exercise designed to help you get in touch with your characters. It might even give you fodder for some new scenes. Try it, play with it, have fun!

Nowadays they have whole aisles in the craft stores devoted to scrapbooking, and some folks have turned this from a hobby to an artform.

When I was a kid, it was just a blank album that I could stick mementos in. I was probably 10 or 14 when I stopped keeping mine up. I remember that I had a napkin and invitation from a wedding where I was a flower girl, some autumn leaves pressed in wax paper, birthday cards, lyrics from a girl scout rally, a piece of cardiograph tape from my heart operation, some drawings I'd done, a copy of my first (abysmal) short story, a few A+ papers from school,  a couple of my best report cards and some photos from our family vacation in Colorado.

What's in your charater's srapbook?

Take note of the general condition of the scrapbook. Is it kept together with loving and painstaking effort? Are photos carefully pegged in with beautiful borders and caligraphed descriptions of each item? Or is it more like mine was, a loose collection of junk thrown in between the pages? Sometimes they got taped in, more often not. Was it rescued from a fire or flood? Burned on purpose, then pulled from the flames?

Does your character maintain it herself? Or is it a gift from someone in his family? If so, why is that person taking the effort? How does your character feel about that?

Is the scrapbook dedicated to a specific time or event in your character's life? Their junior year in high school? Their first year in college? The year they had a major operation? The summer they spent at camp? The year they won the 4H with a giant pumpkin?

Does it have a specific subject, such as their sports career? Their courtship and wedding? Their rise in their law career?

Is it dedicated to a specific person? A parent who left? A grandparent or a child who died? A child who is now grown? A beloved dog or horse?

Does your character have one scrapbook? Three? One for each year of their life? One for each major event?

Where does your character keep her scrapbook? Is it prominently displayed on his coffee table? In an old trunk in the attic? In some junk boxes in the closet that she hasn't bothered to unpack yet? Under the bed covered with dustbunnies?

Some characters will refuse to keep an actual scrapbook. Maybe he's got a drawer in his toolbox that he fills with mementos. She might keep a file folder, or even an entire file cabinet drawer. Or a tiny drawer in her jewelry box. Or a junk drawer in the kitchen. The mementos might be on display in a china cabinet, a set of artful shadowboxes on the wall, or maybe her refrigerator door acts as her scrapbook.

If your character is on the move a lot, their "scrapbook" might consist of just one or two items in their wallet, or a photo or birthday card--or divorce papers?--kept in their front pocket.

How often does your character look at his scrapbook? All the time? Almost never? Does he look over it with his children every night? Does she find it, forgotten on a shelf while she's packing?


Make a list of 10 items in your character's scrapbook. If you're ambitious, make the list 20 or 50 items.

Pick one of those items and write a scene involving that memento. You can set the scene in the now, and have him get angry and tear the item up. Or have her place it tearfully back into the scrapbook. Or write it as a flashback, and show us the scene that makes this item important.

Try it with a couple more items.

You might not use these scene in your final story. That's fine. This is just an exercise to help you know your character better. Or you may find that the scene becomes so strong and integral to telling your character's story that you leave it in.

Have fun and happy scrapbooking!

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