Monday, October 6, 2008

Characterization with Madam Zelda

Yes. It is I. Madame Zelda.
I am delighted to be here in Seekerville today.
I thought I'd open up with a little fortune teller humor.

When two fortune tellers meet it goes something like this:

"You are fine. How am I?"

[insert laughter]

So what does a gypsy have to do with characterization?

Good characterization is all about channeling your characters.
And who better to explain this than Madam Zelda? Trust me, I know I quite a few characters and believe it or not I am a writer myself.

And because Madame Zelda is generous (you thought I was just beautiful, didn't you?) she is going to share some secrets to characterization from a few other experts on the topic. Madame Z is smart enough to realize that while she sees all, she doesn't actually know all.

Channeling Your Characters by Madame Zelda

Why channel your characters? Because :
  • it eliminates two-dimensional characters
  • it uncovers motivation for the characters
  • motivation leads to writing scenes based on those character motivations
  • it provides deep point of view (pov)
By doing the above you take your characters to a level of connection with the reader. At this level the reader bonds with your character and cares about your character or, in the case of a villain; they are interested enough to keep reading in order to find out what happens.

Simply put, if you want the reader to invest in your characters you must elicit emotion by creating believable characters. That investment is not made simply telling them who a character is, but showing them.

Once the reader knows the character then they will also know how a character will act or react. At this point you have a responsibility as a writer. The reader now expects that the motivations of the character will be unique and consistent to the character you have created.

How to channel your characters:

First you need a dark room and plenty of candles. It might help to watch Whoopie Goldberg in Ghost too.

Kidding-- just a little gypsy humor.

Channeling is simply an exercise in visualization. You become the character.

I utilize this technique often when I am not sure where to take a scene or if I do not actually know for certain what the character's exact response should be in a situation or if I have written a draft of the scene and am ready to proof the emotions and layer more in.

This requires a no interruptions, and a quiet environment.

Run through the scene in your head with your eyes closed and/or by reading the scene aloud like a script. Acting out the scene may also be beneficial.

My character is a divorced thirty-something woman who has ex-husband issues, family issues and lack of viable sperm issues.

I begin channeling Sophie by closing my eyes and crossing my arms across my chest. She's tense, and frustrated. I try to feel these emotions. My jaw clenches and my back becomes rigid as I get into Sophie and think about the issues she is dealing with right now. I begin talking aloud as though I am Sophie, simply stream of consciousness rambling...

" Am I asking for too much? All I want is normal. All I have ever wanted is normal. Instead I have a mother who refuses to marry my uncle and give up her crown of widowhood and a goth-chick little sister with a Peter Pan complex. Dear Lord. " I sigh loudly as I know Sophie would. "And what am I going to do about JACK? I can't save everyone."

So far in the scene, after an interaction with the hero Jack, the door bell rings...and now I realize exactly who should be at the door as I channel Sophie's inner angst.

She peeked out the peep hole, then hung her head and tried not to sob.
First Homeland Security. Now this.
Alan Winston James II
Not today.
In fact, never, would be good. But definitely not today.
Generally Sophie refrained from even using his name. But it was hard to ignore her ex husband when she was looking up his deviated septum. She hadn’t seen the man since their day in divorce court. Today, of all days, he had to turn up on her doorstep?
Her life wasn’t screwed up enough? She raised her hands skyward. “Why God? Why?”
The buzzer rang again, this time with more insistence.
Sophie swung open the door. “Al? Something I can help you with?”
Alan cringed. He loathed nicknames. “You haven’t returned my calls.”
“I never return your calls.”
He adjusted his silk paisley tie, seemingly at a loss for words
She beat a staccato rhythm with her sandaled foot on the tiled floor of the entry way. “What do you want?”
“Aren’t you going to invite me in?"

A word on deep point of view (pov) from Madame Z:
Deep pov can also be thought of as is a dimension of channeling to create intimacy between the characters and the readers. It involves using the sensory realm as you channel. A word of caution from the gypsy: do not feel obligated to use all five senses all at once. Use the senses that are naturally dominant in that particular deep pov scene.

No one writes deep pov better than the author who coined the term, Suzanne Brockmann . In an interview on Writer Write, she explains deep pov:

"Deep Point of View was a phrase that I came up with when I was trying to explain my writing style. Point of view can be subjective (picture a hand-held camera on top of a character's head) or objective (picture something like a security camera, bolted into place in the corner of a room). In my books, I use subjective point of view, but I'm not satisfied with merely showing the reader what that camera sees from its perch atop a character's head. I bring the camera down, inside of that character's head, so we see the world through that character's eyes. We hear things through his ears. We smell what he smells, feel what he feels, think what he think. With deep POV, I write using words that that character would use. I tell the story with that character's voice. "

If you want to learn even more about deep pov, Madame Z refers you to Camy Tang's in-depth posts on the topic.

Characterization tips from some other experts...

1. A practical guide is Linda Seger's Creating Unforgettable Characters.

"Characters need to be consistent. This does not mean that they are predictable or stereotypical. It means that characters, like people, have a kind of core personality that defines who they are and gives us expectations about how they will act. If characters deviate from this core, they may come across as incredible, as not making sense or adding up."

2. The classic for writers: Fiction is Folks, by Robert Newton Peck.

" We writers fall into the N.D. (narrative drag) whenever we rip the camera out of the hero's head, demanding that we, not he, tell the story to a reader."

3. The definitive word by Dwight V. Swain, Creating Characters: How to Build Story People
"Specifically, in the act of thinking through a story, the writer temporarily suspends his own standards and adopts those of someone else. That's what a writer does when he creates a character. Because he's in the character creating business, he must learn to put his own beliefs and attitudes in limbo temporarily and adopt those of someone else: the person about whom he's writing, the character he's creating."

From GMC: Goal, Motivation and Conflict by Debra Dixon
"Keep in mind that the reader is supposed to identify and empathize with your character from the moment the character makes an entrance."

I hope Madame Zelda has given you something to think about as you create your characters. Now let me look into my crystal ball to tell you what I see... I see that I am going to share the secret recipe for my famous Gypsy Cookies with Seekerville.
White Chocolate Chip Gypsy Cookies
1 stick butter, softened
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup white chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
In a large bowl, cream the butter with both sugars until smooth. Then beat in the egg. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and salt before gradually stirring into the creamed mixture. Mix in the white chocolate. Drop dough by teaspoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets.
Bake for 10 minutes or until it starts to turn golden brown. If you like nuts, then chopped macadamias would be a nice addition.
You may have to slap Mary's hand if she doesn't share.


  1. Ah, Zelda, this is where you have come my little ju ju bean...

    To the island of the writing women who love the way I mix my...


    Savvy that, Zelda? Sit, wait for the writer women to awaken. For some this may be mid-day or later, but eventually they come here to relax with a cup of my finest blends. Kona. Arabica. Hazelnut and vanilla. Pumpkin spice lattes.

    With whipped cream, of course.

    What may I procure for you, Sweet Zelda? And might I add, looking very well since last we met in mid-eighteenth century Jamaica. Nice bauble about your neck, my dear. Worth a pretty pence, no doubt.

    So what be it, Zelda? I'm at your service.


  2. OY VEY!!

    Someone left the back door open and Jack got it.

    Better make the most of it.

    Espresso, straight up. Two shots.

  3. Welcome to Seekerville, Madame Z. Thank you for sharing all that sage wisdom.

    I am trying to channel Gerard Butler this am.

  4. Welcome Madam Zelda . . . and Jack! Great insights on characterization. No matter whether you consider yourself a plot driven writer or character driven writer, it still comes down to making readers care about what ultimately happens to the characters. If you've brought your characters to life on the page, that's what lingers in a reader's memory long after they've forgotten that ZAP, POW, BAM action scene.

  5. Good morning everybody.

    Jack, I'd like a red-eye, please.

    I never thought of reading the scene out loud and acting it out. I might look/sound/seem weird(er).

    But I could since the kids are in school and the cat already thinks I'm a doofus. And as long as I get dinner and supper out on time, DH doesn't really care.

    Thanks for the ideas!

  6. Zelda, you have a creative way of teaching! What fun. And since I have the kids home with me today, your recipe will come in very handy, too.


  7. Yes, the writers of words are awakening as I speak. As far as the east is from the west, they come... Thinking of characters, envisioning brave men and women, yearning for the words of Zelda the Greek.

    Sorry. That was Zorba. Constantly get them confused.

    Double shot espresso for gypsy woman. Zelda... per chance do you recall a very special night in Beirut? Lebanese wine? Goat cheese?


  8. Welcome to Seekerville, Madame Zelda. Great explanation of deep POV. I can't wait to read your novel about Sophie and Al. Do you have a publication date yet?

    Oh, and Jack. I am mad at you. I e-mailed you several weeks ago and you never answered. Just for that, I may boycott your next movie. If there is one. Savvy?????

  9. And Ann, my pet, mon cherie, a red-eye for you, not to be confused with something eye-catching from Estee Lauder.

    No, your own private barista has blended you the most fine, most delicious espresso-shot-coffee known to man.

    And acting out your people is not doofy to those of us who make bucket loads of money pretending to be who we are not, dear Ann.

    Cookies, Eileen? Pirates love cookies. And gypsy cookies are like gypsy women. Unpredictable.


  10. Good morning, Madame Z and Jack! Happy to have you in Seekerville.

    I love getting inside my character's head and watch the ideas churn. My problem is distinguishing between the character's issues churning and my personal issues churning. Any pointers how not to run my life into theirs?

    Thanks for joining us, and Jack? I'm a caffeine addict. Anything really potent you can suggest??

  11. Jack you pirate you..I try to black out that period in my life. I have moved on. So should you.

    Tina, I am channeling Gerard also.

  12. Thanks Madame Z. Great insight into the POV. Your humor is MUCH appreciated on this early Monday morning out here in the desert!

  13. Good morning to all the unusual and fascinating visitors today.

    I like all the short takes on characterization.
    I like barista Jack more, but that's my own problem.

    I am also going to have to set out on a cookie quest very soon.

    A nuisance but it can't be helped.
    I did NOT get into my generally oval shape by being good at self control.

  14. Mary, darling, of course you appreciate me, mon petit! We are rogues together, one to the other and your shape, my darling one?

    Like a Renaissaince painting, so beautiful. Bellisima!

    A sweet, frothed latte for you, love.


  15. This comment has been removed by the author.

  16. Welcome Madam Zelda to Seekerville. Your insight into characterization does not surprise me, but your lack of, shall I say prudence with Jack... Tsk. Tsk. Obviously you forgot to dust your crystal ball before going to Beirut.


  17. Jack??? Jack???
    It's Ruthy!!!!!!!!!!!

    Yummy about the recipe, Tina. And I enjoyed your scene. I definitely need these tips on characterization. Mine is lacking, lol.

  18. Madame Zelda, what a great post! You really hit the nail on the head with some straight-speak on developing characters and I love the idea of play-acting, delving into how the hero or heroine would really react from their personna.

    And I didn't know that Suzanne Brockman coined the deep POV per se.

    Loved the story you quoted as well. Sophie???

    Great, great character and a perfect example of 'seeing' the character by use of word.


    Hey, Jack. Who invited you? Good grief, you're not STILL going on and on about that fling you had with Madame Z back in the day, are you? Get over it. Man up. Get a life. She's sooooooooo over you.



    Hey, I'd love a caramel frappe there, ol' buddy. For old time's sake.


  19. Okay, on a serious characterization note...

    What about real life scenes that are angst-filled...




    Fatal illness.


    Do you guys find it nerve-wracking to delve into that mindset to portray the hero/heroine's feelings accurately? Does anyone else ever make themselves cry like a little kid????


  20. Wow Madame Zelda - I'm not sure which I'm more thrilled about:

    - the characterization and POV insight


    - the scrumptious recipe

    Either one's a treat. Thanks

    Now Jack on the other hand...

  21. Anita Mae, how is it that we meet once again?

    Come, sit, let the good captain prepare something deliciously decadent...

    With perhaps a bit of rum?

    Has anyone seen the rum?


  22. Madame Zelda, I can't give further comment until I get my hysterical laughter under control....

    hard to ignore when she was looking up his deviated septum??

    Bwaaaa!!!!!!!! If I were an editor, I would buy the story based on that one line. :)


  23. Ruth, you are wise beyond your years. Yes. When you are digging deep you are also digging up painful emotions. But that is the key. Eliciting emotion. Emotion on every page.

  24. A hug, bead jangling, copper bracelet rattling hug to you, Missy.

    That is a line in my wip, In Her Wildest Dreams. That Russo girl thinks we are collaborating on it, but is Madame Z's story.

  25. Nay, Jack. I left the amber rum with Captain Morgan.

    And nay, I don't drink the Irish coffee anymore, either. Keep it for them that likes it.

    I've a mind to sip a sweet cup of English Toffee Cappucino, though. I've the English in me blood as you very well know.

  26. Wow! Great insights, a Gypsy recipe, and an appearance by Jack! Can a Monday get any better?

    Sometimes I do cry when I'm writing those angsty scenes. It's good to know that I'm not alone. The acting out idea reminded me of "Crossing Jordan." She uses to do that with her dad to solve cases.I hadn't thought of applying it to my writing.

  27. Audra, somehow I missed your comment. Well they say that our stories are self therapy.

    So I am probably trying to rid myself of a good looking pirate in all my stories. If only he didn't have such clever hand...for brewing java of course.

    Lorna, good to have you here.

  28. It is time for belly dancing class, so I must run. It has been so much fun to be here, Seekers.

    Now Madame Z will leave you with a zee bit more of gypsy humor.

    Q: What do belly dancers do on their nights off?

    A: Go out dancing sheik to sheik!

  29. Madame Zelda, such a delight to find you online tonight. Life would have been dull otherwise. You and Jack have spiced up my evening! :)

    Deep POV -- love it!!! :)

  30. This has been absolutely amazing and I cannot begin to thank you. I am still wowed! And a cookie recipe too! Madam Zelda, I am beaming ear to ear, as are my hungry husband and not-so-tiny tot.


  31. Madame Zelda -- Great post and perfect timing! Thank you for all the wonderful deep POV info -- I will put it to good use!

    And what an appropriate word -- channeling! Although I am a Christian who stays far, far away from the likes of channeling, no other word so adequately describes the writing process for me, in my opinion.


  32. I was so busy yesterday I didn't make it to Seekerville, but I was actually channeling it, apparently! I had a breakthrough on both the stories that are running through my head right now. Funny what thirty-minute drives do for my creativity. I figured out that the hero in one of my stories is trying to save the heroine because she is his brother's betrothed, but since his brother thought she was dead, he married someone else. THAT'S why my hero is being so heroic, bless his second-born little heart.

    And my other breakthrough came when I realized the dynamic between my other story's hero and heroine is kind of a love-hate thing. And he's not as troubled as I thought. He doesn't feel responsible for his brother's accident. He had nothing to do with that, he just feels responsible for taking care of his mother.

    Yes, I was channeling my characters yesterday. It was an exciting day!

  33. I'm a day late too, but thanks for visiting Madam Z! I hope you'll come back soon!

  34. Mea scumpos, Melanie and Pam. Good to have you visit Madame Z, late or not.