Friday, September 16, 2011

Digging Into Character

I attended Robin Perini's Layering and Complexity workshop at the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer's Conference last weekend. She gave lots of great advice about flaws, villains, characters, themes, subplots, and more.

Here's one of the exercises we had to do, and if you're feeling spry this Friday morning, you might want to try it, too. Choose the most powerful single event in your life and write it from your perspective (first-person). Then, choose a popular villain - I chose the Wicked Witch of the West - and write the same event from their point-of-view.

For fun, I'm going to share what I wrote. Keep in mind, this is unedited and raw.

My powerful event: giving birth to my daughter

The labor pains began early in the morning, intense and cramping. I realized the time I'd both dreaded and wanted was here now. In the delivery room, I drifted between delirious pain and increments of sleep. My husband held my hand, told me the pain would be over when the baby came. The mauve paint and pastoral picture on the opposite wall were not calming, but enemies. There was peace depicted, yet I didn't feel it, and it wasn't fair. I cycled through intense pain, then brief hiatuses, until finally, I pushed and she was born. A girl, the doctor announced. Thank the Lord for a girl, an ally in my testosterone-filled household. I didn't hold her, the cord wrapped around her neck. But the relief at having the pain gone overshadowed my fears of being a new parent, of caring for a new life when I felt ill-equipped. Yet when I held her, finally, the peace I had so craved earlier flooded through me and filled the lingering pockets of fear. I was now a mother and my life would never be the same.

Now, this is what I wrote from the perspective of the Wicked Witch of the West:

I hated this thing inside me and the unbearable pain it caused. I wanted to reach inside and rip it out, but I couldn't. So I conjured up spells to make the pain stop, but nothing worked. Finally, when the thing emerged, I felt such relief. But the moment it cried, my heart denied it. How dare it cry when I was the one who had undergone torment to bring it into this cruel world. Blackness flooded through every single pore, wiping out any small vestiges of light that might have survived my wickedness.

I have to admit, writing the villain's perspective was challenging, but it was also a lot of fun. Climbing into their skin, trying to figure out how they would view the same event that held so much meaning for me, made me stretch my writing muscle and think differently. I admit, I never thought of the Wicked Witch as being a mother, but doing this exercise offered some interesting possibilities on how she would react. I loved diving into her pscyhe, and I ultimately saw her selfishness and wickedness emerge.

This is a great tool for creating well-rounded characters and will add another layer of complexity to your story.


  1. That is a very cool exercise. I'm going to have to try that.

    Have you every seen or read Wicked? It's just interesting to think what that 'Wicked Witch of the West' (who is actually the same person) would say. :)

  2. What a great exercise. I'll have to try that.

  3. I can see why you were so excited to go the the conference! I never would have thought about doing an exercise like this on my own-and it looks like it would be really fun to do! I think writing "out of our skin" is one of the best things about writing!) That, and having a little dish of chocolate next to the computer for inspiration:)

  4. How creative!! Loved getting to see your perspective and the Wicked Witch's. The huge contrast between them made it that much more enjoyable!
    My Blog

  5. What a great exercise to further develop a character, adding some dimension to the page that we might otherwise miss. Even to bring in a shadow of these alter traits can be interesting.

  6. Fabulous exercise - I must try it. Thanks Melissa!

  7. Hi Melissa,

    I found your blog while searching novel progress meters and found out you too are also a lover of vintage, and WWII and you write. Which is exactly my favorite topics. How cool!

    Best of luck with your work...

    Sean MacKenzie

  8. Very cool. What a great exercise.

  9. I loved getting all your comments! I've been in a bit of a tizzy with some personal items lately, so haven't had time to respond to each of you personally, but please know I appreciate each and every one of you taking the time to leave a comment. Always makes my day. :-)

  10. Wow, this is a really powerful exercise. When I finish these revisions (if I EVER finish, ha ha), I'm going to try this.

    Love your take on it--beautifully done!

  11. Just swung by after responding to you on The Artist's Road.

    I love this exercise.



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