Monday, August 15, 2016

How to Mine Your Family for Character Traits

I am freshly back from a week in South Lake Tahoe with my family. By family I mean both my sisters, all our kids, my brother-in-law, my boyfriend, my son's girlfriend, my nephew's fiancee, and my brother-in-law's niece from France. It was the first time we've been able to schedule a vacation like this one for for close to 20 years. We've all been together for some events. Weddings. Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. Funerals. But not just fun in the sun vacation time. The photo is of all the kids ready to take a hike to Echo Lake. Aren't they adorable?

It was amazing.

Think big family meals, hiking, swimming, singalongs. Several of us had to do some work while we were there. Even that was fun. A group of us would sit around in our jammies, working at our laptops and drinking coffee in the morning. It was lovely. So what does this have to do with writing? Well, it reminded me of how heavily I've relied on my family when I've created characters. My sisters and I are only barely disguised in Do Me, Do My Roots. My mother pops up in Dancing Naked under the Moon. There's more, but I'll be nice and not mention it for now.

Even if you don't pick a person to wholesale use for a character, there's nothing like being in close quarters with people you view through a lens of fondness to find great ways to reveal character through action. Start with the food. One person won't eat corn. Two are gluten-free. One is a vegetarian. One won't eat dairy. Someone else doesn't like garlic. Each one deals with their food preferences in a different way. One is adamant and will push back from the table in disgust if asked to consume the food they dislike. Others are more subtle and offer to help cook so they can be sure there will be something they can eat. Someone else will gently scrape away offending bits of this or that. It's telling. The work thing, too. My niece is now doing an imitation of me grading papers that even makes me crack up. I apparently act out my reactions as I type them.

I feel like I probably came away with a couple of books' worth of character building from just that one week.

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