Blogger and author extraordinaire, Elana Johnson, had another amazing idea aptly-named The Great Blogging Experiment. Since Elana’s ideas are always “great,” I signed up. The idea is to see what each of us would come up with given the topic of characters.
I had a vague idea about what I wanted to write on and then Whammo! a conversation with a friend turned my post into something entirely different. You see, this wonderful friend had had a sticky divorce and for six years swore off dating. After some persuading from her teenage children, she decided to be EXTREMELY brave and put herself out there. She joined eHarmony.com. Now, before this conversation, I didn’t know anything about eHarmony, but apparently their philosophy is to use “scientific predictors of long-term relationship success”. They set people up by asking their clients hours and hours of questions to turn that person inside out—to get to know the individual first from within. Granted, there is one little profile picture, but really the dating service is looking to match people’s personalities and interests rather than their looks and dress. As I understand it, the client isn’t even allowed to converse with someone they are interested in until after the two people have answered more questions for each other via their online system. One of the most interesting things about my friend’s experience is that after all these hours and hours of questionnaires, she was asked to name one thing she wanted most in a relationship. For this question she had to search deep! After all, she could only say one thing and it was to go on her profile page. For me, I would have put something shallow like “must be outdoorsy” or the like. Instead, my friend once again thought from the inside out and recalled back to the point in her failed marriage when she knew it wasn’t going to work. She remembered when she was so sick that the only thing she could think to do was to pray. She asked her spouse if he would pray with her and he said no, he thought she should just sleep and then she’d feel better. But she wanted him to share that moment with her and he was unwilling. She answered that question “must be willing to pray with me”. Whether you believe in prayer or not isn’t the point, but I hope you saw how much my friend dug inside herself to find her essence and put it on paper. My writing brain was on fire after she told me that last bit.
So I came up with a list I now call The eHarmony Character Plan, things that will help develop characters into people readers want to know about:
1. Write a brainstorming web or list. Start from the inside of the character’s being and work out. Never focus on the outside alone. That is going to be left up to the reader’s imagination anyway.
2. State the one thing (The. Most. Important. Thing.) your character is looking for. What they want the most. State that at the top of the page. This is going to drive just about everything else in the story.
3. Dig deep inside your character’s head. When I’m planning/plotting a story, I also write 100 things about my characters. They don’t have to be things I’ll end up using, but I’m getting to know them and what they might be like. After this, I take a paper and just write as that character (in 1st person—even if the story is not) as if they have possessed me and they’re using my hands to scribble in their journal.
4. Give them a past, a present, and a future. Hopefully their present is the most exciting period of their lives, but make sure you know the other major moments as well. That’s where the 100 things and journaling for them come in handy.
Thankfully my friend found her happily ever after from the experience. She was building character by reaching out of her comfort zone, but we can take her experience and build characters from it as well. All without ever having to create our own eHarmony accounts!* (Ha, ha.)
What do you think? Did eHarmony/my friend’s experience teach us anything? (Ahem... It's okay to say no.)
P.S. And as a teaser for my next post, the last time I signed up for a Blogfest ala Elana I sung my love for Elizabeth Bunce’s A Curse Dark as Gold. Well, Elizabeth and her wonderful publisher Scholastic sent me her latest book, Starcrossed, for review. Due out in October, I have in my hot little hands a copy before it’s released and I’d love to pass it on to you. Come on back next week for a chance to win it! (Oh, and to read my review because I LOVED Starcrossed even more than Curse!)
*DISCLAIMER: eHarmony.com has not paid me any sort of sum to advertise for them. Nor do I endorse them. However, if you work for eHarmony and would like to pay me, please feel free to do so!