So you’re probably wondering, how did speed-dating with my characters go?
Fascinating, weird, fun, and very very informative.
In case you missed my diabolical scheme in my last post, my boyfriend and I came up with a roleplaying exercise to help me get to know my characters. I printed about 100 speed-dating questions from the internet. He randomly asked me questions from the list, which I answered as my main characters. We meant to go for 7 minutes max, but Sausha, my extroverted character, just wouldn’t shut up. I even had my cell phone recording and timing us, but hey, she’s hard to control.
We held out speed-dating session at a garden at my Alma Mater, Butler University, because it happened to be halfway between our two other events from the day. Which meant all this playacting was happening in public, in a gazebo.
Have I mentioned I have an extraordinary boyfriend?
I don’t think a lot of people overheard us, though. The person most surprised by my first entrance, as one of my two main characters, Dwyn, was probably my boyfriend. I tried to change my voice and body language to fit her. He looked at me like, “Uh, who is this?” But he’s a talented actor and director so he rolled with it.
Here’s a clip.
Keep in mind this is an early sketch of the character. I wasn’t worried about anachronisms or slips in language or accent so much as tone and personality.
One of the most helpful things to me was not rehearsing ahead of time. That’s why I printed 100 questions, so I would never know which question was coming. And my boyfriend was good at improvising follow-up questions, which kept me on my toes. In a real speed date, I would have asked him more questions back. As it was, with the emphasis on me, it forced me to keep the pace lively and not overthink. Sometimes I was surprised at what come out of my mouth, or how it came out.
I learned, for example, just how resentful and isolated Dwyn is. Her mother overprotects her because of a medical condition that causes severe bruising. I may have to, in future sketches, lighten Dwyn up a little- or a lot. But this is early Dwyn, at the start of the book, and her character will grow.
I also discovered Dwyn whispers and murmurs a lot. She is a character who never leaves the palace, therefore she perpetually uses her “indoor voice.” When I processed the recording through a sound editor, the wavlengths in the audio file were very small. She also sits very limply. And she lies. It was hard to figure out when to tell my “date” the truth for the sake of recording the answer, and when to disguise my true thoughts as Dwyn might. She doesn’t want anyone to pity her, so I probably confessed more on my date than Dwyn really would have.
After 7 minutes I walked away, shook my limbs out, and reentered the gazebo as Sausha, Dwyn’s twin sister. Right away I noticed how differently they moved. Sausha stomps across the floor, in a hurry. Dwyn clicks in her formal shoes, every movement deliberate and measured. You can hear the difference just a bit in the recordings.
At this point a bride in a full white gown peeked into the gazebo with a photographer and asked if she could take her wedding day pictures there. Turns out 3 different bridal parties were taking pictures in the gardens that day. That’s what you get for doing crazy shenanigans in a flower garden on a Saturday in June!
My boy friend, Sausha, and I headed for a shady bench to continue the conversation.
This is not the entire speed date (I edited a bit for clarity and time). But in editing Sausha, I noticed how much bigger her sound waves are than Dwyn. She’s loud.
Final speed-dating test: which character would get asked on a second date? My boyfriend very wisely said he preferred the author. But then both of us agreed that right now Sausha is more likeable than Dwyn. Dwyn has some real jealousy issues, which is part of the plot, but I will have to do something to redeem her character as we progress. In Waking Beauty, this was a comment several social media reviewers made about Brierly. “She was hard to like for the first half of the book, until I understood her/she began to change.” I personally love stories of the redeemed brat (see Edmund Pevensie and Eustace Scrubb in Narnia), but I also found the social media comments useful: glowing when they were glowing, but the suggestions for improvement were fair.
I loved how loud, frank, and friendly Sausha was. I enjoyed inhabiting her. My boyfriend and I both got the sense she is not as funny as she thinks she was, although she is fun. I found I kept smacking my boyfriend on the arm to emphasize points. The real me kept me from putting as much force in it as I sensed Sausah would have. But as my boyfriend said in analysis, “I got the sense if you ever crossed her, she’d kill you.” Yup, Sausha can be cheerful – and even egotistical – because everything has always gone her way. She takes her privileges for granted. What will happen if that place of honor is ever taken away?
Well, you’ll have to read the book.
I am going to repeat the exercise in about a month. I expect Dwyn will change more than Sausha will in the interim.
Want to try speed dating with your characters for yourself?
It’s fun and a great brainstorming technique, and will make your friends and loved ones think you are crazy. Give it a try! Try the speed dating questions I used. They are already spaced for you to cut into strips, put in a jar, and draw out randomly. Let me know how it turns out!
Some images on this page courtesy of artur84 and phaendin at freedigitalphotos.net.