Sketchy: Character Development

Meg Chittenden quote

Along with the writing I do for this blog, I’ve also been working on two story ideas that will (hopefully) turn into novels. I’m trying to move past the planning stages to the writing portion, which has always been the biggest struggle for me in the past. Even when I was little I would come up with elaborate backstories for my Barbies but then when it was time to actually play with them I got bored quickly. So I’m trying to break my old, bad habits. At the moment I’m getting to know my characters better, which is both more fun and more difficult than I expected. I have writer friends whose characters talk at them, forcing them to scramble to transcribe as much as possible so they don’t forget. Unfortunately, my characters aren’t so helpful. Usually they flit around the edges of my thoughts while I throw ideas at them and see what sticks, like an imaginary game of 20 questions. Or those magnetic dartboard games where the darts fall right off the board unless you throw perfectly (which I never do).

 

One thing that’s been helpful for me so far is secret Pinterest boards for characters, setting, mood, and plot ideas, but after a while they tend to get cluttered. I recently stumbled on Emily Henderson’s Material Girls series, where she makes design mood boards for imaginary clients. (This one is my favorite.) I loved that idea, and since I’m kind of obsessed with moodboards/ inspiration boards anyway I thought making a more permanent (but still digital — at least until I get a printer) inspiration board for some of my characters would be a great reference point. Here’s my moodboard for Elsbeth, the 12 year-old protagonist of my fantasy story:

Elsbeth Inspiration board

 {sources: 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5}

 

Elsbeth lives with her grandfather in a small village (in either Germany or France — I’m having a hard time deciding), and she’s just old enough to start wondering if the fairy tales her grandfather tells her are true. She works for the local brewer 4 days a week, mostly helping brew the beer and mead and taking care of the bees and goats. Adanne promised to give one of the baby goats to her next spring, and Elsbeth is beyond excited. She’s resourceful and spunky (try to think of a better word… fiery?), and is familiar with the forest that borders the village thanks to frequent trips with her grandfather. (These visits will be really important later in the story.) She’s fiercely loyal, with a hot temper and a vindictive streak. She’s not one to be left out of anything.

 

Favorites: taking care of the goats, gingerbread cookies, her Grandfather’s clocks (and dollhouse? Other toys?), her Grandfather’s stories, her friends (need to think more about them)

Dislikes: Thunderstorms (is that when her parents died?), bullies, being kept out of things, people thinking she’s stupid

 

I wasn’t expecting it to be so tricky writing such a short summary! I’m so used to hearing “show, don’t tell” that it’s actually kind of hard to just describe my character briefly. And while this is obviously veeery rough, it’s actually showed me a lot of the areas I need to think about more. For instance, I need to find more dislikes and flaws for Elsbeth besides the stereotypical “I don’t like sewing, or washing my hair, or clothes or other girly things like that. I’m not like other girls.” This worked out really well, and I think I’ll do it for some of my other characters, since it helps me figure out where to go next.

 

 I also love Chuck Wendig’s list of 25 Things You Should Know About Character (word to the wise, Wendig doesn’t shy away from profanity or the ick-factor, so if profanity-laced writing advice isn’t your thing, I might skip it). I also really liked this article about 3 goals for every character, and Yeah Write! has a great archive of posts about characterization if you’re looking for more resources.

What’s your process for character/ idea development for writing? Do you think mood boards are helpful, or do you think they’re only for designers and visual artists?

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Office Space

The first time Teddy and I saw our apartment was the first time we walked in the door. It was stressful for both of us because we didn’t really know what we were getting into. There have definitely been some great surprises, like the built-in bookshelves and working fireplace, but there have been some not-so-fun surprises too, like the mustard-colored walls, the (literally) temperamental shower, and a mini-me washer and dryer. Our apartment is definitely still coming together (read: most of the walls are bare and there is a massive pile of dishes in the sink). Teddy and I are having a little too much fun planning what our next apartment will look like (I’m voting for white walls. A girl can hope, right?) One of the things that I’ve been really dreaming about is a work space for both me and Teddy. I even have a Pinterest board for it.

Teddy's Desk

This picture of Teddy working on his computer is a little moody– I promise I was just experimenting with my VSCO CAM app and not trying to drop a hint! His computer set-up is huge and takes up the whole desk (I guess it comes with the territory of marrying a techie person), so I usually end up writing on the couch while he’s using his desktop. And while we don’t really have space to change up the current desk situation, I’m hoping to have a shared office space when we move into our next apartment. It’ll be an interesting task to make a space that appeals to both a writer and a computer guy. (Who also doesn’t want everything floral. Weird, right?)

Here’s what I would currently put in my dream office:

PicMonkey Collage2

Here are some offices that I’m going to copy be inspired by whenever I’m able to decorate my own mini-office.

Emily A. Clarke's office

Emily A. Clarke’s whole house tour is beautiful, but her office is literally my dream office. I love the big bookcase and the farmhouse table. One girl in my SIP class wrote about Madeleine L’Engle’s writing process, and I have a fantasy of having an office in the living or dining area so I can be around my family/ keep my future kids from climbing up the curtains. I’m sure I’ll look back at this and laugh when I actually have kids, but it sounds great right now.

Mandi Johnson desk

I love this custom built-in desk, and the fact that it’s in the living room. I won’t be able to make custom furniture as long as we’re in a rental, but maybe Teddy will like flexing his carpenter skills someday if we have a house.

LA Shop

This mini-desk from Victoria’s trip to LA is so cute! I’m really into the “Love Rules Forever” sign and the bunny figurine.

window seat desk

I love this little desk by the window from Lark & Linen– it’s actually part of a library-turned-house, which I think is really cool!

Apartment Apothecary office makeover

This is such a cute and simple shared-office makeover from Apartment Apothecary.

What about you guys? What would your dream office look like?

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Coffee Shop Eats: Crumb Cake

Have you heard the saying not to “eat your feelings?”

I’ve had my fair share of nights with girlfriends passing around a jar of Nutella and a spoon after a breakup (don’t pretend you’ve never done it), but one of the most important food rituals I started in college was my pre-paper coffee.

I actually didn’t really drink coffee until around my sophomore year of college, which is especially odd since I come from a family of coffee addicts. But the bigger my workload became, the more often I would leave campus for a caffeinated pick-me-up, and by my senior year I could drink a latte (without syrup!) instead of the frappuccinos I ordered as a freshman. My friends and I had our favorite spots, from the Starbucks 10 minutes from campus to the more hipster places at least 20 minutes away (an occupational hazard of going to school on a mountain). I loved studying there, both for the change of scenery and the chance to pick up a muffin or scone if I needed an extra boost. (I mentioned before that I’ll take what I can get when it comes to writing inspiration.)

Blueberry Crumb Cake

To this day, drinking a latte immediately gets me in the mood to get to work, which makes me wonder if this is one of the secrets to bribing your muse, or as Anne Lamott puts it, the Dr. Seuss creature working away in your subconscious. But the rub is that I haven’t found a favorite coffee shop in Houston yet, and Starbucks gets pricey after a while. So I thought, why not make my own creativity fuel?

I have yet to make the perfect latte, but a crumb cake, that I can do. I made the Blueberry Crumb Cake from Smitten Kitchen (embarrassingly in a tart pan, since I didn’t have a deep enough round pan) and The Black Thyme Muffins from The FauxMartha (in a loaf pan, because my muffin tin went missing since the move to Houston… luckily she gives directions for that as well!).

Blackberry Crumb Cake

Both are completely delicious; the hit of lemon in the blueberry cake recipe is ridiculously addictive, and I’m the biggest sucker for thyme, so I knew I would be making Melissa’s recipe as soon as I could get my hands on some on-sale blackberries. (Tricky in the summer, but I’m excited for more berries this fall. Just look how pretty they are…)

Blackberries

Baking notes:
Don’t get too overzealous when mixing up the crumble toppings. If you mix the sugar and butter and maple syrup (for the FauxMartha recipe) too enthusiastically, it won’t end up as crumbly once it’s baked. It’s still delicious, but it does affect the texture slightly.

Melissa’s note about the “whole milk” yogurt threw me off, so I used some Greek yogurt that we had in the fridge. I later read this article from The Kitchn that explained that the Greek yogurt is simply strained a third time, so it’s extra thick compared to regular yogurt. This made the final cake a little dense (but still moist, so we didn’t mind too much). So I would advise you to use “full fat,” regular yogurt for the moistness and lack of density.

Do you guys have any go-to rituals for getting in the mood to write, run, or do laundry? (Please let me know if you have a ritual that makes laundry more fun. I would love you forever.)

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Back to School

By this time in August I’m usually in Georgia with my college roommate, going to Target for school supply shopping, and wearing sweaters in anticipation of September. But since I walked across a big stage in May, I’m not going back to school for the first time in my life, and it’s a weird feeling. My sense of time is pretty wonky at the best of times, but it’s especially bad this year. I moved in with a new (and permanent) roommate in July and the heat index has been 100+ for most of this week, I keep forgetting that the first of September is next Monday. When did that happen? Where did summer go?

Technically summer will still be with me for a while—at least if melting whenever you walk outside counts as summer. But while my new driver’s license might say “Texas,” my brain still says “Virginia and Georgia,” so I’m craving the hints that fall is coming. The chilly evenings, new notebooks, new class schedule, the very first Pumpkin spice latte of the year, and maybe a new sweater because it’s almost September, and September means sweater weather.

I could get away with wearing a sweater in August in Georgia (I’m perpetually cold, so that usually saves me from getting heat stroke), but Texas heat is not so forgiving, making sweater shopping pretty unappealing. But I’d been on the lookout for a cognac bag since I saw the Madewell Tote on Kendi Everyday. I was looking for something roomy with a crossbody strap but didn’t have any luck until a random trip to Target— and at roughly 1/5 the price of the Madewell tote I couldn’t say no. It doesn’t hurt that it feels “writerly” to me. (Please tell me I’m not the only one who needs a little help to get in the writing mood?)

Bags collage1

Now that I have my “writing” bag, I’m all set to “go back to school” – or at least start writing regularly again. I’ve been on a semi-planned hiatus this summer since I finished up my senior thesis in May, but now I’m itching to get writing again. I can pick what I read and write about now, which is exhilarating and daunting at the same time. So let’s go out there and study (or write, or paint, etc). But let me grab my purse first.

Note about the product photos: I’m not sure why, but the lighting for the Target product photo is just awful. Don’t be scared– in person it’s not shiny at all and is a nice brown cognac color.

Madewell Transport Tote
Madewell Mini Transport Crossbody
Merona Tote in Cognac

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Literary Bucket List

I recently found out about I Believe in Story, by Maria Vicente, and it’s quickly becoming one of my favorite blogs. I read her Literary Bucket List, and it got me thinking about what would be on my literary bucket list.

my bookshelf2

Join a Book Club. This was on Maria’s bucket list as well, but I’ve been wishing I could join a book club for a while now. I never had time during school (although I went to a few writing club meetings my senior year), but I think it’d be so fun to meet up with friends for drinks and snacks and books. I heard that a local bookstore holds a monthly book club, so I might pop into a meeting or two and see how it goes.

Write a novel. This has been on my bucket list since sixth grade, and it’s probably the most intimidating item on my bucket list. Luckily middle-school-me was smart enough not to demand it be the next Great American novel. I’m actually leaning toward children’s literature, since it makes up a good chunk of what I read on a regular basis (I’m on a Harry Potter kick at the moment).

Be a guest on a late-night talk show. This is mostly a goofy goal (especially since I rarely actually watch late night talk shows), but I always thought it would be really fun to get dolled up and go joke around and tell funny stories. Jimmy Fallon would probably be my top pick for this, especially after reading this article. I’d love to do a lip sync battle too, but I could never top Emma Stone.

Write a cookbook. This is actually even more intimidating than writing a novel in some ways. I tweak recipes from time to time, but I’ve never developed a recipe from scratch before. So this is definitely a maybe-sometime goal.

Have my own library. I’m pretty sure I’ve had this dream since I first saw Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Have you seen Jenny Komenda’s bookshelves from Little Green Notebook? They are beautiful, and I love the rolling ladder. These work spaces are pretty inspiring too, although some of them are so messy that I get stressed out just imagining trying to find anything. I tend to be a messy person, but I have nothing on Alexander Calder.

The most feasible item on my literary bucket list is also fairly challenging- write (at least a little bit) every day. It really is all about keeping up the momentum, and I’m doing my best to turn off my editor’s brain and just write. The editing can come later, but for now, I’m trying to just write as much as possible.

So what about you? Do you have a bucket list? I’ve been thinking about all the recipes/ cooking techniques I want to try, so I may have to write out a Culinary Bucket List soon.

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