Creating Characters: Defining Moments

This month’s Creating Characters is not only wildly off schedule (still getting used to parent time), but it’s also not necessarily just about creating a character. It’s about the defining moments that make a story what it is. The little details that suck you into the world and set the stage, the time period, the person.

For example, I was struck with inspiration (Thanks, in part, to Britt Skrabanek’s post “Thursday Night,” which you should absolutely check out) for the introduction to a short story. The only information I had were the details of the first sentence as it flew through my brain:

Toes curled over the edge of the cliff, little else matters.

This doesn’t tell us much, aside from it’s a person standing at the edge of the cliff who is struggling with something. I had no idea whether this character was male or female, or when this story was taking place. But the curiosity of the defining moment didn’t hit me until a few sentences later. At this point it was just me enjoying the flow of the words as I scribbled them on my legal pad. But as more of it emerged, the questions began to beg in my mind about who, what, and when.

Toes curled over the edge of the cliff, little else matters. The white-capped waves below crest to their peak before slamming into the jagged rocks. How very like life. I close my eyes as the wind whips across my face, my body, whipping my

Right there. The first defining moment. Whipping my what? Dress, perhaps, for a woman. Pants, maybe jeans? It could be trousers? The language, the right word needs to be used to fully define the time period here. The language defines the era, maybe even the precise year, but it’s necessary to suck the reader in.

I close my eyes as the wind whips across my face, my body, whipping my crimson dress about. Soft and smooth, it reminds me of the blood smearing between my toes, on the bottoms of my feet, and dripping from my fingertips.

More is defined here. The blood could define multiple things. It’s been established that this character is a woman, but the blood could be from many things. Maybe she’s wounded, or perhaps she partook in some kind of bloody tragedy. Maybe she’s a doctor or surgeon of some sort now standing at the cliff’s edge. It may not define the character or the location or the time period, but it creates that defining mystery that keeps the reader enticed.

…dripping from my fingertips. Between the blood up to my elbows and the cloth around my body I feel like I’ve turned inside out.

What does the act of the character feeling turned inside out define for you?


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