Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Inspiration Walks In: where characters come from

Its cold and rainy today.  I sit in my local coffee shop and will my muse to be kind and give me just a smidgen of inspiration.

I have had many conversations this week with writers about where we work best.  Its always interesting to me to hear those conflicting opinions regarding working in silence vs with music, working in public vs in complete solitude.  If anything these last few weeks of working fulltime on writing really have open my eyes to a few truths about me as a writer. 

I prefer to work in public.  I like to people watch.  I like to be a part of life as I am creating.  It generates ideas for me.  Characters walk by, sit down, peer into the window, drive by. 

Today, I "attended" the second session in Marsha Diane Arnold's self-paced e-course on "Writing Wonderful Character-Driven Picture Books" (Picture Book Academy).  This session focused on "Where to Find Your Great Character."  The cool thing is that I felt like I was totally just having coffee with Marsha and she was giving me all of this amazing inside information about where her characters come from.  Its a fun feeling.  Not many of us have the opportunity to hear such a highly-successful author dish (but in this course, we can be so lucky!)

Marsha's character exploration varies from mine.  In fact, I have never really looked closely at where those ideas come from.  I know a few have come from NPR stories.  Others just pop into my head.  But bottom line is that we need to look, listen and watch.  If we are lucky, a good character "will come and sit on your shoulders".  The key is to be receptive.

And then its our job to write a story about this character.  A former teacher of mine used to say your story needed to be about the characters BEST or WORST day.  I like that.

Now if you'll excuse me...I am off to write.  This little girl just walked in...and I think she is sitting on my shoulders right now. 

Visit the Picture Book Academy for more information on "Writing Wonderful Character-Driven Picture Books".  Its a self-paced e-course so registration is always open!


  1. Marcie, thanks so much for sharing about Mira's and my class. And that's exactly how I wanted my videos to feel, as if you and I were having coffee and chatting (or in my case, herbal tea or chai latte :) ).

    Where do I work best? At home, alone, and with no music. I am too easily distracted for working in public or with music on. I'd start people-watching or dancing in the living room.

    My characters have come from many places. Sometimes they come from a calling, a need to work out a challenge of my own. Then your character may really be you in disguise. Sometimes they are inspired by my childhood or my children. Sometimes they surprise me by appearing from seemingly nowhere and sitting on my shoulder. :)

    I love your teacher's idea about the story needing to be about a character's best OR worst day. Or maybe the story could be about a character's best AND worst day.

    Have fun with that little girl, Marcie!

    In Joy,

  2. Enjoyed the post, Marcie.
    My characters come out of the ether. I don't think I base them on people I see, although I know I add those characteristics in later. I'm a "what iffer" and then I try to put someone in the situation that would make it interesting.

  3. Great post Marcie. I'm taking the same class and love that it is self-paced, because there are some weeks that teaching and being mom take all my time.

  4. Most of my recent ideas come from my kids. I just said tonight that my son is a walking picture book. He is five and his dialogue about life is often very humorous. Great post Marcie!

  5. I need to try writing out of the home. I like writing at home, but sometimes I pay bills, do laundry, blah, blah, blah. I don't just write.