WIP — Day ?? And How to Throw a Party for your Characters

I can tell that keeping track of what day I’m on is not going to work.
Today, I finally told Pippa to take a break, as it was time to learn about her mother, Joanna. Joanna told me a lot about her son, Andy, and it’s really kind of heartbreaking. Maybe you know people like Andy. They seem perfectly fine. . . delightful, even. . . and normal, but slowly you get the sense that something’s just a bit off. Here’s some of what Joanna told me today (reading directly from my notes): “Andy’s the boy who will approach you–a stranger–in the mall. He’ll smile and ask how you are, and he’ll leave you a bit perplexed but touched by his attention.  He’s the boy who thinks everyone is his friend, from the bagger at the grocery store to the woman who once said hello to him on the bus. He’s the boy girls are drawn to . . . until they realize something is not quite right with him, and that’s when he becomes the object of whispers, the subject of jokes, and the target of mean-hearted boys.”
So, Joanna told me plenty about Andy, and almost nothing about herself. Maybe this is the kind of person she is–focused on her child to the extent that she forgets her own needs? I don’t think so, but I try to pay attention to what my character chooses to reveal in case she’s giving me a hint to her true nature.
For a very short time, I taught an exercise to my writing students called “Throw a Party for your Characters!” I intended it to be a way to learn more about our characters, but it ended up telling more about us as writers. . . as I guess most of our writing does. To do this exercise, if you can call it that, you close your eyes and get comfortable, focusing on your breathing until you’ve reached that floaty, trance-like place. Then you imagine standing in the doorway of a house where a loud party is going on behind you. You’re watching the front door as your characters begin to arrive. What are they wearing? Who comes with whom? You watch them interact with each other. You pay attention to their affect. Are they shy? Boisterous? Do they head straight for the bar …or the nearest dark corner?
Finally, you interact with them yourself.
The one and only time I did this exercise with any sincerity, my characters chewed me out. They were happy and jovial until they spotted me walking in their direction. That’s when their smiles faded, and they moved toward me like a many-headed monster. “Why are you putting us through all this *%^$????” they screamed. They let me have it, and then they ignored me for the rest of the party. That part was just like high school.
Anyway, you can see why I no longer teach this exercise. There are less humiliating ways to find out what our characters are all about! And tomorrow I’m going to dig a little deeper in Joanna’s world.


  1. Margo on August 22, 2006 at 8:39 am

    I’m just amazed!!…I never knew what a writer went thru!!…no wonder your characters are so real. They really do come from your soul and that’s just one more reason why I never want your books to end…I don’t like saying goodbye to these wonderful people…on another note, sure would like to know who won on the sofa/sectional…you or John??…both were beautiful pieces.

  2. Diane Chamberlain on August 22, 2006 at 9:44 am

    We are STILL uncertain what to do about the sofa/sectional. Actually, that’s no longer the issue. It’s now what style, and we’ve moved way beyond those two. And now, for me at least, the issue has become, “do we really want brown?” LOL. we may never buy this thing!

  3. Lorene on August 22, 2006 at 10:44 am

    Not brown!

  4. Diane Chamberlain on August 22, 2006 at 6:09 pm

    LOL. thanks for your two cents, lorene. brown is just so . . . brown. 🙁

  5. Brenda on August 22, 2006 at 7:26 pm

    Last Free Day…
    Had a grad class last night-was overwhelmed (HISTORY)…
    Today-my last free day…my husband and I drove to Huntington to new Pullman Square-very nice…sat outside at Starbuck’s (thought of Diane)…did some shopping…then home to work on grad class.
    TOMORROW_to school for cont. ed (another grad class tomorrow night) and Thursday back to school-where did the two months go…oh yes…London, D. World, and Indy to see the granddaughters-3 trips…and my daughter wanted me to return…goodness…didn’t get to my son’s in Ohio so he will come Labor Day weekend-he was busy running marathons, l/2 Ironman, and 90 mile bike rides for charity…whew…
    Have a good rest of the week…
    Diane-sorry-I agree with Lorene…BROWN is my least least favorite color-it is so what can I say…
    I like COLOR…no offense-get what you want…
    I love my formal living room and dining room-the girls love to go in there and play…
    I do not like my family room only because the furniture is horrible and my work is everywhere….however it is cozy with gas logs in the winter…
    Next year-maybe some work on the house…
    Have fun girls-
    I am thinking of Pippa and Andy…

  6. Margo on August 23, 2006 at 8:53 am

    I think brown can be rich looking if done right…friends of ours have off white carpet and oak woodwork throughout their house…huge brown sectional in the living room…actually looks spacious and beautiful…they’ve finally decided they need a bit of color for their new home so ‘quess who’ will be painting a ‘very colorful’ canvas for their fireplace wall, in my spare time (LOL)…….(-:

  7. Anonymous on August 23, 2006 at 4:34 pm

    Oh, gosh, margo. i’d just about decided to go with RED for the sectional and now you’ve made me stop and think again. john says i change my mind every time i talk to someone. he’s right.

  8. Margo on August 24, 2006 at 8:53 am

    Diane…I quess I look at it from an artist’s viewpoint…even with my own home I don’t have the furniture as the focal point…I definitely like nice comfy sofas with nice lines to them, but I want the other things such as accents and paintings on the wall and my books to have the color…I like to walk into a room and think ‘oh…I can’t wait to plop down on that sofa’ and then sit and maybe pull a colorful blanket or quilt around me if I’m cold…one of my friends had a neutral almost med gray carpet and she told me she bought a huge medium brown colored sectional sofa with big plump pillows…in my mind it was hard for me to picture brown with the gray but when I went to her house (a great rustic home in the woods) it looked gorgeous!! The room had floor to ceiling bookshelves that were made out of railroad tyes and the color in the room came from all the books…she loves Indian colors like Indian red and purples and she had a huge Indian like blanket draped over the side of the sofa that was in reds, yellow/golds and purples…the room was stunning…I just wanted to sit on that great earthy looking sofa and look at the things in the room…I think if you go with RED it will be pretty too, but…I think there’s alot to be said about browns…….our family room/TV room has an earthy colored sofa, loveseat and chair on neutral carpet but the room is my friends favorite because we have the walls filled with my artwork and floor to ceiling bookshelves with colorful books…blankets and quilts folded up on 1 side to cover up with on cold days that are in blues and whites…when I studied Interior Design in college I learned that your rooms have to follow your personalities…also, I quess it depends what else you have in the room…maybe you want the sofa to be the focal point and in that case RED would probably be great…..I have another friend who loves color…she has a very light, almost white carpet…she recently got rid of all her furniture and bought an eggshell (almost off white) sofa, loveseat and chaise…again, I visually couldn’t picture the white on white…when I went to her condo it was absolutely beautiful…she had painted her walls a sandy color with a hint of yellow in it…she is an artist and her walls were covered with her beautiful artwork (she spends 3 months in the winter at carmel-by-the-sea and her paintings are of that area)…again, color was evident in all the accents around the sofa……I’m sure whatever you decide it will be beautiful…..take care in Jersey

  9. Lorene on August 24, 2006 at 10:06 am

    Listen to Margo! I can see why you change your mind so much! That’s my last word on the subject:)

  10. Margo on August 24, 2006 at 10:43 am

    Diane, if you want RED, then go for it…I’m just giving my opinion on how to decide what is right for you…don’t listen to me, I’m not an expert but I do think it depends on what you want as a focal point…if you want the sofa to tie the whole room together, go with your gut feeling…….Lorene and Brenda didn’t like the brown and it sounds like you wanted ‘color’ so you guys win over me (-:

  11. Diane on August 24, 2006 at 11:20 am

    OK, now I’m thinking brown. Actually, your post was very helpful Margo. Who knows what I’ll finally decide? Pictures will be on the website, tho. that’s for sure. Margo, what colors are your walls in your room with all the neutrals?

  12. Margo on August 24, 2006 at 12:24 pm

    Diane, our walls are off white (semi gloss which I love)…I would NEVER go with pure white because it’s too stark and looks like hospital white, but a nice soft off white with just a hint of yellow in it gives the walls a nice ‘warmth’ without being ‘yellow’ if you know what I mean…we plan on putting in new carpet next spring and painting all of the inside walls since it’s been awhile and I’m planning on going with off white again…I like this choice because of the artwork on the walls which is what gives color in our home…plus, we have a medium to small home because it’s just the 3 of us (Gary, myself and Kramer) so the off white throughout makes the home look larger…the carpet we are choosing will be off white, neutral BURBER which is wonderful stuff…doesn’t show footprints and no need to vaccum everyday…it looks lucious ALL the time…this same color scheme throughout makes the home look larger than it is and gives a nice overall smooth look…we have hardwood floors in the kitchen and artstudio/den…I have accents throughout the house of cobalt blue with blown glass and things and the combination with the off white makes us happy…(-: I know someone who has a lovely old brick home in a wooded area and her choice of furniture and artwork is very nice…BUT…she painted almost every room a different color and personally, it looks chopped up and nothing ties together…

  13. Diane on August 24, 2006 at 3:48 pm

    Your house sounds beautiful, margo. with your artwork all over, it couldn’t be anything else!

  14. Margo on August 24, 2006 at 4:34 pm

    Oh thank you, Diane…it’s not a big house by any means, nor is it extraordinary in any way…a simple ranch style… but we’ve made it like we want it and done remodeling over the years…my husband built a nice deck quite a number of years ago and an arbor in back that houses all his beautiful flowers and plants…he has quite a green thumb (I don’t)…my favorite thing in the TV/family room are the bookshelves that house ALL YOUR BOOKS!!!…I love it went I sit down on my sofa and can look up at my favorite shelf in the unit that has all yours there…sometime I’ll send you a photo of those shelves displaying your books!!…I mean it, your books are beautiful!!…with John’s talent for photographic art I bet your house is awesome with his gorgeous work on the walls…we did a ‘gallery’ look in our TV room with my paintings and drawings floor to ceiling and put in track lighting for them…that would be awesome with John’s work!!

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