OK, that title is a bit of a misnomer–this post isn’t wholly about bodies–but I liked it.

This post is about the characters we create: both on paper and on, well, us.

What happened is this: I was told I needed a headshot for story I wrote that will be published later this spring. My rarely-needed “headshots” are usually crop-jobs needed to extricate my face from the face of a small child or two. My last good headshot (above, left) was taken when I was 18 and an aspiring dancer–a whole lifetime and profession ago.

I figured it was time. So I made an appointment for a blow-out at my local salon, where they said they would also make sure my makeup was camera-ready. Then I had my husband shoot a couple pics of my face, sans offspring, so that this journal can have my modern-day visage (above, right) for viewing alongside my story.

Also, I will be recording myself reading my story, so that the journal can have my voice along with my story along with my face. This is all OK and even flattering; this is what we call exposure (ahem).

Do you ever think about your own character? As bloggers we all have a handle, a personality. Mine’s Rust Belt Girl.

I realize I spend so much time thinking about the characters I create on paper that I forget my own character, my dominant persona. I was a ballet dancer in my youth; then a student; then a young married woman; then an aspiring writer; then a mom.

The “mom” character is basically all-consuming. The funny “mom” memes you see online–that’s for real. In writing, what “mom” means is that I’m supposed to write children’s literature now that I’ve birthed children who read literature. Instead, lately, I like to write about taboo subjects; a little incest anyone? (Please don’t message me with weird responses to this aside I meant to be funny/not funny.)

Onward…this story of mine that will be published later this spring (or wet-winter), I actually let my children read. This is a first.

One of my boys said he thought it was going to be funnier; one said he didn’t. Both read it until “The End”–4,000 words–so in my eyes it passed 8-year-old-boy muster. But I did have to “clean it up” first, which my more astute of my astute sons said meant, “Take out the bad words.” And the drug references and the…

I create characters to live a different life, though I love mine. I’ve talked here before about my penchant for writerly distance. Still, the characters we create are extensions of ourselves.

The other night, I attended a lecture/Q&A on developing believable characters in our writing, hosted by the Maryland Writers Association’s Annapolis chapter and featuring author and editor Barbara Esstman. My character-building takeaways:

Characters inhabit a world–closed or confined systems can work well: think Lord of the Flies or The Handmaid’s Tale–with walls of some kind that will lean on and pressure a character. These boundaries that test a character can help the writer show what the character is made of.

At least one of the main characters must have a problem to solve; when the character arrives at a solution, the story ends.

Characters have a history before the start of the story. The writer should know it, but must decide what the reader needs to know and what the reader doesn’t.

You know, sorta like this whole blogging thing. The reader needs to know us writers and highlights of our history–the stuff that matters–to understand our character, to feel invested in us and want to follow our story.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Thank you for following my story.

Do you consider your blogging persona? (Is it just me?) Is it one in the same with you? Somehow different?

Have any tips for creating believable characters in essay, memoir, or fiction?

* A little nod to Our Bodies, Ourselves (a book about women’s health and sexuality first published in the late 1960s). A relevant character-building takeaway: characters, like real people, have needs and wants. Characters, like us, go grocery shopping and sneak ice cream at 10:30pm. (Oh, is that just me?)

28 thoughts on “Our Characters, Ourselves*

  1. This is a really wonderful post with a great question to ponder. I created my blog in a whirlwind of whim and didn’t give a single thought to my persona. Now though, as I write more, I feel like maybe I should have. My username, JBlaide, is actually my middle name so I’m not used to anyone using it to refer to me. It’s kind odd. I inadvertently separated my day to day self, Alex, and my writing self, JBlaide. Which is a curious situation. I think whether we mean to or not, like you said, we create personas that our audiences attribute us to. It’s quite an interesting topic! Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Enjoyed this very much! One of the things I’ve done when creating characters is write them a mini bio before including them in a story. I have a stack of index cards with all their major attributes that I can refer to as I write. And for the very reason that the author mentioned: there will be qualities and experiences that will impact the way they act/react within the story, and having the bio will keep that consistent. However, the reader doesn’t necessarily need to know every detail. Congratulations with your publication! That’s wonderful news! Your new head shot looks lovely, too!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I like your bios on index cards idea. I think having personal histories written out somewhere may free me from feeling like I have to insert a lot of backstory in order to flesh out characters. The author who spoke at my meeting the other night warned us that–as with any kind of backstory–inserting those kind of details puts the brakes on the forward moving action, so to proceed with caution. Thanks!

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  3. Beautiful photos. Personally, I’ve never thought of my blogging persona. I think if I did my writing would be boring, because I would be writing with the goal of “wanting” people to follow or like me and that would mean I was not really ME… just trying to play to an audience. There are some great Youtube videos out there where well known authors give a master class on how they create characters. I wish I could remember one to refer you to, but I stumbled upon different videos one day by accident.

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    1. I think you’ve got the right attitude about blogging! I do think it can be dangerous to think too much of an “audience.” The best blogging advice I’ve received is to write like you’re addressing one and only one person. The more I blog, the more I love this space where I don’t have to speak for anyone else, something that sometimes happens in marriage and motherhood (to me anyway). For character-building, the author who spoke at my meeting the other night referenced an old interview with Glenn Close, who said she always keeps in mind when playing a scene where the character was just before the scene began. Thanks for checking in!

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      1. Really liked that video! Watched over breakfast and now I feel inspired–he makes it sound so easy, doesn’t he? I agree with the “ass in the chair” bit; that’s always the first (and sometimes hardest) step.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I came across him by accident last year. He was REALLY fantastic in how he develops his characters… but as he developed them in the beginning he was already giving you an entire story of who they were, etc. Amazing. I’m going to watch the video again myself.

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  4. Definitely not alone. In terms of blogging, my problem has always been that I put so much effort into thinking about how I’ll be interpreted (or the backstory) that I hardly end up writing! I was going to say that I did the same thing for essay/other writing, but ironically enough I think my balance was a lot better in high school (particularly in classes with good teachers). So perhaps one tip is having a mentor/peer you’re not competing with, but is mutually invested in you or themselves practicing and improving.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hope that the more you write, the more you’ll discover that this blogging community is super supportive/non-competitive. Maybe it would help if you had one reader who you really trust read you post before you publish? Me, I’d just dive in. Some of your writing will resonate with readers more than others–but really you have to write for yourself. It’s too time-consuming to look at it any other way, I think! I look forward to reading more from you!

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      1. I’m a little slow in getting back, but this is something I’m working on in a lot of areas besides writing. I’ve received similar advice (to reach out) for those other areas and I think it’s starting to resonate enough for me to start trying it. Thank ya!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Photos are really good by the way ☺️ I don’t think most of my writing has a persona – maybe my Mongo the Medic stories because I no longer live that life. Otherwise, it’s pretty much just me trying to be a genuine guy that people can relate to. Have a great spring – if it ever gets here 😳

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! My sons discussed my headshots–both the (very) old and the new and decided they didn’t like them. My more vocal boy said he doesn’t like serious pictures and that I look like a “weird person from a magazine.” The other boy said that “everybody in magazines is a supermodel, dude, so that’s impossible.” Is it any wonder I need a room (or blog) of my own!? I think your voice–if not a persona, per se–comes through loud and clear in your writing. “Genuine” would be at the top of my list to describe it. Yes, enjoy spring(ish)! I hope we will see some shots of spring near you at your blog!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Great post Rebecca. Congrats on the publication.

    I did some up-front planning with the identity on my blog, given I go by a pseudonym. I’m constantly at odds with the idea of getting a head shot since I’m attempting to keep a bit of author “mystique”. This runs counter to pretty much all current advice on “building a platform” and “promoting your brand”. I’m sure I’ll succumb to it at some point in the future, but for now I like focusing on the writing and the partial anonymity.

    That said, great head shot!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you!

      I can’t imagine another “face” for your blog than the neatly-coiffed illustrated guy with the pipe! I do think you’re right that a degree of anonymity and separation can keep the focus on the writing–which is why we’re all blogging in the first place. (If we’re blogging for fame, we’re collectively nuts, right?!) I’ll be interested to see what you decide. As for my “Rust Belt Girl” face, I’m sticking with the smiling me for now!

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  7. This is a great post and the headshot is lovely.
    I think our blogger persona as a character also develops and changes just like we do in real life, my blog was to be about something else but then it took a new turn and then another new turn… it’s beautiful to think about how it has changed and developed into what it is today.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! Well put! I think you’re right that a blog and a blogger’s persona evolves–just like each of us does as a person (well, hopefully). I look forward to seeing how your blog evolves over your journey of positivity!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you for the post. Just wanted to say congratulations and that your headshot looks fabulous! My blogging persona is something I never really thought about. But you’re right. We all have one! I guess it’s because our personalities come through our writing. The question is how much does our inner editor mask or distort that authentic voice. I find it can sometimes get scary writing my thoughts and experiences into the internet if I think too much about the audience. So I try not to think about it.

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  9. Hi Rebecca, No, I haven’t really considered my blogging persona. It’s really just me. To be honest, I would rather just keep out of it and let the novel do the talking. These days, however, we are supposed to have a social media presence. I feel a bit silly about this because although I have written a novel, it’s not published. It seems like putting the cart before the horse. You have given me something to think about though. Both lovely photos of you, too. Cheers, Naomi.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The cart before the horse–yes, I can see that. However, I do think some of that pre-publishing publicity probably helps. Maybe ? Hopefully? I have heard agents say that they don’t care if a fiction writer has much of an online presence, that they will help with that once they sign them. However, there’s a lot that agents and publishers used to do that is done by authors themselves nowadays. And an author can only do so much in the few months after their book is published to get it “out there.” Hard to go from total anonymity to success. Plus, if for nothing else, connecting with like-minded writers and bloggers is support during the process of writing a book that is anything but easy–as you know! Thanks so much for your comment. I get so much out of exchanges here at the blog!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, it’s been great finding other writers online, everyone’s so helpful and supportive and I have had the benefit of everyone’s experience. I have enjoyed making up my blog posts, especially the collages I have made, it gets you thinking about the story, so it’s a good process to go through, I think. My only concern with DIY online presence is getting it wrong, still we live and learn. Great to hear from you!

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