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Getting Inside Your Character’s Skin

Getting Inside Your Character’s Skin

A Session with Thérèse

I write a lot about California. My love affair with the place began during a summer vacation as I walked along the coastline in Malibu. I had an overwhelming sense that this was where I belonged. I’m still not entirely sure how it happened, but within a few months I had uprooted my husband and our two teenage children from England and we were living here.

As you can imagine, our “new normal” presented a variety of challenges as we navigated our way through the culture shock of the alternative universe that is Los Angeles. For example, my first assistant believed herself a reincarnated angel and came to work wearing feather wings.

If I were asked for one tip about writing, it would be to keep a notebook with you at all times. Everything is material. Tinsel Town keeps on giving me plenty.

Back then, our daughter was doing a round of bat mitzvahs, each more extravagant than the next. I was particularly taken with the one in Hollywood, a themed star-studded “World Movie Premier” complete with sky beams, hired paparazzi, red carpet, and a couple of real “A list” celebrity guests waiting indoors. Meanwhile, our son was having sleepovers in homes the size of a small nation with helicopter pads and art collections that should have belonged to the Louvre.

I titled my collection of observations How To Stay Upwardly Moblie When You’re Spinning Out of Control. The book was rejected by Little Brown, who felt it was too similar to one they had recently published called Mommies Who Drink. I pushed the manuscript to the back of a drawer, saddened that the world was not ready for my sardonic wit and irony. I was bruised, but not for long. Developing a thicker skin is part of the job description for a writer. It took a while to realize that maybe I should be writing a novel rather than an Imaginary column in a non-existent blog. Of course a novel needs characters and a plot. Where was I going to find them? Where would I start?

At the time I was also dealing with much larger issues than my fledgling career as an author. LA is not the City of Light. It is the City of Eternal Youth. Fate was cruel. Why had I not come to live in California when I still looked halfway decent in a bikini and before my upper arms had become a project all to themselves? Why had I not been freeze-framed at forty? Then something clicked. Maybe I could dream myself into a girl who came here young, single, and beautiful. She would be the toast of the town, she would be free as a bird and…have an exotic life…and she would be called…India.

Exercise 1

Having a name for my characters is one of the most important aspects of developing their persona. I need a sound. Try saying your characters’ names out loud. Have other characters speak to them. Write their names in many forms; in type, by hand, in italics, block capitals, large writing, small script, with the second name and without. Write their signature and you’ll learn a lot about them.

Exercise 2

Write a short paragraph describing how the character came to have that name. Is it a family name? A dynasty? A nickname? A popular name? A pet name? Doing this exercise will help you build depth and get to know them intimately.

The next challenge was how to go about developing India’s character. How would I get to know her? In the past I might have made a vision board but now with social media there was a whole new opportunity. I could create a Facebook profile. I set up an account for India with a first status post – If you can’t do it in high heels I’m not interested. I posted pictur