Monday, February 22, 2010

Visual Characterization for Writers

Recently my local RWA chapter hosted Shirley Jump as our speaker. She taught us her "Rule of Six." The theory is that we can easily think of three, or maybe four, things that motivate our characters. However, coming up with six is hard. BUT, when you delve deeply and reach that sixth motivation, you really get to know your characters and what truly drives them.

I'm a visual kind of person. I prefer to look at a chart to reading through a whole listing of numbers to see a pattern. So, when Shirley showed us a neat way to chart the characters using the "Rule of Six", I was elated!

What she had us do was use a large piece of paper (preferably 11X17). She used an Oasis Pad (available from However, I purchased a cheap sketch pad for my use. Here's what you do:

In the middle of the page draw a circle. I used a large glass to make the circle. Inside the circle write your character's name, their age, and their occupation.

From here you draw six lines protruding from the outside of the circle--kind of like when kids draw a sun with rays.  Label the lines with the following six things: Career, Family, Friends, Relationships, Education, Quirks.

Now question your character about each of these things asking at least six questions. For instance with Education--Where did you go to school? Why did you go to this school? Keep asking why at least six times until you get to the real reason he/she went to this school. Perhaps they wanted to move away from home, they had a scholarship, they followed a loved one there, followed in a parent's footsteps, it's the only one they could afford....etc. Write the answers on six lines you'll draw out from this main line.

Continue with the remaining main lines. When you are finished you'll have a well rounded view of what drives your character and why.

On the left hand side of the paper, list six strengths your character exhibits. On the right hand side, list six weaknesses. Remember the weaknesses are the things that will get your character into trouble, but the strengths will be what saves them.

These pages can be folded in half and will fit inside a notebook for handy reference.

If you are a visual person like me, perhaps you will find this a handy way to do a characterization.

I highly recommend having Shirley Jump as a workshop speaker. She is a multi-published New York Times Best-selling author. Check out her website at

Thanks for stopping by!

No comments: