Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Monsters and Mayhem, Part 3 of 6

And now we return you to your regularly scheduled programming, already in progress:

As my regular readers know, I'm taking a 6-week course called Monsters and Mayhem at Grub Street, taught most evenings by Sue Williams and KL Pereira. (New link for KL! Blog this time! Check it out!)

Sophie Powell was last night's guest instructor, and week three was all about world building and backstory.

You classics and history buffs will appreciate the fact that Sophie started by having us read excerpts from The Odyssey, specifically those passages describing the physical environments inhabited by the Cyclopes and Circe. The arrogant and giant one-eyed monsters lived on untended land where they needed to do no work because the Gods provided everything for them. The more seductive goddess-witch Circe, by contrast, lived in an enticing house with high-backed chairs, polished tables, and girls to help bathe and feed Odysseus. As Homer did, so you too should consider physical setting: how does your monster/character's home and local environment reflect or contribute to its personality? If you are writing anything other than contemporary realism (speculative fiction, magical realism, even historical fiction), how does the setting of your story contrast with the world as we now know it? How does that affect the players in that world?

We also pondered several questions relating to our characters' backstories:
  • Have they always been monsters/villians?
  • Have they always been unloved/loved?
  • What do they really want from life? How would they choose to die?
  • Who or what do they care for? What is their most treasured possession?
  • Do they like their appearance? What are their favorite/least favorite body parts?
  • Are they creatures of habit?
  • Do they sleep lying down? What do they dream about?
  • What do they worry about? Get excited about?
  • What do they fear? What do they love?
  • What do they have faith in? Do they believe in a higher power?
It is truly amazing how many answers there are to these questions. One character might want to die in battle... another surrounded by loved ones... and yet another might want to die alone, away from prying eyes. And I found many of the questions especially interesting because in the story I'm working on, the main character is dead. So, in order to write this well, I should know exactly how she died, and whether it was what she wanted. I should know if the afterlife is what she expected. I should know if there's any possession she misses from her time on Earth.

Good stuff.

If you like where these questions are taking you, you should check out the Close Your Eyes post on KL's new blog, where she will lead you on a character-discovery visualization similar to the one Sue did for us during the first class. While the exercise is geared towards the fantastical, it might very well work for any character you're writing about.



  1. Oooh great stuff. I would love to be doing that course!

  2. Sounds like a great course! (And a fun one!)

  3. Came over here from Arlee Bird's blog.
    Hey, anyone who posts a photo of Godzilla is cool in my book!