In my personal life, I allot time to reflect. As a talent development leader and executive coach in my professional life, I spend inordinate amounts of time teaching executives to reflect and to capture those thoughts in a journal. I ask them to think about what was, what is, and what can be. There is no better window to the soul than a private, reflective journal. I tend to keep two; one is an appreciative journal to remind me how wonderful life is, and the other is dark--- filled with vicious thoughts and evil. I find that love and hate are two strongly connected emotions and sometimes when one is developing a character profile, the best emotions and most prolific characters can be found when I cull through my own journals.
While working in the media and entertainment industry, I became acutely aware of the value of images. Think about a movie poster. How does one create / capture one image that communicates the theme of an entire movie with all its twists, plots, characters and layers? Creating an image with words can even be more challenging. How does one create an effective, compelling image using only words? Images, however expressed, are powerful storytelling tools, and there is a delicate balance to strike in getting them just right.
I recall two exercises from my undergraduate coursework that I still find helpful. Exercise 1: Take an ordinary red-tip kitchen match and strike it, watching it burn until it reaches your fingertip. Blow out the match, inhale and observe the gray smoke unfurl and disappear. Then, describe that activity in minute detail, writing a minimum of 5,000 words.
Exercise 2: Take any horrific headline from the television news (destructive tornadoes, building collapse, plane crash), and tell that story in 3 or fewer paragraphs. Get all the facts, and tell the story concisely as though you were writing the newspaper copy. Those two exercises force your brain into mental Olympics, expanding and contracting your memory and thinking faculties. Free thought and discipline are both valuable in character development and experienced writers learn how and when to use each tool.
Next, I’ll explore how a vivid imagination can fuel character development when “with that said” continues…