Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Guest Post: Lisa Harris on Shopping for Characters


I knew I was in trouble when I started shopping for her.

I was at DI more often than the sales people, scouring the sweater rack for anything embroidered with ladybugs, shamrocks, puppies, or kitties. One golden day, I found a vest embroidered with the entire nativity scene, complete with wise men following yonder star across the back.

It would have been fine, if the person I was shopping for could have actually worn the clothes. But she was a fictional character. She only lived on the page and in my mind. And yet, here I was, spending real money to cart home real sweaters to no one.  I knew she wasn’t alive (it wasn’t quite a Lars and the Real Girl moment). But still, that was when I knew Treasure Blume had taken on a life of her own.
 
Treasure Blume is the main character in my new book, The Unlikely Gift of Treasure Blume.  She’s an elementary school teacher with a family curse: everyone who meets her takes an initial dislike to her.  Ever had a day where it seemed like everyone hated you? Treasure was born when I had one of those days.  I remember coming home and thinking “Wow, I’m glad that everyday isn’t like this.”  And then I began to wonder: “But what if it was?” 

And that’s when I started writing about Treasure Blume.  She walked in my door, with mud clinging to her boots from the garden, and refused to be ignored.  That night, after my kids were in bed, I wrote about 20 pages of details and background, just so I could get to know her better.  Then she started talking, and I had to listen.  (Sidebar: writers are the only people who think it’s a good thing when they hear voices in their heads.) Pretty soon, she started bringing friends with her:  her scraggly cat Howls, her irascible, dancing diva grandma, and a down-on-his-luck lunch “lady” named Dennis. It wasn’t long until I was carrying an entire community in my head during the day and writing about their antics at night.

I don’t know if it’s like this for every writer developing characters, but it was for me. Treasure was initially sparked by a personal event: one very bad, no good, horrible day. But soon she went beyond my experiences and became her own person (with her own sense of style and taste in knitwear).   They all did. Dennis, in particular, gave me pause. He’s a chef, and he spoke and thought in food metaphors. I am not a chef.  I had to keep Google open every time I wrote from his point of view, so that I could understand his “food speak.”  

It might sound bizarre, but buying sweaters and reading up on foodie blogs brought these characters to life.  And that’s important. Because a character has to be made of more than just you and your experiences to be believable and relatable.  You have to believe in the reality of your own characters so that a reader can.

I watched an interview with JK Rowling, where she showed the pencil and ink drawings she’d made of each main character in her books.  “I drew them for no one but me,” she said. “I just wanted to see what they looked like.”  That’s what buying sweaters for Treasure does for me; it helps me see what she looks like.  Incidentally, check out the sweater on the cover! Totally worth $15 bucks.

Lisa Rumsey Harris grew up writing stories and riding horses in southeastern Idaho. She received a bachelor’s and master’s degree in English from Brigham Young University, where she now teaches writing classes.  Lisa lives in Orem, Utah, with her ancient Siamese cat, her husband (who cooks nearly as well as Dennis) and her two adorable daughters. When Lisa began writing this book, her oldest daughter was in first grade. Her youngest daughter finished first grade this year. Check out her world at www.treasureblume.com or on facebook under Lisa Rumsey Harris, author.
The Unlikely Gift of Treasure Blume will be released on November 13. It is available for pre-order on Amazon right now.

2 comments:

Wendy said...

Oh, my goodness!! I'm so glad you said all this. Although I've enver been clothes shopping for my charaters, I have done some pretty odd things. Hearing about yours makes me feel so much better.

I love that she walked in with mud on her boots - I know to anyone else that might seem weird, or annoying, but to me it was positively endearing! I love it when my characters do things like that, and I wish it happened more often!

Lisa Rumsey Harris said...

Thanks for the comment, Wendy! And it was a very Treasure moment when she walked into my life. Glad to know I'm not the only one with imaginary friends.

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