Let’s sit the table. This is one character development technique that I’ve recommended to every writer. Oh? You thought I misspelled (or misused) a word in that opening sentence? Glad you noticed it because this concept may just be the formula needed to not only develop your characters, but “keep them in their places.” Let me explain.
Most writers I know construct the people in their stories through bullet-point outlines of each “person’s” physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual elements. I do, too. However, as I’m doing so, I sit each character at The Table, starting with my protagonist and antagonist at opposites ends. When I first started doing this, the exercise felt a bit cumbersome. Then it became FUN especially when supporting characters were seated in the side-chairs. Not every antagonist or protagonist ally will sit to their right.
SO…just for fun…let’s play with an example. And, since it’s the season of Thanksgiving and the Native American Tribes graciously brought the Pilgrims a sumptuous meal, I’ll offer a brief slice of one possible scenario. The year is 1621. The setting is a very small log-cabin and tent village where the forest has been trimmed back and a “long table” awaits.
ENTER my Protagonist, Chief Listening Bear of the small Halawi Saponi Tribe. He wears a headdress of shiny dark-brown-and-gold turkey feathers and not much else. His Pilgrim friend (protagonist supporter) is Father O’Malley, who greets Chief Listening Bear warmly and directs the Chief to the head of the table—the position always saved for the Pilgrim’s leader, Colonel Alfred Raleigh (maybe my Antagonist—maybe not). A hush is felt among the gathering participants, as Colonel Raleigh raises a bushy eyebrow, then offers a half-smile and moves to the other end of the table.
Now the other “players” in this drama must find their places. Who sits to the left and right of the main characters? Will only men be allowed at the table? Would the Colonel’s Lieutenant position himself next to the Chief for intimidation purposes? Or…might the Colonel’s daughter take her seat across the table from the Chief’s son—an immediate attraction visible between them? Yes. This table has much plot development potential, and knowing where each character “sits” (creating their position in the protagonist/antagonist plot) will help you keep their dialogue and actions true.
History tells us that ninety Native Americans brought dinner that day with only fifty-three Pilgrims present. This was probably the total population of both villages. What their interactions might have been are open to interpretation (and storyline development), even though we have some documentation. However, the concept of people looking in the eyes of the person seated across the table, and the intrusion or comfort levels felt when seated between two other people, gives the writer a great amount of material to work with.
Now, here we are, all these years later, having celebrated yet another DAY of THANKSGIVING. What a difference a couple hundred years makes! AND YET…might some of those same feeling be alive and well today? Writing about them—exposing potentially harmful attitudes—might just make our next Thanksgiving Season a brighter one.
|ABOUT ROYALENE DOYLE: Royalene Doyle is a Ghostwriter with Outskirts Press, bringing more than 35 years of writing experience to authors who need “just a little assistance” with completing their writing projects. She has worked with both experienced and fledgling writers helping complete projects in multiple genres. When a writer brings the passion they have for their work and combines it with Royalene’s passion to see the finished project in print, books are published and the writer’s legacy is passed forward.|