I grew up reading stories. Escaping into stories. Reliving stories in the woods out back. I fell in love with certain characters and would always be on the look out for further stories about them. I would make up stories about the same characters.
We knew how the characters would act in certain situations because we began to understand the characters when the author took the time to develop them.
Today, I want to talk about developing characters in our poetry. On the surface this can seem the impossible task considering novelist take whole books and series to really develop a character—and in poetry we only have a few lines.
There are several ways to develop a character that we can take advantage of to make our poetry and story telling come alive:
Physical Details about the character: This is most obvious and most used way to introduce a character. As poets, we can thrive on our imagery, allowing someone to see the person by creatively showing how they look, adding wrinkles to imply age, give them wild hair to give the edge of craziness or use the symbolism of a hawk nose.
Physical environment surrounding the character: The setting in which we place our character can tell us a lot about them as a person. It can also speak to their motives and lifestyle. The aspects of the environment that we choose to accentuate, such as shadows or light, will add to our feel of the character.
The other characters surrounding the character: The other characters we use and how our characters interact with each other will tell us a lot about the person.
The things that the character does: The actions of the character may imply their motivations, their habits, the personality that they have. Their actions may be familiar to a reader or challenge the way that they would normally handle a situation.
The things that the character says or thinks: Dialog lets us hear a character. Perhaps you use a dialect for them to tell us about where they are from. How they talk to others, the strength of their voice or the weakness of it will tell us about a character. The feelings we give a character are important indicators of the kind of person they are.
While that is a lot to think about in terms of developing a character, especially considering the limited time we have to do it in poetry, it is important to think about how we can make them come alive for our reader. It then becomes a choice in what do we use, and what do we leave out.
If you have thoughts on this, leave them in the comments—and we can discuss this further.
What I would like you to do today is to write a poem and focus on developing at least one character within your verse. The verse can be a just about that person, or they can be just and ‘actor’ in a greater situation. Do make sure that you working on making that one character come alive for the reader.
If you are new here, let me tell you how this works:
- Write a poem to the prompt and post it to your webpage/blog
- Click the Mr. Linky button below and enter your name and the direct url to your poem.
- There you will find others that are writing to the same prompt. Visit them. Tell them what you liked about their poem or what you appreciated about the character they developed.
- Enjoy — we are all learning together and you can learn much just in interacting with one another.