Monday, May 16, 2011

Guest Blog By Jessica Handler: Writing Exercise: Venn Diagrams and Finding Yourself in a Character




Welcome to my good friend Jessica Handler, author of the memoir Invisible Sisters, who is my guest blogger today, as part of the Blogathon’s guest blog challenge. Since I tend to present writing exercises on Mondays, I asked her to contribute one of her favorites. This one works for fiction as well as nonfiction; here’s Jessica:

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the intersection between self and character on the page. I’m a nonfiction author, but am working on a novel, and I know that in order to imbue my protagonist with real emotions and authentic successes and failures, she’s got to reflect some truths about my own best and worst characteristics. She's nothing like me, on the outside. Her story takes place before I was born. She's a teenager, and I'm a grown woman. And of course, I never, ever, lie. So where do I find the place that the two characters, writer and author, intersect?

In a Venn diagram. These overlapping circles are used to graph all kinds of connecting elements. The Wikipedia definition says, in part, that Venn diagrams show all hypothetically possible logical relations between a finite collection of sets. The textbook I use when I teach media history uses one to illustrate commonalities in communication methods. My niece, a recent graduate in psychology, told me at dinner this week that she “just loves Venn diagrams.”

So what’s to love if you’re using one as writing tool? Try one and find out. Get a pen or pencil and a sheet of paper. Draw a circle on one side of the page that represents your fictional protagonist. Within that circle, make a list of that character’s personality traits, quirks, and challenges – whatever you’re struggling with conveying.  Now, draw a circle closer to the right side of the page, but make sure to overlap a portion of the two circles. On the non-connected part of the top circle, write a list of your own personality traits, quirks, and challenges that are relevant to what you’re struggling with conveying in your protagonist. Here’s a picture of one I’m working on:


You’ll start to notice similarities in the two lists. In the connecting, or overlapping, section of the two circles, write those traits that you share with your character. It’s here, in this list, that you’ll find the resonant moments and actions that you can build upon to help you make your fictional character memorable and, the best way, true.

7 comments:

  1. what an excellent idea- I've used the Venn diagrams, but not in this particular exercise. I'm always more comfortable with non fiction writing- and I think this will help me with my fiction writing!

    Great post!

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  2. It's like taking your left brain and your right brain and pausing before deciding what either side is going to do and thinking....thinking. Thinking usually helps me with my writing. :)
    Interesting post.

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  3. Wow! I have always solved problems like x people play football, y people play basketball, z people play tennis, p people play both football and basketball blah blah... using Venn diagrams! But this is superb idea! It is practical and I should definitely use this.

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  4. I love this! My 5th grade daughter uses Venn diagrams for writing all the time, so I've also been inspired to use them, especially for character development. Great post!

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  5. Glad to see you all liked the Venn diagram idea! Thanks again, Jessica, for sharing!

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