by Thea Constantine
At the heart of every great piece of writing, there is a voice, and that voice has a character. It can be far in the background speaking to us through imagery in poetry, or up-close in a first-person narrative. Getting to know the voice of the characters in our work can be tricky, but once we connect with them they often take us by the hand and lead us into an entirely new world.
- Date of birth
- Eye color/hair color
- Identifying marks and scars
- Address/Current Location
- Marital status
- Driver’s license
- R/L handed
- Past residences
- Occupation/SS #
- Known associates
Laying all these details out gives us a simple and concrete look at our subject. It is a clear, stark view. Once you get it all down, you can begin to be more creative and more specific.
When looking at “birthplace” for instance, might we discover that not only was the character born in New York, but he made his debut in the back of a taxi, or maybe in a home for unwed mothers, or perhaps in a townhouse with doctors, nurses and doulas standing by?
If the piece is more esoteric – a poem about an incredible field of spring flowers or a police beating, for instance – these things still have an origin. Were the roses wild? Did the little purple flowers start out in a park as seeds eaten by a bird who then flew across the country, depositing them right there? Or, ask yourself: in what type of place did the victim grow up? Was the cop married? Did he have a squint?
Now you are ready to take your character on a journey. In many ways, just laying out the details can help build an unforgettable voice. For a beautiful example, I leave you with: “won’t you celebrate with me,” by Lucille Clifton.
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This prompt is the last of Thea’s bi-monthly series. We warmly thank Thea for her inspiring and creative prompts. We greatly appreciate her enriching the VoiceCatcher community website with her contributions. Thank you, Thea! – The Editors
Thea Constantine is a writer and certified AWA facilitator with PDX Writers. Her short stories have most recently appeared in In Focus, the quarterly magazine of the PEN Cyprus Center; Stellazine; Roving Writers; “On the Yellow Line,” a weekly column for Street Roots; and an original serial for the online magazine The Black Boot. Her work has been included in a number of anthologies. She won 1st Place Short Story in the maiden edition of the Watercress Journal. She is currently at work on her first novel, Stumptown.