Here is an exercise that seeks to draw out a character’s inner landscape via their external, so they become a product of place, just as we all are.
Have you ever looked at one of your characters, peered at them between the words on the page, a bit like a kid at a fence, and found they aren’t quite real yet?
We’ve all had it, but to some extent it’s a bit like looking at the tomato plants you’ve grown from seed and, after four weeks of healthy growth, calling it a ‘problem’ that there are no tomatoes yet. They’ll get there in their own time, of course, you just have to maintain the right conditions.
It’s the same with your characters, they need the warmth of your continued attention, patience and some kind of nourishment. Many exercises suggest profiling – the interrogation of your character using a series of questions that look at, say, personality, past, likes and dislikes, ambitions etc. This can be very useful, and it works because it makes you look inwards – into the character – to get a sense of what you might call their internal landscape.
But we can also turn that on its head and instead look outward. In Writing Fiction, Janet Burroway says ‘…just as character and plot are interlinked, so character itself is a product of place and culture.’ This exercise seeks to explore those links. It might have particular appeal to writers whose minds work visually. (Or who like crayons.)
A creative map I drew for 'Nailing Cats to Trees,' a short story I'm working on. I used 'bubbles' to represent the three most significant places to the character and explored how they connected. I learnt some new things about interconnection within the piece, and it also helped me locate the 'fuzzy' areas.