SCBWI Summer 2012 Recap: Discovering Character with Gary Schmidt

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Even though the SCBWI Summer Conference was, like, ages ago, I still have pages and pages of notes to share with you. And today, I’m sharing what I learned about character from Gary Schmidt.

But first I have to tell you something about Gary Schmidt. He has border collies. And that makes him awesome.

So, character.

Gary led a breakout session on character, during which he handed out old-time photos of people and asked us to create characters based on the photos. It was an interesting exercise. (My character turned out to be Annie, an exhausted housewife whose favorite room is her closet. Poor Annie.)

Before going into depth about how to discover details about character, Gary shared four assumptions:

1. Character is plot

All plot emerges out of character. Plot happens to and out of character.

2. The first task is to get the reader to turn the page

There are round and flat characters. Round characters are interesting and cause the reader to keep reading. Flat characters aren’t helpful to anyone.

3. Nothing is a one-off

Everything connects, ever detail, on some level.

4. We come to our characters little by little and not all at once.

As we write we accumulate details that build a character. It takes time to build the details that build a book.

Underlined and surrounded by asterisks in my notes is perhaps the best bit of wisdom Gary gave during his session:

Speed is not the friend of the writer.

I enjoyed Gary’s session on character, but enjoyed his closing keynote speech even more. I’ll share those notes in a few days. In the meantime, I highly recommend you visit Gary’s site, where you not only can learn about his award-winning books, but also see some video clips of his beautiful border collies.

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