poetry and prose about place

writing a novel – why couldn’t I invent a ‘character generator’?

with 5 comments


So the poet has decided to write a novel…


Title: unknown

Working Title: unknown

Setting: an abandoned church (in part)

Characters: main character a writer (not a very successful writer) who spends a lot of time at some other creative endeavor

Plot: unknown


Characters are the stuff of novels.  I am sure someone has written a novel without characters, but for me … no character, no action … no character, no growth …

The characters in my novel were not in my head before I started writing.  Once I knew a little about my setting, I began to write and the characters began to suggest themselves.

A lot of writers have said this to me.  Begin the story, and the characters and plot will start to unfold.  Stephen King says (in Chapter 4 of his book On Writing – A Memoir of the Craft, Scribner, 2000): ‘Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world.’   So, with not much more than an idea for the setting, I began to write.

My main character emerged as I started to write about the setting (the old abandoned church).  I like to write in the first person, so this character was immediately ‘I’.  But, of course, this does not mean my protagonist is ‘me’.

Before I had written three pages, I knew my main character, the ‘I’ in my book, wanted desperately to be a successful writer.  But she (still not ‘me’) was also noticing things in the setting that showed she was doing something else with most of her time.  Whether she admits this to herself or not in the book, it will be revealed to the reader.  Or perhaps a clue is contained within this post…

So, I have my main character.  But what about the other characters?  Why couldn’t there be a tool for writers called the ‘character generator’, a simple device a writer could use to build the basic characters.  Get the characters and the story writes itself, correct???

My ‘character generator’ would look a little like one of those oragami-type fortune-tellers we used to make in school.  A number was chosen, fingers flopped back and forth and some ‘secret’ was revealed.

My character generator would be similar, only it would tell the color of the character’s hair, perhaps if he or she was timid or brave, and what sort of work she or he would be good at… a very three-dimensional character… well, it’s a start…

So you think this idea is too ridiculous for words???  Did you know (I discovered this from reading Stephen King’s On Writing ), in the 1920s a writer named Edgar Wallace is credited with creating a Plot Wheel.  When a story-teller came to an impasse, all the writer had to do was consult the Plot Wheel to see what should happen next.  Once the wheel was spun, the writer could read the result… perhaps one result would be ‘heroine tied to railroad track’ or ‘heroine rescued’…  Since then, I suppose many computer-based plot generators are available.  I think I will discard my idea of a simple ‘character generator’.

So, now I have a main character who is a writer, but who spends most of her time in some other creative endeavor than writing.  Perhaps this is where her real talent lies, or perhaps it is a ‘diversionary activity’.  Perhaps she is just using this to avoid facing her fear of never becoming a successful writer.

You see, ‘I’ is not ‘me’.

Copyright  Jane Tims  2012

Written by jane tims

November 23, 2012 at 7:30 am

5 Responses

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  1. We also used to make those fortune telling paper thingies at school. Hah what a good idea to use it for writing prompts! I’m also trying to write something bigger than a blog post and your post has inspired me… perhaps I’ll first re-read Steven King’s book…



    November 26, 2012 at 2:22 pm

    • Hi. I highly recommend Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’. I send you encouragement towards your project…. jane


      jane tims

      November 26, 2012 at 9:21 pm

      • I read the book a few years ago, but think I need a re-read in the hope that it’ll give me the kick in the butt to start writing.



        November 26, 2012 at 9:28 pm

  2. Character generators may have issues when trying to use them to write a novel. But thanks for sharing the pictures of the origami-like fortune tellers. I used to make them when I was a kid and hadn’t thought of them in years.



    November 25, 2012 at 7:52 pm

    • Hi. I think there are more ideas in our own heads than the most complex character generator could ever produce. Glad you remember the fortune tellers. Jane


      jane tims

      November 26, 2012 at 12:23 am

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