Character Building with Jo Walton

Hands down, this was my favorite panel or workshop all weekend. It was fun, interactive, and applicable for my writing. Starting off my Sunday morning right, at 10 am.

After putting our chairs in a circle, we each wrote three character aspects on a piece of paper and turned them in. They were cut up and put into a bag. Then, we each took a turn drawing 3 aspects from the bag and collectively brainstorming about the character they described.*

Jo Walton started off by discussing the stereotype, “When stuck, have a man come through the door with a gun.” Why a man? Why not an alien? A woman? An old guy in a wheelchair?

When creating a character, don’t just go with the same-old stereotypes. Make sure you’ve thought about age, gender, sexuality, power, disability, race, and species. Most of us default to western archetypes.

During the class, these are the traits and characters that were developed and the plot bits we assigned to them.

  • Power-addicted, sarcastic, eye-color – We decided this was a cyberpunk business woman in a world where you can have no eye color, she has a drug addiction that gives her eyes color. She’s a CEO.
  • Obnoxious, height, stutterer – We decided this is her sidekick. Maybe an (ex)lover or her brother. He only stutters when he’s not being obnoxious.
  • Long hair, tail, hallucinates – This became our little girl protagonist, with prehensile hair and tail that cause her hallucinations. (Tails were in style the year her parents commissioned her) But, some of the things she sees are real. She’s got Oracle tendencies at age 7. During the story, she loses her tail.
  • Sword fighter, contemplative, robot – He teaches sword fighting but prefers painting flowers and puppies. He helps little girl escape from Punk Lady and Obnoxious Stutterer.
  • Afraid of taxis, regrettable past, Jr high graduate – Our AI car, scared of the Taxi Mob controlled by Punk Lady. (She does things like, do as I say or I’ll send a taxi to take care of it.) Owes the taxi mob money.
  • Religious minority, missing a hand, obsessive – Our preacher who they think will help. His body won’t accept mods and he joins the anti-mod religion. He takes our little girl to have her tail removed, to ‘help’. Little girl’s first hallucination comes true when she loses her tail and she learns to trust the visions. Later on, we decide that parents were trying to help with hallucinations, not realizing the travesty of their actions.
  • Lame from war wound, golden eyes, stubborn– Grizzled vet, security for the factory. His golden eyes are either from pain meds or radar mods. His leg was mostly fixed, this is as good as they could get it. He was sent to take care of little girl and fights the robot mentor.
  • Logical/analytical, admires female form, hair color– Grizzled vet’s bf. A doctor who cuts off the little girl’s tail – to restore her female form. Plans to take off her hair next.
  • Accepting, dyslexic, confident in own rightness – White religious male. Pro-modifications. HE accepts what he’s told and is a housekeeper at little girl’s parent’s house. He let the kid/robot escape, but wrote grandmother’s address down wrong.
  • Outgoing, indifferently moral, loyal – Cheery assassin. Rescued in the past by Punk Lady, she’s in her early 20’s and the assumed heir of Punk Lady. She has military grade black-market mods. When fighting the robot, she makes quips, “Nice technique. Who taught you to fight? My grandma?”
  • 88yrs old, talkative, deaf – Grandma, the coder of the robots. Riding in her hover chair. SHE comes through the door with a gun while robot fights assassin. (Luckily, the alarm system also flashes lights, not just sound.)
  • Fighter, resolved, working class – Grandma’s butler/guard, mentor robot’s unarmed martial arts counterpoint.
  • Loudmouth, sarcastic, witty – Disorganized mom of little girl. Sends the kid to the doctor, out of the way.
  • Supernatural abilities, cat allergies, curse of competence – Many thoughts on this one. Another modded little boy, allergic to her tail/hair. Or her other parent, allergic to kid, had the kid enhanced from her abilities.
  • Friendly, anxious, 3-haired mole on chin – Part of the no-mod religion, but leaves the door open so the little girl/robot can escape.
  • Integral, female, loyal? – Skipped
  • Asymmetric face, tattooed, from the Mountains – From the other side of the world, where the kid is trying to escape to. Perhaps where the radiation is strong? (Hence asymmetric face). Or simply where people don’t mod themselves.

* Jo Walton said that main characters are usually who we already know, but this strategy is great for secondary characters and works best with at least 5 different people participating so you can get a wide variety of traits.

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