Sometimes a new character, setting or plot just comes to us. We wake up with a brilliant idea. We see or hear something that kick-starts our imagination. When this is not the case, try revamping ‘one you made earlier’. Or revamp one that somebody else made - rather in the spirit of George Washington’s axe. (’This is the very axe George Washington used when he chopped down the cherry tree,’ the proud owner tells his visitors. ‘Of course, it’s had four new handles and three new heads since then.’)
Amazing what a new head will do.
GIVE OLD CHARACTERS A MAKEOVER
Change one aspect
A single change can radically affect the whole picture. Other features become incongruous or find themselves in direct conflict with the newcomer. They have to adapt – or fight. Imagine: Henry the Eighth as a woman, Tina Turner as a village post-mistress, Ophelia in a bikini, Gandhi as West Indian.
Take any familiar character and try changing their:
- social status
- historical period
- state of health
- style of dress
- marital/family status
- sexual orientation
- geographical location
Changing one aspect is a very useful way of developing a character who is based on somebody you know – particularly yourself. It creates some distance, which enables you to see new possibilities.
Change a few aspects
Try the exercise again, changing two or three of the aspects. What effect did this have? How much of your original character remains?
In the last chapter we experienced the effect of working with opposites. We can use this technique to invent someone who is the exact opposite of our original character (and probably represents their hidden self).
This new character can be used in their own story, or placed in conflict with the original, as in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.