Saturday, June 16, 2007

Fleshing Out Characters Through Blogging; The Mollycoddle Experiment

I posted about this at my old blog on writingup, and it sparked quite a debate... I'd like to see where the conversation goes here. There is a link to the character's blog at the end of this post and I'd love any feedback, if anyone has the time or inclination to follow all of the threads. Writingup is back at this time, though I don't know how long that will last. As I state below, the character really plays in comments... if you sign in to an account there, you can go to Mollycoddle's page and go to the tracking tab - that will show you all of the posts she commented on, and you can follow her discussions. This was originally posted in the fall of '06 - but for fiction writers it's a very good experiment, so I thought I'd post it here for a wider audience.

The Experiment

Having finished the first draft of my novel and wanting to leave it simmer for a while, I decided to pull up an old character and flesh her out. The idea was simple; start a blog from the character’s perspective and see where she goes. The novel I started for this character was in third person, and obviously the blog would have to be first person, but I thought that writing from her eyes might give me a better handle on how she thinks and who she is. I saw this challenge as something akin to method acting, becoming the character in blog the way an actor might live as their character while shooting a movie.


The character I decided to use was something of a puzzle for me. I like her, she has a lot of heart but, as a marketer might say, no hook. She’s not a writer, dancer, or impressive professional. She has no outstanding talent. She is the everyman. While I decided that a story about your average person, without the sensationalism that accompanies some of our famous literary figures, could be fantastic. The problem in the writing was that her surrounding characters became overpowering. They all had hook, they couldn’t help it really, they just were that way, but poor mollycoddle got lost in the shuffle.

Surprise, Surprise

When starting this experiment, I fully expected to flesh our little Molly out by blogging from her perspective. I half-heartedly thought that no one would notice her, lost among all the many other blogs of writingup. What I found was astounding; my character fleshed herself out; not during the course of my writing her little blogs in her first person perspective, but from chatting with all of the other bloggers here! The comments section was where she really played, suddenly she just blossomed and chatted and showed me more of her world as if it was the most natural thing.

It was fun, because there were blogs that Molly was reading that I had a reaction to, but couldn’t comment that way in her persona. Why? Because she disagreed with me. (No, I’m not schizophrenic) There were bloggers that Molly met who I had never read before, what fun it was to find some of those.

Did it work?

Did it work? Was my experiment a success? I can say it was. I know the character better, but more than that, I think she was relatively convincing as a whole person. I noticed that many of the bloggers who I had interacted with as myself, responded to Mollycoddle in a completely different way. Some took her under their wings, and were mothering and nurturing to her – which I thought was wonderful, because Molly as a person is really very lost at this juncture in her life.

That was not the intent of the experiment; to see how other bloggers reacted to her. Though that became the most profound tool in judging her success as a formed character. The difference in this type of immersion writing comes from the fact that you have to write on your feet - the character has to react, in her own mind, rather than in the writer's vantage point.

I invite all of you interested in the process of it to take a look at Mollycoddle’s Blog most especially her character in comments. I’d love to hear any feedback on how well fleshed out she is, or where I’ve fallen short (I noticed more than a few discrepancies myself), or just a discussion about the process itself.

I am ending the experiment, not because there wasn’t more to learn but because my schedule has become too hectic and I’d like to get back to my revisions, which leaves no time for Molly right now. I will, I believe, pull that character back out at another juncture, and will, of course, let you all know if she goes anywhere. Thanks for reading and I’d love to hear what you think.


silken said...

I remember this, though never really got into the discussion. Was it hard to read and write from her perspective w/o giving her some of your own personal traits? I am sure that is true in writing from a character's perspective, but to have to "think on your feet" from her perspectvie, that seems to be even more difficult.

interesting experiement...

Merry Jelinek said...

Hi Silken,

Actually, I found the thinking on my feet to be the most fun... I did waver in and out of her voice, though. I noticed it reading back through the blogs and comments. The character's voice is similar to my speaking voice, though some of her phrases and inflections (as I hear them) are purely her own. Her perspective is very different from mine, and her personality is a lot flightier.

The tricky part was writing in that voice, because my writing voice is a lot more literary and hers is a lot more gutteral... and the character was neither writer nor avid reader, so I was trying to keep in the spelling mistakes and grammatical errors, which tend to bother me normally.

I did waver, like I said, but their was no re-write or editing in blogland, so I thought it was really not too bad, considering how much polishing I would have done in edits.

jjdebenedictis said...

Wow; that sounds like it could be so much fun! I've heard of people doing this for someone else's fictional character (e.g. an "Ask Professor Snape" advice column supposedly penned by the character from the Harry Potter books), but never for one of their own.

The thing is, I'd want to do it for my most villainous characters, not nice ones like Molly! :-D Bad guys are so much fun.

Jerseygirl89 said...

What a fabulous idea. . .I missed it all on WritingUp, but I think it's great.

You should do a Myspace for her too! :) If life ever gets unhectic.

I will have to try this for one of my characters one day.

Merry Jelinek said...


Thanks for stopping by - now, I'd love to read 'Ask Professor Snape'!!! That sounds fun - and this exercise would work well for any character, even the villains!!!

There was a bit of debate over the ethics of blogging in character without letting your audience know that it's fiction - to me, that's completely up to the author. Fiction writers have researched their characters in a myriad of ways over the years - blogging and online discussion only offers one more chance to get into the mindset of your character - but with the added bonus of having that character interact with others.

Let me know if you ever try it out - I'd be interested to see how you did and what you found most valuable about the process.


Thanks for stopping! I've seen a few myspace and character blogs since I first attempted this experiment - though most of the character myspaces are for published works, I think it might make a good marketing tool at any step of the publication process.

Right now I'm back to final edits of the book I mentioned in the blog (at the time I'd just finished the first draft - now I'm on the fourth revision) This book is YA and the characters lend themselves to some phenomenal visuals - I'm hoping to put up a blog or website with character sketches and some great artwork...

Mollycoddle is no longer a main character. The novel she was supposed to star in will, hopefully, gain some use in short story forms... because it really did go on a literary tangent of many vignettes (sp?)... But, I found that her character would fit in perfectly as a side character for a mainstream novel I've been simmering for some time... she'll do better there - so the process was really advantageous for me - it helped me flesh out one novel idea and organize multiple short stories for rewrite.

I really do recommend the exercise. I only followed through for a short time with her, but gained a lot of knowledge - if you do decide to flesh out a character this way, I'd love to follow your progress and see how it goes for you.

The Anti-Wife said...

I think it would be very difficult to stay in character. It's one thing to be writing a book and be immersed in a story, but to be immersed in a single character would be especially challenging.

Good for you for doing it. I hope you thought it was worth it.

By the way, my house is painted. Pictures on my blog.

Merry Jelinek said...

Hi Anti-wife,

I really think the process is akin to method acting, and it's a worthwhile venture, especially for a character you're having a hard time understanding.

I'll stop by and check out your house in a few minutes - thanks for the update.