Web Your Characters Into Existence

webbingTime and again I’ve asked my students to give me a name. “Ruby,” someone shouts out. I write Ruby in the middle of the white board. Then I fire questions at them. “How old is she? Is she married? Does she have children? Does she have a career? Who were her parents? What’s her dream? What’s she afraid of?” On these last two questions I won’t take general answers, like happiness or success. It has to be something specific like, “I want to discover a cure for cancer.”

Each answer goes in its own circle. For parents, somebody shouts out, “wanted her to be a musician,” but it’s already been determined that her career is as a biological scientist.

Circles come off circles. We fill the board.

“What’s her inner problem?” I ask. I don’t give my students time to evaluate their answers. I just keep pushing. Turns out that Ruby watched her father work on an assembly line all his life and he died two weeks after he retired. She’s deathly afraid of boring science.

Soon we have a big picture and we see interconnections, problems and brainstormingsuccesses. I like webbing – some call it brainstorming – because it’s not logical, linear thinking. I think it’s a great way to come up with a character.

Images courtesy of:

  • atpm.com
  • problogger.net

10 responses to “Web Your Characters Into Existence

  1. I didn’t like to use any kind of diagram or visual aid, but I’ve come to discover it’s a lot like taking apart parts of your brain and literally leaving them on the table for you to explore and rearrange. A character is often a complex thing, so it’s very easy to get lost if you don’t have some kind of a visual marker to keep you focused, and that will eventually help you recall information better.

    Very useful post!

  2. I love this; as you mentioned, many of us know it as mind mapping but the way you use it for character development, i particularly like the “pushing” part..and then? And what else? I call it “drilling down.” thanks, Ed!

  3. I like the idea of brainstorming. My initial thought was that you would lose continuity of character actions because it is not based on a specific character personality type. But, as long as the character’s actions remain consistant the method of creation doesn’t matter. You could certainly end up with very interesting characters this way.

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