The 5 'Ifs' and a Camel

Hello, there, Cuddy!

I’d like to say that I met this beautiful creature whilst on one of my healthy walks – but I was driving and just stopped to say hello. I know nothing about these one humped animals so I’ll call it a ‘he’.

He happily chewed the cud whilst I talked to him about characters. At least talking to the animals is better than talking to yourself, isn’t it?  Unless someone walks past…

Back in the day, when I first started teaching, a colleague shared an excellent way of introducing the sensitive topic of ‘death’ to a class. I’ve used this lesson in a variety of ways since and most times it had super outcomes. And now, I use it as an exercise for myself when exploring new characters. I call it the ‘IF’ task. It goes like this:

If my character was a plant or a flower, what plant or flower would it be?

If my character was a sound, what sound would it be?

If my character was a household appliance, what appliance would it be?

If my character was a vehicle, what vehicle would it be?

If my character was a fruit or vegetable, what would it be?

Naturally, the reason for the choices has to be explained – to yourself or to a one-humped camel (dromedary – just to prove I know what it is called).

I love this exercise because it’s quick and fun. Once I know the basic traits of my characters I do (sometimes – not always) go deeper and produce CVs or Resumés for each character and have occasionally held interviews with them. Any method of getting to know a character is a worthy one.

You could also try the ‘IF’ task out on yourself. That is quite an eye-opener (if you're honest).

Have you tried this method before? Do you do anything out of the ordinary to get to know your characters better?

Comments

  1. I love the IF exercises! I'll have to give that a go. It really makes you think doesn't it. I have interviews I've done with characters in various notebooks :-) xx

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    1. Let me know if you like it, Teresa. Have a lovely week.

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  2. Wow! I've never tried this method before. I think I might be afraid to try it on myself - not sure I'd like the outcome. I will try it on my characters, though!

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    1. It's fun :) Thanks for popping by Fran. Let me know if you like the 'IF' task :)

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  3. Great picture and thought provoking post! I should try this. Normally, rambling prose is how my characters introduce themselves and become familiar. :)

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  4. I have never tried this method before as I don't have any camels nearby. ;) There are some bison, though! I love playing the what if games with my characters. It really helps to flush them out.

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    1. :) You do make me laugh, Christine :) Thank you for popping by. Be careful of those bison :)

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  5. I'm not sure I can answer those questions for myself, let alone my characters!

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  6. I've never tried that one, just the 'what if' exercise.
    The camel didn't spit on you, did he?

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    1. No. He was too busy chomping on grass trying his best to ignore the crazy woman speaking to him :)

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  7. I haven't tried anything like that yet. My character usually starts out as a blank slate and I fill it in as the plot develops and I discover what kind of character I need.

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    1. That's another way of doing it :)

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  8. The What If method sounds like fun actually. I would say i am a weed-sturdy, strong, some may find annoying but I don't care because i can be anywhere. My dad used to call me the screaming hyena-'nough said. I'll be a dryer...spinning around with a few screws loose and sometimes blowing hot air. I'd love to say I am a little red jaguar but I'm more like the 1973 Ambassador I owned-2 tones, holes everywhere and could often break down. I can be the raspberry...a little round with bumps where i don't want them, can be squished easily but can grow just about anywhere with some prickles to ward off the evil doers. :)

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    1. FABULOUS!!!!! I love it, Birgit!! Thanks so much for sharing :)

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  9. Oh, I'm not trying that on myself. I don't want to open those doors. But that does sound like a fun idea for characters. And I love Mr. Camel.

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    1. It's great fun! Thanks for popping by.

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  10. That's a great exercise! I really love the one where you free write as the character and explain their home, family, job, etc. I guess this is more a personality exercise, eh?

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    1. That's also a great exercise, Crystal. Anything goes as long as it's fun and productive :)

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  11. I've participated in a few interviews that had this type of questions. That's a good idea to apply it to characters. They might have some surprising answers.

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    1. I love interviews :) Thanks for popping by, Cherie.

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  12. Haven't heard of this, it sounds like a great way to get to know a person IRL, too, if they want to play.

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    1. Even more fun if a glass of wine was involved :)

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  13. I haven't tried anything like that. But now I can't help thinking if one of my characters could be a camel.

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    1. :) Thanks for making me giggle, Susan. Great to see you.

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  14. I talk to my dog about characters...she turns her head like she's trying to figure out what she's saying, but I think she's just listening for words like "treat" and "walk."

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    1. :) Dogs are great companions :)

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  15. Characters live in me. And in the camel.

    Love,
    Janie

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    1. :) Thanks for popping by to comment, Janie!

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  16. Very interesting idea. Since I'm currently in the process of working with a new character I've created, maybe I'll try this!

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    1. It's quick and fun! Let us know if it helped. Thanks for popping by.

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  17. In the beginning, I interviewed my characters. Nowadays, though, I just get to know them while I rough draft. Which means a lot of stream of conscious stuff and back story dumps, but it doesn't matter because I rewrite the drafts anyway.

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    1. So many different ways to develop characters. Thanks for popping by Misha.

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  18. very difficult to know anyone's true self, still harder to know oneself. mind is adept at playing tricks.

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    1. I never stop learning about myself. That's how we make ourselves a better person - I hope :) Thanks for popping by. Have a lovely week.

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  19. I love this idea! I used to interview/write profiles on all my main characters (favourite colour, food etc), but then, tbh, I got bored. So now I just write and see what happens - oh, but I do also hold conversations with them in my head :)

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    1. Thank you, Rachel. It is a lot of fun and is not too boring :) And you can introduce any item: If character was a planet or a monster or an insect... anything goes to keep the interest :)

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  20. Such a great idea. My characters tend to make me beg for every piece of info:) They can be so mean sometimes. But I need to give your method a try. Thank you for sharing, Nicola. I tend to talk to my dogs. My neighbors do give me odd looks when I do, but as you said, its better than talking to yourself, which I also tend to do:)

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    1. I sat in the garden talking into my dictaphone the other day. The nosey neighbour thought I'd gone crazy. I heard her saying something to her husband :) I'm quite proud of that bit of uniqueness :) Thanks for popping by Murees. Hope you are feeling better.

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  21. The IF questions are illuminating, aren't they? If my character Sammy Clemens were a sound, it would be laughter. If Samuel McCord were an animal, he would be a haunted lone wolf. If Meilori were a vehicle, she would be a sleek lake craft whose shape wavered like a ghost in the mists.

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    1. Great use of the IFs there, Roland. Thanks so much for popping by. I know you are very busy touring with your new novel. It's on my weekend shopping list :)

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    1. Thanks Mark. I do visit your blog regularly but am unable to leave a comment for some reason. However, always an interesting read. Hope the book launch program is underway :)

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  23. That is a unique way to get to know your characters. I'll have to try that.

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    1. Thanks Sherry. Let us know how you get on :)

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  24. It sounds like lots of fun, Nicola, and I'll definitely give it a try, although on reflection, I sometimes do associate characters with objects or smells or sounds that keep recurring in the story, without realising I've done so until I'm revising! xxx

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    1. I know what you mean. My main protagonist in my novel turned out to be a coffee addict :) Machine in her office and everything :) Thank you so much for visiting, Joanna.

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  25. Ha, ha, I love it that you "discussed" your characters with a camel. :) The "5 Ifs" sounds like an intriguing exercise. I'll have to try it.

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    1. The good thing about speaking to animals is that they don't answer back, don't yawn when you go on a bit and look interested (even if they do tend to constantly chew the cud) :)

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  26. I've never tried it, but gosh darn it, I'm going to have to sit and think about it now. And maybe talk it out with my dogs, since I don't have a camel handy.

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    1. :) Have a great weekend, Loni.

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  27. I haven't done this, but I'd like to try it. This looks like a great exercise to explore a character.

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    1. Let me know how you get on Medeia. Have a lovely weekend and thank you for popping by.

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  28. I'm going to have a go at your 'what if?' method with the characters for my new novel, Nicola. I've got the usual character trait sheets but this sounds like fun. I've promised myself I'm going to do a lot more prep and research into the characters for this one. I know I won't use most of it in the actual novel but the information will inform what the characters say and do....well that's the idea!

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    1. Wishing you lots of fun, Jan. Do let us know how it goes. Have a lovely week.

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  29. That sounds like a great idea, Nicola - thanks for sharing it. Love the camel!

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  30. What an interesting exercise. Will give it a try. I finally got around to responding to your sweet Liebster award.Here is the link,

    http://craftmontage.blogspot.in/2016/05/yay-my-first-award.html

    Thank you again Nicola :)

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    1. Great answers to the questions, Seena. Thank you for popping by :)

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  31. This seems to be a great exercise. I must try it and find out what I'd be IF ....
    Incidentally I'm quite amazed you came across a dromedary in the US. How did he manage to be there? I always imagined I'd see camels , elephants and cows only on Indian streets!

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    1. I'm actually in Germany, Sunita. I don't know how he got there. He doesn't usually live there. I'll have to investigate. Thanks for popping by.

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  32. I think this would be a great exercise in a workshop. I can see all kinds of fun and excitement trying to figure out why a character would be a toaster. Loved this post!

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  33. Sounds like a cool exercise. Characters are varied in many ways. If this method works for you in knowing them better Nicola, go for it!

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Sheena.

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  34. I've created extensive backgrounds for some of my characters, but I love these 'if' questions. Not sure I would want to answer them though, probably wouldn't like the answers. I'd want to be the most noticeable, loudest, etc. but the truth is I'd be the least. Shy and backwards - it's my lot. :)

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    1. I can tell from reading your work that you know your caharacters well, Yolanda :) Thanks so much for popping by.

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  35. This is such an interesting way of analyzing a character. I am surely going to try this out :)
    Thanks for introducing me to it! Though I am not sure the answers might be that great :D

    Cheers,
    Srivi | The Piscean Me

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    1. It's the fun that counts :)Thanks so much for visiting. Lovely to 'meet' you.

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  36. That would be a fun exercise. And if you needed to warm up, you could answer those questions for yourself first.

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    1. Thank you so much for coming over, Diane. I hope all is going well in your new venture!

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  37. That's a fantastic exercise, Nicola! I tend to build my characters around real people I know quite well and that makes it a little easy to "birth" the extra ones. I will try this!

    Don't you love the way camels look totally unconcerned and keep on chewing? What big teeth they have! I keep imagining them going to the dentist! Ha! Hugs!

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