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I'm working on a novel together with my co-author, K. K's come up with this great character - a sassy were-cat name Garlic. Unfortunately, I'm having a really tough time writing for Garlic - K has a feel for the character that I just don't have yet.

I don't want to leave K doing all the work on Garlic - he's going to be a major presence in the book, and I want to be able to write him at least reasonably well. So I want to practice writing dialogue, behavior, viewpoint description, etc., for this character, until I can do a better job writing him.

I'm looking for good writing exercises that would be appropriate for, well, appropriating K's awesome character. Obviously K can help me out with them. I'd like something more directed than "write random scenes with Garlic; have K tell me what I could have done better."

Edited to Clarify: While I'm familiar with many ways to develop a character independantly, I am most interested in exercises which are unique to the situation of writing collaboratively. In other words, I want to know what new options I have available to practice "getting used" to somebody else's character, which I wouldn't be able to do with something that was entirely my own creation.

Disclosure: This is a hypothetical question for the "Collaboration" topic challenge. In reality I have no co-author, nor am I working on a book involving a were-cat. If you would like to apply for either position, please contact me in the chat room. Use the keywords: "RE: collaboration/lycanthropy".

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What? We have a chat room? Incredible! ;) –  John Smithers Feb 12 '12 at 20:04
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@JohnSmithers: Alternatively, you may apply for the position of "chat room enlivener." –  Standback Feb 12 '12 at 20:24
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a werechat room? –  kindall Feb 13 '12 at 22:41
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Is that like a regular chat room that only types howls when it's a full moon? –  Lauren Ipsum Feb 14 '12 at 11:20
    
I suddenly have a vision of the poet from Brotherhood of the Wolf reciting his poem at the dinner table (apologies for those who haven't seen that wonderful film). –  Craig Sefton Feb 14 '12 at 11:25
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2 Answers

write random scenes with Garlic; have K tell me what I could have done better."

I would say it's the other way around. K should write a character sheet. K should write scenes which describe how the werecat acts and behaves. Then you as a reader become acquainted with the character, maybe even identify with him. And you make suggestions, how to improve the character, what you dislike, what you like.

With this approach you get a feeling for the werecat. After that you use your normal approach for creating a character and apply it for Garlic.

E.g., you ask the werecat questions about his history, about his feelings, would he eat raw mice or prefer raw virgins, stuff like that. Let the character formulate his answers.

Just treat him like every character you invented yourself, have a lot of discussions and contradictions with K and go on writing.

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I'm in agreement with John Smithers here: the issue seems to be that you don't know enough about the character, so K needs to supply as much detail as possible for you to start with. Perhaps write a questionnaire for K to answer as if you were interviewing Garlic. This is an old technique, but it could help you get answers to fundamental things you want/need to know to understand the character better.

However, I think there's a more fundamental issue here. Clearly, the character belongs to K, so the issue for me is that you haven't brought your own ideas to the table. It's all very well that the character originated with K, but since this is a collaboration, and you are both planning on writing this character, then the character should belong to both of you. Once you get the character histories, then start to expand on them yourself. Add your flavour to the mix, and continue communicating and sharing ideas about Garlic.

A last point: don't stress too much if you don't get it "bang on" with the first draft. Things can always be refined with editing later, and so K can edit your scenes (and vice versa) if necessary for subsequent drafts.

Edit: since you've commented below asking for specific exercises that I can suggest for collaborations, I had a think about it.

I've already suggested the interview technique, which can work well for collaborations.

The second exercise I can suggest would be to get together with K online and do a chat room session (or meet each other and do something akin to a role-playing session) where you each take on a persona: you would take on Garlic, and K would take on a key figure from Garlic's life. Switch characters regularly so you see how each other handles Garlic. Not only that, you get to explore the other characters as well.

You mentioned that you could be working on an existing body of work, in which case you would need to research extensively, so there would be no avoiding the "boring" traditional techniques. However, perhaps what you could try is, after doing your research on the character in question, take an existing dialogue exchange, or some key moment from the character's life from the TV series that you haven't read/seen (but you know the basic facts of what happens - get K to share this with you), and then write it as you would have done it. Once you're done, compare it to the original, and see where key differences lie. This can help highlight where you are spot on, or where you've missed the mark completely.

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I'm not sure how to take this answer... it offers a good solution to the problem, but I was really looking for "constructive exercises" rather than "change your writing process." Not that the answer is wrong. It's just... off to the side a bit? –  Standback Feb 13 '12 at 21:28
    
Well, the interview technique is one exercise I did suggest, because it works well here with a co-author. As for the rest of what I'm talking about, standard character sketching techniques/exercises would apply, which have been covered by Writers.SE before, e.g. writers.stackexchange.com/questions/392/… –  Craig Sefton Feb 13 '12 at 21:46
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What I'm most looking for are exercises suited to the (unique-ish) task of imitating and assimilating somebody else's character. I think that's very different than developing your own character, and I'm looking for exercises and advice specifically suited for this task. So standard char development is not what I'm looking for (or is simply less interesting), at least without adjustments to this particular case. Another situation this could arise: if I start writing for an existing shared-world project, comic series, TV show, etc., and need to write well for established characters. –  Standback Feb 14 '12 at 5:41
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On a TV show, that's called a Writer's Bible. The originators develop it and present it to the writing room at the start of the series, and as the show goes on, whatever the new writers come up with is added to that bible so that other writers can keep the characters consistent. –  Lauren Ipsum Feb 14 '12 at 11:22
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