Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Character Journals

The University of Chicago is blogging about a very neat journal mystery:

Yesterday we received a package addressed to “Henry Walton Jones, Jr.”. We sort-of shrugged it off and put it in our bin of mail for student workers to sort and deliver to the right faculty member— we get the wrong mail a lot. Little did we know what we were looking at. When our student mail worker snapped out of his finals-tired haze and realized who Dr. Jones was, we were sort of in luck: this package wasn’t meant for a random professor in the Stat department. It is addressed to “Indiana” Jones.

This included a handwritten journal penned by Abner Ravenwood, the father of Marion Ravenwood from Raiders of the Lost Ark (and you can read more about the mystery and details of what else came in the package at UChicago's Admissions tumblr blog here.) That someone would go to all the trouble of creating a journalistic homage to a fictitious character doesn't surprise me; writers do it all the time. That they mailed it off to a real university is part of the mystery, as in the film the college Indy worked at was completely invented. My guess is the creator might have once been a UChicago student -- and (obviously) a huge fan of the Indiana Jones movie franchise.

Creating a character journal is much like keeping one of your own; the difference is that you write in character, as this enterprising soul did as Abner Ravenwood. Your dates are your character's timeline, either in backstory or the present (you might even want to explore their future by journal), and any photos, sketches or other visual additions should be character- and story-appropriate.

This kind of journaling can be fun, but it's also serious practice with POV. When you write as your character you have to see things through their eyes, and it can help you understand their thoughts and responses. Before I wrote Evermore I created a poetry journal and a sketchbook for Jayr, my female protagonist, so I could work out her feelings for Aedan mac Byrne, the male protagonist. The project became part of the story, inspired the title of the novel and some of the poetry I wrote in character is actually published in the book, so it was not only immensely helpful, it actually became part of the story.

If you don't want to commit to a project as sizeable as a journal, try writing a letter or a blog post in character. The more time you spend in your character's POV, the better you'll get to know how they think, and like me you may even come up with some fun and valuable story material.


  1. As a way to get to know my characters and develop their distinctive voices, I like to have each character write two things - one is their version of the story I'm about to tell. A kind of "how I spent my summer" essay where the character tells, in his or her own words, how events transpired. Some characters are wordy and give a lot of detail, while others cut down to the bare bones. Another exercise I do is to have each character write a paragraph or two about how they feel about the other characters in the story. This is always fun with two people who end up together romantically. The last thing I love to do is to pretend I'm a reporter and interview my characters. My problem with all of these get-to-know the character exercises is that they are sometimes more fun to do that to write the actual story and I can get distracted. But for me, they really help bring the characters to life.

  2. I'm captivated by who created this journal and why and how it ended up at the university. It reminds me of the book art left in various libraries in Scotland last year. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Turns out the solution was a lot more mundane (but still amusing).

    The journal was the product of an eBayer who sells personalized props from movies (I'm not sure if it's limited to the Indy movies or if he does others). He had sent the journal to a customer, but somewhere around Hawaii (the guy lives on Guam of all places), the journal fell out of the mailing bag. The Post Office sent it on based on the information it found.


  4. That's a really fun story!

    It's also a great idea on how to know your characters. I did my 2012 NaNo novel entirely in blog format, so I got a first-hand look on how a character can change as you journal from her POV.

  5. helen3:02 PM

    I was listening to public radio yesterday and they had a story on this! It was made by a vendor on ebay who was selling it to a gentleman in Italy. Somehow the outer envelope slipped off and the only visible address was the one for the university so the PO sent it there.

  6. I actually started doing that. Then I ended up with a whole first-person point of view story. It's going to be a YA series.

  7. I LOVED THIS! Sorry, but this is just too cool. So Indiana Jones complete with the misadventures his character fell into or out of on an almost constant basis.

    I'm still smiling. Maybe because I'm a huge fan of the Indy franchise too, but maybe because it really is just so cool.


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