This is a model to exemplify the first three character vignettes.
The Three Step Character Model
To best illustrate the Three Step Character Development Process I decided to try something new. In my vast experience and past workshops, I found that the Three Vignette Model is a great way to start a novel. I give the three parts functional names and change them when I write my first draft. In the first vignette (part), called Placid Waters, the student gets to introduce a Central Character (CC), show him/her in the context of a Story World (SW), paint a Before Snapshot, and show her Wants, Needs and Desires. What follows is an example of what the process looked like to me when I wrote Pandora. All I started with was a name, (no plot,) and went from there. Vignette One is the first of three windows into the emerging character's personality, life, and situation. It introduces the reader to the CC on the home turf of their SW. This world is one they're familiar with and more or less control.
Vignette One Placid Waters
Once upon a time there lived a princess, named Pandora. She was tall with thick red hair and her face resonated with character. She had an impish nose, pointed ears and sensuous lips, however, it was her eyes that were spellbinding. They would hang on spoken words and make them a bridge into the speaker's soul. She was her mother's daughter and the power of her persona, illuminated a room.
Her body had curves that would be the envy of any woman; an ample bust, but not to excess. Her hips were tight like cantaloupes, firm and round. Her legs were long and stretched giving her a willowy grace. These feminine attributes often went unnoticed so taken were those around her by the disarming effects of her personality.
She dwelt with her family in the ancient fortress of Magnifico, a great walled estate. She wanted for nothing and had only to snap her fingers to have her every need provided. She did, however, occasionally experience unfamiliar longings. A dark spirit resided inside and oft, as she lay in bed, in deepest night, a voice from her soul whispered intimate suggestions and her imagination painted seductive images of the secrets a man and a woman might share behind closed doors—You know–that duty to provide an heir to the throne. The princess knew she'd one day marry and learn those secrets for herself. "If the King and Queen managed it, so can I." She grinned wickedly encouraged by the dark side and from her innocence a soft blush colored her cheeks.
Naturally, like any young woman, the young princess dreamed of a loving husband who'd appreciate her fine qualities, be her knight in shining armor, be the sire of many stalwart sons and beautiful daughters. Oft' when romanced by such notions she'd spin around the room in a dreamy dance. That certain someone who'll be the love of my life and man of my dreams. Her eyes misted. Despite this tender adolescence, strange hints and flashing images troubled her. Since coming of age, lascivious whispers and inexplicable desires haunted her dreams. At times they offered fanciful and serene delights and at other times, glimpses that were disconcerting.
Her parents, the King and Queen, doted on their beautiful daughter. The Queen, a Witch of great beauty, had earned the deference and respect of her subjects. Even so, dread might better describe the awe that Millicent inspired. Merlin, renowned for his wisdom and power ruled with benevolent kindness. One and all considered him the Philosopher King.
Pandora's education consisted of languages, mathematics, science and astrology as well as elocution, dance, musical instruments and needle craft. In addition she received training in all aspects of spell making, elixirs, and potions, yet was unable to apply what she practiced. The motive force of her powers had yet to be awakened and in her training she drew vicariously on those of her father. While a grand master of all things magical, Merlin often told her, "The Dark Arts are no substitute for a keen wit and the exercise of good judgement. Until you marry, any use of magic will remain beyond your means."
In her mind she had fond memories of him pacing back and forth in the library. "One day you'll be queen." The King's gesture encompassed not only the palace, but also his entire kingdom. "You must therefore learn everything a great sovereign must know to rule wisely. There are many who wish you ill. You must understand how to read and ferret out the characters of our nobles and ladies and all those who attend the Court."
The princess only half-listened to her father. Hmmmm, Is that like reading a book? She giggled under her breath. If he's told me once, he's told me a thousand times, "Think before you act!" The familiar lecture rolled over her yet again. "Beyond these walls are dangers you cannot yet imagine," the King continued. "While you may venture anywhere inside and onto the grounds and gardens beyond the drawbridge, you must never go further than yonder high hedge. Beyond the hedge row, lurk dangers I can't protect you from."
Even within these guidelines the Princess had a huge world at her feet. Inside the Fortress, Pandora explored all the rooms, corridors, staircases, ands battlements, as well as the lower levels where the cisterns collected water and the storerooms with their barrels and vases of provisions. The Palace had a long history, dating to when Elves ruled the earth and man had yet to venture from the dark forests and behold the Ican Sea. It was a place that had known both great deeds and the worst life has to offer. The evil which once lurked the dark passageways was still evidenced in the dungeons, which in her times, never had any prisoners. Still the rusting chains bore mute testament to terrible events of a distant past.
The torture chamber bore a particular fascination. The rack, iron maiden, and forge teased her mind with ancient memories of the agony and the screams of the poor, tormented souls once detained for questioning. An oppressive fear still permeated the walls and lingered in the air, even after long years of disuse. Drawn by a compulsion she couldn't explain, Pandora experienced something inexplicable, a dark resonance in her soul, when she went there to do her embroidery. The skylight high above provided abundant sunlight and made the stitching easy on her eyes. When she paused and gazed at the tools adorning the walls, strange sensations washed over her. She could almost feel an oily specter rear inside her head and stir with an evil malevolence. "It's only my imagination, of course!" She'd toss her hair as if to loosen the cobwebs of dark images. "How could anybody treat a fellow human being with such cruelty?"
In clear weather the Princess loved to walk about the gardens and enjoy the scent of the roses. She strolled down the well manicured hedges that gave a sense of symmetry, balance, and order that contrasted to the wild forest and gnarled trees in the distance. Sometimes she rode her pony, Merilot, in the uncultivated zone between the gardens and the distant hedge. It represented a no-man's land between her world and one ruled by nature.
One day, as Pandora rode Merilot around the grounds, she discovered a unicorn grazing with her foal. Surprised delight filled her and she urged her mount forward. Upon seeing the young princess the magnificent creature and her colt bolted for the hedge row. Over the top the horned beast leapt. Unable to match his mother's stride, the foal stopped, looked back, and stared a long moment, before picking his way through the barrier of foliage. Pandora rode up, dismounted, and stuck her head through the opening. An irresistible urge to follow washed over her, yet the warnings of her parents echoed in her ears. In an instant she decided. They only told me that to make sure I was home in time for dinner, It was a rationalization she'd soon regret. Throwing caution to the wind she picked her way through the twisting briars. Pandora soon emerged on the other side. In the distance the magical beasts entered the forest. Again the colt paused and looked back before the two unicorns disappeared from sight.
The second vignette is named Caught in the Current. In this vignette the CC is drawn from the comfort zone of life, caught in an upsurge of events and carried towards a Life Changing Event (LCE). Here the CC is thrust into a situation facing forces they're not accustomed to dealing with. The reader gets to see more of the character as they watch the CC trying to cope with, understand, and deal with a fluid and dynamic situation. Nothing like putting your Point of View (POV) character under some real pressure to see what they're made of.
Vignette Two Caught in the Current
Pandora measured the distance to the tree line. It isn't all that far . . . not really. I'll just take a peek into the forest. Maybe I'll see them. So, she set off, crossed the bordering field, and in short order stepped beneath the bowers of an ancient forest. She faintly heard a whinny and snorting. That must be them. They aren't too far away. If I just go a little further, surely I'll see them again.
The sound of distant hoofs and the calling of the mare to her foal drifted back toward the Princess. I'm getting closer! Yet, as she went deeper and deeper into the forest, the elusive sounds of the magical creatures drifted further and further beyond her senses. Pandora started to run. "If I don't hurry I'll never catch up." Her jogging accelerated. For more than half an hour she chased her elusive quarry. Finally, a bit winded, the princess paused. Her chest pounded from the exertion. She scanned the forest and listened but to no avail. "I'd better go home." An uneasy feeling began to settled. "This is getting me nowhere." Suddenly, her heart clutched and a chill raced down her spine. From up the trail, she'd just walked, there came the barking and howling of wolves. A cold chill raced down her spine. The princess gave her head the stupid slap. "OMG! What have I done now?"
Now Pandora began running in earnest, driven by the terror of being devoured by a pack of ferocious animals. "How did I ever get myself into this terrible predicament? I was warned and paid no heed. Now I'm really in the soup." Sprinting down the pathway she held the hem of her dress in each hand to keep from tripping. One slipper flew off and then the next. At length she broke suddenly out of the dark woods and into an open glade. A river shimmered and sparkled in the distance. The barking was loud and close upon her heels. Pandora darted to the river bank, and there spotted a small skiff. Wasting no time she pushed off into the water and stumbled aboard. "Just in time!" She sighed with relief as the pack paced the bank, snarling at the boat. One lunged biting at the wood on the bow. The little boat was rocked and buffeted as the beast shook his head back and forth. Rather than fearful, Pandora was overtaken by an inexplicable anger. The wolf's snarling and aggressiveness made her mad! With balled fist she leaned forward and socked him hard on the snout. The beast yelped, turned loose, and backed off in disbelief. "Close call, whew!" She wiggled her fingers, shaking off the pain and began calming down as the boat drifted out into the current.
Seating herself, she heard a sudden cry and noticed a man atop a bolder, frantically waving his hands. "Oh dear!" she muttered. "This must be his boat. I've taken the poor man's row boat." She sighed What choice did I have?
The snarling wolves wheeled and bolted toward the sound of his voice. He jumped off the rock and ran towards the river. The pack closed in hot pursuit. The current swept her around a bend and she lost sight of the drama. "Ummm . . . these waters do seem to be moving rather quickly!" She clutched the sides of the boat as water splashed up and soaked her skirts. Something whipped around and thumbed her back. She jerked away "What's this?" She grabbed at the strange handle. "Oh! the tiller!" She wriggled around and pointed the bow down stream. Then she heard it.
The rushing of rapids and the thunder of a distant falls echoed between the riverbanks "So that's what the frantic man was trying to warn me about." Panic churned in her belly "What do I do now?"
As the boat bobbed and jumped in the building current. Something smacked up against her ankle with a sharp crack. "OWWW! What!" Laying loose in the bottom of the boat, a pair of oars rattled and bumped against her feet. "Of course. Oars. I need to row. NOW!" Without hesitation Pandora wrestled the oars into their locks. She leaned in and rowed with all her might. Awkward and uncoordinated, since she'd never rowed more than time or two around the moat, the unskilled Princess heave-hoed and managed to turn the little vessel upstream.
Water's moving too fast! The craft bobbed and twisted through the turbulent rapids. Pandora's arms ached and her muscles burned. Steer toward the riverbank, she ordered herself. Her efforts were to no avail. The stream rose as the stern bobbled closer and closer to the precipice. The Princess rowed harder and harder until at length, having spent her last drop of energy, the little boat flew over the edge.
Somehow it stayed upright and smacked into the turbulent waters below with a mighty fountaining splash. Pandora tumbled forward, stunned when her head struck the boat rail. Drenched she sputtered and righted an oar, then grabbed the other before it floated away. Sweeping with all her might, she pulled clear of the deluge. "I don't believe it! I'm still alive and the boat didn't fly to pieces." A cry of terror split the air. The Princess looked up and saw a figure plunge over the falls. Like a rag doll with limbs spread, it pirouetted in space and lanced into the waters below. He must be the guy who tried to warn me. I guess the wolves didn't catch him after all. Feeling a twinge of guilt, Pandora turned the skiff about and rowed to the man floating face down. She ported the oars and dragged him over the side. Spitting and coughing, he flopped into the bottom of the boat like a half dead fish.
The third vignette is titled, Beyond the Falls, A Life Changing Event (LCE). In this one the CC finds themselves below the falls and in the midst of a LCE. She has been dumped into a world totally unlike anything previously seen, experienced or expected. Indeed, it's an environment beyond anything imagined possible. This is the third opportunity to show the CC's mettle. It so happens that in writing these vignettes, an added benefit is that the sketches illuminate the first three chapters of a novel. The trick is for the student to envision writing the three vignettes as a set and not see each one as a stand alone scene.
Vignette Three Life Changing Event (LCE)
The gasping lad waved toward the small beach of an inlet that formed a backwater behind the falls. The sheltered cove blocked the wind and the sun warmed a gravely mixture of small stones and sand. Pandora rowed over and leapt into the shallows. She fought with her wet skirt as she tugged the boat onto the bank. The young man retched over the side, gasping, coughing and spitting up water. Pandora helped him ashore. Three steps up the little bank he stumbled and dropped to his knees. She assessed his improving condition, and noted her own soggy gartments. Her blouse had ripped at the shoulder but still clung to her body.
After a time, the young man seemed to have cleared his lungs. He glanced up, his jaw dropped open and he stared in dismay at the young girl. A long pause stretched between them, until Pandora decided to take charge.
"Sorry about your boat." She shuffled her feet as a look of guilt came over her face. "The wolves made me do it."
"Don't apologize." The lad answered, "I'd have done the same thing."
She sighed and looked around. "I suppose that things could have gone worse?"
He shook his head. "I thought we were both goners."
"Do you know where we are?"
It started to sprinkle.
"Not exactly." He scanned the area and looked out across the rushing river. "I've never gone this far down stream before. Everyone hereabout knows the Great Falls border an Enchanted Forest, and a ruler who doesn't take kindly to strangers."
"Fancy that." The Princess twisted at her soggy dress and squeezed water out through her fingers. "What's your name?"
A pause ensued. "Kindred."
Pandora wrinkled her forehead. Is he being evasive?
He countered, "And yours?"
She wondered how her mother would handle the situation. The answer was self evident. "My Lady!" She replied with a condescending arrogance she'd seen her mom use on many occasions. It was designed to put people in their place. Donning her "Princess" persona like a full suit of armor, she continued, "Once you win my trust, I might allow you to address me informally, if no one else is present." With that she looked away.
"Well . . ." Kindred had the amused look of someone whose identity has been mistaken, however he quickly wiped it from his face. "You certainly have the dress and demeanor of a highborn."
"See you don't forget it." She answered looking up. "And you?"
Again he paused. "My father's a grower."
Ahh-ha! A farmer's son, trying to hide his low birth. She knew now where they stood and threw him a bone. "Farming's honest work."
The lad seemed to welcome the opportunity offered by her words. "Indeed it is. Would that I was back there this very instant, plowing the fields and slopping the hogs." He swiped his wet hair back from his face.
"Well, Kindred, you're a farmer no more." She looked down her nose. "You serve me now, and Fate has written you a different destiny."
Kindred shook his head as if trying to figure out this new relationship. Understanding came slowly.
'''Tis true You saved my life..." Kindred focused, his elbows resting upon his knees
"I did, didn't I?" Puzzlement clouded her face. "This isn't the way it's supposed to happen."
"You do know a knight is supposed to save his lady? " She shot him a quizzical look. "And I wound up saving you. That's rather backwards, don't you think?"
Kindred shrugged. "You'll have to ask a Knight."
"It was a rhetorical question," she explained, exhasperated.
"Duh... Call me MY LADY!"
It was harsh sounding and louder than she intended and Pandora reminded herself to remain calm. Princesses do not berate the peasantry. Her governess's frequent admonition came to mind.
"Henceforth you shall address me properly." She scowled.
He flashed a mischievous grin. "You're quite a sight in that soggy dress, MY LADY." He eyed the womanly curves revealed by her clinging attire.
"And further you need to stop that obscene gawking." I need to nip this in the bud. "It's rude for a anyone to so openly display his . . ." she fumbled for a appropriate word. "Desire." She said finally.
He looked away, face flushed in embarrassment. "Forgive me." His words sounded genuine.
"Forgive me what?" She emphasized the "What."
"Forgive me, MY LADY." He blurted it out, as if cowered by the exchange.
"You're forgiven... Just see it doesn't happen again." Pointing her finger and shaking it, Pandora made one last point, "...And don't forget that you owe me."
"Yes, My Lady." A note of playfullness crept into his voice.
He might have said more but noticed she was shivering. The wind was picking up and there was a chill in the air. He got up and strode to the boat. He popped open a small hatch. Inside the water-tight compartment he found a small assortment of essentials. He took out a bundle of dry clothing, trousers, a shirt, sandals, and half a bar of soap, tossing them at her feet.
"Put these on. You make me cold just watching you. When you get changed, perhaps you'd be so good as to gather some firewood. I'll see if there's some fish to be had." He stepped off and then paused, glancing back over his shoulder. "By your leave of course, My Lady."
She nodded her approval with an aloof air, but his disengenous tone was not totally lost. Did I detect a note of sarcasm? Under normal circumstances Pandora had an excellent ear for nuances, but the chill was distracting and the flannel shirt and cotton trousers, beckoned to her shivering body No, of course not, she chided herself. That would require sophistication. What we have here is a simple country bumpkin.
The clothes looked like a close enough fit, and she relished the promise of something dry. When Kindred disappeared Pandora darted behind a rock and pulled them on. They were rough-hewn, but clean. A luxurious warmth spread though her. While they fit a bit loose, that could be remedied when they found a seamstress. Why the soap, she wondered, surely he doesn't think I smell like he does? With that she put it in her pocket, stepped into the sandals and set out to find some wood. An hour later when Kindred ambled back there was a nice pile on the bank. He carried a stringer with three nice trout.
"I did my part, for all the good it does. We've no fire, or do you intend eating them raw?" She looked askanse at the fish.
"Peasants are trained to perform many low tasks. . . My Lady" He added, avoiding eye contact, "fire-making is one of them."
He took out the packet of dried tinder, and the starting bow. In short order he'd spitted the fish over a small camp fire. He brought a packet of salt and dried herbs and a loaf of bread from somewhere in the boat's compartment. He mixed a paste and brushed it over the fish with his fingertips. The fish proved to be delicious and the Princess ravenous. The bread was surprisingly fresh. The food was simple fare but tasted good, and turned out as fine a meal as she could ever recall.
Twilight settled. The music of croaking frogs resonated in the air. A southern breeze warmed their skin and teased through their hair. She pulled the girding lace from her blouse. The binding had a glitter of metal and texture of soft chord. It had been a gift from her mother... on her eighteenth birthday. She wrapped it around the waist of her new tunic and tossed the ruined dress aside.
Pandora stared a long moment at the young man, before clearing her throat and saying. "... And what do you suppose the morrow bodes?"
He looked her in the eye. "Are you asking what we need to do, My Lady?"
She waved her hand in a wide arc. "This is a situation suited to a man's knowledge." She paused. "Yes, some advice would not be deemed inappropriate."
"We cannot go back." He stroked his jaw,. "We're hemmed in by the forest and we can't row up those falls. It seems down the river is our best course, MY LADY."
"My assessment as well." She nodded in his direction. "Your manners are improving. I'll sleep in the boat. You can fend for yourself." Pandora stood.
In the distance a wolf howled.
Kindred reassured her. "We'll be safe here 'til morning... My Lady. Beyond that, we'll simply have to go with the flow."
Some of you might not have a crystal clear understanding of what the concept of Point of View (POV) is all about. In the most basic sense, our story is seen through the eyes of the person (or entity) who is telling the story. We won't go into that in depth here, other than to say our story is told in Third Person–Limited Point of View. What this means is that a narrator outside of the story is seeing the story or specific scenes through the eyes of one of your characters. Usually, this is your Central Character. In this case the CC is the Princess Pandora.
If you look back at our story, you'll notice everything that happens is seen through the Princess's eyes, and we only see her thoughts and feelings. Kindred's emotions and feelings are only revealed as Pandora sees their results on Kindred's face or in his actions.
Now, think of two witnesses seeing the story unfold. Each witness will describe the same events in slightly different ways, and perhaps because of ulterior motives, put a different spin on the facts. You can't revise the actual facts or change the words that were spoken. You can only change how each individual character looks at those same events.
In Vignette One either person can pretty much say what they want because our Hero and Heroine have yet to meet, and they each experience their own individual entry into the remainder of the story. But, once they connect in Vignette Two, the events they experience and the words they speak are facts and a matter of record. While Kindred had cart blanche in the first vignette, as did Pandora, because they are each completely outside of the action and emotions the other experienced, once Pandora and Kindred meet, they do and/or say things that cannot be ignored or modified. What transpires between them is what it is. It's okay for Kindred to paint whatever he likes on the blank canvas of Vignette One, but in Vignettes Two and Three what has transpired is no longer negotiable. Yes, if we choose to look at the events, emotions and actions from Vignettes Two and Three through Kindred's eyes instead of Pandora's, he can reveal by his thoughts and emotions how he relates to the events that are happening and the effect of what Pandora says and put his own spin on the unfolding drama. Even so he is no longer totally unconstrained in his observations. Pandora has already related her version of what happened, and they both must accept as essential facts what she described happened earlier.
To provide a starting point for the possibility of telling parts of the story from Kindred's point of view, he, as you might have guessed, is a Handsome Prince. He's been sent by his father incognito to find "The Magical Kingdom." It is "Bespelled" so everything inside the hedgerow is invisible. This is the location Pandora originated from, her home. Vignette One, from Kindred's point of view, would then explain to the reader how he got into the vicinity. It needs to show his story world, and his Wants, Needs and Desires. It provides a Before Snapshot that reveals his physical appearance and his inner character.
Remember Vignette One is all CHARACTER, CHARACTER, CHARACTER, with just enough plot glue to hold the sketch together. In Vignette Two Kindred tries to warn Pandora about the danger of the falls but is too late. In fleeing the wolves he jumps in the river and is carried along by the current and over the edge. Again, show CHARACTER. The plot part is is given. Vignette Three is the LCE and shows some of the details of their meeting and Pandora's assumption he is the son of a farmer. Kindred allows her to believe he is a peasant for reasons you are free to show as internal dialog.
So shade the vignettes, copy them, put them into a bitem and think about how you'll write and edit them into Kindred's POV. Now click back to Lesson 1. Good luck and have fun!
Percy Goodfellow - Workshop Instructor
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