Saturday, September 21, 2013

Meet your Character

So tell me, just how well do you know your characters? Tall, dark and handsome, or a curvacious blond might be good for starters, but is it enough to get you through an entire book? Far from it. Your characters need a personality. They need habits, quirks, and twitches, and above all, they need faults. No one is perfect.

The person who looks perfect on the outside may have an eating disorder, but that is so common, if you pick that, you may be leaning pretty hard into cliche. No, it's best to pick something else.

What to do? What to do? What to do?

One good thing you can do is Google 'interview your character'. There's at least one entire page of choices. Select one and fill in the blanks or answer the questions. Another thing you can do is take notes. Go ahead and start out with tall, dark and handsome. Give him a physical description, covering everything as if you were painting his picture and/or designing his next wardrobe (or both). Then as the story progresses, details might develop, like maybe he's near sighted but refuses to get glasses, or he's like me and has a hard time remembering names and dates.

Think of people you know, even if you only know them on Facebook, model your characters after them, or mix and match traits until you get something your character is willing to wear.

Most of the time, my characters quickly pick up a life of their own and my stories take on the feel of a movie playing in my head. Just like in a movie, my characters are who they are and they look like they do. I've never really had to model them after anyone, not consciously anyway, though I will sometimes pick traits from family members. In truth, my most frequent model is myself, or at least bits and pieces of me anyway.

Recently my character has been quite stubborn when it comes to scenes with his wife. It seems he wants to protect her from all the things and all the people in his world. Not that she is in any danger, but he takes his oath to protect her very seriously. Really, he and I are going to have to sit down and talk about this. I mean, his stubbornness is really getting in the way of telling the story.

A friend of mine once asked me to write a story around a female character so I came up with The Trials of the Youngest Princess. Like my other characters, she is something of me. And like many of my main characters, the traits I end up with are difficult to write around. My characters tend to be reserved at best, sometimes painfully shy, and sometimes a complete loner. So this little princess spends most of her time avoiding the things her mother wants her to do and lurking in the background. So I had to figure out something for her to find. I mean, the story had to go somewhere. Sometimes a character's traits and habits can be the driving force of your story, or at least the guiding force, since they will dictate what your character will do or will not do.

Other characters of mine:
A couple were orphaned
One had his memory taken away - the sacrifice needed to be able to cast spells
One guy was the only person from a planet of shape-changers who couldn't change to a human form off planet - where did he work? you guessed it.
One guy was born royal, but then he was denied and then shuffled off to grow up not knowing, not until he was suddenly heir.
Another guy was raised to be hated and assassinated only he survived - now what?

I also have a bunch of short stories, but you see the trend. My characters are more wallflowers than they are social flowers. Something is always in the way of life as it should be for them. But then that's what makes a book.

Let's look at it mathematically >>---> Character + goal / problem = book

Now these stories were all finished some time ago. They came out at a rate of 10 pages a day most of the time. Why don't I write like that anymore? Well, you see, I have this dozen or so books already finished, in need of polishing and editing, AND I also needed to develop my fan base and start blogging and all the other stuff that clutters up a writer's time. Back then, I didn't have internet and had no idea I needed to do these things. Back then I wasn't even planning on publishing - it was one of those unreachable things, so I didn't spare it a second thought. All I was doing was reading a new book. The fact that it was coming from my fingers instead of some bookstore made them even better. Therefore I didn't really need to take notes on my characters. It was like plugging in a movie and watching like ten or fifteen minutes of it and then writing it down. Now, I really need to take notes, especially when some detail dictates that something like eye color needs to change.

So, how do you keep track of your characters? Do you write it all down quickly? Or do you take notes of one sort or another? Or better yet, do you have another method? Let us know how you do it.

1 comment:

William Kendall said...

A lot of it's in various places- vital stats and personality traits of a character, history, that sort of thing, in files or notes here and there. It does help to flesh out a character as much as possible.

I find that with a new character, I let them marinate awhile in my head, give them a chance to develop. I'm doing that now with a new one, not quite sure where I'll take him.