Sunday, August 18, 2013

Check his Wallet: Some Tips on Character Development

Long before I became I writer, I was a reader. I still have a voracious appetite for books and one of my favorite things is a story well told. What I yearn for (and get every now and again) is an un-put-down-able book, a book so engaging that I want to keep reading long after I should have gone to bed, or eaten breakfast or taken my daily walk.
 I’ve often asked myself what the it is, the quality in those books that make them so compelling, Inevitably, the answer comes back to characters. I want characters I can fall in love with, characters I care about, characters that make me take notice and that I’ll remember long after I’ve finished reading.
The challenge for me as a writer is to make the it happen, to create the alchemy that allows the characters that people my imagination to become undeniably real to the reader.  What I can do and what I must do  is to make my characters as authentic as I possibly can, to make them stand out as much as I can, to make them as convincing as I can. To that end, here are some of the things that I think about when creating characters:

·         Is that a pimple on your nose?
I recently saw a show in which the surgeon told his patient he had a one hundred percent success rate. He also ran triathlons and was wealthy as Cretious. I hated this guy. Give me the other guy please, the one that can’t speak in public, has a limp,  or (as was the case in another show) is a surgeon who develops a blood phobia. .And conversely, give me a bad guy who likes puppies.

·         Is it getting hot in here?
Put the characters in hot water and boil them. Characters need to prove themselves and the best way to do it is by showing their grace under fire.

   ·    You have a what now in your wallet?
I like to know my characters through and through. At the risk of sounding certifiable (which I might be), they talk to me when I’m working on their stories. They talk to me a lot. About things having nothing to do with the story-- things like what they carry in their wallets, what they like to wear, what they put on their toast at breakfast. The more you know your characters, the easier it is to portray them. And you can write one or two of those quirky little traits into the story—he plays racquetball with a competitiveness that borders on insanity, she likes to dance around the living room when she’s home alone.

I believe that the more human I can make my imaginary friends, the more you’ll like them, or hate them, or be compelled by them. What do you do to make your characters real?

Till Next Time



Liz Flaherty said...

I'm with you, but admit to being fallible as a reader in that I still want the good guy to be handsome--how shallow can I get? :-)

Julie Eberhart Painter said...

I don't like chiches and have given limps to otherwise almost perfect heroes (Kill Fee).

The wallet idea is very revealing. We could develop that into a great story.

Unknown said...

I hear you Liz. I'm a sucker for a pretty face, too. I just don't want them too perfect. :)
Write that story, Julie!! The wallet thing makes a good writing exercise. Also, what's in his closet, his fridge, her purse and so on.

Unknown said...

I think I prefer character-driven novels to plot-driven to tell you the truth. The plot could (and usually does) have the usual tropes but I love meeting new types of characters. And a flawed character the better (not flawed nasty though, because then I couldn't care less about him/her).

Unknown said...

I agree Sue. I think even nasty characters are better if they have something humanizing them.

Liz Fountain said...

I remember a writing class where we did a similar exercise: take your main character and describe at least three things she/he always carries with him/her. We practiced describing them with details of all the senses, and then we had to show, not tell, why these things were in the character's pocket. It was great fun, and great learning.