I was on a break this past week from my job teaching writing workshops, so it gave me extra time to focus on story creation and editing my own works, rather than my students. I have been stuck in editing mode for my larger novel that I would like to see out later this year or early in 2017. When you are balancing a full schedule, it can be difficult to find ‘me’ time for writing. But that is a topic for another time. Today, I want to focus on characters. My main emphasis this past week has been on working out character kinks.
Now, what do I mean ‘kinks’? Well, when you go to write a story most writers tend to do planning, though not always as much as they like to think. Most of us are really just inspired by a dream or thought we might have had for a really good story and so we write and our characters are sort of these rough mannequin-like things. We don’t really know them that well yet so we can’t create them exactly how we want. Since we are still getting to know them, our first draft is usually pretty rough and that means that our protagonists and antagonists and other characters are also rough. So, when we go back to edit, writers need to take a closer look at their characters so they can smooth off the unnecessary rough-edges and create a more streamlined and polished character for the reader. Now, that doesn’t mean PERFECT. After all, most readers are turned off by the hero or heroine who is perfect. Character flaws are necessary to make a really good story. What I am talking about is polishing out their appearance and their thoughts and action, all the internal and external components. If you aren’t sure of who they are, your readers will be able to tell. That means that you have to go back to the character development board and ask yourself these questions:
- What are my character’s quirks?
- What do they love and hate? Why?
- What motivates them? Why?
- What annoying or unusual habits do they have? How did they acquire it/them?
- Any unusual features like scars, piercing, tattoos, etc.? How and why do they have them?
These are generic questions but they are good for starting the ground work on getting to know who your characters really are, more than paper deep. My favorite part of this is designing character quirks. I love giving my characters unique attributes or attitudes or ticks that make them stand out. I like these because they usually create opportunity for characters to get into trouble. Trouble means action, action means excitement- you get the point!
So while I have been working on working out the kinks in my main character Talshae, I had to ask myself- what kind of character is she? What are her quirks? What kind of trouble do they get her into? Since she is part of a specific region of elves that have been enslaved and she is a rebel, she has a lot of attitude and has developed specific ways of looking and reacting to situations. When I read through my scenes, I have to be on the lookout for any time where I have made her act out of character and then fix it.
My suggestion to you, all my writer friends, is to make sure you take the time to really get to know your characters. Fill out a character questionnaire (HERE’S ONE TO GET YOU STARTED). Do an interview with them so that you know who they are. And don’t just do it for the hero/heroine, make sure you include your villains in the party.
In Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft– there is a list of the direct methods of character presentation, which includes “dialogue, appearance, action, and thought”*. Appearance is super important to a reader because this is how they perceive a character. What the character looks like tells us what they are, who they are, even if it is only on the surface level. “Feature, shape, style, clothing, and object can make statements of internal values that are political, religious, social, intellectual, and essential”*. A lot can be said about a character based on what they wear and that power cannot be underestimated when you are working on character creation. So besides focusing on the internal components of what makes my characters tick, I like to also make sure I give them a good outward physical structure that is unique and memorable. There is so much to talk about with this subject I will be back next week to cover more!
I hope you have a great time writing this week and remember to make the most of your character design time! Leave a comment and let me know what you think.
***If you are looking for more character creation worksheets, check out Eva Deverell’s Writing Worksheet Wednesday link on my resources page.***
*Burroway, Janet, Elizabeth Stuckey-French, and Ned Stuckey-French. Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft. 9th ed. Boston: Longman, 2011. Print.