Thursday, January 5, 2017

Building Character: A Few Things to Do to Keep Your Characters from Imitating a Pancake

Greetings! 'Tis I, the master of introspection and over-analysis!

It's Grace.

I have been told that I get a little obsessed with my characters.  I have denied that claim multiple times and excused myself by saying that I am not obsessed, I am simply highly interested in them and find building people out of my head to be very fascinating.

While I still don't think I'm obsessed (haha...ha...hahaha....ha..........ha........), I do get caught up in characters that I like a lot.  I have a few reasons for liking a character:

1. They are someone I can relate to and am very much like.
2. They are someone I wish I was.
3. They are someone completely different from myself.
4. They have a unique quirk which makes them stand out from the rest of the crowd.

I can name characters I've created which fit each of those things.  Along with those things I am also just plain interested in people.  I talk about people, I spend time with people, and I create people.

Anyway, I thought, since I love characters so much, why not see if I can actually offer advice on the topic?  I might fail.  I honestly don't know if my characters are flat or not.  No one's ever told me.  And this advice might also be for myself.  So here goes nothing!

1. Don't just develop the part we see.
You don't usually see every little aspect of a person in the short span of time a story normally covers.  There's a lot of things, big and small, that get missed mostly because they aren't given a chance to reveal them.  Take some time to sort these things out.  It could be their favorite flavor of ice cream, a dark past, anything.  Develop each part of your character, not just what's going to appear in the story.  It will show in the actual writing, and you'll have a much deeper understanding of your character's personality.

2. Don't shy away from quirkiness and minor flaws.
I feel like a lot of times we look at the BIG parts of people's personality.  Introvert or Extrovert?  Logical or feelings-driven?  Main values?  Major flaw?
What really makes someone unique though is not whether they think with their head or their heart or how they feel on a major political topic.  While little quirks and flaws are often overlooked, they are what make up a characters life from day-to-day.  Yeah, the fact that you always wear the same hat is kinda irrelevant when you're fighting a dragon, but if something like is a part of who your character is, you should know.  Do they leave their socks on the bathroom floor?  Do they snap at people without realizing it?  Do they have a trinket that is highly sentimental to them?  Do they have a favorite color?  Do they have a chore they absolutely hate?  Do they wear their hair a certain way?  Do they laugh loudly or quietly?  What about them makes people look at them funny?

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3. Is it really important?
On the opposite side of the spectrum, there are some things you don't need to reveal.  While it's nice to know how John might feel about, say, the Cold War, it's not really necessary in a 21st century romance novel.  Don't just spew information about your characters for the sake of spewing.  And if there is information you believe your readers just cannot go without, include it naturally.  Don't force your character to reveal information.  For example, if you want your readers to know Caiden's favorite song, saying something like "he played his favorite song, 'Royals', while he cleaned his room" sounds like you put the title there just for the sake of telling your readers what his favorite song was.  Instead, have Caiden sing parts of the song to himself, or have him bashfully admit to a very nice-looking girl that yeah, okay, it's his favorite, as he digs his toe into the dirt because she's really quite pretty and what if she thinks it's stupid?  And if the song never comes up in the story?  Don't make it come up!  Knowing things about your character is important.  Making sure your readers know every single detail is not.  You'll completely overwhelm them.

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This can even apply to major parts of who your character is as a person.  If they aren't interested in romantic relationships but romance isn't a part of the story, don't bring it up.  Hints aren't a problem, as long as they're not present solely to be hints.  Maybe when Jennifer hears about two people being in a relationship, she just says "oh, that's nice" and moves on with her life.  Or maybe she's genuinely delighted for them, but we never see her make a move for herself.

4. Write separate sketches.
Forgetting your story, your plot, and everything else, take the time to write little scenes from your character's normal life.  Write about them going to the coffee shop.  Write about the bread their baking.  Don't be afraid to include the seemingly mundane.  It might even be good practice.  I mean, if you can write beautifully about drinking tea in the morning or visiting the library, that is something to be proud of.  Look at the everyday world through your character's eyes.  What do they think when they seen a couple walking down the street?  Children playing in the park?  The song on the radio?

Most importantly, have fun.  Character building shouldn't be stressful.  Yeah, it can be crazy.  I mean, I've developed multiple characters that I want to be best friends with, but they're fake, so I'm stuck with my real friends (who are awesome, but man is that guy ever sweet).  And it's okay to obsess.  It's okay to squeal from cuteness as your adorable little protagonist curls their toes under the blanket and eats ice cream because oh that was just too beautiful for words.  When you are in love with your characters there's a pretty good chance that your readers will like them a lot too.

I hope this was helpful!  If it was, let me know in the comments.  If you have any other ideas for building your characters, let me know!  I'd be glad to take any and all suggestions and try them out on my own beloved miniature nation.

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