Characters can be elusive little goblins. One of our endeavors as writing people is to track them down and figure out who they are by the tiny clues that they give us.
Sometimes those clues do not consist of much at all. I, like so many others, has repeatedly fallen into the trap of not knowing exactly who my characters are. Now, how much you know your characters is often dependent on how much you plan a story before you begin writing. I, as I believe I have mentioned, am a terrible plotter.
I come up with names, a few plot points, maybe a little bit of a personality for a few characters and ta-da, I call it ‘good enough.’ Obviously, this is not exactly conducive to knowing my characters. Usually, I learn who they are by writing. The first draft is a place to try things, it is where you figure out who you are writing about and how they feel about their world.
But, that does not mean that I am not collecting tips and short-cuts to shove up my sleeve and pull out when necessary. Today, I want to share the tricks that I have; obviously, this is an ongoing list, but why wait?
Here we go:
We describe people everyday: the guy we saw at the coffee shop with a moody look on his face; the girl who sat next to us on the bus. It’s pretty common knowledge that the best characters are usually the ones with a bit of depth; a backstory that gives them something to strive for or a few fears that they avoid facing. They are the ones that seem to most human, and the most relatable.
So, I find it helpful to start with hopes and fears. Fear is often an easier thing to begin with because it is so poignant, but that might not be the case for everyone. Maybe your MC is afraid of clowns, what would they do if they see one? Or maybe their fear is much larger and more complex, maybe they hide it behind other fears and try to convince themselves that it does not exist. One of my current MCs if afraid of someone showing her exactly who she is and believing that person; it leads to a whole host of problems in her life.
Once you know something about your characters’ fears: spend some time looking at how you can use them.
While fear often pushes characters away from one thing or another, hope pulls them toward new possibilities. I think it is important to look at both and see if they balance each other and where they do not. Remember: don’t be afraid of giving your characters flaws, it only makes them stronger.
This is related to the first: emotions are a gigantic part of our lives (yes, even if you try to turn them off), why shouldn’t they be for our characters as well? What are the emotions that drive your character? Love, hate, despair, kindness, revenge, loneliness?
Consider where they help and hinder your characters, and how you can use them to your benefit.
Is it time for an evil cackle yet?
This is one that I may have talked about before, but I think it is worth mentioning again: if you character is stuck in a waiting room before a doctor– or dentist– appointment, what do they do? Do they pick up a magazine? If so, what kind? If not, how do they distract themselves? What are they feeling?
The questions are close to endless. While this may not help in the context of your plot, it can help you understand more about what your characters do in situations that you can relate to your own life. If a waiting room doesn’t work, you can always send them to a coffee shop or other public place… What do they order? What do they think about the people they see?
Make them see a bit of the world before you drag them through you plot. It’s only fair… and they never need to know that you call it ‘research.’
Random generators can be a very good thing. While I often do not pick anything from them, they often spur me toward a few ideas worth considering. If you are not interested in random generators, try searching for images of something that is prevalent in your character’s life– even if it is just a hunch. Photos often help to visualize a character’s appearance; a person’s clothing choices and general surroundings often reflect at least a bit of their personality– even if they purposely chose to act exactly the opposite as the way they feel.
Do not be afraid to spend time trying details on and casting them aside.
Pulling off of #3, this is something that many people seem to find extremely helpful: act out conversations with your character. What are there face expressions? How do you think they use their body language when they speak? I often find myself making funny faces while writing dialogue, strangely enough, it helps me to understand what my characters are thinking and feeling.
The conversations that you have do not have to be related to your story. Explore and see what you find. Walk around your bedroom and mutter to yourself for heaven’s sakes. Recite a mundane conversation with your character and see where it takes you. I’m pretty sure the neighbors won’t call the police…
All right, that is it for now…
I hope that everyone is having a great week!
‘Till next time (it will be very, very soon)!