Friday, August 31, 2012

Characters

 
 

Do you put extra effort into making your characters interesting?

One of the best compliments an author can here is “Wow, you have such vivid characters!  I feel like I know them.  I was so sad when the story was finished, I want to know what happens to them after they got married/ saved the world / found the treasure.” 

I have received this kind of compliment on two different occasions.  Once, a person was just raving about everything I did.  “I love your story!  Your characters are amazing!  Why aren’t you on the New York Times best sellers list?”  That felt good.  The second time someone complimented the people in my story the person said this: “Well, your story sucked, but at least your characters weren’t flat.” 

Ouch.  But hey, you gotta take compliments as they come. 

It can be a hard thing to make well rounded people come up from the pages.  Sure, in my imagination, everyone I write about is really cool and complex.  The male hero of the last story I wrote is a perfect example.  He played with dolls until he was a teenager, added Frank’s Red Hot Sauce to everything he ate, and really enjoyed watching Irish step dancing.  The challenge is to sneak in this information.  I am mostly a short story writer.  How can I work all the wonderful quirks into 20,000 words or less?  Sometimes it is a hard thing to do even in a novel.  One of the main criticisms of Twilight was that Bella had no hobbies except cooking for her father and loving Edward.  How hard would it have been for the author to sneak in something to round out her main female character just a little bit?  As in, “Bella really liked bird watching and knitting, but now that Edward was gone, she couldn’t concentrate on either activity.”

I’m not being critical to Stephenie Myer.  Heck, she’s a billionaire, and I’m still working on my first stories.  But I do make my point.  Characters are people too.  They have their warts and their faults, their good sides and their weakness.  They have hobbies and interests.  Just because something is going on in their life (AKA: whatever you are writing about, also known as the story), they are still the person they were yesterday.  A mature writer will realize his hero can be a jerk and his villain will have a fondness for small, furry animals.  Nobody is all good or all evil.  When you write your characters, you need to remember that bit of wisdom.  You can also take that as tough men drink wine coolers, little girls in tutus play zombie killer, and the uptight school teacher has pierced nipples.

I once heard that a writer should write out entire family trees and back stories for their characters.  Then they should discard it and start writing their stories.  To me, that’s a lot of unnecessary work.  My trick for writing well-rounded people:  take your character and assign it three odd personality quirks.  The housewife will like to skydive, paint her toenails black, and she runs three miles in the morning.  The baker will hate the taste of chocolate, takes 40 minute showers, and never celebrate his birthday.   They don’t all have to be contradictions, just specific odd things about the character you are working with.  The goal is not to add these tiny bits of information into the story, just to have it in the back of your mind.    It’s quicker than writing character bios, but same idea. 

So write those well rounded characters.  Write about that darling little girl who kills her parents!  Write about that gang of teenagers who feed homeless dogs! Heck, write about grandmothers who knit sweaters for all I care. 

Just make sure they are listing to Death Metal when they are doing it.     

 

 

Picture credit, themetapicture.com

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