I do like to do these “five things” posts, don’t I?
Today I want to consider how we write our characters and what it takes to make a character seem, well, real.
This is incredibly important if we want our readers to connect fully with our characters.
The first thing is, to be fair, pretty obvious.
One – Appearance
Appearance is very important.
We live in a very visual world. A world in which how we look is noticed very quickly and assumptions (rightly or wrongly) are made.
As soon as we meet someone we notice their hair, how they dress, their facial features etc. (unless it’s my hubby when I’ve had a haircut. That goes straight over his head, bless him. You’ve just got to love him :)).
Whilst I’m not going to get into a debate here about assumptions made on looks (although, I am dying to have a rant if truth be told :)) we need to make sure, as writers, that we don’t feed into people’s assumptions and their prejudices.
So, why have I picked a pretty girl as the picture to this section? To emphasise the point. And to make sure you’re paying attention. Are you?
Appearance is important. But it’s also important to question and constantly try to challenge these assumptions.
We need to look at things differently and mix it up a little bit.
Besides, how boring is it to read about the millionth heroine with blond hair and blue eyes who is also a fantastic cheerleader, loves animals, aces school and is loved by absolutely everyone?
That’s unless she’s a serial killer by night.
It’s also very boring when people do the “looking in a mirror scene” and then list all of their character’s features.
“I looked at myself in the mirror. My blond hair was perfect, in a bob, just to my shoulders. My green eyes smouldered, looking fabulous in my smoky eye makeup. I adjusted my emerald green top that seemed to set off my eyes…”
You get the picture.
Try and scatter descriptions of your character throughout your writing. Don’t info dump.
You’ll thank me for this one, I promise 🙂
And please, please, try and think about appearance in a new light. Maybe play with people’s expectations a little. Challenge those assumptions!
Two – Quirks
What is a quirk?
A quirk is a peculiar or special aspect to a person’s character.
Such as Harry Potter’s lightning scar. Or in my book, Dragon Rider, my character WIllow has pink hair and lots of piercings.
Or it could be a character that recites Charles Bukowski ALL. THE. TIME. Or an autistic child who speaks in cat language. Or maybe they chew gum like it’s going out of fashion (like the cliche I slipped in there?).
Whatever the quirks are, keep it consistent and don’t go too over the top!
Three – Traits
Character traits are an aspect of a person’s behaviour and are therefore a very important ingredient in making a character come alive.
You need to know if a person is lazy or energetic. Are they kind? Are they spiteful?
But please, for the love of God, don’t make your character all good or all evil. People are shades of grey. A good, well-developed character will have good traits and some bad.
Again, try not to use cliches. Mix it up a little bit.
Okay, the next two points are my absolute faves when I’m writing a character. I love to get into the nitty-gritty of what drives my characters. What do they want? That, my friends, is the key question.
Four – Motivation
Why does your hero do what they do? What drives them? What to they NEED?
On a basic level, it could be peer pressure that makes them do what they do. Or curiosity, or guilt or the need to survive?
Is it evil or good that motivates your character? Do they act out of love or hate?
Or are they acting out of fear? Pain, or rejection?
This is what I love about creating characters. I love to find out what makes them really tick.
Five – flaws
Remember the perfect blond I was talking about earlier?
Well, she doesn’t exist. No real person or character, for that matter, is perfect.
We all have flaws.
What are flaws, I hear you ask?
A flaw is a fault or weakness in a person’s character. An imperfection or an undesirable quality in your character.
For example, I am very lazy. I eat far too much chocolate and I drink far too much gin and wine. God, I’ve just realised I’m a walking, talking writer cliche. Who knew? I’m also very clumsy. And I eat too much.
I could go on, but I won’t. I’d be here all day else 🙂
Flaws can range from the minor ones (eating too much, clumsy etc.) to the major flaws (greed for example) right up to what are known as fatal flaws.
Minor flaws don’t really impact upon the story. Whereas the major flaws do. For instance, the villain’s flaw will eventually lead to her downfall. The hero’s flaw must be overcome at some point in the story. You get the picture.
Fatal flaws, however, are very different. These are specific flaws that tragic heroes possess. These flaws are so great that they cause the character to bring about their own downfall. Prime example, Tony Montana in Scarface. I know it’s a film and not a novel, but I love Scarface 🙂 The principle still stands.
Want to say hello to my little friend?
No, I thought not, lol!!
So, these are my top five things I like to think about when I create new characters. What do you think?
Anything you’d add to the list?