Wednesday, September 19, 2012

World Building Wednesdays: Characters...

Where would your books be without characters? Boring, actually. Too much information tends to put people to sleep. I have issues with my own writing where I want to put in so much information because there is so much I want to share, that I bore the reader.

I actually bored myself once.

Just once.

Anyway, back story is best utilized through characters and dialogue. Lots of people have said it and I had to learn how to do this.

But everything still falls flat if you don't have interesting characters. Your characters have a story to tell. That is why you are writing!

But how do you get such diverse characters? How can you create well developed characters? How do you get the reader to love those characters?

Give them a voice. Give them a soul.

How many writers out there feel like their characters are a part of their family? Feel like they are literally your children. You did give birth to them and their idea, after all.

No, no. No need to call the men in the white coats. If you deny you have conversations with your character you are a liar. LIAR! Oh and your pants are on fire...

I talk to my characters all the time. Explains a lot, doesn't it? But this is how they tell me their story, this is how I learn what direction to take. When I get stuck, I can't keep writing something else because I'm distracted and can't focus on it because I am listening. I am waiting for the moment when said character whispers in my mind.

"Are you ready to listen?" they say. They remain quiet for so long because I get focused on their story and I just write it all out, listening in on their conversations, putting it all down on paper so I can share it with you, my reader. But they get real quiet once in awhile and suddenly, I've hit a brick wall. I stopped listening to the character tell their story and have gone off on my own tangent. I hit a road block and then they swagger up to me, all cocky and smirky.

"This is how it is supposed to go, got it?" they tell me. "I don't want it to go this way, because that isn't how it is supposed to go. This is my story after all, you're the intruder here. Just write down what I tell you."

That's a good way to get good characters. But diverse is something else altogether. I've said it dozens of times before. Go. Watch. People. But don't get arrested, for pity's sake! Stay in a public place, listen in without being a stalker. Watch people when they think no one is watching them. Oh, the things people do. Like pick their nose and wipe it off under a table in a restaurant.

I kid you not.

These are real people, your characters. You have to develop them, give them their personality. You have to give them their strengths and weaknesses, their skills, their flaws. Give them that eye twitch when they are stressed. Make them chew their nails. Make them grab a toothbrush to bite down on before their mom pulls out the peroxide to clean yet another one of their scrapes from falling off a bike. (Yes, I did that ALL the time.) Give them a sense of honor, purpose and above all, the sense of humor to deal with life. Give them passion, give them love and the hatred and jealousy that sometimes goes along with it. Make them petty, selfish people or make them compassionate givers. Make them hate life or love it, make them your best friends.

Seriously. Who better to pattern your characters off of then your friends and family? Aren't most characters an extension of ourselves? Of who we are right here and now in the physical realm and also who we most desire to be? What kind of person would you be if you were stuck in the Middle Ages or Ancient Greece? What kind of person would you be if you were rich beyond your dreams and didn't ever have to worry about money? What kind of people would your children be? Spoiled? Good-natured? Greedy? Killers or healers? What if you had nothing?

Think about all these aspects because the events in your life make you who you are. So once you know the ins and outs of the human psyche, you can begin to create stronger characters. What makes people do the things they do? What gives them their drive and motivation or their laziness? What events will affect your characters and how will they react? How would you react?

If your characters don't seem believable to you, don't feel like a part of you, then you need to go back and work on them again. Make them shine! They're going to tell you a great story if you give them half the chance.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Don't believe my characters are based on anyone I know, but I do create detailed character sheets long before I even begin writing.
And won't get arrested for people watching, promise!

Mel Chesley said...

Yeah, no need to be a stalker, lol!

H.C. said...

When one is writing, you are in essence weaving a tapestry with words. And just as playing in an RPG (Role Playing Game for the uninitiated)those characters are our children indeed, born from our imaginations, fueled by external and internal stimuli. And you are right about people-watching, does provide grist for the mill of creativity.

Unknown said...

Great advice, Mel! I know I often get too caught up in worldbuilding and exposition and my characters often take a back seat. This isn't right.

Jamie @ Mithril Wisdom