There are many things that I could stand to improve in as a writer‒say, everything‒but I have been told that one of the things that I have halfway down is creating characters.
Since I started sharing my writing a year or two ago, I have heard time and time again that my characters are alive, so I sat down today, thought about my character process, and put together my strategy.
Getting to know your characters is a lot like getting to know real people. You must spend time with them‒or in the case of characters, think on them. You must consider how all of their traits feed into other ones, and how they affect them.
It’s easier said than done, but I do believe that with some practice, it can be as natural as getting ideas, and far simpler than English grammar.
So here is the list that I compiled of things to consider‒in order of what I believe to be more important to less important.
Kind of vague, isn’t it? Here’s the more in-depth version with one of my characters being used as an example.
- Flaws‒Aaand this is the one that makes people people. It’s also the one that writers seem to enjoy to leave out, and I think I know why. This is why: Flaws make people less-desirable, (while some won’t admit that they think that, it’s the underlying reason for all of the picture-perfect characters in books), and people are afraid of people not liking their characters. But with that said, people are not interesting without flaws.
- Character‒These are the more plot-affecting flaws, usually. They’re the problems such as “not knowing when to shut up”, “finding other’s misfortunes hilarious”, or even “a tendency to lie about everything”. The latter is one of the character flaws of my character, Riley.
- Psychological‒These are the flaws that give the characters more depth of mind, in my opinion. Personality disorders and disabilities are good additions to any character, even though they in themselves are not good things. For example, Riley is a borderline sociopath. That makes her very complex, as well as creating a great deal of tension between her and the other characters,
- Physical‒I don’t find this one to be the most important, but it adds some depth as well. Imperfect people are much easier to sympathize with than the golden people we read about who have perfectly symmetrical faces and flawless physique. I don’t really enjoy reading about those people, unless there is a good reason for it. (i.e., the character is a model or the result of a genetic experiment. In which case, perfection is almost acceptable. ;) ) Riley is short‒not quite 5 feet tall‒and weighs more than would be acceptable according to most modeling agencies guidelines. Which doesn’t quite fit the cookie-cutter character list, if ya get me.
- Quirks‒My personal favorite. As a person who is quite quirky, as well as loving adversity, this has always been the category that I don’t run out of ideas for. So now are your characters not only imperfect, they are also unusual. It’s starting to sound like a nightmare for every Mary-Jane in the world! (It’s starting to sound real. *gasp*)
- Speech‒I personally love different voices. Accents, improper uses of long words, improper grammar‒they make speech a fun thing to listen to. Not lawful, (grammarly speaking,) but fun. (What fun is obeying every rule? Not much.) Riley’s manner of speech and her isms are subtle, but “there” enough that she doesn’t sound like the others. For example, when someone asks her a question, the order in which she replies is unusual. Like this:
“Are you okay?”
“I’m okay, yeah. It’s been a weird week, but I’m okay. Man, I’d like a break.”
And that’s the way she talks. She never says yes, just “yeah”, and she directly refers to people as “man”, even if they’re not.
- Mannerisms‒These are not my strong suit, but I know that they’re important. Things like wringing your hands when you’re nervous, clearing your throat when you have nothing to say, and pursing your lips are all different mannerisms‒and all people have them. That should make it obvious that all characters should have them, too. Riley smirks a lot‒very generic, I know. Don’t judge my lack of creativity, hehe‒and when she cries she does so without making any noise. (I really need to work on giving my characters mannerisms.)
- Fears‒(This one probably could have been placed with the “Flaws”, but I thought it more of a quirk, since it isn’t exactly something that is wrong with people.) Fears are the darkest parts of people’s subconscious. They influence the character’s behavior, the other characters’ behavior, and the plot of the story. They’re very important, in other words. In my recently finished manuscript, Riley has a horrible fear of water, caused by an accident in her teenage years, which entangles itself throughout the entire story and gives her character some flavor. (She seems completely collected and arrogant, but water turns her into a frightened child.)
- Interests‒These are fun, but a bit harder to think of. I mean, it’s pretty simple to give non-cliché interests to characters. But at the same time, it’s a lot of fun to give them things to do aside from carrying the plot on their shoulders‒and it’s even more fun to think about. (I daydream a lot.)
- Hobbies‒Ah, yes. The silver lining of the cloud of the subject. Give them a love of art, of sports, of literature‒is there anything more fun than designing lives? My only advice: to go crazy. Don’t rationalize the hobby thing. That’s the fun of it. (Riley loves to prank people, play video games, and be dramatic. She would have more hobbies, but her life hasn’t been very supportive of normal pastimes.)
- Dreams‒Some characters have more dreams than others. Not all characters have to have many dreams. After all, not all people dream about a better future, learning how to fly an airplane, or solving world hunger. Some people are just more grounded in the present, are more rational, and for that reason don’t dream. But for your more fanciful characters, dreams are the icing on the cake. The hopes, dreams, desires, and etc. are the things that drive the plot forward. Riley, however, unlike her fellow characters, doesn’t really dream at all. She knows what’s up and doesn’t really think about the future. (It’s a dangerous habit to get into. Just ask her.)
- Preferences‒The less important category of individual qualities, preferences are the finishing details of the character. But details are fun. Don’t let their lesser importance stop you from making them unique. =)
- Style‒This encompasses two different things‒clothes and other appearance factors. What is your character’s style like? How do they wear their hair? If relevant, do they wear makeup? What kind of clothes do they wear? Do they dress eccentrically? These are all fun things to consider. Riley doesn’t wear makeup or do her hair, and she dresses very casually. These things make her much more real, personality-wise. Her personality and her style match perfectly, which is the way it’s supposed to be.
- Dislikes‒Haha… how fun. Give them something to hate. Find a food, an animal, or basically anything that they can’t stand, and let them do the rest. Whining makes it authentic, if the character is prone to that sort of shenanigans. Riley doesn’t like nosy people or following rules.
Does that help you? I hope so‒that was my intention with sharing the list, anyway. Tell me what you think! And I’ll see you all again next week, with another post. (Don’t know what about yet, though.)