Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Creating Characters

He’s Alive!
OK, fun aside, every story needs a good character. It just so happens that the last book I read struck me in an odd way. It was the first time I came across a book where I found the characters to be flat and lifeless.  Instead of putting it down, I observed them. I wanted to figure out why that had happened, what was missing, and where the author went wrong.

When it comes to creating characters, a fun exercise can be to go out into the world and observe. Now, make sure you don’t go and get yourself arrested for stalking. If your MC happens to be eight years old and you’ve decided to hang around parks to get a feel for the eight year old, be discrete.
Step one would be to observe and take notes. Describe your character, noting everything from clothing, to physical traits, and then his ticks or mannerisms. Watch his expressions, dialogue and reactions. Be as detailed as possible at this stage.

Once you’ve done that, describe the scene that is playing out before you. Don’t try to turn it into anything other than what it is, at least not yet. So, here you are, the observer or reporter, documenting what your character is up to. Next, switch modes, and get inside your character’s head. Write what is going on from his point of view. Write not only what he is saying, but what you believe he’s thinking. Become the child. What’s he feeling and thinking as the scene plays out?
Try the same thing with a young mother, a business man, a sports coach or anyone you please. Sit in a mall, arena, or library, and watch people going about their routine. Friends, co-workers and family make good targets to study as well.

Another exercise would be to watch the physiological responses of your subject. What I mean by that is watch their reactions…His eyes widened, lifted his chin defiantly, her eyes narrowed and she let out a slow breath through clenched teeth, his shoulders sagged, she stiffened, her eyes darted around the room nervously…
What do you think she is feeling, thinking...

OK, I think you get the picture. But wait! Those were external descriptions of your character, the things we see. What would be going on inside? His stomach lurched, he swallowed the lump forming in his throat but refused to back down, rage bubbled up from inside as she fought for control, all hope drained away, a chill ran up her spine, her insides shook as she searched frantically for a way out…

You can make a chart with physical descriptions and all the details we covered above for future reference. And if you find names you like, throw them in.
When it comes to inserting your character into your story, you want to describe him, but you also want to let the reader create an image of your character in his mind.  Another book I read had the author describing, in detail, every piece and brand of clothing on the character…in every single scene. At one point, it becomes overkill.

Give a general description at first, and then add a detail here and there as you go along.
Hopefully, you will be able to create a living, breathing character that will thrive as he makes his way through your story.

If you want to test out your creations, try describing a family member, friend or co-worker, and see if the others figure can out who he or she is. If you get it right, they won’t hesitate to identify the person.

If ever you don’t get out enough to try this out, turn on the television and try with one of those characters. Oh, and show, don't tell. Remember to have fun.  ;o)




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