I find that one of the most difficult challenges I face when I’m writing is making sure that each character has a distinctive voice, attitude and personally. They must be unique, in order to help the reader distinguish more easily between characters and to make the characters seem much more life-like.
You may remember my first post on characters, Characters – Part 1: Getting In Their Heads, in which I described the process that I go through when I create a character. This is only half the battle. Once the character is created, you have to find a way to write them as their own character. In effect, they must have realistic personalities, human-like personality quirks and defining characteristics. I feel that any good writer should – and most likely does – treat their characters as real people. If you can imagine that you are having a dialogue with any one of your characters, it is important to try and think how they will respond to particular questions – and then make certain that their answers are truly reflective of their own personality and set them apart from the other personalities in your novel or story.
Once I create a character, I have an idea in my head of what I want them to look like. Now, I’m not much of an artist (in fact I’m pretty terrible – although I am trying to get better) but I do like to sketch out what I imagine my character will look like. This helps me to imagine what they will look like, and it gives me a physical reference that is easier to ‘read’ than plain text that says: “Tanned skin, brown hair, brown eyes, etc.”.Oh yeah, and it’s really kind of fun to draw even if you suck at it. Am I ashamed at my complete lack of skill? Absolutely not.
Once I’ve got into my head how they look, I can start to imaginatively elaborate on the facial visual I have created, which helps me to see how a character’s face will look when they are talking. A lot of your character’s identity can come from their expressions, which is exceptionally difficult to convey through words.
I try my best to give each of my characters their own ‘appearance’ and that, in turn, will help me to find their own ‘voice’. I first imagine how they talk and express things, and how their expressions compliment these attributes. It can get difficult to convey everything you know about that character to the reader, especially if you really wish for your readers to be able to imagine said character as a real person.
Once I have their image down, and also how they talk and how their voice sounds, I start to wonder how they will react in certain situations. I try to draw parallels as much as I can. For one story I know for a fact that Soto Trycon is much more confident in himself than Jon is, just as I know that Lila Bronze does not share the same feelings for Jon that he shares for her. I know that Darias is far more eager, in-the-moment than Galan; and that Galan can be quite pompous at times. When faced with the same situation, I know that each of these characters will react differently, but more importantly I know how they will react and I can explain to you why I know this.
As a writer, I like to know the life story of my characters, and as a writer with readers, I hope that the omniscience of the narrator – yours truly – can be conveyed without a long, boring description, and without giving out too much about any one character all at once. As the story progresses, I think that the reader should learn more about each character, not be bombarded with everything there is to know in the beginning.
Another thing I do when writing is I make notes of each characters decision – making sure that would actually be a decision that they would make – and then I keep track of them all so that I can help to maintain consistency. A character has to react in a similar fashion each time, so that it will help build an identity for that character.
This also helps me with character change and development – something I am not very good at. If I plan out and keep notes on decisions that characters make, I can more easily create a pathway that I want that specific character to travel and, in turn, shape their development along the way.
Most of this is probably not news to you, and most of it doesn’t matter to you. If you’re a writer you’ve already got your little quirks that you use. Hopefully there is something of use in all of my babbling, and if not, at least you got to see some horrible art (some more terrible than others) from various stages of my life (in between the ages of 10 and 20 mostly).
What do you do to keep your characters unique and distinct?
Does anyone else enjoy drawing your characters for a visual reference?
Thanks for reading!
- Character Development: Becoming a Split Personality (ellynbaker.wordpress.com)
- Rewriting Your Script, Part 3: Characters (gointothestory.blcklst.com)
- Starting Your Novel With Ease, Part 2 – Characters (trueknights.wordpress.com)
- Elmore Leonard, Snoopy, and Naming Characters (silverbirchpress.wordpress.com)
- The Power of People Watching (wordservewatercooler.com)