Characterization Part II
by N. Bright
I’m going back through my conference notes to provide you with a hodge-podge of all things on character development over the next several weeks. (I might add that in a past job I used short-hand every day, so I’m a diligent note-taker. In today’s world his useless skill is next to impossible to forget.)
It was a larger-than-life character who came to me in a dream which caused me to become obsessed with learning everything I could about characterization. As pointed out by a few writer friends, I wrote her adventures but had never given this character a past.
The idea for a young girl who lived on the Texas frontier appeared in my head so vibrant and alive, I couldn’t shake her. Her adventures began as little snippets of scenes in no particular order. As I began thinking about her life, she’d have to be a little independent and more worldly than most kids her age. Her father is a U.S. Marshall so he’d be gone a lot. Her mother is of Mexican descent from a sheepherding family. She loves books, thanks to an Aunt, so her vocabulary would be above average and well-developed. I can imagine she was riding horses at a very young age along with fishing and exploring and doing chores; all of the things necessary for survival on the frontier. All of these things come together to create what I hope to be a unique and memorable character.
Just like real people, your characters must have a past life filled with family, friends, joys, and loss; all of the things that shape their motivation and personality. This gives your characters dimension and believability.
Most writers I know are curious and fascinated by human nature and their motives. This should be a fun process for you. As you develop your characters past, consider where they grew up, why they moved there and where their families came from.
My grandmother told me about traveling by wagon with her parents to Texas from Oklahoma. That was only three generations away; not that long ago. That independent, can-do spirit remains in the people here, much like those before us who came to this barren place to build towns and raise families in the middle of nowhere. Our buildings and communities are not that old, as compared to places in the eastern United States. I get aggravated at the way we seem to so readily tear down the old to build new in this part of the country. I guess we’re still in pioneer mode.
Kids in this area play video games just like big city kids. My kids and their friends watch movies, read books, and love their iPhones, too. On the other hand, families here have space; to ride 4-wheelers in sandy river beds, fish and ski on area lakes, and the mountain ski slopes are only half-a-days drive away. As an FYI, not everyone in Texas owns a horse, however, I think my kids are a little more “out-doorsman” than urban kids, but probably not as much as kids from Alaska might be.
Your characters are no different. There is much to think about when considering the many influences that shaped their behavior.
Keep writing and have fun creating a past life for your characters!