Characterization Part 4
By Natalie Bright
Characters with Attitude
Based on previous blogs, you now know the history of your characters. You also know what makes them tick emotionally. It’s great that you know so much about your characters, but you can’t use it in your novel. Do not bore the reader to death with too much back story.
When I lunch with writer friends or meet with my critique group, we have in-depth conversations about our character’s motivations. We question their motives because characters should ‘stay in character’ for the entire novel. I’m reading a book now where the main character steals money from a classmate and plans a trip with a fake passport. I’m totally bummed. I really liked this character and now I don’t. To me this action seemed out of character for the person I thought she was. (But it doesn’t really matter because I’m not the author, and ultimately we can write our story the way we want to.)
As you write, you will only reveal a small amount of the history you’ve created. Knowing that background is crucial for it will shape how they act and speak. Their personality and attitude will come through as they face the conflict in your plot. You will reveal your character through dialogue, their actions, and how they respond to conflict.
If the main character is only nine, remember his ideas will be shaped by the experiences he had in those nine years. He hasn’t lived a lifetime yet.
Put some serious thought and effort into profiling your characters. Identify specific strengths and weaknesses. If you believe they’re real, readers will believe your characters are real too and will care about their story. For example, author and teacher, DeWanna Pace, pointed out that in most main stream action/adventure stories the strengths of the hero overcomes the strengths of the villain. In the case of romances, the strengths of the hero and heroine combine to overcome the conflict in the plot line. You’ve got to know their strengths and weakness in order to intertwine these traits into the plot.
Heroes have Flaws / Villains have Reaons.
Develop a detailed profile for each of your main characters.
For the protagonist, assign three likable traits and one bad trait. These can be internal or external, emotional or physical. Having bright red hair can be a good or bad trait, for example, depending on the circumstances you’ve set-up for your character. Your main character may whine and complain constantly, but please, give your readers something to like about her. Otherwise, we could care less how her story ends.
For the antagonist, assign three bad traits and one redeeming quality. Give your villain one good trait that makes him likable. Maybe he has a deep love for his mother. Perhaps your antagonist is worldly and extremely beautiful, but evil to the core.
Interview your characters to determine their motivations. You can do this through a structured exercise or by free writing. Start writing in first person from your characters head, and see what they can tell you. Phyliss Miranda uses this method and highlights the traits as they are revealed in the manuscript, which helps her make sure she doesn’t repeat the same information.
I attended a workshop given by a romance author who creates astrological signs for her hero and heroine. The conflicts and commonalities are determined by a star chart, and then she fills in the setting and plot line to construct their journey to find love. Also, there is David Freeman’s “Diamond Technique”, basic Metaprograms test, or “The Hero’s Journey” concept of plotting.
Character development continues next Monday. Stay tuned!