Characters Should Be More Than Stick Figures On a Page!

Things that happen to you in childhood truely effect who you are as an adult. Sometimes I catch myself doing strange things without even thinking. For example, this morning I was really fidgety. Unconsciously I sat on my hands, just as my parents suggested to me when I was little. It wasn't until my phone rang that I realised what I was doing. I also have a reflex action to jump back whenever anyone approaches me with a teaspoon. My friends think it's a funny quirk, but really it's a left over from my practical joker father who used to place a hot teaspoon on my hand after stirring his tea. It was never hot enough to burn, just warm enough for me to start back. To this day I still do it.

My point is, if I had a normal, happy childhood and I am daily influenced by events that occured when I was young, shouldn't the same be true for the characters I write? I have recently been partaking in NaNoWriMo, and something I have really noticed is that my characters, in my hurry, have been really two dimensional. One of my protagonists is a tortured soul and has been held in slavery from a young age. And yet he has no quirks, no strange reactions to ordinary situations. Really, he's just my personality in a man's body. I have to ask myself, what was I thinking in creating such a character? Before I edit this story I really need to think about who this slave is as a person. How would anyone act after living such a hard life? I need to stretch my imagination just that little bit further so that my characters are believable, likeable, and three dimensional.

Last year I wrote a blog post about this very issue. So much for ignoring my own advice! So, I am setting myself some ground rules:

  1. Map out the character's life. How were they raised? Did anything traumatic happen? Did they have many friends, few friends, no friends? Did they have any siblings, caring parents? Were they rich, poor, stable? All of these things will have an influence on the character.
  2. Get to know the character before beginning to write the story. Imagine conducting an interview, or holding a conversation with him/her. What would the tone of their voice be? Would they have an accent? Would they frown a lot, or are they happy and bubbly? Any nervous giggling, shifting in their seat, fidgeting? Are they graceful or loutish? Knowing these things, visualising the character as a solid, will make writing scenes with them flow better.
  3. Figure out how much needs to be spelled out to the reader, and how much I will leave to their imaginations. Personally I like to allow the reader to form a picture in their mind of the character. I need to give them enough information for them to be able to do that, without specifying the nitty-gritty.

I will try my best to hold on to these rules. I think, once I have completed this story for NaNoWriMo I will start from scratch and develop my characters much, much more. I will then perform a complete re-write, and no one ever need see the mess that the story currently is!


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